After he joined the Peoples Front, a political movement headed by Shehu Yar’adua, a retired general and former chief of staff, Supreme Headquarters, in 1992, the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, spent the next two years working for two men — Mr Yar’adua and Moshood Abiola — to become Nigeria’s president. But the two never made it.
Mr Tinubu himself was not considered by many as a likely future president, until he informed Nigerians in January 2022 that becoming a president had been his lifetime ambition.
Today, Mr Tinubu will become one of the 16 Nigerians privileged to occupy the nation’s highest political office since its independence in 1960, and also its seventh civilian to do so.
Although Mr Tinubu, holder of Asiwaju and Jagaban traditional titles n Lagos and Borgu respectively, is one of the most popular names in Nigeria today, the man himself remains a mystery to many. His age, education and family background have over time become contentious and outrightly controversial.
Mr Tinubu stated in official records that he was born on 29 March 1952. His mother, Abibatu Mogaji, was a renowned trader in Lagos State, who held the title of Iyaloja General of Nigeria until her death at the age of 94.
This date of birth is also controversial. His transcript from Chicago State University has 1954 as his year of birth. In August 1999, this discrepancy was a subject of a probe by the Lagos State House of Assembly following a petition filed by the duo of Jameed Seriki and Waliu Balogun-Smith. The petition raised the discrepancy of date of birth on the academic transcript and the age filled in his INEC form.
Aside from the controversy of parentage and place of birth, there is a historical void between 1952 and 1977 that is yet to be filled by Mr Tinubu and sources close to him. In the absence of reliable sources, political opponents have filled the void with conspiracy theories and speculations.
Bode George, a former deputy national chairman of the opposition PDP, had insisted at the time that Mr Tinubu was not from Lagos. Mr George who was also a former military governor, claimed Mr Tinubu hailed from Iragbiji, a town in Osun State, though he did not provide substantial evidence to back his claim. His argument was that Isale Eko, a hood in Lagos Island where Mr Tinubu grew up, is like a community where everyone is familiar with one another.
“If he says he grew up in Isale Eko, which school did you attend? Where were his childhood friends?” Mr George said in an interview last December.
Mr Tinubu, in an interview with TheNews, provided insight into how he left Nigeria in 1975. While the interview left out his academic record before then, he explained how he left the country with his friend, Bolaji Agaba for New York in 1975.
According to Mr Tinubu, after his arrival in the country, he stayed briefly in Washington DC, Virginia and finally settled in Chicago. It is believed that he enrolled at Richard Daley College, a community college in Chicago, in September 1975. From the community college, he was admitted into the Chicago State University in 1977, to study Business and Administration, majoring in Accounting.
The university has since confirmed that Mr Tinubu attended the school.
While at the university, he was a roommate to Tunde Badejo, who is one of the major shareholders in Alpha Beta. Ahead of the 2023 general election, in a video, Mr Badejo said Mr Tinubu was elected president of the accounting students at the institution and also worked as a student tutor. He also gave a hint about the interest of the young Tinubu in Chicago politics.
“During those years in Chicago, on Sundays, Bola never left home – on Saturday and every other day of the week, he would leave the House, but on Sundays, never. We all visit him, however, you cannot change the television from the political channel. Chicago politics for example – he would watch it seriously. Other than that, he watches football and other strategic activities,” Mr Badejo said in a campaign video.
1979-1992: From Mobil to Politics
Before his graduation from Chicago State University in 1979, he was recruited by Deloitte, Haskins and Sells. Mr Tinubu had explained in an interview that his decision to join the accounting firm was based on the advice the Dean of his faculty, Joe Jesse, gave to him.
Mr Jesse argued that Deloitte, Haskins and Sells had a number of clients in the oil sector, and since Nigeria is a major oil producer, joining the firm offers a better career path. From Deloitte, he moved to General Telephone and Electronic (GTE), where he served as Assistant Manager.
