You are currently viewing Inside Tinubu’s mind, by Mike Awoyinfa
Share this story

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is one poem, one lyrical ballad I read at Axim Secondary School, Axim, Ghana, and have often alluded to.  Like the ‘Ancient Mariner’ President Ahmed Bola Tinubu has often found himself carrying an albatross signifying the heavy burden and the price to pay as a leader.  As the governor of Lagos State, he found himself in the shoes of Pep Guardiola, having to select a winning team, having to pick his commissioners which he got right, leading to the various innovations that enriched Lagos State, making it the envy of other states.  But then his biggest albatross was choosing his successor.  Tinubu knows that without a good successor, he is as good as a failure.  From his wife Oluremi, you got a sense of his deep concern and conviction that “a leader without a successor is a failure.”

In a book yet to be made public titled ‘FASHOLA, THE NIGERIAN DREAM—A POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY’ by Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe, the First Lady, Oluremi Tinubu whom we interviewed along with her husband now the President of Nigeria asked rhetorically: “What do you say is your legacy, if you don’t have capable hands to bring your efforts to light, if you don’t have capable hands to hand over such work you’ve put in?  It’s terrible.  It can even make you die.  It can kill.  It wipes out everything.  All your efforts wasted.  It is like: What else?  Look at President Obasanjo.  When you look at the PDP government, who has succeeded Obasanjo so far?  That is the tragedy we were trying to avoid.”  


Between 2005 and 2006, over 14 candidates had indicated interest in becoming the next governor, eleven of them Tinubu’s commissioners.  Seeing the heat that was brewing under him, Tinubu decided to take his Chief of Staff, Babatunde Raji Fashola (BRF) into confidence in 2005.  He confided in him that he would prefer Engineer Hakeem Gbajabiamila, Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, to succeed him.  Gbaja had been close to the Tinubus for more than 20 years as family friends.       


“I have known Gbajabiamila since the time we got married,” Oluremi Tinubu told us.  “So, if it was a matter of looking for someone to favour, it should be somebody we had known in the past.”  

For the avoidance of doubt, Hakeem Gbajabiamala and Femi Gbajabiamila, the current Chief of Staff to President Tinubu are cousins.  Whereas Hakeem is an engineer, Femi is a lawyer.  Hakeem is into private business.  He shuttles between Lagos and Chicago.   


On the big scramble to be the next governor of Lagos State in 2007, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu revealed to us: “Hakeem Gbaja showed interest.  He was highly qualified to do so.  Remi Adiukwu showed interest.  Tokunbo Afikuyomi showed interest.  Femi Pedro showed interest.  Aro Lambo showed interest.  Obanikoro showed interest—he was gone by that time.  Ganiyu Solomon showed interest but he was outside my cabinet.  Oyinloma Danmole and so many others showed interest.  They came to me differently and they were out there campaigning.”    

Since Fashola as Chief of Staff managed Governor Tinubu’s manifest, a crucial document that indicated the governor’s itinerary and the guests he would see, he wanted Fashola to consciously begin to expose Gbaja by making him represent the governor at many public events.  This would be a way to expose him to the public, but this was to be done confidentially.  At about the same time, Tinubu summoned the two former newspaper editors in his cabinet, Dele Alake, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy and Tunji Bello, the Commissioner for Environment to begin to quietly sell Gbajabiamila to the media whose views are critical in such matters.


Things went well for nine months, then Gbajabiamila’s choice unraveled in one dramatic moment of emotional outburst.  According to President Tinubu, the government was trying to rehabilitate Ejirin, a suburb of Lagos, and was considering how to relocate the sawmillers in Ebute Metta to the new location.  Consequently, Gbaja, an engineer and Commissioner for Urban Planning was asked to make a proposal on how best to achieve this.  In the cabinet meeting, when one member raised a serious objection to the proposal, a hot drama ensued involving the man Tinubu was grooming to be the next governor.

“He hit the roof and blew his top,” Tinubu who chaired the meeting recalled.  “I sat there in the cabinet watching the drama.  I remember the statements as he blew hot: ‘If you are an engineer, I am a civil engineer…If you are this, I am that!’”


Right there in that heat of unbridled emotion, Tinubu saw his choice blow up in his face.  Can a man who couldn’t manage his emotion be trusted with such an enormous power as wielded by a Lagos State governor, a state that in economic terms is bigger than several African countries, without risking the birth of a dictator—a virus that sent Tinubu to exile for five years?  Tinubu could not fathom the basis for such emotional paroxysm.  “Just a simple criticism and he went haywire,” Tinubu summed up the drama.  This was an intellectually combative cabinet where several of his own proposal as governor had been shredded by his commissioners on many occasions.  And that was the end of the proposal.  “A number of times, they had done that to me and I had to take it,” Tinubu lamented.  “And I would withdraw.  Sometimes I get angry and say: ‘I am not sharing my lunch with anybody.  You go to the cafeteria and eat your lunch.’  And we would just laugh over it.”

After Gbaja, another governor-to-be, the Commissioner for Health also suffered a similar fate.  He was asked to present a proposal on the Ministry of Health to the cabinet.  Like a headmaster brooding over the work of an errant pupil, Tinubu said: “He came out with a memo that was wishy-washy.  And what’s more, he could not defend it.  He just was not there.  I had to step in.”  Once again, Tinubu had a sinking feeling inside his stomach.  “My feeling was this, if this is the ministry that you are in charge of as a commissioner and you cannot defend the memo you brought to the cabinet, how can you govern this state?  Pure and simple, I changed my mind.”

Next was the fate of another potential candidate, the Secretary to the Government who didn’t become governor mainly because Tinubu felt his “case was purely medical.  He had no energy for the job.  He has time for politics, but not the essential time to administer his health.  So the capacity was just not there.  Pure and simple.”

Next was another candidate who also failed.  Tinubu described that one as “brilliant and capable but restless.  He is a single-minded fellow in terms of focusing on a single item.  He lacks the capacity to handle multiple tasks at the same time, particularly at the time of crisis—because in governance, you must expect this to happen.”  


In the case of Ganiyu Solomon, Tinubu saw him as outsider: “I don’t believe that the successor should be somebody from outside the cabinet.  It is nothing personal, but as a man grounded in corporate values, if you have not been part of the thinking of any policy and you come in from the outside, it affects continuity.”       

Next, Prince Abiodun Ogunleye, born November 1, 1940, a former Commissioner for Finance and Economic Planning under the military would have been 67 if made governor.  But Tinubu told him: “You are too old.  You have a great experience, you are a good man, you an account person, a finance person, but this job is beyond you.”


To cut a long story short, how Babatunde Raji Fashola ended as the chosen one is a story for another day.  All the above stories should help create a picture of how President Tinubu’s mind is working as he tries to assemble competent hands into his cabinet.  

Do you have an important success story, news, or opinion article to share with with us? Get in touch with us at or Whatsapp +1 317 665 2180

Join our WhatsApp Group to receive news and other valuable information alerts on WhatsApp.

Share this story

Leave a Reply