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Who is Bola Tinubu, Nigeria's new president?

May 29, 2023

Bola Ahmed Tinubu has come out victorious in the Nigeria's highly disputed presidential election. Who is this veteran politician and why is he widely regarded as a kingmaker and "godfather"?

Bola Tinubu
Bola Tinubu of Nigeria's ruling All Progressives CongressImage: Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty Images

Bola Tinubu's presidential campaign slogan was "emi lo kan" in his native Yoruba — "It's my turn."  On March 1, he emerged victorious in the race to lead Africa's most populous democracy.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) confirmed that the former governor of Lagos secured over 8.8 million votes and the required 25% of votes in two-thirds of Nigeria's 36 states and capital, a threshold to be confirmed president.

Meanwhile, the INEC said Peoples Democratic Party candidate Atiku Abubakar came second with 6.9 million votes. Labour Party candidate Peter Obi, who scored a major upset in Tinubu's home state of Lagos, came third with 6.1 million votes.

Tinubu is to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general who has served the maximum two terms allowed by Nigeria's constitution. Buhari is due to step down on May 29.


Nigerians' expectations of Tinubu presidency

Business to politics

Tinubu was born in Lagos in 1952, to a Muslim family from the Yoruba ethnic group, the majority in southwest Nigeria.

In the 1970s, he studied in the United States while working as a dishwasher, taxi driver and night guard to fund his education. He graduated from Chicago State University in 1979 with a degree in business administration.

After working for US consultancy firms, he returned to Nigeria in the 1980s and worked for the Mobil oil company as an auditor.

He first got involved in politics in the 1990s and was elected governor of Lagos when military rule ended in 1999.

Sometimes referred to as the political "godfather", Tinubu has been known for exerting power from behind the scenes and using his extensive network to back candidates for office.

Source of wealth unknown

Tinubu's support also helped outgoing leader Muhammadu Buhari win two terms in office, in 2015 and 2019.

Muhammadu Buhari
Muhammadu Buhari is set to step down in May after two presidential termsImage: JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP/Getty Images

During the 2019 election, a bullion van was seen entering Tinubu's residence on Bourdillion Road in the affluent Lagos neighborhood of Ikoyi. Tinubu responded with the statement: "I keep money anywhere I want."

Since stepping down as Lagos governor in 2007, Tinubu has picked every subsequent winning candidate.

Tinubu is believed to be one of Nigeria's richest politicians but the source of his wealth is unknown. The political kingmaker has interests in a number of business ventures, from media and aviation to tax consultancy, hotels, and real estate holdings.

People seated at a stadim with a banner showing Bola Tinubu and the words 'Master Planner'
Supporters of Bola Tinubu at an election rally in Lagos in November 2022Image: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP

Health in question

The president-elect has been accused of corruption, money laundering, and operating more than a dozen foreign bank accounts but was never charged and denies wrongdoing.

Tinubu's health has also come into question. At times he appeared frail and with a slurred speech on the campaign trail, but he has repeatedly dismissed any concerns about his health.

Once he takes up his position as president in June, Tinubu is expected to deal with a long list of problems including that of security, a currency crisis, fuel and power shortages, and deeply entrenched corruption.

Edited by Benita van Eyssen