As the political permutations and momentum gathers steam for 2023, the presidential field is expanding as usual and it is being speculated that we may have the following politicians vying for the top prize: Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers State; Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation and former governor of Rivers State; Kayode Fayemi, governor of Ekiti State; Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State; Mai Mala Buni, governor of Yobe State and chairman, All Progressives Congress (APC) Caretaker Committee and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a chieftain of APC and former governor of Lagos State.
This list is by no means exhaustive but the point must be made that it is well within the constitutional right of every Nigerian to contest for any political office as long as all the requirements prescribed by the laws of the land are met. So, who will be Nigeria’s next president by the time President Muhammadu Buhari steps down after two terms of eight years in office? The tempo of political activities will definitely increase next year and by 2022, it will be time to separate the wheat from the chaff in the two major parties.
Although Tinubu — the Asiwaju of Lagos, Jagaban Borgu and “Lion” of Bourdillon in Ikoyi — has not given any indication of his intention to contest, it is evident that he will be a key factor in the political calculation and outcome of the 2023 presidential election whether he is a candidate or not. Let us give it to Asiwaju – he is an enigma, astute politician, statesman, thinker and strategist. Like everyone else, Tinubu has his strengths and weaknesses.
As a strategist, Asiwaju missed the mark when he asked Edo people in a recorded video not to vote Governor Godwin Obaseki for a second term mandate under the banner of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) just before the gubernatorial election held on September 19, 2020. Pastor Osaze Ize-Iyamu was the APC candidate. That video was a wrong-headed and ill-advised move by the Jagaban Borgu and it was roundly rejected by Edo people as an interference taken too far. Obaseki went on to win the election after crossing carpet from APC at the last minute. Asiwaju succumbed to the politics of the moment but he can be forgiven; after all, he makes his own mistakes, too.
Tinubu has friends and foes alike – especially political opponents – who constantly see him as a threat. There are those who describe him – perhaps to spite or mock him – as an opportunist and fortune hunter. It does not really matter because Asiwaju also has die-hard supporters, loyalists and foot soldiers and he has remained relevant on the political scene since 1999 when he was elected governor of Lagos State as Alliance for Democracy (AD) candidate. In fact, Tinubu can be described as the “last man standing” among his peers after the Fourth Republic was inaugurated 21 years ago.
Since then, Asiwaju beamed his focus on the future for a star prize in the political firmament – an ambition you associate with politicians of any hue – and he has been working steadily towards the goal. Right from when he was governor of Lagos State, Tinubu turned Lagos into a cosmopolitan city and made it home to everyone, regardless of status, tribe or religion. As a commercial nerve centre, Lagos can be described as the economic capital of the country. Asiwaju knows fully well that you cannot thrive in politics and win without a solid financial base. Thus, Lagos State, through a deliberate strategy contained in a visioning document, increased its internally generated revenue (IGR) under Tinubu by leveraging its advantage as the economic hub of the country. This conferred on Lagos the status of a financial warehouse for the entire South West region, earning for Asiwaju some bragging rights.
When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was President, he ordered that monthly allocations to Lagos State be stopped because of his disagreements with Asiwaju. Although the funds were later released, Lagos State survived from internally generated revenue. Tinubu, as governor, displayed tact and political dexterity. He was always two steps ahead of Obasanjo, and he led his creative team of technocrats to defy Obasanjo. Only few states like Lagos pay their bills promptly; others struggle to pay even the national minimum wage. Lagos State IGR template was borrowed and adopted by some states to also boost their revenue.
Whereas Tinubu could be described as the leading political strategist in the South West with AD capturing six states even as an opposition party, Obasanjo on the other hand who is from Ogun State in the same region did not have any significant clout much less a political base as PDP president. This situation worried Obasanjo and he decided to bare his fangs on Asiwaju in order to share in the aforementioned “bragging rights” as a political leader and statesman from the region.
