It’s simply impossible not to have noticed the presidential campaign of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He’s not just the candidate of the ruling All Progressives’ Congress (APC), he’s one of those faces that have lasted in Nigerian politics as long as that stubborn piece of corn stuck in your teeth.
Tinubu’s long game
Tinubu first won an election in Nigeria in 1992, a year that millions of people voting next year had not yet been born. His tenure as a senator didn’t last long due to General Sani Abacha‘s military takeover in 1993. But like yeast, Tinubu didn’t stay down.
He contested and won the election to become the governor of Lagos in 1999 and was a thorn in the side of the Olusegun Obasanjo-led Federal Government for much of his eight-year reign.
When Tinubu finished his tenure in 2007, he might have felt he was ripe for the presidency, but he had a problem: Olusegun Obasanjo, a fellow Yoruba man, had just finished a two-term tenure at the Aso Rock Villa.
The political climate was calling for a northerner to replace him in fulfilment of an unwritten gentleman’s agreement to rotate the president’s seat between the north and the south.
Tinubu realistically couldn’t make an immediate run for the presidency, and so his plotting began.
Operation Emi Lokan
Tinubu’s 2023 campaign has been standing firm on an entitled slogan that it’s his turn to sit on Nigeria’s Iron Throne. “Emi lokan” was the soundbite of his infamous rant in June 2022 when the APC was considering choosing a consensus candidate that would likely not be him. Nigerians mocked him for his rant and the soundbite in particular, but Tinubu has turned around to make it the tagline for his presidential bid.
Where exactly did the sense of entitlement come from? Let’s go back to 2007.
In 2007, Tinubu was in control of the Action Congress (AC), a party with enough clout to contest a national election. But since he couldn’t compete because of his limited chances of victory, he needed a northern ally to use his formidable platform.
For the 2007 election, he found Atiku Abubakar, a vice president and outcast who left the ruling party to fulfil his own presidential ambition.
It was a plot convenience that worked for everyone
It would appear that Tinubu’s plan in 2007 was to ride a northerner into Aso Rock Villa. The payoff for him would be the northerner’s support for his own shot at the presidency after eight years. He even tried to be appointed Atiku’s running mate, but they’re both Muslims and would have upset the typical religious balance of a presidential ticket. So Atiku said:
Even though Atiku finished in the third position at the polls, Tinubu had hacked a formula to plot his way to Aso Rock Villa through delayed gratification. It was the perfect plan.
By 2011, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the northerner who won the 2007 election, had died and Goodluck Jonathan, his vice president, stepped up as president. Jonathan, a southerner, contested for his first term in office in 2011, spitting in the face of the PDP’s rotational arrangement because he already had a taste of presidential power and wasn’t willing to let go.
But Tinubu failed to run yet again, offering up the platform of the AC, already renamed Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) at the time, to another outcast northerner, Nuhu Ribadu. In fact, all the four aspirants who contested for the ACN’s presidential ticket were northerners even though southerners dominated the party.
Again, the gambit failed and Ribadu finished third. But even before that election concluded, Tinubu’s ACN was already plotting with a more established northerner for a merger.
In the search for a solution to his presidency problems, Tinubu found one Muhammadu Buhari.
2015 and 2019
By 2015, Tinubu’s ACN had merged with other established opposition parties including Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). This merger gave birth to the APC we know today.
Buhari had been running for the president’s seat since 2003 with little success. But with Tinubu’s political “structure”, he made new inroads to southern votes and the APC rose to power on the promise of change.
Even then, Tinubu was desperate to become Buhari’s vice president. The only problem, again, was they’re both Muslims and that made the ticket politically-radioactive.
And even though Tinubu didn’t get what he wanted then, the only thing that sustained him was the thought of biding his time for what the future held for him. In 2015, he did his part and put a northerner in Aso Rock Villa. All he had to do was wait eight years for his turn.
2023: Emi lokan
According to the permutations of the unwritten rotation policy which has now been thrown inside the dustbin, 2023 is the time for another southern president after eight years of a northern one at the helm of power.
When Tinubu had his infamous “emi lokan” rant in June 2022, he didn’t just weaponise it for himself, but also for his ethnic Yoruba group. This is despite the fact Nigeria already had a Yoruba president for eight years, unlike the southeast region which has produced none.
Irrespective of his attempt to make it about the south, it’s clear that Tinubu’s ambition is solely about him and the long game he’s been playing down the length and breadth of Nigeria for years, just so he can retire in Aso Rock Villa.
Tinubu now has what he wants: his name on the presidential election ballot, his very own Muslim-Muslim ticket and a shot at Nigeria’s Iron Throne. But will he ever sit on it?
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