Hate or love him, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), is the grandmaster of Nigeria’s establishment politics. For good or bad, Tinubu, a former senator and governor of Lagos State, has contributed immensely to the enthronement and development of Nigeria’s democratic journey before the advent of the fourth democratic republic in 1999 and in the course of its 24 years mileage so far. As a member of the Social Democratic Party in the botched Third Republic (1991-1993) whose presidential candidate, Chief MKO Abiola, presumably won the annulled June 12, 1993, election, Tinubu teamed up with other pro-democracy individuals and groups to pressure the military out of power. Tinubu is often credited for his material, moral and political commitment to the restoration of democracy in Nigeria from his base in exile in Europe and America. 

Elected as the governor of Lagos on the platform of the opposition Alliance for Democracy party in 1999, Tinubu later became only governor on the party’s platform to survive the then ruling People’s Democratic Party’s kiss of death in the 2003 general election. And because of the solid and formidable political base he built for the Alliance for Democratic party in the state, Tinubu’s Lagos was the only state in the South-West geopolitical zone that was left standing after the ravages of the PDP tsunami swept through the region. From the ashes of the defeat of 2003 by the all-conquering PDP, Tinubu was able to painstakingly help rebuild Nigeria’s opposition politics through a network of alliances and strategic collaborations, which eventually culminated in the formation of the APC in 2013. And by 2015, 12 years after the 2003 decimation of Nigeria’s opposition, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, the ‘National Leader’ of the APC, led the party and its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, to victory over an incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and his ruling PDP. Tinubu repeated the feat again in 2019 to secure second and final term of four years for President Buhari. 

After many years of conscientious planning and strategic geopolitical positioning, Tinubu, the kingmaker, is now seeking the crown for himself. Ahead of the 2023 presidential election, Tinubu didn’t wait for clearance from his ally and leader of the APC, President Buhari before he went into the inner recess of his Aso Rock Villa residence to notify him of his intention to run for the presidency of Nigeria on the platform of the ruling party.  However, it was clear from the start that Tinubu was not President Buhari’s favourite as successor; a reality that Tinubu is well acquainted with. But it was also clear that nobody within the ranks of the other contenders for the APC presidential candidacy could defeat Tinubu in a competitive contest because of the formidable structures of supporters and loyalists that were embedded at every level of the APC party structure across the country. And when it looked like it would take a direct interference by President Buhari through his open endorsement of another aspirant to stop Tinubu, sensing danger, the Lion of Bourdilon roared “Emilokan” from the top of Olumo Rock in Abeokuta to frighten the jackals and hyenas prowling around Aso Rock in Abuja out of any political plot to stage a coup de grace against his ambition. 

Interestingly, after picking the party nomination with an overwhelming margin of victory against other contenders without his endorsement, neither President Buhari is seen campaigning for the candidate of his party nor is Tinubu heard campaigning on the records of achievements of the leader of his party in the last eight years. This is because, in the last eight years since 2015 when APC came to power, the socio-economic conditions of Nigerians have steadily degenerated as indicated by widespread insecurity, hunger, mass poverty, unemployment and acute energy crisis. Having failed to fulfil any of his key campaign promises of tackling insecurity, fixing the economy and taming corruption, President Buhari is leaving Nigerians worse than he met them in 2015, hence the ruling APC is overburdened by a heavy load of incumbency disadvantage arising from poor performance going into the 2023 general election. Tinubu’s “Hope Renewed”mantra is clear testimony of the hopelessness that currently envelopes the peoples and lands of Nigeria. 

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Similarly, Tinubu, who is seen as the grandmaster of Nigeria’s establishment politics, is largely seen as part of the problem of Nigeria, including its ‘Buhari’ problem for the role he played in getting him elected twice as President. Establishment politics in Nigeria, which has degenerated into a criminal franchise of power purchase for self-service, has not only failed to deliver the much anticipated dividends of democracy 24 years after the advent of the fourth democratic republic in 1999 but has also de-legitimized the concept of democracy as a system of government that is relevant in the provision of welfare and security in the eyes of Nigerians. And with the unprecedented leadership failure of the President Buhari-led APC administration, which has slipped Nigeria into a country in a revolution mode, Tinubu is cast as the villain to the growing mob of anti-establishment Nigerians baying for the blood of their perceived oppressors at the 2023 polls. For the first time in the history of the Fourth Republic, no political pundit, marabou, pastor or babalawo can clearly predict the winner of the presidential election on the first ballot. Tinubu, the political master strategist and maverick, is also well acquainted with this unfolding reality. 

It is consequent upon this reality that an apprehensive Tinubu once again called out his former allies-turned-traducers from within the President Buhari-led APC government on the lingering energy and Lebanon-like currency crises in Nigeria on the eve of election as a ploy to sabotage his presidential ambition. The sight of Nigerians queuing to buy petrol at exorbitant prices and at bank ATMs to withdraw their own money is a combustible mixture that is also highly flammable. Just as he did before the primary election, the Lion of Bourdilon once again roared his frustration with an uncooperative incumbent government from the top of Olumo Rock in Abeokuta and again the jackals and hyenas hovering around Aso Rock scampered for their own safety. As far as Tinubu was concerned, if the President will not campaign for him, let him not impose policies that will further alienate the people from the ruling APC that, if not managed well, may even scuttle the 2023 general election as a result of popular uprising by long-suffering Nigerian people. And because when Tinubu sneezes Buhari catches cold, he has approved the extension of the deadline set by the Central Bank of Nigeria for the return of old naira notes in exchange for redesigned ones and in the process averting what many had predicted could serve as a trigger for an #EndSARS-like uprising ahead of the 2023 elections. 

But why does President Buhari catch cold whenever Tinubu sneezes? Because, without the material, political and moral support of Tinubu and his South-West people, Muhammadu Buhari would never have been President of Nigeria and power would not have returned to the North in 2015. If Tinubu is today a villain to the Nigerian people, he remains an eternal hero to President Buhari and the northern region of Nigeria and is deserving of their support for his presidential bid as one good turn deserves another. Even among thieves, there should honour. 

In the current circumstances, President Buhari must support Tinubu and should be seen doing so without prejudice to free, fair and credible elections. A loss for Tinubu on account of lack of support from President Buhari and the northern wing of the APC and a victory for any of the northern candidates on account of regional support may precipitate a crisis that will spiral out of control. A loss for Tinubu should be on account of his rejection by the Nigerian people from North and South in spite of President Buhari’s support as the appropriate punishment for bad governance at the 2023 presidential polls.