By OBINNA EZUGWU
For former Lagos State governor and national leader of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the long awaited battle for Nigeria’s seat of power has begun in earnest. It’s been long in waiting, and the preparations have taken over two decades of accumulation of money and power. Destination 2023 is now in sight and the maneuvering has begun.
The Jagaban’s campaign posters have flooded streets of Lagos, his core political empire, and elsewhere in the country. Official declaration, while still being awaited when campaigns formally begin, may only be a formality. The train is apparently already on the move, and last week Monday, it made a strategic stop in Kano, Northern Nigeria’s most populous state, and the region’s voting powerhouse where he held his 12th colloquium and 69th birthday anniversary.
During the event, a crowd chanting his name and promoting his candidacy told the story of what the entire event was about, 2023 power bid.
Tinubu’s choice of Kano for the colloquium was strategic. It was, according to him, to make a statement: That the Fulani and the Yoruba can work together.
“Why are we in Kano? It is to demonstrate to Nigerians at this critical time. It is because there is a Fulani man, a herder (man) who gave his daughter to a farmer, (a) Yoruba man… and some people are agitating wrongly,” he said, in apparent reference to the marriage of the daughter of Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, to the son of the late ex-Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, which took place in Kano in2018.
“I was encouraged to go and spend a couple of days with my brother and in-law in Kano and demonstrate that he has not quarreled with me, he has not seceded from Nigeria, I didn’t need a passport or visa to get to Kano, maybe others will have peace of conscience, live in peace and harmony and be loving to one another. That is what Ganduje and I are showing to Nigerians and that is the purpose of this colloquium, end of story.”
The plan is predictable: a joint ticket between himself and Ganduje; a joint ticket between the Yoruba and Fulani, a reciprocal reverse replication of the 2015 paring that produced Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani as president and Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a Yoruba as vice president. But perhaps, even more importantly, it is a pairing of Nigeria’s two most populous states with a combined voting population of about 12 million.
It is not in doubt that Tinubu has earned his stripes. In Lagos where he reigns supreme, the former governor has continued to prove an ultimate deal maker, ceding grounds where necessary, and, of course, deploying nationalism to rally support.
Today, he remains the most relevant among his 1999 set of governors, and indeed the most powerful political figure in the country, outside the presidency, and analysts say, although the power brokers in Abuja may not inclined to give him the APC presidential ticket in 2023, he won’t be a pushover.
“Tinubu has paid his dues as a politician, and it is within his right as a Nigerian to seek to be president,” noted Bar. Oladotun Hassan, founder, Yoruba Council of Youths. “And he is strong enough in APC to secure its ticket.”
Tactfully aligning his interest to ‘national’ interest and those of President Buhari, and taking his time to make moves, Tinubu has established himself as an indispensable figure in APC, and perhaps denying him the party’s ticket will come with heavy price.
Regardless, the former Lagos governor comes with a baggage, bothering mostly on reputational issues, even as his capacity to lead is now being increasingly questioned following his recent gaffes.
While delivering his address at the Kano event for instance, he suggested that one way to tackle growing insecurity in the country, would be to recruit 50 million youths into the armed forces to add to the existing 120, 000 active soldiers in the country; a number that would be more than double the total number of soldiers serving in all 140 countries of the world, which stands at 20.9 million, and will constitute more than a quarter of the country’s estimated 180 million population.
“We are under-policed and we are competing with armed robbers and bandits to recruit from the youths who are unemployed —33 per cent unemployed?” he had said. “Recruit 50 million youths into the army,” he stated, adding that “what they will eat —cassava, corn, yam – we grow here.”
The call immediately triggered a storm in the country’s social media space, forcing the former governor to issue a statement through his spokesperson, Tunde Rahman to the effect that the call was an “accidental verbal mistake of which we all commit from time to time especially when reciting a series of large numerical figure.”
Rahman clarified that, “Asiwaju seeks the expansion of security personnel by 50,000 for the armed forces, not the N50 million that was mentioned in error.”
But coming from a man who had previously argued that the public sector cannot create job for Nigerians, many have been raising the red flag.
“Tinubu isn’t President yet and he’s already making Buhari look so competent and intelligent,” remarked a Twitter user, Francis Adeboye @FrancisAdeboye.
Another user, Abe Marvellous @AbeMarvellous, noted, “To understand Tinubu is not hard. He likes big government and big spending; he is not a fan of the private sector. And oh, did I forget. He loves thugs, especially the ones that can win elections for you.”
The former governor’s age and state of health have also come into sharp focus. His tripping at the Kano event, had served to reinforce suspicion of his possible lack of sound health, which had become subject of discuss when he was seen looking shaky at the 8th Day Firdaus Prayer of the first civilian governor of Lagos, Late Alhaji Lateef Aremu Jakande, held on Friday, February 19 in the Ilupeju area of the state.