Around 1986, he joined Mobil at the Corporate Audit Department in the UK where he served as corporate auditor. Within that period, he was assigned to audit Mobil Nigeria. It was during the assignment in Nigeria that he was offered the role of Auditor in Nigeria. Hence, he moved from Mobil UK to Mobil Nigeria. He rose through the ranks in the oil firm to become its treasurer.
It was during his time at Mobil he started relating with members of Primerose Group, a group led by Dapo Sarumi. Also, Mr Tinubu, through his mother’s relationship with the then military president, Ibrahim Babangida, had access to a number of officials.
In 1992, he resigned from Mobil Nigeria to join politics and decided to pitch his tent with Mr Ya’Adua, who was the leader of the Peoples Front. The group was preparing for the transition from the military to civilian.
1992 to 1999: From battling Money Laundering Charges in US to running Democratic Coalition
While Mr Tinubu was campaigning to go to the Nigerian Senate, a special agent of the US Internal Revenue Service, Kevin Moss was digging through his finances, and questioning the relationship between the ex-Mobil staff and Mueez Akande, an indicted heroin trafficker. Ten accounts linked to Mr Tinubu – $1.4 million in all – were confiscated by a Court in Chicago.
Subsequently, a settlement was reached between Mr Tinubu and the US government, leading to the final forfeiture of $460,000 to the US government in 1993. At the point of the forfeiture, he was already a senator representing Lagos West Senatorial district. As the flagbearer of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), he defeated Kemi Nelson of the National Republican Party.
In the short-lived third Senate, he made an attempt to emerge as the Senate President, but the South-west agenda for the presidency made him step down and backed Iyorchia Ayu, the suspended national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), for the position.
As a member of the Peoples Front, Mr Tinubu and others were working for the presidential bid of Mr Yar’Adua. However, the decision of the military junta to disqualify some of the old politicians affected the retired general. With the Katsina politician out of the way, Mr Tinubu backed Mr Abiola during the 1993 presidential election.
Following the annulment of the 12 June 1993 election which Mr Abiola was believed to have won, Mr Tinubu was at the forefront of the protest against the action of the military. He also admitted to being in the know of the plot by Sani Abacha to remove the Ernest Shonekan-led interim government, with the understanding that Mr Abacha would recognise and validate the election of Mr Abiola as president. But they were betrayed by Mr Abacha.
When Abacha removed the ING and made himself the head of state, Mr Tinubu led a group of 30 senators, also known as G30, to reconvene the Senate and denounced Mr Abacha. Following the act, he went underground until he was arrested and arraigned by the military. The court later granted him and several others bail. He went into exile in 1994 and was one of the founders of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) that fought the Abacha regime.
From 1994 to 1998, Mr Tinubu and other NADECO activists operated outside the country, particularly in the UK and the US. Following the death of Mr Abacha in 1998, and the later pronouncement of pardon by Abdulsalam Abubakar, most of the activists, including Mr Tinubu returned to the country.
1998 to 2007: Questions on the past and surviving Obasanjo
Upon his return to Nigeria, Mr Tinubu indicated an interest in the governorship of Lagos State; this time, on the ticket of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), a party that traces its roots to the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo. AD was the strongest party in the South-west in 1999.
To get that ticket, he had to defeat Funsho Williams and Kofo Bucknor-Akerele. Following the primaries, he picked Mrs Bucknor-Akerele, and with the ticket, the battle was against a former member of the Peoples Front, Mr Sarumi. The AD won the election.
Shortly after his inauguration as governor, he was faced with issues around his age and school attendance. Following the petition mentioned earleir, Mr Tinubu faced two cases – forgery and perjury. To investigate the allegations, the then Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeleke Mamora, set up a five-member committee to investigate the allegation against Mr Tinubu. Mr Mamora is the science and technology minister in the outgoing Buhari administration.
While appearing before the panel, he claimed that a friend and former senator, Tokumbo Afikuyomi, who filled the INEC form on his behalf, made a mistake by filling the University of Chicago, instead of Chicago State University.
