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Published On: Sun, May 13th, 2018

The power of one man

By OBINNA EZUGWU

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is easily one of the most influential politicians of this generation. In that sphere, he is only second, perhaps, to President Muhammadu Buhari who for the reason of being Nigeria’s president has to rank as number one.

Tinubu:

But even so, one could argue, plausibly, that there could never have been a President Buhari without Tinubu. Indeed, it had only taken the former Lagos governor’s political influence in the South West to ensure that Buhari became widely accepted in the zone in 2015.

With tremendous amount of power and huge presence in the media, Tinubu re-branded Buhari and suddenly, a man who could only manage to win selected states in the 12 core Northern states in three previous attempts, was sold as a messiah to all, and he swept votes across the Middle Belt and particularly the South West.

However, 2019 is another election year, and Buhari is seeking reelection and there has been talks, given his performance, adjudged by many to have been disappointing, about whether or not he stands any chance of getting reelected. But the idea of a second term for Buhari, it would seem obvious, depends largely on Tinubu. Indeed, it is only because of him that there is even any talk of Buhari returning to power in 2019, and that only lends credence to the extent of his influence.

With a reasonable grip on the South West, Tinubu remains Buhari’s most critical ally. Should he pull out of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Buhari is sure to lose the South West woefully and that could very well be the final nail on the president’s reelection coffin.

Abuja is not unaware of this. It is hardly surprising that the protracted power tussle in the ruling APC has gotten to a head and predictably, with Tinubu prevailing resoundingly over the “outgoing” chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie Oyegun.

It is now, largely only a matter of when the party decides to hold its’ national convention, and a new face will emerge. From all indications, the immediate past governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, will inherit the post, with Tinubu as a benefactor.

“As far as Adams Oshiomole who is Tinubu’s loyalist emerges as the new APC chairman, Tinubu would throw his weight behind Buhari,” notes analyst, Mr Yusuf Mohammed. ‘Unfortunately, that will assure Buhari in the South West, but it will be more difficult this time around though.”

Tinubu has proved an indispensable political juggernaut, and ultimately, President Buhari who had indeed made no attempt to hide his discomfort with him has been compelled to concede the party’s leadership in the exigency of his 2019 reelection bid.

When Oyegun held sway, Tinubu was become largely isolated and almost made to rue his support for Buhari in 2015. It was the alliance between the North and the Southwest that made the Buhari presidency possible. Tinubu had led the Southwest half into the project through the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) platform.

But in the euphoria of victory, and also because power is jealous, the emergent power “cabal” relentlessly made efforts to undermine Tinubu. Indeed, no sooner was Buhari sworn in than he made it clear to Tinubu that he didn’t recognize the post of national leader of the party – the title Tinubu is largely known with – and the events that followed afterwards pointed to a well-orchestrated plan to whittle him down.

His ministerial nominees were rejected, while triple ministerial portfolios were handed to his disgruntled protégée and immediate past Lagos governor, Babatunde Fashola.

This was preceded by the rejection of his preferred candidates for National Assembly leadership as well as the clear robbery of the Kogi state mandate of his loyalist, Hon. James Faleke. Later events in Ondo State where the current governor, Rotimi Akeredolu emerged in spite of him also belong in the category.

While this lasted, Oyegun, who despite being backed by Tinubu for the chairmanship job in 2014, had quickly pitched tent with the president and his men and became instantly antagonistic to Tinubu. This invariably triggered a conflict over who will control the party structure. Tinubu had his eyes on 2023 and needed to have a grip on the party to ensure the actualization of his 2023 presidential ambition.

But with the presidency solidly behind Oyegun while it lasted, it was really no contest as Tinubu’s “national leader” tag became, at best an alias in the scheme of things without substance.

Outsmarted, Tinubu resorted to venting his anger through letters. But with his Southwest political base as a bargaining chip, it was obvious from the start that Oyegun would be sacrificed to appease him when the chips are down.

Tinubu’s ace

The past few months have been eventful. The pro-Oyegun governors and the National Working Committee (NWC) had worked tirelessly to ensure that Oyegun retained his sit. When the idea of extending his tenure was eventually stopped by Buhari on the basis that it was unconstitutional, and it was decided that the party would hold a convention, the governors yet sought to smuggle him back through the back door.

