Bola Tinubu: Well-connected godfather who punctured 'Hustler' wave in Nigeria

Bola Tinubu was elected the 16th president of Nigeria on February 25, 2023. [Courtesy of Bloomberg]

Bola Tinubu will be turning 71 years old on March 29, 2023.

At the time, he will still be the president-elect of Nigeria, awaiting hand-over from his friend and political alter ego Muhammadu Buhari.

The West African nation has a tradition, since 1999, of swearing in its presidents on May 29.

Tinubu is no political tenderfoot. He has been around for a while in the dirty yet lucrative field of politics.

He served briefly as Lagos West Senator between 1992 and 1993.

He is, however, best known for his tenure as the Governor of Lagos State between 1999 and 2007.

He is credited for establishing order, cleanliness, road network and citizen welfare services during his reign as Lagos governor.

Tinubu is well-oiled old money.

He has business interests in hotel and hospitality, shopping malls, airline business, oil and gas, general transport and real estate.

Research into his net worth gives varying results.

Though multiple platforms report that the president-elect's net worth could be on the up of $4 billion (Sh510 billion), making him one of the wealthiest men on the continent.

Reuters describes Tinubu as a power wielder behind the scenes, "who uses an extensive patronage network to back candidates for office".

His nickname is the political "godfather", while politicians fondly refer to him as "your excellency".

Some of the leaders in Nigeria who have benefited from Tinubu's deep pockets and immense connections is none other than his now-predecessor Muhammadu Buhari.

Tinubu's support helped Buhari win two terms in office, in 2015 and 2019.

"And since he bowed out as Lagos governor in 2007, Tinubu has picked every subsequent winning candidate to run Africa's biggest city," reports Reuters.

Buhari appears to have returned the favour when he endorsed Tinubu for president on February 4, describing him as a tested and proven leader.

"Bola Tinubu has been my political ally for over 20 years. I've confidence in his ability and capacity to continue with the good works of the ruling All Progressives Congress. He will be a very good successor. Come out en masse and vote for the Tinubu/Shettima ticket on February 25 and you'll never regret doing so," Buhari said while addressing a political rally at Lafia in Nasarawa State, the News Agency of Nigeria reported.

During the campaigns, Tinubu, a native Yoruba, promised to create jobs for Nigerians, make credit available for businesses, and deal conclusively with armed militia.

"I make a social covenant with you today that the unemployed among you will get jobs. Those with no skill will be provided the relevant skill that would put food on their table. When we get to government, we will make soft loans available for market women and business owners," he said at Freedom Park Osogbo in Osun State on February 2.

Militant groups have rendered large parts of Nigeria ungovernable, while the economy is in disarray as the country implements circulation of new currency notes.

The high cost of living and shortage of notes in the economy are some of the challenges that await the new president.

Tinubu, last week, appeared to distance himself from President Buhari's failures as Head of State, saying his candidature shouldn't be pegged on the performance of the government, led by the All Progressives Congress (APC) Party, which sponsored him to the polls.

"I am not the party," he said. "My track record should speak for me. Look at Lagos: before I came, we had dead bodies on the road, a chaotic traffic system, robbery daytime and nighttime. Come on, clap for me," he said during campaigns.

Concerns by his opponents were raised over the candidate's ability to rule Nigeria, citing his age and frail physique.

During rallies, Tinubu has appeared physically weak, and with a slurred speech.

He has reiterated, on several occasions, that he feels perfectly fit to serve Nigerians as their 16th president.

Despite a strong showing by Atiku Abubakar of the former ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), and Peter Obi, of the insurgent Labour Party, Tinubu triumphed.

During a past campaign event, Tinubu chided Obi as a "stingy" politician.

Obi, 61, centred his campaigns on elevating the welfare of the youth in Nigeria, amid high unemployment and increased frustrations among the young people.

Until a few months ago, Obi, a two-term former governor of Anambra State, had a more distinguishable message in his campaigns - "the youth arise".

In 2019, he ran for presidential election as the running-mate of the then-candidate for Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar.

In 2023, he expressed interest in the presidency, and decamped from PDP after it became clear to him that he was not going to get the PDP ticket, with Abubakar still interested in the top seat.

Obi settled on the relatively little known political outfit, the Labour Party.

Despite labelling himself as a grass-to-grace type of leader, Obi, just like Tinubu, is a billionaire businessman of repute.

According to the Institute of Development Studies, Obi has houses in rich neighbourhoods of Lagos and London.

"He is not a newcomer to wealth, as he bought his properties before he became a governor in 2006," says the Institute of Development Studies.

In Nigeria, winning elections is not about having a lot of money and being in the right party. It's mostly about turning an opponent's failures into campaign weapons.

Obi had done this against Tinubu, who had received the blessings of Buhari, whose administration was largely seen as a failed regime.

Goodluck Jonathan managed to fashion a successful campaign against his opponent in 2011, and Buhari did so too in 2015, on the pledge to right the wrongs done by the candidates fronted by the ruling parties.

However, it appears this strategy - and possibly luck - did not get Obi across the highly unpredictable sea of politics, as Tinubu triumphed with 8.8 million votes (36 per cent) against Atiku Abubakar's 6.9 million (29 per cent) and Peter Obi's 6.1 million (25 per cent).

The opposition candidates have since called for fresh elections on a later date, claiming that the 2023 presidential polls were rigged in favour of Tinubu.

Election observers, including Kenya's former President Uhuru Kenyatta, have asked the aggrieved parties to file petitions in court.

For now, despite questions lingering on Tinubu's health and alleged corrupt past, the president-elect's eyes are set on May 29, when he will possibly be sworn in as Nigeria's 16th president in its 62-year history as an independent nation.

Tinubu is married to Oluremi Tinubu, with whom he has four children. Oluremi, 62, is the current Senator of Lagos Central Senatorial District.

Tinubu holds a Bachelor's Degree in Accountancy from the Chicago State University.