Against all odds, and in spite of evidently hostile opposition, former Lagos State governor, Senator Bola Tinubu, will be sworn in on Monday as Nigeria’s 16th president, an office he once described as his lifelong ambition.
Watching Tinubu since 2007, when he left office as governor of Nigeria’s most populous state, it was never difficult to observe that most of his steps had been in the direction of becoming Nigeria’s number one citizen. He achieved this desire at the February 25 presidential election.
On Sunday night, at the inauguration dinner/gala, organised by the Presidential Transition Council (PTC) headed by Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, at State House Conference Centre, Abuja, Tinubu said he would not mismanage his lifetime aspiration. He acknowledged the mass of obstacles in the way, including corruption, poverty, and policy inconsistency, but maintained he would deliver on his campaign promises.
Tinubu said none of the issues would be an excuse for non-performance or failure.
Speaking at the dinner, too, President Muhammadu Buhari underlined the success the country had just achieved with the last general election. He claimed the electoral process had given power back to the Nigerian electorate.
Buhari said he could not wait to return to his cows and sheep, which he said were much easier to control than Nigerians.
In Abuja, on sunday, at an inter-denominational church service held earlier as part of activities marking the 2023 presidential inauguration, the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, prayed for the success of Tinubu’s administration.
That was as the ninth Senate congratulated Tinubu and his vice, Kashim Shettima, on their impending inauguration.
Similarly, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, expressed hope that the new government under Tinubu would herald a new lease of life in the country.
At the same time, United States President Joe Biden’s delegation to the presidential inauguration arrived Nigeria, among other state delegations and world leaders.
For the winner of the February 25 presidential election, the road to the presidency had been filled with thorns and thistles. He was derided, shoved aside, and pelted with unprintable aspersions. But he kept his eyes on the ball and remained unwavering in the pursuit of his lifelong ambition of leading Nigeria.
At no other forum lately was Tinubu’s aspiration made more pronounced than during a meeting with the governor of Ogun State, Dapo Abiodun, on June 2, 2022. That was when he spoke with leaders and delegates of the party at the Presidential Lodge, Ibara, Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State.
Apparently feeling the heat of frustration by some forces within his party, and the seeming reticence of Buhari, Tinubu, in an outburst at the event, said in clear terms it was his turn to lead the country.
He declared, “If not for me that stood behind Buhari, he wouldn’t have become the president. He tried the first time, he failed; the second time, he failed, the third, he failed.
“He (Buhari) even wept on national television and vowed never to contest again. But I went to meet him in Kaduna and told him he will run again, that I will stand by him and he will win, but you must not joke with the Yoruba people, and he agreed.
“Since he became the president, I have never received ministerial slots. I didn’t collect any contract, I never begged for anything from him. It is the turn of Yoruba, it is my turn.”
For a man then regarded as APC national leader, the battle line had been drawn and there was no looking back.
Like he said at another forum, that power was not served a la carte, Tinubu literally grabbed power from his opponents and those unwilling to give it up for him. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared him victor.
With scores of invited presidents, heads of governments, and international organisations confirming their attendance at the presidential inauguration, Tinubu’s day has certainly come.
Arguably, Nigeria’s most strategic politician, Tinubu will be officially inaugurated at the Eagle Square, Abuja, today to lead a beleaguered nation contending with many paradoxes.
A senator under the then Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the Third Republic, which was cut short by the military, and widely described as progressive, Tinubu was one of those, who stood up for democracy, and in the months and years that followed, his name and voice gained national prominence.
Not the type to give up without a fight, Tinubu joined the political process, when Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999. He joined the Alliance for Democracy (AD), perceived to be a progressive party at the time.
He later emerged Lagos State governor on the AD platform. He became the only exiled pro-democracy agitator elected at that level at the time. Years later, he was a key actor in the biggest merger of progressives in Nigeria’s democratic history, the APC, in 2014.
Believed to have deep pockets, an assertion he has never denied, Tinubu’s enemies are as many as his supporters, if not even more. He boasts having loyalists across the country, ranging from officeholders that he singlehandedly raised, to persons who have benefitted from his large heart.
The former governor went through a brutal electioneering process, though he was up against a divided opposition, including Atiku Abubakar’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peter Obi’s Labour Party (LP), and Rabiu Kwankwaso’s New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
The election was like the story of his childhood. Nothing good, for Tinubu, seemed to have ever come easy.
In an interview with The News magazine in 2016, Tinubu described the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) years as a “turbulent period to really rescue democracy”. He said it was meant to guarantee freedom, protect Nigerians, and ensure enduring adherence to constitutionalism.
Tinubu said of his struggles during the days of former dictator, General Sani Abacha, “I disguised myself with a huge turban and babanriga and escaped into Benin Republic on a motorbike. My old Hausa friend gave the clothes to me. In fact, when I appeared to Kudirat Abiola, she didn’t know that I was the one.”
He continued, “The MD of Mobil, Bob Parker, thought I was crazy, when I told him I wanted to join politics. I also told the Finance Director, Akinyelure, that I wanted to join politics and use my brain for my country and that I couldn’t continue to be an armchair critic. The two of them could not believe what I said. They said, given my career path in Mobil, if there was any chance of anybody becoming something there, then I would be the one. I stood my ground and said I would give it a try.“
Today, at his swearing in, Tinubu would probably look back, smile and say, “Yes, that was the best decision of my life!”
Expected at the inauguration ceremony this morning are 65 world leaders, including heads of state, past presidents, diplomats, heads of international organisations, and prominent Nigerians and representatives of foreign governments and agencies.
The inauguration programme, which ends today, began last week with the investiture of Tinubu with the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR), the country’s highest national honour, and the vice president-elect, Kashim Shettima, as Grand Commander of Order of the Niger (GCON).
Speaking at the inauguration dinner, Tinubu vowed there would not be excuses for failure.
He said, “We must fight corruption, poverty, inconsistencies in policies and many other problems confronting us. But don’t pity me, I asked for the job, I campaigned for it, no excuses. I will live up to the bill delivered. I promise you.
“To the many heads of states present here, our brothers and sisters, celebrating with us, I thank you. But I want to say clearly for us to take away what lessons has Nigerian democracy taught the rest of Africa, if not the whole world.
“Resilience, determination, courage, love in diversity, though our tongues and tribes differ. By tomorrow afternoon, my predecessor is heading to Daura, on the border with Niger, but I have told him not to worry, he will still get a knock on his door. No matter how short a man is, he will see the sky. I will still be able to find him when I need his help.
“Here is a country that has stumbled a number of times, but has never faltered. We can be squeaky like old mama’s car, but we will never break apart. We are just a unique country.”
Buhari stated that the electoral process had given power back to the Nigerian electorate.
He said, “I congratulate fellow Nigerians who have realised their power, that their votes count. I’m looking forward to tomorrow to fly to my base and go back to my cows and sheep, which are much easier to control than fellow Nigerians.
“Your Excellences, heads of state and government, and their representatives that have come to share this day with us, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much and I say goodbye to you and wish us the best of luck.”
Earlier, First Lady, Aisha Buhari, in company with Tinubu, his wife, Remi Tinubu, Shettima, and his wife unveiled a book titled, “Renewed hope, Greater together.”
Some of the world leaders present at book launch included the presidents of South Africa, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Burundi, Liberia, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Central Africa Republic, Gabon, Prime Minister of Morocco, and Vice President of Venezuela.