At a time of deep generational fracture, political opposition would seem to be the least of Bola Tinubu’s problems.
For some time now, Bola Tinubu’s presidential ambitions have been the worst-kept secret in Nigerian politics. Although his name will technically appear on the ballot for the first time in next month’s general election, in truth, Tinubu has been seeking the country’s highest political office since completing his two terms as Lagos state governor in 2007. In that regard, only Atiku Abubakar, the standard-bearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has been involved in every presidential election since 1993, has been in the presidential race much longer.
The comparison with Abubakar does not end there. They both have deep pockets, sit atop carefully curated and lubricated political networks, and realize that realistically this is their last roll of the dice. Although, at seventy, Tinubu is six years younger than Abubakar, he must understand, given the inherent fickleness of political solidarity, that this is probably the last time the stars will align in his favour.
If there’s a flavor of despair in your campaign, this is your source. His body language and movements are reminiscent of a veteran who knows he can’t afford to let the moment pass, hence the surprising vigor of his insistence that “it’s my turn” when, during the party primaries, he had all the reasons to believe that he was about to be plotted. Every step of his since suggests that he continues to believe that the forces that nearly torpedoed him are simply in tactical abeyance.
Tinubu’s insolence towards President Muhammadu Buhari when he sensed that the latter was about to renege on a gentlemen’s agreement on the transfer of power confirmed that he is not willing to risk everything. His final rescue of victory from the jaws of apparent disaster was a reminder of his courage and ferocity, an attribute that former allies and clients who have crossed his path have often bitterly attested to.
However, if Tinubu has many enemies, likewise, and understandably for a politician who has been around the corner, he has a train of loyalists across the country, ranging from officials he alone put on a pedestal, even random recipients of your famous generosity. Patronage and politics are conjoined twins in (Nigerian) politics and, with the possible exception of Abubakar, arguably no other Nigerian politician of his generation has expended more resources than Tinubu to lubricate the grand machine of political patronage.
However, not only has Tinubu invariably been unable to pacify all segments of Nigerian society, but the source of his stupendous wealth is also a perennial bone of contention. For every Nigerian who insists that Tinubu’s wealth is ill-gotten, there is another who counters that he simply typifies a political class that is rotten to the bone.
Tinubu and his aides have not answered lingering questions about the origin of their wealth so much as to avoid them. Instead, they hone in on the issue by focusing on what they presume to be his outstanding achievements as Governor of Lagos State (1999-2007) and, subsequently, his role in ensuring that his successors, albeit handpicked stalwarts, are technocrats. smart people capable of handling a bustling market. megalopolis. His electoral strategy has been consistent with this attitude; Having more or less surrendered the digital space to its reinvigorated habituates, it has invested more time cultivating demographics that are, for lack of a better word, under the radar, as well as powerful ethno-regional power brokers with the resources to mobilize a broad-based support.
The odds against this “traditional” policy are tremendous. Foremost is the abominable record in office of the All Progressives Congress (APC). So far, President Buhari has not joined Tinubu in the elections, which is probably a good idea. Buhari is a soporific orator, doesn’t seem to care who succeeds him, and has a horrendous financial record. Not only is the country worse off economically than it was when he took office almost eight years ago – according to the Office of National Statistics, “63% of people living in Nigeria (133 million people) are multidimensionally poor” – there is no question that it is less secure. Buhari himself has confessed to being desperate to retire to his farm once his term expires in May, and there are many Nigerians who wish he had done so eight years ago.
The failure of the Buhari administration has been a drag on Tinubu’s campaign, though curiously not as much as one might expect.
Tinubu, perhaps inevitably, has also run into headwinds among the Yoruba political elite. In a widely circulated letter, former President Olusegun Obasanjo encouraged Nigerians to vote for Peter Obi, the Labor Party (LP) candidate. Ayo Adebanjo, leader of Afenifere, the main Yoruba socio-cultural group, strongly opposes Tinubu’s candidacy.
Although Tinubu may still command broad support among his Yoruba co-ethnics and will most likely win a majority of the vote in the region, the division among the Yoruba elite (partly on principle, partly on the toes from the feet inevitably trodden on when Tinubu scrambled up the greasy pole) means that he will always go into battle knowing that he has at least one exposed flank. While his antagonists see this as a handicap he might regret, his supporters point out that no Yoruba leader (not even the titanic Obafemi Awolowo) has ever boasted of Yoruba utter loyalty.
Where Tinubu faces the most consistent opposition, however, is among the “Obi-Teeth,” the insurgency of 61-year-old Web-savvy and mostly urban-based zealous followers of Peter Obi. To the extent that the movement sums up the discontents and agonies of generations of Nigerians over the Nigerian state, it is safe to say that it predates Obi’s emergence as a presidential candidate to reckon with. To that extent, Obi is merely a convenience vehicle for a political passion that will, in all probability, outlive him, especially if, as one might reasonably expect, he fails to muster enough support across the country to outlast it.
Whatever happens to Obi, and regardless of his unseemly canonization by a cross segment of the Obi-teeth, no one doubts that they, meaning the Obi-teeth, have a legitimate point about dominating Nigerian politics. by an older generation perceived to be disconnected from the country’s persistent economic and political problems. Tinubu, whose influence was instrumental in leading Buhari, 80 this year, to assume the presidency in 2015, is seen, rightly or wrongly, as the ultimate symbol of this geriatric hegemony.
The deeper sociocultural forces at work transcend Tinubu; The rise of the obi-dents signals a shift in the tectonic plates of Nigerian politics, indexed in part by the arrival on the social scene of a new generation (average age in Nigeria is 18.1) savvy in the use of modern technology and impatient by the constant blunders of the country. This rising generation may not have been a game changer yet; but he is renegotiating the terms and shifting the contest to a different terrain.
The obi-teeth have raised a cry. Tinubu will hope they don’t have enough right now to push through an election that will determine what will become of his political empire, both nationally and regionally.