In the colonial era, the newspaper served as the mouthpiece for Awolowo's populist welfare programmes. It also played an important role in defending the interests of the Yoruba people in a period when different ethnic groups were struggling for ascendancy. From independence in 1960 until the 1990s most publications were government-owned, but private papers such as the Nigerian Tribune, The Punch, Vanguard and the Guardian continued to expose public and private scandals despite government attempts at suppression. General Ibrahim Babangida once said that of all the Nigerian newspapers he would only read and take seriously the Nigerian Tribune's editorial column.
The book Leadership Failure and Nigeria's Fading Hopes by Femi Okurounmu consists of excerpts from a weekly column in the Nigerian Tribune published between 2004 and 2009. The author, a patriotic Nigerian elder statesman, laments how the corruption and the selfishness of successive leaders has destroyed the hopes not just of Nigerians, but of the entire black race.
In December 2008 Segun Olatunji, managing director and Editor-in-Chief of Nigerian Tribune, resigned, and a few days later the editor, Rauf Abiodun, also resigned as part of a series of staff changes. Mrs. HID Awolowo, who is chairman of the Nigerian Tribune's publisher African Newspapers of Nigeria Ltd, appointed Sam Adesua as the new managing director/editor-in-chief. Edward Dickson was appointed editor of the daily paper. The changes were said to be part of a move to modernize the paper and expand beyond narrow Yoruba partisan politics in the face of competition from The Westerner, The Nation and Nigerian Compass.
In January 2011 the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) reacted angrily to an editorial in the Nigerian Tribune that accused the ACN of imposing its candidates in the party primaries for the forthcoming national elections. An ACN spokesman called the paper a front for the People's Democratic Party (PDP).
Indeed since Nigeria's new democratic journey, the newspaper has engaged in running battle with some political group which styled itself as " progressives " but which curiously has consistently used the name of the newspaper's founder, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria's foremost nationalists, to campaign for votes.
The progressives who formed the nucleus of Alliance for Democracy (AD),and later Action Congress and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and lately All Progressives Congress (APC ) believed that, by right, the newspaper must support their actions and inaction and must not subject them to criticism in whatever form. Even when critical and objective views of Nigerians against these self-styled progressives were published by the newspaper, the reactions are usually laced with malice and not with the expected robustness of an objective mind. Such objective analyses and views are labelled anti-Yoruba sentiments by APC and its members. Their inability to control the newspaper and its management has led to naming calling and vicious attacks.
In spite of these, however, Nigerian Tribune has continued to wax stronger in terms of patronage and national outreach and has remained the voice of the voiceless. It has refused to be cowed by these political elements who have continued to profit from the name of its founder but who are not following his political ideals and ideology.
In September 2012, the newspaper's Board of Directors appointed Edward Dickson as Managing Director, Editor-in-Chief; Debo Abdulai as Editor Nigerian Tribune; Sina Oladeinde, Editor Sunday Tribune and Lasisi Olagunju as Saturday Tribune Editor.The change brought in a new direction for the newspaper.