By OBINNA EZUGWU
Many political observers have tended to see recent events unfolding in the All Progressive Congress (APC) as President Muhammadu Buhari’s betrayal of former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. But this is erroneous. It is simply politics playing out, nothing much more.
Of course, Buhari’s decision to recognise Chief Victor Gaidom as acting chairman of the ruling party, and his consequent dissolution of the National Working Committee of the party on Thursday, means that Tinubu has lost control. And with that loss, his 2023 presidential ambition is largely over. But was there any basis to have expected a different outcome; that is, to have expected that Buhari or the North would back Tinubu’s presidential bid? I doubt. The fact is that Buhari never reached any agreement with Tinubu for the 2023 presidency, and could not have.
I know enough about the politics that went into Buhari’s emergence as APC presidential candidate in 2014 ahead of the 2015 presidential election which he eventually won, to know that there was never an agreement between him and Tinubu with respect to 2023. Tinubu and his supporters apparently only assumed that since he helped Buhari to become president in 2015 and assisted him to retain his seat in 2019, the president will reciprocate by supporting him in 2023. This assumption or expectation of Buhari’s reciprocal support had, obviously, been the key motivation for the Tinubu camp in their unflinching support for the president.
Regardless, it was always what it was, an assumption. Assumptions are never facts, and expectations are not agreements. In the power game, there is hardly any room for emotions. You get concessions by putting yourself in the position of strength and by using that strength to negotiate your interests. In 2014, Tinubu was in the position of strength, could have used it to negotiate and force Buhari to make whatever concessions he wanted, but he didn’t. And once Buhari became APC candidate, it was over for him and whatever designs himself of the Southwest had for presidency. I had noted elsewhere previously that it was naive to expect Buhari to hand over power to the South after just eight years. The president’s antecedents were always there for people to read his mind, but somehow, many chose to delude themselves.
But regarding the agreements made in 2014, I know for a fact that Tinubu only wanted to be Buhari’s running mate, and had tried to insist on being on the ticket with Buhari, by telling Buhari that the Southwest had insisted on him being on the ticket as the condition for them to back the APC project. But Buhari flatly refused. Whether he expected to use the vice presidency to launch presidential bid in 2023 is another matter. And although there was a bit of a controversy over the acceptability of Muslim-Muslim ticket, which was openly opposed by the likes of former senate president, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, the sole reason Tinubu did not become Buhari’s running mate was that Buhari himself rejected the idea of having him as his running mate. The popular belief that it was about Muslim-Muslim ticket is largely untrue. The APC was an alliance between North and Southwest and Tinubu’s religion would not have been an issue in the Southwest. That is to say, Buhari and Tinubu could have still won the 2015 election, their Muslim faith notwithstanding.
Buhari, I learned, only offered to have the former Lagos governor nominate two candidates of his choice, so he could pick one. He had expected Tinubu to nominate the current governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi and Prof Yemi Osinbajo, with the intention of choosing Fayemi. But in the event, Tinubu nominated only Osinbajo and he decided not to push it any further. That was, Tinubu’s stake, I suppose, as far as Buhari was concerned, which probably explains why he snubbed Tinubu’s ministerial nominees in 2015 and opted for Babatunde Fashola, Fayemi and so on, who were more of Tinubu ‘enemies.’ Unfortunately, Tinubu failed to read the handwriting on the wall. He continued imposing himself on the president.
To the certain, however, there is no denying the fact that Tinubu was very instrumental to Buhari’s emergence as president in 2015. He was literally in charge of the Southwest, had control of the media, which he used to sell Buhari to the electorate. And Buhari who was always sure of 12 million votes in the North, needed just that extra votes from the South to win power.
Regardless, one thing is Tinubu being instrumental to Buhari’s emergence, the other is the president appreciating this fact. From what I know, I doubt that Buhari thought very highly of Tinubu’s influence in the lead up to 2015. I’m aware that while Tinubu was still skeptical about the APC ticket, the core Buhari group, comprising then of Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Jimi Lawal, who now works for him in Kaduna, and Pastor Tunde Bakare had done some opinion sampling and were convinced that the person they actually needed in Lagos was Fashola, then governor of the state. Fashola, from the feedback they got, was preferred to Tinubu in Lagos at the time. And of course, Tinubu and Fashola were not strictly in good terms. At the end of the day, however, a prominent traditional ruler in Ijebu Land, Ogun State intervened and convinced Tinubu to support the ticket.
Obviously, the Buhari group had underestimated Tinubu’s influence, and may have regretted not having him on board, but that’s a matter for another day. Yet, while Tinubu eventually bought into the Buhari ticket, the president’s campaign did not move as smoothly. It was alleged that he delayed movements of Buhari by arriving at airports late. It was when then Rivers State governor, Chibuike Amaechi joined the APC and threw his financial weight behind Buhari that things began to move smoothly.
Amaechi, of course, wanted to be vice president, and that’s where his fractious relationship with Tinubu began. However, it was obvious to Buhari from the start that a Southwest vice president was his best shot. Amaechi could not have won any of South South or Southeast for APC against Goodluck Jonathan. But even as Buhari didn’t want to risk him as his running mate, he evidently preferred him as a person. This preference appears to be what is now playing out in the APC leadership struggle.
Chief Gaidom who is from Rivers, is believed to be Amaechi’s man, although Amaechi denies having anything to do with the unfolding events. But obviously, the former Rivers governor still has vice presidential or even presidential ambition of his own and would view Tinubu as a potential challenger. This appears to be the part of the crisis in the party at the moment. But ultimately, it is, in my reckoning, Buhari wanting to retain power in the North.