It is an indubitable fact that Bola Ahmed Tinubu has built a formidable political empire in Lagos and has extended his suzerainty and influence to other parts of the Southwest and the country at large. From the modest position of being rewarded with the governorship ticket of his party, the Alliance for Democracy, mainly as reward for his services to NADECO during the days of the dark-goggled dictator, Sani Abacha, the Asiwaju of Lagos or Jagaban, as he is as he is popular called by his admirers, has not only presided over the dismantling of the Western region’s gerontocracy or, at best, reliance on elders for political directions, but has equally built from scratch a formidable political structure that has given him total control of the politics and governance structure of Lagos from which he has extended his influence to other states.
The decisive moment for him was when he became the only surviving governor of his party, following the unholy alliance elders of his party entered into with Obasanjo’s PDP, which saw the PDP sweeping his party out of power in the Southwest region. Perhaps, that was when it dawned on him that he could not continue to rely on the wisdom of the elders of his party, which has always ensured the region was isolated from the centre and the various mutations of his party, from independence, has continued to play only ethnic politics without a realistic prospect of grabbing power at the centre.
Having cemented his hold on Lagos, especially by ensuring the states’ relative fiscal independence through harnessing its tax powers, Tinubu proceeded with his new party, the Action Congress (AC) and later Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to gradually recapture old grounds and even extended its influence to the old Midwestern region, with the capture of Edo state in 2008.
Two attributes that endeared him most to people and made his politics and party quite appealing were his supposed rare managerial acumen of men and resources and his penchant for spotting and unearthing rare talents in governance and the states bureaucracy. He was reputed to have presided over an inclusive and participatory administration that not only empowered individuals and groups but, most importantly, saw to the utilisation of technology to increase internally generated revenue in the state. Over the last 18 years, the IGR of Lagos has risen from a mere N600 million monthly in 1999 to about N30 billion in 2017.
At the completion of his mandate in 2007 and even against stiff opposition from his new political family and party, he insisted on making Babatunde Fashola, his erstwhile Chief of Staff, a non-politician and technocrat, governor of Lagos state. That choice would turn out to be a brilliant one. Fashola’s performance drew praises for Tinubu from far and near further cementing his status as a visionary leader and apostle of good governance.
Naturally, he became the toast of politicians in the country and it wasn’t long before they came calling seeking alliances to either retain or capture power in the centre. Rumours had it that he entered into one with Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, which enabled the latter win the presidential election at the time. However, any possible deal between them broke down shortly after as Tinubu spearheaded the coalition of regional parties that formed a new and formidable political party (the APC) that finally sacked Jonathan in 2015 and made history as the first opposition party to defeat an incumbent in a presidential election in Nigeria. That electoral victory and the fact he delivered the Southwest to his party cemented his reputation as an uncommon political operator and strategist.
He has one ambition though – to become president of Nigeria. In 2015, he reportedly wanted to become Vice President but was prevailed upon to drop his ambition as the country was not ripe for a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
However, shortly after the victory of his party, he began to experience a series of political set-backs that is threatening to tear down his beautifully constructed political empire. First, for two or three years, he was virtually sidelined by President Muhammadu Buhari and his band of northern cohorts who took over control of the government. He only became relevant again when the president began seeking a second term in office and knew he couldn’t do without him.
Secondly, Lagos’ status as the centre of good governance and his judgement has come into question recently as the Lagos state governor, Akinwumi Ambode, (single-handedly selected by Tinubu) was denied a second term due to what some party members described as poor performance and communication skills.
Thirdly, not a few people in Lagos feel his stranglehold of the state is becoming strangulating. He is not only the godfather of Lagos state politics, but is seen by most people to be the de facto governor, who never really allows sitting governors to govern without frequent and undue interferences.
What is more, the president he helped into power was adjudged to have performed so poorly that it took a lot of subterfuge, vote-buying, voter suppression and security agencies’ subtle intimidation to get the president re-elected for a second term last month. The fact that two bullion vans were pictured entering his house on the eve of the presidential election further lent credence to the story that most of the votes gotten in the state were bought. Even at that, the president lost in two states in the Southwest and won in the zone with just over 250, 000 votes.
Sensing that the president and his party had lost support in the state and despite the attempts at vote buying, the master strategist had to resort to blackmail to sell his candidate to the people. At a meeting with representatives of the Igbo residents in Lagos ahead of the presidential election, Tinubu warned the Igbos to either vote for the APC or face unsavoury consequences.
Despite the threat, his party thugs had to employ violence, ballot box snatching and destruction, and strategic voter disenfranchisement to deliver the state to the president, albeit with a razor-thin margin. Not a few people feel the Jagaban had to do the dirty job of delivering the state to the president regardless of his performance in office so as to pave way for his own presidential bid in 2023, an ambition many within his party are determined to scuttle.
Following the Senate president’s loss in Kwara and the eclipse of his family’s control of the state’s politics, there’s a similar demand for freedom from Tinubu’s control in Lagos. The governorship election on March 9 will therefore be interesting to watch. Will Tinubu’s empire finally crumble in the state? Will the president ensure security forces act impartially by protecting all citizens to prevent voter suppression and disenfranchisement?
To be sure, Tinubu will be desperate to ensure his candidate, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, wins. This is the only way he can maintain his firm grip on Lagos and ensure his presidential ambition remains on course. One thing is clear however; his firm grip on Lagos is loosening and it will only be a matter of time before his carefully constructed empire crumbles.