At the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting held on Monday, April 9, the Lalong Committee – headed by Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong – set up by Oyegun to look into the constitutionality or otherwise of the botched tenure extension and make recommendations, recommended that Oyegun be granted a waiver to stand for reelection in pursuance of Article 31 (1) of the party’s constitution which provides that, “subject to the approval of the NEC, the NWC may in special circumstances grant a waiver to a person not otherwise qualified….if in its opinion, such waiver is in the best interest of the party.”

In addition, the committee recommended that should there be issues with the convention such that it becomes inconclusive, the party should ask the current leadership to remain in an acting capacity.

Both recommendations had been apparently engineered by the pro Oyegun forces and could have easily paved the way for him to retain his seat as chairman. Interestingly, President Buhari had adopted the recommendations on the day which must have given the Oyegun group a reason to be confident, especially given that they have the NWC and majority of the party’s governors.

However, that was not to be as Buhari, compelled by the urgency of the need to yield to Tinubu, put a spanner in the works as he had done with the tenure extension, and has now effectively sealed Oyegun’s fate with his endorsement of Oshiomhole.

The endorsement had come after the president’s meeting in London with Tinubu, Oshiomhole, the governors of Jigawa state, Abubakar Badaru and Imo State, Rochas Okorocha. It was at the meeting that agreements were sealed and Oyegun’s fate decided, and later conveyed at a meeting between Buhari and the party’s governors on April 24 at the presidential villa, Abuja.

Governors’ fight

At an earlier meeting between NWC and the governors at the party’s secretariat, tempers had flared up as the governors engaged one another in a shouting match.

Oyo State governor, Abiola Ajimobi and his Kaduna counterpart, Nasir El-Rufai were said to have nearly engaged in a physical confrontation as tension between the pro-Oyegun and pro-Tinubu forces reached pitch high. Some of the governors were said to have stormed out of the venue in anger, but in the end, the president’s stance invariably prevailed.

Things had become quite complicated within the party, especially as it concerns states politics, and the clash of the governors does not come as a surprise. Individually, the fate of some, with respect to the control of the party in their respective states, is tied to the winning side in the Tinubu-Oyegun divide.

In Oyo for instance, the cabal in the presidency is backing Buhari’s Communication Minister, Adebayo Shittu to succeed Ajimobi in 2019, but the governor wants to decide his own successor. Should Oyegun prevail, therefore, the cabal could easily impose Shittu. Oyegun’s loyalty is to president Buhari, but it is the cabal that calls the shorts. He doesn’t have access to Buhari himself, thus, he takes directives from the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari.

Therefore, Ajimobi in a bid to safeguard his control had abandoned Oyegun, while El-Rufai who is having a running battle with the three Kaduna senators needed Oyegun to maintain control, as indeed many of the governors, including Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and Akeredolu in Ondo. But Tinubu towered above these considerations and Buhari had little choice but to accede to his position in the interest of his second term ambition.

With reasonable control of the political structure of the Southwest, Tinubu remains the single most important person that could make or break Buhari, so essentially the president was compelled to betray an old loyalist in Oyegun to appease Tinubu for his endorsement of the latter’s candidate, Oshiomhole.

Oshiomhole had contested for governor in the 2007 general election under Labour party, but allegedly lost out to People’s Democratic Party’s candidate, Oserheimen Osunbor who was declared the winner. He proceeded to court and with heavy backing by Tinubu, he was able to reclaim his mandate at the Appeal court on November 12, 2008.

Both men became close political allies leading eventually to his defection to Action Congress, founded by Tinubu

A Pyrrhic victory

 But in politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies, and observers caution that Tinubu’s victory might indeed turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory.

“Well, people are free to conclude that if Oshiomhole emerges as chairman, it is a win for Tinubu, but that does not mean it is correct,” said a pro-Buhari member of the party who prefers anonymity.