While he celebrated his 69th birthday on Monday, many insist he is much older. And in a country now craving for a youthful leader, he would not be the ideal candidate of many young Nigerians who constitute a vast majority of the country’s voting population.
Speaking to BBC Pidgin few days ago, Kogi State governor and another presidential hopeful in the APC, Yahaya Bello insisted that Tinubu, a leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), will support a youthful president come general elections in 2023.
When asked who will make a better president between him and Mr Tinubu in 2023, Mr. Bello said that Mr. Tinubu knows his limitations and would rather advocate for the younger generation to take over the leadership of the country, deeming the APC chieftain as a “kingmaker.”
However, to suggest that the country’s youth would, as a collective, be interested in the age or proven capacity of candidates when the chips are down, with benefit of hindsight, would be to give them undue credit.
But beyond the questions about the former governor’s capacity and age, the key issue would be whether the country’s and APC’s permutations going into 2023, will work in his favour.
Obvious from his recent moves and pronouncements, is that he favours a joint ticket with Kano governor, Ganduje. However, both being of Muslim faith, the ticket would immediately raise concerns among the country’s Christian population, in an increasingly polarised country. Indeed, it’s the same religious argument that was made against his potential vice presidential candidacy in 2015, which ultimately paved the way for Osinbajo to emerge.
To this extent, observers argue that the potential joint ticket of Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi and his Kaduna State counterpart, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, will stand a better chance.
“My take remains that as far as the APC is concerned, and if the North is really sincere about power shift – because you and I also know that Malami is interested – the party is more likely to go for Fayemi/El-Rufai ticket,” noted Abuja based lawyer and analyst, Anthony Chidi.
“I do not see the cabal allowing Tinubu to fly APC’s flag. They cannot trust him and besides, he is just to compromised to offer anything to the country.”
Indeed, it would appear that certain groundwork has been done by the Aso Rock power brokers, with the intention of keeping the Jagaban at bare when the push comes to shove. The most significant of which was the removal of his strategic ally in Comrade Adams Oshiomhole from office as national chairman of the ruling party.
In 2018, Tinubu engineered the removal of Chief John Oyegun as APC national and ensured the emergence of Oshiomhole. At the time, many saw the move as part of his plan to take over the party in preparation for 2023 power bid.
Although he was also instrumental to the emergence of Oyegun as APC chairman in 2014, the former Edo governor had as soon Buhari took power, switched loyalty to the president and the ruling “cabal” in Aso Rock who seemed determined from start to clip Tinubu’s wings.
Oyegun backed the emergence of Rotimi Akeredolu as Ondo governor in 2016, in spite of Tinubu who wanted Segun Abraham, among other moves that were not in his favour. He eventually fought back and ensured that Oyegun paved the way for his more trusted ally in Oshiomhole, with Buhari who apparently needed his support for second term bid in 2019, allowing him to have his way.
Oshiomhole’s emergence as chairman strengthened his hold on the party, and for a while it looked as though his presidential bid was on course. But the rift between Oshiomhole and his successor in Edo, Godwin Obaseki provided a veritable opportunity for the “cabal” to retake control. They did, pushing Oshiomhole out and replacing him with Yobe governor, Mai Mala Buni who now serves as caretaker committee chairman, despite protestations from Tinubu.
Oshiomhole thus became another collateral damage in what is, in many people’s view, a coordinated plan to put the former Lagos governor in check. With the former Edo governor out, Tinubu lost control of the party. Indeed no sooner was Buhari sworn in as president on May 29, 2015, than he practically shut the door against Tinubu. And ahead of 2023, the president’s body language firmly suggests he doesn’t favour a Tinubu president.
Although the presidency had fortnight ago, denied reports making the rounds about Buhari having a rift with Tinubu, describing the reports in a statement by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, described the reports as “false; the handiwork of some media mischief makers,” the president’s body language bear the facts out.
Still, the idea that a Tinubu/Ganduje joint ticket will profit from the huge voting population in Lagos and Kano may seem rather simplistic.
Lagos’ voting population is diluted, and the state has historically turned out low numbers relative to its voting population. Though the turnout may be more with Tinubu on the ticket, nothing suggests it would do so significantly.
In Kano, Ganduje does not command nearly as much following as his former boss, Rabiu Musa Kwakwaso, who almost ensured he didn’t win a second term of office, thus expecting bloc vote from Kano because of the governor, would be thinking too highly of him. Certainly, the scenario would change should Buhari endorse the ticket, but such endorsement seems unlikely.
Tinubu has also lost a significant amount of goodwill in the Southwest streets over his perceived silence in the face of assault on the region by herdsmen. Regardless, Tinubu remains a political colossus who has the funds and the clout to go all the way.