Tinubu: The Emergence of an Iconic African Leader


President Tinubu acknowledging cheers from the crowd after his inauguration at the Eagle Square in Abuja on May 29, 2023.
Photo Credit: State House

By Mark Longyen

He knows the value of freedom and always wears it as an insignia on his signature cap —a broken shackle that looks like a horizontal figure of eight.

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Adekunle Tinubu’s emergence as the new President of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, was no easy feat; he has had nearly three decades to prepare for it.

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His eventual rise to the nation’s highest seat of power as its 16th President at age 71, is indeed a befitting reward for focused ambition, dogged determination, diligent preparedness and exemplary leadership.

Popularly called Jagaban, by his panoply of supporters, which translates to “Leader of the Warriors,” a title from the Emir of Borgu, Niger state, Tinubu had insisted right from youth, that he was the light that must shine bright in the lives of men and women to change their fortunes for good.

The new President has not left anyone in doubt that he was truly created to positively influence the lives of many in virtually all areas of human experience; politics, careers, professions, leadership and self-development.

He indeed epitomizes a mixed bag of the idiomatic expression that says “some are born great, some achieve greatness, some love greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

While in the contemporary politics of Nigeria, his name perpetually rings a bell in virtually every household, Africa has now witnessed the emergence of an iconic leader to watch out, for in the truest sense, Tinubu is the Lion King of Nigeria and indeed an emerging African icon.

Little wonder that the highly respected TIME magazine, early this year, listed him among the world’s 100 most influential people.

Initially, some had falsely assumed that his influence was only limited to the South West of Nigeria, but Tinubu’s political whirlwind conquest has now hit every nook and cranny of Nigeria —with the African continent being next in line.

As one of the originators of the coalition of political parties which later formed the then main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) which he became its National Leader, Tinubu’s influence has now extended to everywhere in Nigeria.

Millions of Nigerians, young and old, men and women, owe their loyalty to Tinubu, who is regarded as the greatest progressive leader the nation has ever seen in its chequered political history. His campaign slogan, Emilokan, which translates to, “It’s my turn,” was a nod to his role as a longtime political power broker.

Tinubu had helped to restore the country’s democracy in 1999 after fighting military rule and then served two consecutive terms as governor of Lagos.

An indisputable political godfather to all, a visionary strategist, a pragmatic reformer of political structures, a brutal generalissimo, a modern day Awolowo with a difference, Tinubu is a man of “timber and calibre” who knows his onions and who no-one can contend with anymore.

An inspiring leader and handler of men, a loving husband and father, a charming and tactful friend, Tinubu’s contributions to the welfare of his own followers brought him the well deserved reward of becoming the President of the world’s most populous black nation.

As Governor of Lagos state, he included many brilliant, intelligent, smart, young and energetic men and women in politics and governance, many of whom have today emerged as governors, lawmakers, party leaders and ambassadors.

At a time when the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was the strongest and biggest political party in Africa, Tinubu’s newly formed APC coalition successfully threatened and toppled it in 2015, a watershed which marked the first time that an opposition party defeated a ruling party in Nigeria.

Tinubu almost singlehandedly braved the PDP, outwitted its leaders, snatched power from them in a most strategic manner and installed both his predecessor, former President Muhammadu and the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo with the APC’s “Change” mantra.

He has built an avalanche of social, political disciples, who now hold the whims and caprices of power and call the shots in Nigeria’s contemporary politics.

Many who had earlier challenged, doubted or disagreed with him and his ambitious high visibility, have since accepted the fact that it is now the turn of the Asiwaju of Africa to join the league of African legends.

Given his political pedigree, not a few Nigerians expect their iconic new President to join the likes of African heroes like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela,Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi, among many others who made great impacts in their countries and continent.

Born in Lagos on March 29, 1952 to the illustrious Tinubu family of Lagos State, he attained early education in the country before leaving to the United States of America in 1975 in search of the proverbial Golden Fleece with a heart brimming with unrelenting determination to achieve his vision.

On arriving in the United States and with the support of an ever-adoring mother, this courageous youth, faced with an unflinching zeal to succeed, took on such menial jobs as dish-washing, night guard work and cab driving to see himself through the initial difficulties of school at the Richard Daley College, Chicago, Illinois.

He subsequently transferred to Chicago State University, Illinois, graduating with Honours in 1979 and earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration (Accounting Management).

