Bola Ahmed Tinubu has emerged victorious in a fierce battle for the presidency of Nigeria. But who is the man who will lead Africa’s largest economy – and also inherit the plethora of economic and security crises?
Tinubu, who turns 71 later this month, served as governor of Lagos between 1999 and 2007, where he pioneered reforms that led to the transformation of the state, now Nigeria’s economic hub.
He becomes Nigeria’s fifth president since the country returned to democratic rule in 1999 and emerged victorious for the country’s top job on his first attempt.
However, opposition parties have rejected the results and say they will challenge it in court. The election was marred by reports of voter suppression and outbreaks of violence, particularly in Tinubu’s stronghold of Lagos. Voters also faced lengthy delays and some election officials failed to show up at polling stations.
Tinubu has gone from grass to grace after a rocky start. According to the Bola Tinubu Library, he left Nigeria to go to the US to study in Chicago and sometimes had to do the dishes to make ends meet.
On his return to Nigeria, Tinubu worked in the oil sector before venturing into politics. He was elected to the Nigerian Senate in 1992 and served until the following year when the military seized power. He fled the country in 1994 after the pro-democracy group he co-founded failed to persuade the military to relinquish power.
Known as ‘Jagaban’ – ‘warrior of warriors’ – by his followers, Tinubu has shackles adorned with his trademark woven caps, to symbolize a time when he lost his freedom when he was forced into exile by the dictator Sani Abacha.
He returned to Nigeria after four years and was successful in his bid for the top job in Lagos following Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999.
Tinubu has been dogged throughout the campaign trail by allegations of corruption, which he strongly denies. Tinubu is extremely wealthy and he has interests in many sectors including real estate and media.
During the 2019 elections, he once owned a gold van at his home in an affluent area of Lagos. “I keep money wherever I want,” Tinubu said in response.
Critics say he did not express his concerns about his health convincingly and at times appeared confused and incoherent on the campaign trail. He also made blunders that made him the target of jokes and viral memes on social media.
Tinubu also drew criticism for abstaining from presidential debates and delegating questions about his manifesto to members of his team during a recent outing at British think tank Chatham House.
A practicing Muslim like his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, Tinubu has six children and is married to Oluremi Tinubu, a senator in Lagos.
During his acceptance speech, Tinubu joked that his wife would no longer be going back to the Senate because she would now be his “Housewife and First Lady.” It was a joke that has not gone down well with many Nigerian women, who still struggle to gain a foothold in politics.
Now he must continue the serious task of uniting a country broken along religious, ethnic and generational lines, as well as a myriad of problems, including insecurity, an economy on the verge of collapse, as well as fuel, money and power shortages.
He will also have to work hard to shake off the association with the ruling party, under which many Nigerians have suffered unprecedented hardship.
“I am not the party,” he said during the campaign. “My track record should speak for me.”
His supporters call Tinubu a master strategist and “king of the long game” who has been planning his ascent to the throne for years.
“Not only did he become governor of a large state like Lagos, he also worked on a succession plan. He used his power and vast resources to build leaders and gain political clout, first in the southwest…and then expanded into northern Nigeria,” says Nigerian political analyst Sam Amadi.
Tinubu wields considerable influence in the Southwest, where he is seen as a political godfather and kingmaker. He has handpicked every governor of Lagos since he left office in 2007 and was instrumental in Buhari’s election as president on his fourth attempt in 2015.
After decades of working as a political puppeteer, Tinubu declared it was now his turn to emerge from the shadows to the presidency; his campaign slogan was “Emi Lokan”, which translates to “it’s my turn”, in his native Yoruba language.
Tinubu essentially called in the favor with the slogan, Amadi explains.
“Nigerian politics is a settlement, it is turn by turn…. Buhari was able to get all the votes in the North, but he couldn’t get a two-thirds majority of the vote anywhere in the South, and Tinubu turned the Southwest to him. This tells us that in a sense, Nigerian politicians feel that access to power is a right… which they think they deserve because of the investment of finance or investment of goodwill they put into the system,” said Amadi.