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Who is Bola Ahmed Tinubu?

By Bisi Olawunmi
04 February 2022   |   3:40 am
Since he made his debut in politics as an activist in the prodemocracy agitations of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) in the early 1990s, Bola Ahmed Tinubu – latterly Asiwaju, Jagaban - has been in the eye of the storm arising from what is seen as his identity crisis. There have been speculations and claims,…

Asiwaju Tinubu

Since he made his debut in politics as an activist in the prodemocracy agitations of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) in the early 1990s, Bola Ahmed Tinubu – latterly Asiwaju, Jagaban – has been in the eye of the storm arising from what is seen as his identity crisis. There have been speculations and claims, as well as innuendoes, about his name, nativity, parenthood and educational records. To many people, the only thing that is real, without contention, about Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the physical person.

In the past few weeks, the intensity of the interrogation of who Bola Tinubu is has revved up several notches as it suddenly, as it were, dawned on people that this person may emerge Nigeria’s number one citizen, come 2023. Bola Tinubu is an enigma of sorts, a curio – a subject of phenomenal curiosity and angst. The puzzle is: How could someone be so well known, in terms of public visibility and public office attainment – as a former senator and governor – and yet so unknown, or with contentions, in terms of his antecedents? We have shell companies, usually engaged in shrouded transactions. Is Bola Tinubu a shell persona, an artificial creation to obfuscate transactional reality?

Bola Ahmed Tinubu should have been a subject of intense interrogation by sociologists, psychologists and political communication scholars as a case study in personality construction. What audacity drives him, what ‘bold face’ impels him to dare institutions and persons to attempt a de-construction or unraveling of Bola Ahmed Tinubu? Chief Bode George, former military governor of Ondo State, who prides himself as the original ‘Lagos Boy’, has shouted himself hoarse trying to delegitimize Tinubu as a native Lagosian, declaring him a rootless person. Yet Bode George points to a sleepy Iragbiji town in Osun State as Tinubu’s root! The wonder of it all is that this alien ‘Ara oke’ (up country native) defeated Bode George’s party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), of which he was a former deputy national chairman, in Lagos governorship elections in 1999, 2003, 2007 , 2011 2015 and 2019 – a record six consecutive elections!! . You ask: What is the magic? What has made Tinubu invincible in Lagos politics? This apparent invincibility must have earned him the title: Lagos Landlord!!!

Bola Tinubu extended his territorial coverage when he deployed his magic wand to the national level as the sorcerer who willed the Buhari Presidency into being. But the chicken may be coming home to roost for Bola Ahmed Tinubu now that the Lagos ‘Landlord’ seeks to transmute to Nigeria Landlord in his bid for the Presidency. The kingmaker, who covets the throne, now wants to take the crown. In what can be described as a public relations gesture, Tinubu paid an obeisance visit to ‘King’ Muhammadu Buhari at the Aso Rock Palace in Abuja to announce his intent. For the aspirant to the throne, the gesture is giving honour to whom honour is due, even if the ‘King’ is non-committal and treats the homage as just for information only. Since making that pilgrimage to Aso Rock, the long knives have been out and the issue of his identity has returned with greater intensity. There have been publications about how he was a summa cum laude student at college in the United States, which some disputed, while Chief Pius Akinyelure, his former boss at Mobil oil, now turned his protégé in old age, has been singing Bola Tinubu’s praises as an audit wizard discovered by a grateful Mobil Oil company which resulted into Tinubu being elevated from the position of Audit Senior to the exalted rank of company Bursar.

The Bola Ahmed Tinubu saga is the story of a very successful manufacture of a persona, the creative construct of a public persona, the incredible success of which has confounded friends and foe. The manufactured Tinubu public persona may not be an outright lie, but something appears shrouded in darkness, which needs illumination to bring it to light. The issue is: Who provides this illumination – Bola Tinubu himself, his surrogates or the ‘enemy’ camp? There is the saying: The truth shall set you free. Is there a truth Bola Ahmed Tinubu needs to disclose to set himself free? A potential fourth source of providing the illumination is the media, through investigative reporting. But can a hobbled, compromised media take up this challenge? The mystery of Bola Tinubu is how those who must have grown up with him in his formative years – in neighbourhoods, primary, secondary schools – have remained in the shadows as if sworn to the Mafia oath of Omerta – the code of silence. There are speculations about his humble beginnings. If true, is that something to be ashamed of or a trajectory that should be celebrated given how he has turned out a success story? Even Chief Bisi Akande, a former governor of Osun State, who at 83 years plays lapdog to 69 year old Tinubu, wrote candidly about his palm wine tapper father who died in abject poverty, in his recently launched autobiography, My Participations! (page 37 in Chapter 3 titled: Poverty and The Lore of Palm Wine) Lapdog to sixty nine year old Tinubu, turning 70 on March 29, 2022? Some dispute this age, but I would rather stay with what is put out in his biodata. Though abandoned while growing up by his Kenyan father, Barack Obama, former American president, nevertheless identified with his root in Kenya in his youth. Had he distanced himself from his roots, the Donald Trumps of this world would have used it against him in the U.S. presidential elections of 2008.

Can Bola Ahmed Tinubu be persuaded that Disclosure brings Closure? Or would he rather retain the status quo and ride the storm? The nation waits.

Olawunmi, a mass communication scholar and former Washington Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria, is Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email :

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