From his redoubt on Bourdillon road in upmarket Lagos, a man popularly known as the Jagaban cemented his reputation this week as a political Svengali with the role he played in helping to orchestrate the downfall of Nigeria’s sitting president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, whose name comes from a chieftaincy title bestowed on him by the town of Borgu, in Nigeria’s North, was from 1999 to 2007 the provincial governor of the country’s economic engine, the coastal state and megacity of Lagos.
The political godfather of Nigeria’s South-west, Tinubu’s unlikely alliance with the austere former military ruler, now president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, made possible the first opposition victory in Nigeria’s electoral history.
“There needed to be an alignment for us to be able to stare down the government in power. There needed to be a catalyst for that alignment. He was the most prepared for that,” says one of Tinubu’s lieutenants.
The manner in which that alignment evolves, is now among the big questions Nigerians are asking when considering the likely character of the incoming administration.
Described as “deeply Machiavellian” and a “master strategist” by one of his party peers, the Jagaban has cannily built a political empire among ethnic Yorubas in Lagos and the South-west, as formidable, according to allied politicians, as that of Obafemi Awolowo, who led Nigeria’s second largest ethnic block at independence.
He did so over the past decade and a half, having survived a string of bruising turf wars with the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was forged from political networks across Nigeria during the 1998 transition from military rule.
PDP barons had become so adept since at oiling the electoral machine, that they sometimes boasted the party would still be in power in 100 years.
It was the merger of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) last year, with the party of the president-elect, Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) strong in the North but weak elsewhere, that made it possible for the opposition to challenge and ultimately defeat the PDP. The two parties between them controlled block support in both of Nigeria’s most populous regions. Tinubu’s in the South-west and Buhari’s in the North-west.
“I am in the same union as Buhari to salvage a Nigeria that is drifting and that has faced a storm of economic deterioration,” Tinubu said at a celebration party at his house this week. Outside the formidable gates, a mob of hundreds of young men ecstatic at the success of their city patron, were shouting “Jagaban.”
Yet the Jagaban is a controversial figure, resented by some for the dominating political machine he has brought to the south west, but adored by others, especially in Lagos, who see his hand behind the remarkable renaissance of the city in the past 15 years.
Once a byword for urban decay, Lagos has begun to thrive under Babatunde Fashola, who Tinubu promoted as his successor as governor, and then sometimes shielded from the rough and tumble of politics as he went about reviving the city with technocratic verve.
Tinubu attributes the success of the campaign, the most disciplined by an opposition group in Nigeria’s history and sophisticated in terms of the data monitoring it used to keep on top of events, to compromise.
“Our defined objective is on the plank of a progressive social welfare programme. Once we agreed to that then we consolidated the merger,” he says, of last year’s deal, which superseded a less formal alliance that came unstuck in 2011 polls.
Against expectations the party survived a tough contest for the leadership, which saw Tinubu’s candidate, a pastor and Lagos lawyer, Yemi Osinbajo, win the vice-presidential slot.
The future of the union could now determine how effective Nigeria’s incoming government is in office.
Some leading members of the victorious opposition worry about the compatibility of Tinubu and Buhari and about the influence the former might wield, without any formal position in the party, in the forthcoming battle over federal government appointments.
In the immediate future, Tinubu is likely to be distracted by his battle to maintain influence in Lagos, where his preferred candidate for governor is facing a tough challenge in the polls on April 11. “There is no need for a power struggle. We are concentrating our efforts in reversing the decay,” Tinubu says.
He is not a politician who is insecure. According to both detractors and fans, one of his attributes, rare among older politicians in Nigeria, has been to spot talent and nurture it. He absorbed this lesson according to one ally, when working at ExxonMobil.
“We bring talent to governance. We don’t want lilliputians. We want people who can think and act,” he said. Among the bright, young crowd in his small, home office in attendance, were perhaps some of Nigeria’s future leaders.
•Culled from Financial Times, UK