November 29, 2021

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Tinubu, the kingmaker who wants to be King

Following the visit by President Buhari, who was on medical vacation in London, to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who himself was undergoing medical check-up in the same city, the tempo of visitations to the latter by delegations of political figures from Nigeria increased noticeably.

As if on cue, the court of Bourdillon Ikoyi, Lagos where Asiwaju Tinubu resides and usually holds sway, moved to the London residence of the political patriarch where wave after wave of Nigerian political figures struggled to get photo ops with him. Up until his return to Nigeria a couple of weeks ago, Tinubu was playing host daily to a steady stream of Nigeria’s political who’s who to a point that looked clearly unreasonable and unjustifiable even if couched as mercy visitations.

Although the ostensible reason for these visits was given as the need to wish the Asiwaju quick recovery, it was not lost on observers that political calculations were behind it all. This is as we approach the next circle of elections in 2023 with the tempo of political activities expected to pick up.

Many political figures, especially of the All Progressives Congress (APC) persuasion, interpreted the visit by President Buhari to Asiwaju Tinubu in London as sign of a subtle hand over and endorsement of the latter’s undisguised ambition to succeed him. And sensing where the political pendulum is swinging, many politicians cannot but be seen making a beeline to register their presence with the emerging political realities which Tinubu represents in their reckoning.

In this regard many permutations within the APC and in the polity generally consider Asiwaju Tinubu as the president in waiting for a number of reasons.

He is without any doubt the next dominant political figure in the APC (some would say the polity as a whole) after President Buhari. By this many APC members believe the future of the party after the exit of President Buhari in 2023 rests to a large extent on the political disposition of Asiwaju Tinubu.

Secondly, due to his weighty political standing in the country, Asiwaju Tinubu can turn the entire political firmament in Nigeria in whatever direction he fancies without regard to his belonging to any political party. In other words, Asiwaju Tinubu has become such a formidable political institution in his own right that he can single-handedly determine the political fate of the country in the foreseeable future. So with the polity heading into political uncertainty as we approach the 2023 elections, Asiwaju Tinubu appears to be one of the precious few political canopies on which many politicians are predictably gravitating towards.

Asiwaju Tinubu was the kingmaker whose decisive political moves made possible the formation of APC as a political party and more significantly the election of President Buhari in 2015. That proved to be the checkmate that turned the tide in the 2015 election, sweeping out the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), thereby establishing Tinubu as the undisputed political kingmaker in the country to date.

Going to 2023 should we expect Tinubu the political kingmaker to try to become king?

The pressures from all quarters as well as the opportunities for him to do so can never have been more gilt-edged. And many like me believe that he not only entertains thoughts of running and at some point soon he will throw his hat into the ring, he will not pass up the chance.

I believe the major issue here is not whether Tinubu will eventually transform from being a kingmaker, that he now is, to being a king. He certainly has a better chance than any other political figure of winning the presidency as things now stand.

Much of what drives the Tinubu momentum to seek to be president of Nigeria is not about the need to drive any cutting edge political and economic ideas for the transformation of Nigeria which is desperately needed at this point in time. To the best of my knowledge, Tinubu has never been seen or heard pushing forth a coherent set of ideas on the political economy of Nigeria. His politics has always been about riding on popular sentiments and the convenience it offers for him to advance his own political and economic interests.

On the 2023 projections, the Asiwaju Tinubu candidacy is being pushed on two basic premises.

The first premise is that the South West region where he comes from considers him as their best and strongest possible candidate to enable a return to Aso Villa which the region craves for. The argument in support of this is that having helped the APC and President Buhari to power in 2015, the expectation is that a candidate from the South West should be in line to succeed President Buhari as a reciprocal gesture and just reward. And so in this regard the overwhelming opinion in the South West favours Tinubu, who played the key role in bringing this about and who they believe possesses the commensurate political and financial weight to deliver the goods.

The second premise emanates from those who see in Asiwaju Tinubu the sort of person who will return the polity to the freewheeling days of ‘chop-I-chop’ system. Although President Buhari’s fight against corruption and sleaze has turned out to be a farce as many Nigerians have come to see the contradictions in it, for what it is worth, corruption has nevertheless gone underground rather than the open thing it was before.

With Tinubu, the patronage system of which he is not just a part of but actually one of its celebrated Brahmins there will not be even a pretence to put the brakes on it even in the shambolic way that President Buhari has done his. Like he did in Lagos while serving as governor, every institution in Nigeria under a Tinubu presidency will either be sold off to cronies or subjected to tax.

Indeed with this Asiwaju Tinubu’s route to the presidency will predictably take on the tenor of a typical business acquisition and takeover process of a much sought after prized asset to add to previously acquired ones.

Much of the oil that sustains the Asiwaju Tinubu public image comes from the promotion of him rather conveniently in the media as fighter for partisan causes. His promotion in the media as a partisan of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and as a defender of the interests of Lagos against President Obasanjo’s federal meddlesomeness, when he was governor of Lagos state, has served to cover up some of the not so palatable things about him. And that is all down to the fact that he retains the services of a well-oiled army of public relations experts and writers-in-residence to keep his public image from adverse attention and burnish it constantly.

As the kingmaker that he now is, this has served him well. The public does not think too deeply about the many unpalatable issues that have dogged his life mainly because as kingmaker he is in a relatively safe enough position to operate without too much unwanted scrutiny. But when he ventures from the relative safety of his present kingmaker role to try to become king, Asiwaju Tinubu should expect not to be spared the harsh scrutiny that such a quest entails. And neither the convenience of partisan sentiments nor the best airbrushing efforts by his army of image launderers can save him in this respect.