He rose from obscurity to become the political kingpin of South-Western Nigeria, a part of the country that is not short of grandees whose backgrounds are considerably more privileged than his own.
He has yet to provide conclusive proof of sound primary, secondary and tertiary schooling, yet dominates his fellow Yorubas, who have long been famed for their strong commitment to formal education.
When Tinubu launched a bid to become the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the four most senior members of his party – President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Ahmad Lawan and party chairman Abdullahi Adamu – did not throw their weight behind him.
Osinbajo and Lawan ran against him. Buhari and Adamu folded their arms and feigned neutrality while secretly backing Lawan.
When Tinubu addressed delegates at the party primaries last year, he came across as a man who had serious health problems. His hands were trembling, his voice was slurred, he was unsteady on his feet. However, he still emerged victorious.
No jubilation after election
Nevertheless, he made the ‘mistake’ of choosing Senator Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim, as his running mate, thereby alienating millions of Christians.
Then during the election campaign, his enemies gleefully distributed humiliating videos in which Tinubu stumbled over simple sentences and appeared to be suffering from memory lapses.
He also had to deal with a daily barrage of accusations from detractors who described him as a vicious ethno-religious bigot, common criminal and corruption expert who encourages hate speech and specialises in rigging, voter suppression, state capture, theft, bribery, drug dealing, perjury and sponsoring violent thugs.
However, he still emerged victorious.
Tinubu is by far the most controversial president-elect Nigeria has ever seen. Frankly, he is suffering from a legitimacy deficit and his supporters have been strangely subdued since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) decided to offer him the crown.
There has been none of the nationwide jubilation that normally accompanies an election triumph; and even now at the eleventh hour, there are Nigerians who are fervently praying that a legal challenge from Atiku Abubakar, the rival who is said to have come second, will topple Tinubu before Monday’s swearing-in ceremony.
On Friday 26th May, the justices of the Supreme Court are supposed to determine whether Shettima has violated Section 35 of the 2022 Electoral Act and voided the joint presidential ticket by being doubly nominated for two different elective offices.
The story is that Shettima submitted a senatorial nomination form to INEC before Tinubu offered him the running mate slot, then failed (for reasons best known to himself) to withdraw the senatorial form when he accepted Tinubu’s invitation.
This scenario is not unique. There’s a precedent.
Ball in court’s hands
In 2019, the then Imo State governor’s son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, was disqualified by the Supreme Court for simultaneously submitting two nomination forms for gubernatorial and senatorial elections.
This kind of bet-hedging has been declared unambiguously illegal by the Supreme Court in the past; and many lawyers are saying that it will be impossible for the same court to rule in Shettima’s favour.
However, the very same court has massively contradicted itself this year!
As Shehu Sani, a former legislator from Kaduna, has pointed out: Two other senators – Ahmad Lawan and Godswill Akpabio – also sought the APC presidential nomination last year, but were permitted by the Supreme Court to re-contest for senate seats when Tinubu got it.
Sani says if the Supreme Court allowed Akpabio and Lawan to get away with double nomination, it would boil down to double standards if Shettima is not also allowed to get away with it.
It will be interesting to hear what Nwosu has to say about Sani’s theory!
There was an uproar when Akpabio and Lawan got their way in January, along with dark mutterings of procured judicial malfeasance.
There will be even more of an uproar if Shettima gets his way; and it has to be said that there is a huge difference between Shettima’s case and Akpabio, Lawan and Nwosu’s cases.
Much more is at stake when the double nominee in question happens to be the deputy of a contentious president-elect.
‘Panic’ in Tinubu’s camp
Rumours are rife that there is panic in Tinubu’s camp because the justices, aware of global scrutiny from Nigerians here, Nigerians in the Diaspora and important foreign stakeholders like the UK and US governments, are allegedly too afraid of being disgraced to deliver an inconsistent judgement that cannot be justified in law or morally.
There is even fevered talk on the Abuja grapevine of Tinubu allegedly pleading with Buhari to declare Friday 26th May – the last working day before Monday’s planned inauguration – a public holiday, to prevent the judges from delivering a last-minute drama that will ruin his lifelong dream of heading the ‘Giant Of Africa’.
There are numerous convoluted speculations about what will happen if the Supreme Court refuses to be railroaded into giving Tinubu and Shettima permission to be sworn in on Monday.
Friday is probably the most crucial date in Nigeria since the 25 February 25 presidential election.
Will Tinubu, the man with an onomatopoeic macho chieftaincy title – JAGABAN (it means ‘leader of warriors’) – and conqueror in hundreds of battles, lose or win the war and claim his trophy?
How this nail-biting cliffhanger will be resolved is anyone’s guess.
Watch this space.
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