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Immanuel James: Bola Tinubu in the Corridors of Power



Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, that gap-toothed hilltop dweller, had popularized one little book during his reign as Nigeria’s Military Head of State. Written by one notorious fellow named Niccolo Machiavelli, ‘The Prince’ teaches how to gain and maintain political power, mostly through the deployment of unwholesome but realistic techniques. IBB’s politics was elaborate in deceit and slime, to the point of generating popular assumption that he was an unblinking reader of Machiavelli’s dangerous book. But it’s beginning to seem like the true glory of this Machiavellian apprenticeship belongs to one Bola Ahmed Adekunle Tinubu. No Nigerian politician has exerted so much influence so vastly, like that spectacled taciturnity called Ahmed.

Only twelve years ago, he was a lone survivor standing in the wreckage of Obasanjo’s electoral loot in Southwestern Nigeria. It had all begun from there — 2003. What we have today as the All Progressives Congress, APC, may have begun then as a regional bloc tagged Action Congress, AC, irrigated into national flourish through different mutations, by Ahmed’s tactical nurturing. By the time he left power as the Governor of Lagos State in 2007, Kunle, smart, even serpentine, had installed himself as the most powerful member of his party, wriggling his way to the top through craft and tact, if not through bullying and subtle dictatorship. He was helped by a scary financial muscle, reinforcing the theory that economic power is the strongest machinery of political dominance.

His staggering wealth, often attributed to corruption, belies, or appears to belie, indictment. His political opponents are quick to allude to his culpability, but they failed, as the government in power whose responsibility it was to prosecute him, to establish his guilt on occasions of litigation — either due to the man’s clever lack of criminal footprints, or due to the hollowness of the allegations against him. His wealth is elusive, or rather mysterious, yet palpable, puzzling in the possible arithmetic of its explanation, an apparition occupying the imaginations of public gossip. From Gani Fawehinmi to Olusegun Obasanjo, Ahmed has fought and won battles, projecting a mystical defiance of vulnerability. Like his wealth, he baffles.

Or like his politics. Ahmed is not given to attention-grabbing public circulation, nor is he known for loquacious relevance. He operates strictly in vague, silent hibernation, manipulating the levers of power through party politics. Dangerously intelligent, he does not anoint a leader without inserting entrapments within the system, so that he can easily undo his blessing just in case. Such wisdom was absent in most Nigerian godfathers that held sway in other parts. To checkmate Fashola, he installed his loyalists as members of the Lagos State House of Assembly. Anyone who has read Machiavelli’s book will find apparent exemplification in Ahmed’s politics of trickery and brinkmanship.

The greatest proof of his political adroitness is the emergence of the APC as Nigeria’s current federal leadership. Ahmed supervised the editing of Muhammadu Buhari into a gleaning electoral capital, from an erstwhile image of multiple negativities. The best brand experts were hired for the PR job at a cost so huge as to be audacious: it required some measure of self-delusion and brave optimism to stake such campaign funds for an aging candidate who had lost elections three times earlier. But Ahmed was guided by a curious foresight, if not some spiritual clairvoyance, such that he could see farther than most of us. Like most of his political calculations, he got it right, yet again! From regional relevance, he has now become a very important national figure, one whose politics, like Awoism, deserves the attention of political scientists.

However, while he will be cheered for fathering Nigeria’s current political change, people of good memory will not forget that he had risen to national topicality, as the Governor of Lagos, championing ideals like resource control and true federalism. It will be interesting to see the APC endorse resource control and true federalism, ideals for which its leader was estranged from the Obasanjo government.

But he may soon become a victim of his own success. The APC is becoming too large and diverse for order. When a startup grows from a private enterprise to a public liability company, its owner is sure to lose the convenience and flexibility of provincialism. The turnout of the elections for the prinicipal officers of the National Assembly may be indicative of what is to come, in terms of internal altercations within the party. The evening of Ahmed’s dominance may have come too early in the day — he may not be able to control the new strangers in the party, some of them from the other parts of the country — and he cannot easily have them punished without implications. Regional, religious, and personal interests within the new diversity, one way or the other, will render him incapable of swinging things as smoothly as before. And there is yet the dilemma of his public odium: if his influence remains pronounced, his party will suffer the label of being a political sole-proprietorship; if it is not pronounced, his charm will have been diminished.

In the final analysis, Senator Bola Ahmed Adekunle Tinubu may occupy the bad books of public opinion, yet he may have earned a shinning place in Nigeria’s democratic narrative. A strategist of phenomenal impact who built a vast political estate from scratch, he straddles both notoriety and fame, each cancelling out the other in the sheer credibility of their respective acclaims. Hate him or love him, it is difficult not to be amazed by his ingenuity, by his pragmatism, hardwork, and ambition. Ahmed is quite politically intelligent. But will he recognise redundancy before it beckons, and leave the scene at the loudest thrill of ovation? Only time shall tell.

Writing is my means of saving me from myself! Immanuel James, author of 'Under Bridge', is the winner of the 2014 ANA National Prize for Prose.


  1. ola

    June 11, 2015 at 11:59 am

    anyone can say what they like,but he is truly politically intelligent

    • Ivy Nils

      June 11, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      @OLA, Did i hear you say he is politically intelligent? what was he doing sitting down like HUMPTY DUMPTY in the ICC hall, while PDP and the APC Likeminds were busy with SP elections.
      They Had with them the letter from the president, the clerk of the house, the mase and rightfully within the assembly complex.
      Ola that was some HUMPTY DUMPTY Calculations he did there, and ofcourse a perfect HUMPTY DUMPTY FALL for a greedy THIEF.

