Bola Ahmed Tinubu — national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and would-be successor to President Muhammadu Buhari — quietly returned to Nigeria on 8 October after a three-month sojourn in the UK where he was being treated for unknown health problems. His return marks a significant point in the campaign to succeed Buhari and will intensify the jostling by different groups to gain an advantage in the race for the 2023 Presidency.
Before Tinubu’s return a new political group — calling itself South West Agenda for Asiwaju (SWAGA) — championing his presidential ambition was launched in Lagos and was attended by all of the state’s key political figures. Asiwaju — which is a Yoruba word meaning ‘he who rules’ — is the traditional title for Tinubu that is used in the Southwest This was an illustration of both Tinubu’s continuing political dominance in his home state and the unity of purpose to support his presidential ambition.
Buhari’s recent visit to Tinubu’s London home while he was there receiving medical treatment has been portrayed by the latter’s supporters as signifying that the president is backing Tinubu for 2023. Others argue, however, that this is not the case and that the visit was intended to expose the lie that Tinubu was not ill but simply relaxing in London.
Even though Tinubu may not be Buhari’s anointed successor — and will not be specifically endorsed by the president who is determined to remain neutral and not endorse anyone — it will be difficult to stop him from clinching the APC’s presidential ticket if he is allowed to participate in the imminent party primaries. This is why his opponents — mainly composed of the president’s inner circle who are trying to maintain their power and influence — are seeking ways to ensure that he cannot contest the primaries.
Tinubu faces several hurdles in his quest for the Presidency. One current one is how to overcome the perception that, because of his age and recent health problems, he is not physically strong enough to run. Then there is the possibility that his opponents could use the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to try and prosecute Tinubu — who is probably the Nigerian politician with the deepest pockets — for alleged corruption.
Tinubu’s very deep connections within the judiciary mean, however, that it would be difficult to succeed in convicting him of any offence in Nigeria. His opponents are also mindful of the fact they cannot push Tinubu so hard that he decides to defect to another party. Given his enormous wealth there is a danger that, if he did defect, it would only benefit the APC’s political opponents.