This led to the “capture” by hook and crook of all the states in the South West except Lagos by Obasanjo and his henchmen during the 2003 general elections. PDP took five states – previously won by AD — while AD won only Lagos State. What played out was an attempt to humiliate Asiwaju with frontline Lagos PDP political actors such as Chief Olabode George. That was how Obasanjo’s surrogates became governors: Rasheed Ladoja (Oyo State); Olagunsoye Oyinlola (Osun State); Gbenga Daniel (Ogun State); Olusegun Agagu (Ondo State) and Ayodele Fayose (Ekiti State).
It was a watershed moment for Asiwaju as he reflected on the historic political events and what they meant for his future. Obasanjo eyed Lagos as a major political prize and wanted it at all cost to teach Asiwaju a political lesson but the governor stood his ground and fought the political battle of his life to keep Lagos. Obasanjo’s rampaging political warriors stormed every corner of Lagos with one brief: Lagos State must come under the umbrella of PDP but they failed – the mission could not be accomplished.
Tinubu and his associates licked their wounds and went back to the drawing board to map out a winning strategy. Their political party AD was re-branded as Action Congress (AC) and subsequently as Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). They fought back and successfully retired the opposition at the 2007 election. Babatunde Raji Fashola who was Tinubu’s Chief of Staff became the governor of Lagos State from 2007 to 2015. Rauf Aregbesola – now Minister of Interior — dethroned Oyinlola through a court process and became governor of Osun State for two terms.
In Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun replaced Gbenga Daniel; in Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi (of blessed memory) replaced Adebayo Alao-Akala and in Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi replaced Segun Oni. After serving in Abuja as Minister of Solid Minerals, Fayemi won the gubernatorial election to return as governor. In Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu is in charge as governor for a second term after beating Eyitayo Jegede as a PDP candidate for the second time. PDP’s Seyi Makinde is the governor of Oyo State. The current standing makes APC the clear leader in the region: APC has five states and PDP one state.
In view of these remarkable achievements, you would ordinarily expect Asiwaju to be the toast of the key political players and thought leaders in the region, but that is not the case. Disagreements are allowed in politics but when it gets to the point of malice and bitterness, the twin cousins of hate (feelings of intense dislike), it becomes a dangerous game. No matter the lens we use to look at Tinubu, we cannot ignore his contribution to the political development of the country since 1990. Even then, Asiwaju, who has the uncanny ability of spotting and recruiting bright talents, should make peace with his political adversaries by extending an olive branch.
Tinubu has friends across Nigeria, so it will not be difficult for him to form a broad coalition and expand his political base. For a tactician who is admired for his generosity, kindness and immense goodwill, Asiwaju will harvest block votes from the South West region. In addition, most state governors will align with the Jagaban because he has been good to them – it will be payback time if Tinubu decides to contest. There is a Tinubu Support Group (TSG) working behind the scene to launch his presidential bid whenever they get the green light to do so.
Tinubu has been around for a long time, committing his resources to fight causes that he believes in. When the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola was denied a clear mandate as the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Asiwaju was among those who raised their voices to fight the injustice. He joined other progressive forces, fled into exile and continued the fight from the UK. When he was governor of Lagos State, Tinubu appointed non-indigenes to serve in his government.
As far as I am concerned, that is the mark of a patriot and nationalist. Ben Akabueze, who is now Director General of the Budget Office in Abuja, is a good example. Akabueze is from Anambra State but he was commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget for two terms in Lagos State. Unfortunately, that broad-mindedness displayed by Asiwaju is not replicated in many states. Instead, the governors defer to political and ethnic considerations in making similar appointments – that is as bad as it can get for a country suffering from identity crisis.
After three unsuccessful attempts by President Buhari to win the presidential election in 2003, 2007, 2011, a broad coalition of ACN led by Tinubu and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) led by President Buhari and other legacy parties resulted in a new national party, APC, which eventually paved the way for President Buhari to win the presidential election in 2015. The victory was the outcome of strategic planning, political horse trading and consensus agreements reached including negotiating key appointments in Buhari’s administration for the legacy parties. Asiwaju Tinubu was a key factor in the entire process.