“If Oshiomhole emerges, he cannot be more powerful than President Buhari. I don’t think that even with Oshiomhole, he can control the party because in the end, Buhari is still the leader and will have more influence on the chairman.”

His assertion is largely backed by evidence. Until the emergence of Buhari as president in 2015, Tinubu called the shorts in the party and had influenced Oyegun’s emergence as chairman, but he lost control as soon as Buhari took office. To this effect, some say the idea of Buhari conceding to Tinubu could only serve to guarantee his support ahead of 2019.

“Tinubu has lost it!” declared Akogun Tola Adeniyi, the Jagun Oodua of Yorubaland, and convener of G9, an umbrella body for all self-determination groups in the country.

Akogun Adeniyi pointed out that Tinubu was instrumental to Buhari’s victory in 2015, but he was abandoned afterwards as Buhari, according to him, began to pursue an agenda different from the agenda for which he sought Southwest support.

He advised the former Lagos governor who he described as a “national hero,” not to allow Buhari and his cabal to use him the second time.

“Rather than Tinubu falling over for him, it is better for him to leave him in the hands of his cabal and see how far the cabal can go in retaining him in Aso Rock beyond 2019.

“Tinubu is a national hero and we cannot allow any cabal to diminish him,” he said. “The new tune Buhari is dancing to is not in consonance with the Yoruba worldview. We don’t believe in killing and slaughtering people like cows. And if Buhari is perceived to be aiding and abetting those who are slaughtering people all over the country, the Yoruba will certainly withdraw their support for him.

“And any Yoruba person who is seen to be supporting Buhari would be going contrary to Yoruba wishes,” he concluded.

Adeniyi’s assertions may represent the prevailing feelings across the South West, but with eyes set on running for president in 2023, Tinubu seems poised to back Buhari with the hope that the president and his Northern constituency would reciprocate in 2023 by backing his presidential bid.

But that, many have pointed, could prove to be too short-sighted. The North, from all indications, is not looking to back a Southern president in 2023, given that the region strongly feels that the South had taken more than a fair share of the nation’s patrimony and the only way to balance this is to hold power for much longer. In this instance, they argue that a candidate from the North East would be propped up in 2023.

Tinubu’s main motivation now, as it concerns Buhari’s second term bid, is apparently to inherit the APC structure with which he hopes to vie for the nation’s top job, but not only will this be far-fetched given the circumstances, neither the North East nor the North West would be strongly attached to the party once one of their own is out of the picture.

Nonetheless, sources close to the Lagos politician have disclosed that he is actually more interested in self-preservation than 2023 presidency. A source told BusinessHallmark in confidence that he admits he made an error in supporting Buhari in 2015, but fears that if he doesn’t back the president this time, he will be in jeopardy should they retain power.

The source noted that the presidency already has a dossier on Tinubu and are only waiting for him to act contrary to their interest to swoop on him. He noted further that while this may, in the end, be inevitable, Tinubu expects he would be treated with some dignity on account of his support for the president.

Uncertain outcome

Resentment towards Buhari has obviously grown in the Southwest, and as Chief Adeniyi pointed out, Tinubu may be risking his own reputation with his support for the president.

Aremu (Barr) Oladotun Hassan, president and founder, Yoruba Council of Youths Worldwide, insists that Nigerians are much wiser now and that the former Lagos governor can only convince the people if Buhari fulfils his promises to Nigerians before 2019. He pointed out that the president has performed poorly and that money politics cannot save him.

“Nigerians can be most unpredictable when it comes to what they want, the people deserve and desire good governance and social justice beyond the blame game of this current administration,” he said.

“We are disappointed with high scale of corruption, lack of will to fight it as promised. More harm has been meted on Nigerians under this government than any other government from independence till date.

“For this reason, money politics will play less, considering how the people were able to rise up in unison to chase out the Jonathan led government in 2015, but most, unfortunately, voted for a more advanced ineptitude and crudity in modern governance.

“Asiwaju can only convince Nigerians if only one of the key promises of the APC can be implemented, that is a new people’s constitution based on restructuring and devolution of powers.

“The people are wiser to choose the right leader, the revolution is ongoing and most possible in Nigeria come 2019.”

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