Following a crucial vote in Nigeria, 70-year-old Bola Tinubu emerged as a clear winner, set to become the fifth president since the return of democratic rule in the country in 1999.
It has been quite an eventful journey for Bola Tinubu, turning 71 later this month, who is known to hold much sway and influence in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.
Tinubu’s election slogan, ‘emi lo kan’ (meaning ‘it’s my turn’ in Yoruba) gives many insights into his popular appeal. But that popular appeal also comes with labels, such as ‘godfather’, and assertions that he exerts power from behind the scenes.
For much of Tinubu’s political career spanning four decades, he has been known as a man who uses an extensive patronage network to back candidates for office. Tinubu’s support was deemed crucial in having helped outgoing leader Muhammadu Buhari win two terms in office, in 2015 and 2019.
So, when he said “it’s my turn” this year, it turned out to be so.
The label ‘godfather’ came from Tinubu’s two terms as governor of Nigeria’s commercial hub, Lagos — a state he governed between 1999 and 2007. And since he bowed out as Lagos governor in 2007, Tinubu has picked every subsequent winning candidate to run Africa’s biggest city.
Prior to becoming governor, he was a senator from 1991 to 1993, before the military suspended the National Assembly and all democratic structures.
Together with other Nigerians, Tinubu formed a coalition to end the military rule that the country saw in various forms between 1985 and 1998. He later fled the country into exile following a crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners by the military junta.
He later returned in 1998 when political activities began for return to civilian rule.
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A mixed record and challenges
Tinubu supporters portray him as an effective administrator with a track record of picking competent technocrats.
Critics say he awards lucrative contracts and plum jobs to loyalists and has in the past turned to so-called area boys, who informally control the streets of Lagos and attend his rallies en masse, to intimidate opponents if he does not get his way.
The 70-year-old does not respond to such allegations, tending instead to ignore them.
A biography on his campaign website says Tinubu was born in Lagos in 1952, to a Muslim family from the Yoruba ethnic group, the majority in southwest Nigeria. Others say he is much older.
In the 1970s, he emigrated to the United States, where he worked as a dishwasher, taxi driver and night guard to fund his studies. He graduated from Chicago State University in 1979 with a degree in business administration.
After working for US consultancy firms, he returned to Nigeria in the 1980s and worked for the branch of the Mobil oil company as an auditor.
Now set to become the African country’s fifth president, Tinubu’s governance will be tested as he will attempt to tackle Nigeria’s multiple crises and improve on Buhari's record, often termed as lacklustre.
Nigeria continues to be beset by armed groups that have rendered swathes of the country ungovernable, while its economy struggles to keep up with multiple challenges, such as rising cost of living and crippling cash shortages after a botched introduction of new bank notes.
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