On the age discrepancy, his lawyer, Femi Falana, argued that the date of birth on the school transcript was an honest mistake – adding that an honest mistake is not a sufficient ground for “forgery or perjury”. Mr Tinubu was subsequently cleared by the State House of Assembly.
In the process, the $460,000 forfeiture was once again raised by his opponents. To address that, the then Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, wrote a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seeking to know if Mr Tinubu was ever convicted in the US.
The Legal Attache to the US consulate, Michael Bonner, had in response to a letter from Mr Balogun, stated that Mr Tinubu had no record of criminal indictment or prosecution.
The letter, dated 4 February 2003, with reference 011-234-1-261-0097 ext 244, and addressed to the then IGP, Mr Balogun, stated that “The FBI never charged Tinubu with any drug offence; the case did not go on trial. Tinubu was never convicted. And he was never barred from entering the US.”
During the 2003 election, Mr Tinubu faced a familiar rival, Funsho William, while other governors on the platform of the AD were defeated, Mr Tinubu pulled through, earning him the nickname, “the Last Man Standing”, for surviving the tsunami that claimed his colleagues in the party.
Within this period, his relationship with the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, had deteriorated. By 2006, he formed a new political party, Action Congress. He handpicked his then-chief of staff, Raji Fashola as his successor. His new party was able to retain the state.
Within this period, Mr Tinubu was fighting a tough battle with the Olusegun Obasanjo-led federal government. His decision to create additional local governments created an impasse between him and Mr Obasanjo. Despite the compromise of naming the 37 entities “Local Council Development Areas”, the federal government withheld the local government allocation due to Lagos State in disregard for the court ruling on the matter.
2007-2013: The Making of a Kingmaker and the CCT Trial
In 2007, Mr Tinubu commenced the expansion of his party in several states. In Osun State, he backed his Commissioner of Works, Rauf Aregbesola, while in Ekiti State, he backed his NADECO buddy, Kayode Fayemi. Both initially lost at the poll, but were later declared winners by the Court of Appeal. Equally, Adams Oshiomhole won the Edo State election through the court.
By 2011, the ACN completed the takeover of the South-west plus Edo State – and also got an ally in Ondo State. Aside from the sub-regions, he also backed Atiku Abubakar and Nuhu Ribadu in 2007 and 2011 respectively for the presidency. Both men contested on the platform of Mr Tinubu’s party but lost the elections.
While he was building this political tentacle, Mr Tinubu was also facing allegations of corruption in Lagos State. In November 2007, Mr Tinubu was arraigned at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for operating 10 foreign accounts. He was later acquitted by the tribunal. Despite being acquitted by the tribunal, the speculation of corruption continues particularly in connection with Alpha Beta, the consultancy firm handling the collection of the revenue of Lagos State.
2013-2023: Rise to Power
In 2013, ACN, Congress for Progressives Change (CPC), All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and a section of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) merged into the APC. In 2014, Mr Tinubu backed Mr Buhari to emerge as the presidential candidate of the party. He also played a key role during the election that sealed victory for his party.
His aspiration to become vice president was truncated because the party was scared of a Muslim/Muslim ticket in 2015, instead, he nominated Yemi Osinbajo, his former attorney general and commissioner for justice, as vice president.
In January 2022, he declared interest into run for president after a meeting with Mr Buhari at the Villa. During the primaries in June at the APC convention, he polled 1,271 votes to defeat several other aspirants, including the vice president, Mr Osinbajo. He defeated11 other aspirants after nine others stepped down for him.
He went on to win the 25 February presidential election, having defeated 17 other candidates including his old friend, Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party and Peter Obi of the Labour Party. His over 8.7 million votes helped him to achieve the feat that Messrs Yar’Adua and Abiola failed to accomplish. Both Messrs Atiku and the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) are currently challenging his victory in court.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.Donate
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999