Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling party in Nigeria. It was not an accident that he emerged at the cusp of his party’s power crescent. It was a carefully thought-out, masterfully woven script complete with all his deft seal and imprimatur.
His emergence as a modern day political power broker owes so much to the tact and skill of this omnibus being who does not look like what he really is. Tinubu does not have gift of presence. He does not appear in commodious Agbada at functions; neither does he deploy oratorical sophistry to rouse the rabble. Almost self-effacing, he dissolves into any crowd like another ordinary folk. Even this has become his strength. The lack of a towering, domineering physical apparition is the tool he has used to much advantage. In his ordinariness, he comes loaded with guile, grit, political sagacity and uncanny ability to see tomorrow.
In all his exertions and accomplishments; in his moments of perils and of triumph, one sentence sums up most succinctly his struggles: He is a good leader. This is reflective in all that he sets out to do. Leaders are influencers. Tinubu has influenced many across multiple generations. Leaders are fighters, dogged raw plucky fighters. Tinubu has shown this in good measure. He is a bruised man; bears his own scars like all fighters. But the scars do not diminish him. Rather they inspire him to still roll up his sleeves for the next fight. Tinubu fought the military in the darkest moments of Nigeria’s socio-political life; the darkling days of the late dictator, General Sani Abacha. Never one afraid to throw his hat into the ring, he has a knack for punching the enemy even in the streets. From the boardroom through the barricades and bonfires on Nigeria’s dangerous roads, Tinubu has won his victories through bruising battles and life-threatening struggles and fights. Yet, he survives. Each victory thrusts him up the rung of the ladder, preparing him for the next fight. He keeps fighting, and he keeps winning.
In those days when democracy was daily imperiled and the silhouette of constitutional government was fast fading away under the jackboot, it was Tinubu and others in the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Eastern Mandate Union (EMU), Campaign for Democracy (CD) among others who raised their voices against the beast of fascism. The birthing of the 4th Republic therefore owes so much to his tenacity and unflinching derring-do to confront the bayonet and the blunderbuss. It was no surprise that recently at a colloquium to mark his 67th birthday, the talk centred on the march of democracy. It has always been. Previous colloquia mirrored the nation’s democracy and its pitfalls.
Leaders, good leaders, are often enmeshed in controversies. But it never dims their wit and candour. Tinubu is often in the crossfire of controversies; the subject of polemics and diatribes. His age is controversial. His ancestry has been a subject of debate. His education and sojourn in the United States have all been marinated in caustic controversies. Even his networth, business dealings and his vicarious and direct enrichment of his cronies and family (nuclear and extended) all enjoy their good shares of controversies.
But like him or hate him, Tinubu is the undisputed Henry Clay of Nigeria’s post-independence political history. Clay was an American politician treasured for his political brilliance and wisdom even for a man of his young age. In November 1811, he was elected as the 7th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was the youngest man, and the only freshman ever to hold that office. In retrospect, some Americans describe him as the greatest Speaker in American history.
Clay influenced generations of American politicians including Abraham Lincoln (Honest Abe) who said of Clay: “I worshiped him as a teacher and leader.” And when Clay died, Lincoln reminisced on him as “freedom’s champion – the champion of a civilized world”. Tinubu is Nigeria’s post-Independence freedom’s champion; the champion of a civilized Nigeria. All his fights were aimed at obtaining victory over the shackles of dictatorship. And just like Clay, Tinubu enjoys near-worship among several divides of politicians. He enjoys deference not only from his Yoruba ethnic nationality but from across the nation. Only few Nigerian leaders are so gifted with the flair to be loved both at home and ‘abroad’. He is a friend of the Yoruba, Igbo, Fulani, Hausa, Ijaw. He is adored across ethnic frontiers.
One striking capacity of great leaders is their ability to filter the noise. The Nigerian political agora is both noisy and noisome; sometimes too fouled up and too misty to gauge the indicators on the dashboard. Tinubu towers over many here. He reads the dashboard correctly. In fact, he writes the script for the actors. In 2011, his party, the ACN, though fielding a presidential candidate in Nuhu Ribadu had not a chance of winning against incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP. Rather than back Ribadu, a pursuit in nothingness, Tinubu cut a deal with Jonathan and delivered Lagos overwhelmingly to the PDP. In 2015, the same Tinubu knowing that the same Jonathan and his PDP had ran into a brick-wall of incompetence with Nigerians, negotiated a political deal with Muhammadu Buhari, a serial presidential candidate without the coveted prize to show for his hustings. The Tinubu-Buhari deal begot what is today the All Progressives Congress (APC) and in effect produced a Buhari Presidency, something Buhari had tirelessly sought after for a record three times without luck.
In effect, without Tinubu, there would have been no President Buhari. Tinubu is not just a leader, he creates leaders. Every great leader must know when to strike, when to hold back and when to look away. Tinubu does all with empirical accuracy. But much more, he knows how to build men and trust them with responsibility. Under his leadership as governor of Lagos State, non-Lagosians including non-Yoruba occupied critical positions in his cabinet.
In a nation dominated by clannish politics and ethnically-bigoted politicians, Tinubu raises the banner of nationalism; of inclusive government and leadership. In spite of his frailties and weaknesses, as is common to all men, Tinubu deserves his garlands for his pro-democracy struggles, ideals and unrelenting inclination to enforce the rule of law against the rule of the tyrant mob.
Fondly called the Lion of Bourdillon, Jagaban of Borgu Kingdom in Niger State among other monikers and titles, Tinubu’s political leadership model deserves a deeper study. How can a man be so absent yet ever present? How can a man be so far yet so near? How can a man look so physically feeble yet rules the roost in Nigeria’s energy-sapping political enterprise? Tinubu beguiles. Tinubu bewilders. He has become a political puzzle; a mystical political mandarin with uncommon skill to turn ordinary men to great leaders. Happy birthday to a man who is not afraid to dare.