Tinubu worked for American Companies Arthur Anderson, Deloitte, Haskins and Sells, where he participated in the auditing, management and consultancy services of General Motors, First National Bank of Chicago, Procter and Gamble, International Harvester and GEC. He also worked at GTE services Corporation.

After returning to Nigeria in 1983, Tinubu worked as a Senior Auditor at Mobil Producing Nigeria, where he retired as the company’s Treasurer.

In the year 1993, just before the military take-over on November 17, 1993, he won the Senatorial seat for Lagos West District. He was a founding member of the famous pro-democracy group, the National Democratic Coalition(NADECO), which fought for Nigeria’s return to democratic rule.

An irrepressible fighter for democracy and protection of civil liberties, Bola Tinubu endured political persecution, including numerous arrests, detentions, harassment, constant threats to his life and years in political exile.

When the Military handed over to civilian rule in 1999, he was elected as Governor of Lagos State, holding that office from 29th of May 1999 to 29th of May 2007.

When he assumed office in May 1999, the virtues of courage, determination, commitment, vision, focus and a strong sense of purpose were the hallmarks of his politics, which were the driving forces that culminated in his emergence as one of the country’s most successful Governors.

His years remain a reference for good governance in Nigeria and across the region. He was the National Leader of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Nigeria’s leading opposition party. Tinubu’s rare courage and foresight abolished the determined efforts of the erstwhile ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to turn Nigeria into a one-party State or rule forever.

He delivered nearly 10, 000 Housing units for the poor, during his eight years in office, made large investments in education in the State. He also initiated new road constructions required to meet the needs of the fast-growing population and economy of the state.

The President won re-election to office as Governor in April 2003, at the time other states in the south-west fell to Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

He was involved in a struggle with the Federal Government over whether Lagos State had the right to create additional Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) to meet the needs of the large population of Lagos State. The controversy led to the Federal Government’s seizure of the state’s monthly allocation of statutory funds and withheld the money meant for local councils in the state.

President Tinubu was also engaged in continuous clashes with PDP powerful stalwarts such as Minister of Works and South-West Chairman of the PDP during his tenure.

Following the victory by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the April 2011 general elections, Tinubu became very active in negotiations to bring together Nigeria’s fragmented opposition parties into a “Mega Party” capable of challenging the PDP.

In July 2009, for instance, he had called for the implementation of electoral reforms spelled out in the Justice Uwais Report to ensure that the 2011 elections would be free and fair as that of 1993.

More than any one else since the return of civilian rule in 1999, Tinubu’s actions in maintaining his political party as a formidable opposition party, helped salvage multi-party electoral victory. With his contributions alone, he has helped to lead Nigeria on the path of good governance, human rights and prosperity for all.

He was one of the major actors who brokered the merger of various opposition parties in 2013, comprising the ACN, ANPP, CPC, APGA, among others to form the All Progressives Congress (APC), retaining the ACN logo as the symbol to stand as a much needed alternative to the ruling party during the 2015 general elections.

Having achieved his long term ambition to become the President of Nigeria, he now faces a litany of crises in a fractured nation, including deep-rooted corruption, religious insurgencies, and shortages of cash, fuel, and power in a crumbling economy.

He will also be looking at unifying a country that is retreating into regional lines and religious blocs, as the 2023 presidential election results showed.

It is not an impossible job for a man who largely succeeded in everything in life where others failed, but the task ahead is quite daunting. The President said he was conversant with what he inherited, and has insisted that it is not a job that fazes him.

”Nigeria is one country and we must build it together,” he said in his acceptance speech.

He has also pointed to his time as Lagos state governor between 1999 and 2007, arguing that under his tenure, Lagos massively grew its income through huge foreign investment.

Tinubu’s spin doctors often brag of his transformation of the state’s public transport scheme that saw new lanes created for rapid buses which eased the notorious traffic jams hitherto faced daily by commuters.

Not a few African leaders are aware of the implications, significance and expectations from Tinubu’s presidency in Nigeria and the potentials of his leadership role in Africa.

For Thabo Mbeki, former South African president and Head of Commonwealth Observer Mission to Nigeria’s 2023 General Elections, Tinubu must put Africa in mind while in office.

Mbeki, who noted that the election was fair and credible, asked Tinubu to make the entire African continent his compass during his tenure.

“Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with a big economy. Whatever happens here sets the pace for the rest of Africa.

“We need a strong Nigerian President who will also focus on the African region,” he said.

