There was probably no opposition figure more resilient and more politically shrewd than Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the former Governor of Lagos State. Until the APC, the party he backed won the presidential election in 2015, Tinubu was the maestro of Nigerian opposition who resisted the onslaught of the former ruling party and mentored a wide array of politicians. He finally got the cake when his alliance with other opposition figures resulted in the APC and the first loss by an incumbent party at the center.
Known for his traditional titles Jagaban and Asiwaju, Tinubu has been a feature in Nigerian politics since the early 1990s. He was a senator during the brief Third Republic and then went into exile during the Sani Abacha dictatorship because of activism over the revalidation of the June 12, 1993, presidential election.
He returned in the late 1990s to found the AD with other southwest opposition figures and subsequently became the governor of Lagos State. Tinubu served as Lagos governor for eight years and was a fairly decent one, getting recognition for setting the foundation on which subsequent governors have built to make Lagos one of the top economic powerhouses in Africa, with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that is among the largest on the continent.
Tinubu’s style of politics has been controversial, as critics accuse him of running a patronage system, which they say keeps Lagos’ political and economic power firmly in his pocket, making sure no one amounts to anything in the state without Jagaban’s say-so. That puts him atop an exclusive pyramid system, with the lower rungs occupied by fawning lieutenants and followers, who compete feverishly for Asiwaju’s approval, making Tinubu seem more like a god rather than a mere godfather of Lagos politics.
As governor and leader of the opposition, it was easy to situate Tinubu’s ideological base. The ACN, the party he led had a center-left orientation and was progressive. It championed causes that were dear to Nigerian progressives such as resource control, restructuring, expanding voters’ rights, and improving electoral credibility. However, since the ACN dissolved into the APC, it is increasingly difficult to point at Tinubu’s ideological framework as he no longer canvasses those issues, either because they are not popular in the conservative north which he now partners or because his party which is in power is not keen on implementing them.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu
It is somewhat problematic to predict the kind of government that President Tinubu would run. Of the three leading candidates, he is the least coherent in adverting the policies he would implement or the issues that are dear to him and which his government would prioritize. He has barely granted media interviews where he articulated policies and programs and actions his government would implement. This makes it difficult to understand where he stands on critical issues such as public sector reform, privatization, borrowing, and other state matters. From snippets gleaned from the campaign ground, he has said he would remove petroleum subsidies but there is no coherent argument from him yet on how to tackle the infrastructural challenge, unemployment, corruption, inequality, and poverty.
Tinubu’s 80-page manifesto called “Renewed hope: Action Plan for a Better Nigeria does contain a plan. But after President Muhammadu Buhari dismissed his party’s manifesto on whose strength he was elected and governing without reference to it, one should take parties’ manifestos, documents prepared by experts, with a pinch of salt. So, for this feature, I evaluated the candidates based only on their convictions as expressed in interviews, town halls, debates, and on the campaign ground. On this score, Tinubu has done poorly in making a convincing pitch that shows a grasp of the important issues and provides a roadmap to take Nigeria out of the woods.
Nonetheless, President Tinubu might pull a surprise and revert to being the kind of leader he was in the ACN days. That, however, is doubtful. It is obvious that Tinubu is not physically and mentally in the best shape, and not the man he was as governor of Lagos State. That Tinubu was cerebral and a fighter and would not shy away from media interviews, debates, or town halls.
So, possibly, because of health and other fitness challenges, President Tinubu would rely heavily on aides and associates to run his government. His administration would therefore best approximate that of President Buhari, who has virtually been absent and allowed ministers and advisers free rein without active supervision. Rarely has President Buhari taken personal charge of the bully pulpit to address the nation’s concerns, give comfort in times of distress, provide hope and optimism, and generally lead. The country has got used to press releases that may or may not be authorized by the president and which may or may not reflect his views. That is usually the consequence when the leader, because of some incapacitation, is unavailable to do his job.
But unlike Buhari, Tinubu has a rich network of aides and lieutenants who come from all parts of the country. He is also famed as a talent spotter who has mentored some of the more successful Nigerian public officials. So the charge of provincialism may not apply to President Tinubu, and his government may turn out to be more successful than Buhari’s because of the quality of the people around him. But like Buhari, the success or failure of the government may not depend mainly on President Tinubu but largely on a coterie of powerful aides and allies around him.
Also, in the potential Tinubu presidency, media and communication aides would play an outsize role. This was pre-heralded by the Chatham House event when he parried questions and asked some of the party officials to provide answers on his behalf. This suggests some limitations in engaging in the rigors of public communication and media aides are likely to fill this vacuum, providing insights into the president’s mind, for good or for bad.
Although he has campaigned more like an opposition candidate, stating that the government’s policies are out to frustrate his ambition, Tinubu is nevertheless the APC Presidential candidate and therefore the one most likely to continue with the programs and traditions of the party. For one, he will be inheriting the APC’s culture and ‘people,’ with all the threats and opportunities that may represent.
The public response to President Tinubu’s administration is likely to follow partisan and ethnoreligious lines, with Nigerians electing to perceive the issues around performance or non-performance based on political affiliation, religion, and ethnicity. In all, President Tinubu would likely form an inclusive government, one with experienced public-sector technocrats, drawing from his longstanding relationship with a wide network of professionals. He would however increasingly lean on close aides and allies for running the government due to health and fitness challenges.