Tinubu as a Study in Improbable Situations

Despite being boxed in many times, Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that Senator Bola Tinubu may have emerged as a political deity in Yorubaland

Like many things relating to Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), there is always a fog of ambiguousness that posits the unlikely, but not the impossible. At the flag-off of Dr. Kayode Fayemi’s campaign for the office of Governor of Ekiti State, Tinubu arrived very early at the venue in Ado Ekiti. As he sat on the podium observing things around him, he was chewing gum furiously. If the urgent eating activity was to mask the smell of cigarette, which he occasionally smokes in public or to keep calm from the anxiety of waiting for arrival of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, we may never know. The scenario was likely to reinstate a sharp argument between those who can swear by all the divinities they know that Tinubu smokes everything and those willing to stake their last Naira that he can’t stand foul air.

Such is the befuddling nature of the man who has become a deity in Lagos. His very claim to Lagos birthright engenders a lot of rage and storm from those who call themselves the real Lagosians. This issue is the reason for frequent fight, because some are ready to take any doubting Thomas to Tinubu’s original homestead in Osun State. There lies the error in their reasoning. When a man transforms into an idol, he assumes a universal presence. It no longer matters where a temple is raised for his worship, whether on Bourdillon Road in Ikoyi-Lagos or Olaiya Junction in Osogbo, the important thing is that his disciples swoon under the spell of mass hypnotism.

To his teeming followers, the former Governor of Lagos State is a benevolent deity. It is easy to understand why they flock to him in large numbers. The Yorubas say that if a god can’t change their circumstance for good, at least, they should be left they way they were. One of the fables woven around Tinubu is that no one can have an encounter with him and return wretched. The story making the rounds is that if you are in the presence of this money-spewing god, but return empty-handed, you can never be prosperous again! Such is the perceived powers of Tinubu.

As a living god in Yoruba cosmology, an interrogation of Tinubu’s wealth may only throw up a cloudy picture. Having obtained a degree in Accounting (though he was an outstanding scholar, he is not a chartered accountant), he became an employee in America. Upon his return to Nigeria, he also took up paid employment. He won an election into the Nigerian Senate in 1992 and from there began his ascendancy into the realm of the gods. Many believe he has replaced or displaced another Yoruba political deity, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, for being able to champion a merger that installed a government at the centre. But the older generation who saw Awolowo argue that while Tinubu may reign in the kingdom of men, Awolowo went all the way to the heavenlies to raise his two fingers in the moon. They dare Tinubu to appear in the moon like Awolowo!

Tinubu may be depicted as the Yoruba god of wealth redistribution. Though he is seriously despised by elites, he created a new class of Lagosians whose wealth have been acquired within their own generation, rather than by familial inheritance. In some sense, he fits the legend of Robin Hood, who is said to have robbed from the rich and given to the poor. But it is arguable whether Tinubu is a champion of the common people, fighting against injustice. He assumed this suspect stature in the aftermath of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election assumedly won by Chief Moshood Abiola. Tinubu belonged to Abiola’s Social Democratic Party (SDP). He was in the vanguard of efforts to actualise Abiola’s mandate. He became a popular folk figure in the fight against the military dictatorship of Gen. Sani Abacha. To escape Abacha’s dragnet, he fled into exile, only returning to the country after Abacha died. Instead of going back to the Senate when democratic governance was restored, he contested and won as Governor of Lagos State, remaining in office for two tenures, between 1999 and 2007.

The transparency of the Tinubu administration in Lagos has not been conclusively proven and continues to be debated. There are numerous references to huge estates and corporate organisations allegedly owned by him. At least, what may be possible is that he uses aliases or proxies to run the kind of humongous business credited to him. Sometimes, the estimation of his wealth goes into the incredulous. That is the situation when he is said to own over 70 per cent of Lagos! While this is debatable, because Tinubu is such a smart alec that none of these estates or companies can be traced to his name at the Corporate Affairs Commission, what is not in doubt is that he has an over riding influence in governance of Lagos. He gives credence to the widely held notion that in Nigeria you can go to bed poor and wake up the next day into dizzying wealth. No one will ask questions, rather the dubious capital becomes a reference for accomplishment.

There have been attempts to break his strangle hold on Lagos. Tinubu had weathered epic crises, sometimes entirely not of his own making. From former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s delay of statutory allocation to the state, to corruption charges by the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and former loyalists like former Governor of Lagos and Federal Minister Babatunde Fashola and former Lagos Commissioner Muiz Banire who became turncoats. Even leaders from other states in the South-west who are envious of his expanding authority attempt to halt his advancement. Fighting Tinubu is like hoping to win a battle against an immortal. Each time he survived disdainful scheming by recruiting new supporters and increasing the revolving bounty. Tinubu has a record of lavishing his advocates with sumptuous cash and appointments, thereby strengthening and extending his political empire, bigger than any other single politician of note in the country.

Tinubu has been boxed in a few times, forcing him to backtrack and expose his foibles as a human god: When his wife Senator Remi Tinubu was attacked by the flippant Senator Dino Melaye and when his son Jide passed on. The APC stalwart also made a tough decision when he authorised his private aircraft to be used to fly former Gambian President Yayah Jammeh out of Banjul into exile in Equitorial Guinea.

To those who know Tinubu best, the acceptance of the traditional title of Jagaban of Borgu in Niger State was a sign that he was prepared to extend his political tentacle into northern Nigeria. Niger State is the home of two past Nigerian leaders, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar. The emerging potential theory posits that Jagaban, which has become Tinubu’s popular moniker was intended to soften the heart of the northern powers that be.

Of course, while Jagaban has inspired a hit song by pop artiste Ycee, that is entertaining and fun to listen and dance to, in all likelihood it’s just a coincidence, given that Tinubu, like Senate President Olusola Saraki, has been accused of institutionalising banditry in Lagos, simply because he fraternises with the leadership of the Jaguda gang called agbero or National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW).

Drawing a parallel between existing Yoruba gods and an honest appraisal of the Tinubu persona, he replicates Esu, the deity who lurks around; the necessary evil. In Yorubaland, a part of the food offered to any god as sacrifice must be separated and dedicated to Esu. This mirrors Tinubu’s role in contemporary Nigerian politics. He is the indispensable part of the jigsaw puzzle that must fit

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