Nigeria 2023: Tinubu returns home after ‘long, hard’ presidential campaign

By Ben Ezeamalu

Posted on Wednesday, 22 February 2023 12:02, updated on Friday, 24 February 2023 12:40
Bola Tinubu's rally inside the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos on 21 February 2023. (photo: Ben Ezeamalu)

For the thousands of cheering supporters inside the Teslim Balogun Stadium, the octogenarian and septuagenarian that arrived at the venue of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) final rally in Lagos are Nigeria's outgoing and incoming presidents respectively. 

President Muhammadu Buhari and Bola Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate drove into the 25,000-capacity stadium a few minutes past 3 PM on Tuesday, accompanied by several of the country’s high-profile politicians.

Tinubu, 70, who was clad in his traditional white, flowing agbada and trademark cap waved a broom, his party’s symbol, at the crowd as the open-top bus moved around the stadium amidst cheers of ‘City Boy’ one of his numerous nicknames.

When it was his turn to address the crowd, Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos, assured President Buhari, 80, that “as you work hard for me, I’ll work hard for Nigeria. As you give Nigerians the hope to renew their faith in their country, I will sustain that hope.

“Those who look helpless today will be helpful in this country. All the agenda set in our programme – Renewed Hope manifesto – will be pursued diligently, vigorously, with all our energy.”

Election favourites

Nigerians will go to the polls on 25 February to elect a new president in an election that analysts say will be “the most keenly fought” by more than two candidates since the country’s Independence in 1960.

Despite the internal crisis rocking the APC – as party members continue to point accusing fingers at the government – over the current hardship inflicted on Nigerians, the ruling party remains among the favourites to win the election.

Atiku Abubakar, 77, the candidate of the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP); Rabi’u Kwankwaso, 66, of the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP); and Peter Obi, 61, of the Labour Party are the other front runners.

Last October, Nigeria’s Central Bank introduced a Naira Redesign Policy to help, among other things, eliminate vote-buying during elections. The policy has, however, seen dozens of people sleep at banks’ Automated Teller Machines as the pains of Naira scarcity continue to bite harder.

Queues at fuel stations have also persisted since last year, the longest since the party took over power in 2015.


But the APC remains optimistic about its chances at the polls. Abubakar Adamu, the party’s national chairman, said at Tuesday’s rally that judging by the turnout at their rallies across the country, “we are there.”

“We have a president who, by [the] grace of God, will be President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor,” said Adamu, 76.

“It is our hope that the legacies that have been built over the years by the outgoing president will not only be maintained but improved upon. For this to happen, we need, first and foremost, your votes.”

Simon Lalong, the leader of the party’s presidential campaign council, also echoed Adamu’s optimism ahead of the election.

“Mr President, we are using this opportunity to escort the City Boy back to Lagos but what I have seen is other than escorting him,” said Lalong, the governor of Plateau State in Nigeria’s north-central.

“It’s like we are already celebrating the victory of our party after 25 February. Our incoming president, I know you are a city boy, in the next week you will not be a city boy again, you will go back to Abuja and be a Garki boy.

“We traversed all the nooks and corners of Nigeria. Today it is already obvious that before the election a new president is already seen.”

‘A long, hard campaign’

Ahead of the arrival of the president and Tinubu, there was a festive mood inside the stadium as some of Nigeria’s popular musicians, including Naira Marley and Wasiu Ayinde, entertained the crowd. The day was mostly cloudy and the smell of Indian hemp hung in the air.

Men and women donning uniforms of the various Tinubu support groups and market associations mixed with armed police officers and soldiers within the stadium grounds.

Outside the stadium, vehicular traffic ground to a halt as the state government implemented the traffic advisory it announced ahead of the rally.

It was a homecoming for the APC presidential candidate to a state he had a vice-like grip on since the end of his second term as governor in 2007. During his speech, Tinubu was flanked by the senate president, Ahmad Lawan, and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, one of his numerous protégés. Behind him were all serving and former APC governors.

The rally had been billed to start at 10 AM, but after the national anthem was sung at 3:30 PM, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu took the microphone to shower appreciation on the crowd for turning out to show their love for Tinubu.

It is our hope that the legacies that have been built over the years by the outgoing president will not only be maintained but improved upon. For this to happen, we need, first and foremost, your votes.

Oluremi Tinubu, the presidential candidate’s wife and a serving senator, said they are now at the “very very crucial stage after a long and hard campaign.”

“We want to thank you and you can always count on us. We have been consistent for the past 23 years and it’s not going to stop,” said Oluremi.

She said her husband is not in the presidential race because he sees the opportunity for power.

“Asiwaju (Tinubu] is running because he sees a need, a need for a common generation. He has to make Nigeria comfortable for you and we promise to do that. He will work for the people, he will work for the poor, you [can] count on my husband, I can tell you that.”

Bola Tinubu’s rally inside the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos on 21 February 2023. (photo: Ben Ezeamalu)

Buhari vs Tinubu

Early on in the presidential campaign, it appeared like the president was not throwing his weight behind Tinubu’s candidacy, staying away from his rallies and keeping mum about the party’s flag bearer at events.

Insiders say that Buhari was eventually prevailed upon to pledge support for Tinubu and begin attending his campaign events, a promise that the president largely kept.

It was inside the Teslim Balogun Stadium in 2014 that Tinubu almost single-handedly grabbed – ahead of Atiku and Kwankwaso – the APC president’s presidential ticket for Buhari during the party’s primaries. Buhari then went on to become president.

But the largely strained relationship, especially since 2019, between the president and Tinubu appeared to bubble to the surface early last year after it emerged that the former was not interested in endorsing the latter to run for the office.

The ensuing politicking forced the party into primaries that Tinubu won by a landslide, defeating his former protégé and the sitting vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, as well as the senate president, Ahmed Lawan.

On Tuesday, Lawan was among the APC chiefs who accompanied Tinubu back to Lagos from Abuja for his final rally. Again, as had been the case throughout the party’s presidential rallies, the vice president was conspicuously missing.

Tinubu thanked the president for allowing and not meddling in the party’s primaries last June.

“You said, for anybody to succeed you, he or she must work hard, must follow the law, that the election must be very transparent and that your party will be a shining example like the sun,” he said.

“Thank you Mr President. You followed the procedure, you encouraged all of us. The primary came, the votes were cast, and we all waited anxiously and I won the votes.

“You didn’t ask them to reverse it, based on my religion. You didn’t ask them to alter it, based on my tribe. You didn’t ask us to change it, because I was not from your village in Daura. You celebrated the victory with me and said to me, ‘Congratulations.’”

Wishing them well

The APC presidential candidate also said the president turned down his request to nominate his vice president after his victory in the primaries.

“I came to you to nominate for me – just exactly like I did to you in 2015 – a vice president. But instead of giving me the same coin, you said no, you know better, you are experienced better. You know those Nigerians enough to know who to work with,” he said.

“You encouraged me and after that, I announced to you I’ve made my choice. I chose one of those most known, most knowledgeable, very close individual and independent in thought, attitude, capacity, and knowledge.”

The rally ended after Buhari raised the hands of Tinubu and Sanwo-Olu, who is running for re-election as governor, and wished them well in the election.

Bose Adesanya, a trader who donned one of the uniforms of Tinubu’s support groups in the stadium, described the presidential candidate as a “good father” who has helped many people in the country.

“I must vote on Saturday, insha Allahu I’ll celebrate on Monday morning,” Adesanya, 54, tells The Africa Report.

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