    • ola

      June 11, 2015 at 2:31 pm

      sure people do make mistakes,but i can tell you Saraki wont last long on that sit.

  2. EllesarisEllendil

    June 11, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    TL;DR version- Tinubu is migthy but Saraki and Dogara are mightier.

  3. Warizdiz

    June 11, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    I admire Tinubu’s political sagacity but l do not respect him. The greed of this one man wipes away any and all his good intentions. Whether APC or PDP Nigeria is where it is today because of people like Tinubu who in their quest to build Empires are willing to sacrifice anything and anybody. Fashola’s admirers sing his praises to high heavens. Surely there must be something they all see (Hype or Not) But some of us cannot easily forget how Fashola was thoroughly messed up when he tried to gain some independence which ultimately would have benefited Lagosians. From reliable sources, the pressure was too much and the man needed to breath, to do things for and be accountable to the people. But he was promptly checked and threatened with impeachment. I wish he stood up for himself which has been my grouse against him, He complied and “joined” them. A humiliated man is the Gov who had no input to the identification of his successor nor know the criteria for his nomination.

    Well, this is the beginning of a new dawn and l hope Fashola gets the recognition he so deserve. As for Tinubu, when you do not know when to retire voluntarily, you will get compulsory severance. The days of Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s stronghold are numbered. You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind.

    • Zee

      June 11, 2015 at 1:29 pm

      Hahaha about compulsory severance.

    • sue

      June 11, 2015 at 3:22 pm

      Warizdiz!!!! You have said it all!!! I like to call him an evil genius…. Not all are deceived by his good works! I was amazed when Aisha Buhari came out to say “he sacrificed his presidential ambitions for her husband”. She dont get it!!! Hes got the voodoo for herself and hubby now….smh

  4. OSY

    June 11, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Emmanuel James… the great Aristotle.

  5. Tosin

    June 11, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    “ANA National Prize for Prose” – nice.

  6. Niola

    June 11, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    He is like Marmite.. Either love or Hate him. It is no fallacy that he has a place in the history of Nigerian Politics and has left an indelible mark on the components of democracy in Nigeria( NADECO days) however like most Nigerian Politicians, He is crafty, greedy and wields too much political power.

  7. Wajim

    June 11, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    Tinubu is arguably Nigeria’s greatest ever political leader in my opinion and and you have aptly highlighted why. While I may be an admirer of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s intellect, political sagacity and astuteness (Not his character), I must admit he overreached himself by trying to determine who becomes the Vice President, Senate President and Speaker at the same time.
    Their reaction to Saraki/Dogara’s victory in the National Assembly election with threats and intimidation is disappointing and unexpected because most people anticipated the outcome and its surprising they didnt see the handwriting on the wall. Tinubu should not be a sore loser but should swallow his pride and reach out to the other factions before he ends up loosing all he has built overtime.

  8. ola

    June 11, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Saraki might be the senate president as of today,but what he did has left a dent on his political career,now the APC dont trust him and the PDP dont trust him too…….PDD wont be too foolish to think someone that betrayed his party cant do same to them too in future.

  9. Anonymous

    June 11, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    Bobo Chicago

  10. Concerned_Boyfriend

    June 11, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    Great article!!. … The writer summed it all up beautifully “…Hate him or love him, it is difficult not to be amazed by his ingenuity”. The guy has etched his name eternally into the Nigerian political narratives. I’m not fan of his but I’d be lying not to call him a Maestro.

  11. bc

    June 11, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    Men who want power at all cost bow down for the likes of Tinubu. He gives you the Crown and takes the sceptre away. The guy was going to take through the back door what he could not get through the ballot box: rule Nigeria. Nigerians should thank God for the likes of Saraki for stopping him. Prayers saw PMB sworn in, & He who began thegood work in Nigeria will be faithful to complete it.

  12. mczonkwa

    June 11, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    argumentum ex silentio -‘Immanuel James.’. However, {argumentum ad ignorantiam} and reasonably an “argumentum ad populum”

  13. shaji folorunsho

    June 12, 2015 at 7:39 am

    lovely write up, my problem is with the Yorubas who want to repeat same thing we did to pa a Awolowo.

  14. Sss

    June 14, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    Saraki took d cleaner 2d cleaners..tinubu is smart bt other men smarter.the act of a finisher..ALL hail king saraki

  15. UsA

    June 14, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    God foolishness is wiser than mans wisdom..there is a diffence btw the game of ieyo and that of chess,tinubu is likened to an ieyo player while saraki plays chess…tinubu just got checkmated ..winner takes ALL

  16. christy

    June 15, 2015 at 10:31 am

    am sure most of us in Nigeria are either bereft of good histories or we’re bad students of history.Tinubu might be a thief infact,a very big one for that matter,but,we sh should not forget the fact as
    as he is he has eyes for catching people with moral integrity like Buhari&Osinbajo.

  17. As,ebi

    June 25, 2015 at 10:57 am

    Apc mak una start 2 de fulfil campaign promises, una no tel us say e go tak time all dis crisis 4 apc na delay tactis,change,change na 2day,hw una want God help wit impositn,rubberstamp,horsetrading n godfatherim aproach,mak una allow our democracy grow,mak d vote of d ppl count,wen apc merge wit other political parties no be confusion b dat,una continue to d recycle leaders wit ppl wey don fail Nigeria,hw change go com, wen we continue to de do d samething over n insanity b dat o,my prayer b say evil men no go rule Nigeria again.

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