By Obi Nwakanma
Was Bola Ahmed Tinubu – the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) – a drug lord? The story is not new, but it won’t go away. Much has been done to suppress this story, but the story is like a body that refuses to stay buried. It resurfaces every time Mr. Tinubu makes a move. It is the unsettled ghost of a life and a time of imponderable risks and high ambition. It adds to the complicated and unfinished, eve enigmatic life of Tinubu.
Controversy around Tinubu blew open in 1999 soon after he got the ticket of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to contest for the governorship of Lagos. The climate of prebendal politics arising from the first post-June 12 election had thrown up Tinubu. Every political interest was aimed at getting the transition off the table, and sending the military back to the barracks; and all permutations were geared in those heady days between August 1998 and May 1999 to placating what was generally known then as the “Yoruba interest,” because of the perceived injustices of the June 12 election cancellation by the military junta, and the subsequent death of Bashorun Moshood Abiola in detention.
Bola Tinubu had just entered the political fray, and was a senator elected under the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He was also a known associate of Bashorun Abiola and, in that proximity, he became a key actor in the post-election negotiations, and subsequently, in the fight to certify Mr. Abiola as President.
Tinubu became a very key advocate of the June 12 election, and took to exile with a few known actors to push for, and lobby the “international community,” particularly the United States government, for the revalidation of the June 12 election that had been canceled by the military and that led to the imprisonment of Abiola. Tinubu deployed his enormous resources internationally to that fight, and many, including the poet and playwright, Wole Soyinka, have acknowledged this.
But where did Bola Tinubu get all the resources? Certainly it was not from his legitimate earnings as Treasurer at Mobil. This was the question that hung thinly in the air, and was not to out until he was basically railroaded into the AD ticket, and in that situation, elected the governor of Lagos. A loud voice rent the air in 1999 by many concerned citizens in the city of Lagos about the new governor. The stories he supplied in his affidavit did not match with any known truth about Bola Tinubu.
In fact, there was no Bola Tinubu. He was a ghost! First, he was not really from Lagos. He was from a place called Iragbaiji, in the hinterlands of Osun State. How did he therefore end up being the son of the Iyaloja of Lagos, Madam Tinubu? Second, Bola Tinubu claimed to have attended, first, a non-existent school, a St. Paul’s School Aroloya; the Children’s Home School, Ibadan; then the elite Government College Ibadan, and then also, the University of Chicago.
First, there is no record of a St. Paul’s School in Aroloya; no one remembered Tinubu at the Government College Ibadan. As for the University of Chicago, his name was not in their rolls. As it turned out, he may have attended Chicago State University, which by no stretch of the imagination was the University of Chicago. So, who was the real Bola Tinubu? The late Gani Fawehinmi fired off the first real challenge against what became clearly a case of lies and forgeries against Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
On October 5, 1999, Gani Fawehinmi approached the courts and demanded an order of mandamus against the Attorney General and the Inspector General of Police for the court to compel them to investigate the governor of Lagos who had presented forged documents to qualify to run for election. Of course nothing came of those fights by Gani. If anything he was betrayed in this fight by those who were once brilliant advocates of public morality.
Lagos State House of Assembly, in a sham exercise, had cleared Bola Tinubu. But cleared him of what? To this day, Mr. Tinubu is still to show any evidence of his schooling. No one knows where he attended primary school, or where he went to secondary. No one has ever emerged to say he went to school with Bola Tinubu. So, with what did he secure admissions to the Richard Daley College, and then to Chicago State University? There is no record that he even studied for or obtained the GED – the standard preparatory certificate for those who did not have a high school diploma to qualify for college in the United States.
So, if Bola Tinubu did not go to any known schools in Nigeria, with what did he obtain admissions to college in the United States. It is alleged that Tinubu may have “perfected” and obtained his certificates from “Oluwole.’ I do speculate, of course, and I have no evidence. Oluwole is the forgery capital of Nigeria. If God had a signature, and you wanted it, they would forge it at Oluwole in Lagos.
Perhaps those who doubt Tinubu’s schooling should go back to Richard Daley College, and, I bet, there will still be on file the documents he presented for admissions in 1969 when he was said to have left to the United States. There is very little doubt that Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a highly intelligent man. But his language proficiency is another proof that he is not a very well educated man.
Tinubu’s forgery scandal erupted around about the same time that a young man named Salisu Buhari, just elected to be the first Speaker of the House of Representatives in the fourth republic, was, rightly too, hounded by the press until he resigned in shame, for claiming to have obtained degrees from the University of Toronto, Canada.
But while Salisu Buhari was roasted by investigative magazines like The News, the same magazine suppressed the more egregious case of Bola Tinubu, in spite of the claims put up by Fawehinmi. And guess who was Editor-in-Chief and CEO of the News at that point when it lost its investigative nerves? That’s right! Bayo Onanuga, the current chief spokesman for the Tinubu Presidential Campaign.
Much of the Lagos press clammed up. That was one of my greatest moments of disappointment with the press, because of what I felt was a half-hearted pursuit of the Tinubu case. Then came the ENRON scandal, and then came in 2003 a new scandal: the question of Tinubu’s alleged involvement in drug trade. That story too was buried. But it has refused to disappear. Last week, a certified true copy of court documents from the US District Court in Chicago, indicting Bola Ahmed Tinubu for drug trafficking and money laundering, resurfaced.
It has set a lot of tongues wagging and a lot of Tinubu’s handlers sweating, and running all over the place to douse the fire ignited by the implications of the revelations in these documents. The court papers revealed that Bola Tinubu was the owner of ten bank accounts used in drug trade and he was in business with another very well-known Nigerian drug trafficker, Adegboyega Mueez Akande. Now the upshot, Bola Tinubu, in what is clearly a plea bargain, forfeited the money in his bank accounts. It is of course, as scandals go, salacious.
But it needs to be settled once and for all so that Nigerians would know whether Ahmed Bola Tinubu is an innocent man getting a bad rap from his relentless political enemies, or whether he is a danger to Nigeria and its democracy, because Nigeria cannot afford to elect a drug lord. On Wednesday, on Channels TV, Mr. Festus Keyamo, a senior lawyer, Junior Minister for Labour, and current Deputy Campaign Chief for the Bola Tinubu Campaign, tried all kinds of bluster to explain away the situation. He even went so far as to say the “dictionary meaning of forfeiture is not the same as its legal meaning.”
He did propose all kinds of scenario in which he claimed, for instance, that Bola Tinubu and his bank accounts are separate entities, and, as a result, it was not Bola Tinubu that was indicted. He, in fact, did suggest that it was Tinubu who, generously, told the US government, “go, and sin no more!” It was very unconvincing! It all seemed like the kind of argument a tuppeny lawyer could make.
But Festus Keyamo, who is preserved in record as calling Bola Ahmed Tinubu a criminal in the past, seems now to be eating his own vomit. We shall leave Mr. Keyamo alone for the moment, and ask this serious question: Did Bola Tinubu ever engage in heroin trafficking and money laundering for which he had to make a plea bargain leading to the forfeiture of his bank balance? If he did, then he must be barred from further contesting this election.
The implication of a Bola Tinubu, if he was a former drug baron, contesting for the presidency of Nigeria is far too disturbing for words. If he ever gets elected, he presents a major national security risk, and Nigeria would officially have joined the rank of pariah narco-nations. Nigerians should just say “Tufia!” to that. On the other hand, if Bola Tinubu is innocent of all these tarring, and never had a drug-trafficking past, all those raising this issue must be made to publicly issue an unreserved apology. This matter must be settled. It is not going to go away.