Tinubu, in response, reassured the former South African president of his commitment to African integration and economic development and promised to work with Mbeki and other leaders of the continent to ensure Africa’s development.

Also speaking about the emergence of Tinubu on the African continental scene, Folashade Olabanji-Oba, National Vice President of the Association of Local Government Vice Chairmen in Nigeria (ALGONVC) and Chairman of Ikorodu LGA, Lagos State, said she was upbeat about it.

She said,”Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a detribalized Nigerian. In many African states, he has gotten leadership awards. Nigeria should be proud of this celebrated son of Africa. Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have. Others are taking care of their turf and we are envying it. We owe it to mother earth to leave it better than we met it.

“For human capacity development, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is directing programmes and policies towards the youths to the end that Nigeria will be the go-to place not just in Africa but in the world. The future is here. Look no further.”

The President, while corroborating Mbeki’s earlier call on him to give Africa topmost priority during his tenure, obliged the diplomatic community a glimpse of his foreign policy during his inauguration ceremony, where he stated that Africa would be the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy under his administration.

Tinubu aligned himself with Nigeria’s Afrocentric foreign policy principle since independence, which is based on three concentric circles of priority, beginning with the West African subregion, followed by the rest of Africa and then the entire global stage in its foreign policy objectives.

He said, “On this day, Nigeria affirms its rightful place among the world’s great democracies. There, Nigeria shall reside forever.

“The crisis in Sudan and the turn from democracy by several nations in our immediate neighbourhood are of pressing concern.

“As such, my primary foreign policy objective must be the peace and stability of the West African subregion and the African continent.

“We shall work with ECOWAS, the AU and willing partners in the international community to end extant conflicts and to resolve new ones.

“As we contain threats to peace, we shall also retool our foreign policy to more actively lead the regional and continental quest for collective prosperity.”

Exuding confidence in his ability to become one of the continent’s legendary leaders, the President added, “With full confidence in our ability, I declare that these things are within our proximate reach because my name is Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and I am the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Meanwhile, the signs of a robust Nigerian foreign policy beyond Africa under President Tinubu have already started manifesting with the international community immediately engaging the President in bilateral relations talks hours after his inauguration.

For instance, the United Kingdom, United States, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Brazil, South Korea, Israel, Cape Verde, Somalia and Nicaragua, among many others, formally presented their goodwill messages and letters of support and solidarity to President Tinubu at the presidential villa, Abuja barely 24 hours after his assumption of office.

While congratulating President Tinubu, the new UK High commissioner to Nigeria, Richard Montgomery, presented letters from British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, King Charles and Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

The U.S. delegation led by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Marcia L. Fudge, paid a courtesy call on President Tinubu and had a brief bilateral discussion with him the day after the President’s inauguration to chart a course for a deeper diplomatic relations between Nigeria and the U.S.

Prior to that, the United States President, Joe Biden, had sent his warm  wishes to Nigeria ‘s President Bola Tinubu on his inauguration, which read, “On behalf of the people of the United States, my administration has worked to strengthen ties between the United States and Nigeria, and I look forward to continuing this work with President Tinubu to support economic growth, advance security, and promote respect for human rights.

“The people-to-people connections between our two countries run particularly deep, nurtured by a vibrant Nigerian Diaspora in the United States.  As we further deepen our partnership with Nigeria, I look forward to drawing even more on the ideas and energy of this dynamic connection between our countries.

“As Africa’s largest democracy and economy, Nigeria’s success is the world’s success.  Elected leaders owe it to their people to show that democracy can deliver for their needs.  And the United States will continue to work closely with Nigeria, as a friend and partner, to deliver a more peaceful and prosperous future for our world.”

Also, while delivering a letter of invitation from South Korean President, Yoon Suk Yeol, for Tinubu to visit that country soon, the South Korean delegation had bilateral discussions with the President. The delegation also sought to increase relations between the two countries.

The Saudi Arabian delegation also delivered a goodwill message from the Saudi Royal House to the Nigerian president.

A special envoy of the Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, equally paid a courtesy call on President Tinubu and extended a hand of support and fellowship.

In the same vein, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, sent a delegation which met with Tinubu and expressed willingness to work with the country in the area of fin-tech.

Delegations of other countries that met with President Tinubu and pledged cooperation with Nigeria included those from Brazil, Somali, Cape Verde and Nicaragua.

Africa and the rest of the world therefore await the unleashing of a foreign policy thrust from an iconic new leader in Nigeria whose pedigree in all walks of life already speaks volumes about what to expect.

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