The expectation is that the sentiments expressed in 2015 in that broad coalition will manifest in 2023 when the search for a presidential candidate is southbound. If that happens, who will be the most qualified presidential candidate? The searchlight will naturally beam to the South West region because the whole of the South and South East regions are predominantly PDP states except Anambra State where Chief Willie Obiano became governor under APGA. The only voices from the South East region for APC are Hope Uzodinma, governor of Imo State; Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (from Abia State) and until his recent defection from PDP to APC, Dave Umahi, governor of Ebonyi State. These red cap chiefs understand they are in the minority and that they must work hard to recruit more APC loyalists into their fold for political reckoning – now and in the future.
In the South West region, Asiwaju Tinubu would seem to be an eminently qualified and potential presidential candidate if he decides to throw his hat into the ring in 2023. At 67 years old, Tinubu should weigh his options carefully and make up his mind. By 2023, he will be 70 years old. If he misses this season, he would remain a kingmaker for the rest of his political life. But if it is true that schemes are being hatched by his opponents and the ever present hawks in the corridors of power to stop his presidential ambition, it means Asiwaju has a major hurdle to cross.
Perhaps, Asiwaju’s biggest challenge yet is his deeply troubling “perception” crisis. A highly critical audience is not happy with what they call his “strangle-hold” on Lagos State and its resources. Asiwaju’s adversaries also allege that he determines all appointments at the state and federal levels including who becomes governor of Lagos State; beneficiaries of plum contracts or who gets a seat in the Lagos State House of Assembly and the National Assembly.
The fate that befell Akinwunmi Ambode as a one term governor of Lagos State also did not go down well with some people. In their view, Ambode was “victimised” because he disagreed with Asiwaju on “policy issues”. Fashola, as Lagos State governor, almost suffered the same fate until the voice of reason prevailed. There are social media posts attacking Tinubu as the “owner” of Lagos. These damaging allegations — unhelpful as they are — may have triggered the mob offensive that targeted some of Tinubu’s assets when the #EndSARS protests last October were hijacked by hoodlums. Arising from the consequential damages during the mindless carnage, it was estimated that Lagos State government would need over N1 trillion to re-build the state.
For now, it appears the fear of Tinubu in Lagos is the beginning of wisdom. In addition, we must acknowledge that Tinubu is an influential politician with deep pockets. Tinubu’s media handlers are doing a great job containing the stories that are damaging to his brand image. His speech writers also make speech writing an attractive vocation – their messaging technique is excellent.
The argument has also been made by some political commentators that Asiwaju should support Prof Yemi Osinbajo, the vice president whom he nominated, to succeed President Buhari if the ticket is zoned to the South. Although this wish may not be far-fetched but it belongs to the realm of speculation and the commentators are entitled to their opinions. Tinubu as the master strategist planted and watered several political trees even during seasons of drought for a purpose. It will be recalled that Prof Osinbajo served as attorney general and commissioner for justice when Tinubu was Lagos State governor. To the best of my knowledge, the bond between Asiwaju and the vice president is still strong and we cannot rule out the politics of 2023 from their discussions.
In politics, the issues are not as straight forward as they look – it is often a case of the more you look, the less you see. With different cultures, tribes, religion, regions and the fight for relevance mixed with the current intractable security situation and crippling economic crisis, what will the road to 2023 look like? Who is that competent candidate with the right credentials that will take over from the Buhari administration? In my view, the candidate must have significant brand presence; must be a bridge builder and networker with the capacity to engage and reach out to all parts of Nigeria; must be broad-minded with a rich experience in politics and management.
Having served Nigeria in different capacities, the candidate should be able to craft a vision that would inspire hope, guarantee peace, progress and prosperity; promote and ensure equity, fairness, social justice and fundamental human rights for every Nigerian. I believe that we have suffered enough from leadership challenges since independence and the time has come for us to wear our thinking caps and vote for the “right” candidate in 2023. Will Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu be the candidate or is a dark horse going to emerge? Only time will tell. Let me be clear: at the end of the day, the true winners in the contest should be Nigeria and Nigerians, not the political parties or the politicians. God bless Nigeria.
–Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)