By OBINNA EZUGWU
It was September 20, and Joe Igbokwe, spokesperson for the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Lagos State railed rendlessly on his Facebook wall.
His target were those he said, undermined the party his principal, former governor of the state, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had laboured to build.
“The miserable traitors in APC Nigeria,” Igbokwe lamented, “Are inflicting terrible political wounds on us, rendering all our humongous struggles and work ‘nugatory.’ We cannot take this sh** any longer.”
He went on: “I cannot take this nonsense any longer. They say they are in APC but in actions and deed, they are worse than infidels. Total betrayers and at best, empty barrels.”
Mr. Igbokwe had been jolted by the turnout of a governorship election hundreds of kilometers away in Edo State, held on September 19.
By noon of September 20, it had become obvious that Mr. Godwin Obaseki was poised to win a second term as governor of the South South state. He was trouncing his APC challenger, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu in most local governments. Igbokwe, a vocal member of the ruling party and a core loyalist of Tinubu, could not stomach the unfolding events.
When the final results were eventually announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Obaseki, candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, was returned elected, Igbokwe delivered his final attack: “Thank you APC traitors,” he wrote. “Well-done Ize-Iyamu, 223 thousand votes plus in the face of traitors who use APC positions to fight APC. In the fullness of time, we will tell the story of how APC defeated APC in Edo State.”
On the surface, Igbokwe’s rage is an oddity. An Anambra born, Lagos based politician kicking up a fuss over the Edo electorate exercising their franchise, even when the poll was generally adjudged to be free and fair. But the APC spokesperson, apart from being interested in his party winning, understood that the outcome had deeper implication, as it may have very well put paid to the putative presidential ambition of Tinubu, his principal to whom he is blindly loyal.
Tinubu, with 2023 in mind, had made the Edo poll his personal project. An Ize-Iyamu victory would strengthen his political base, the APC candidate being fronted by his key ally and former governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
Weeks before the election, he made a video advertorial in which he appealed to the Edo electorate to reject Obaseki and vote his party’s candidate. But the advertorial proved to be ill-thought. It served to add fresh impetus to the agitation to end godfather politics in the state, an agitation that had long picked up with #EdonobeLagos hash tag. On election day, the police chose to be neutral, a perfect condition the voting population needed to make their voices heard, and they delivered a crushing blow to the Lagos big man and his right hand man, Oshiomhole, Ize-Iyamu being the collateral damage.
“Tinubu has continued to make costly mistakes which could cost him the 2023 ticket,” argued public affairs analyst, Shuaib Shuaib. “He shouldn’t have let Godwin Obaseki go down or at the very least, get thrown out of the APC. If he had stayed in the APC, the party would probably have won Edo, which in turn would have been a plus for Tinubu.
“He also made another mistake when he made no spontaneous effort to resist the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting that President Muhammadu Buhari had agreed to attend where Oshiomhole was sacked. But doing so would have been a direct challenge to the authority of the president and would have lost him the support of a number of political heavy weights. He chose instead to live to fight another day.”
The outcome of the Edo election surely rattled the Tinubu camp; it was for them, the ultimate act of betrayal. Not that process had blemish, but perhaps that they expected security agencies to play partial roles as has often been the case in many elections.
Speaking to his loyalists in Lagos after the polls, Tinubu quipped that, “the extent and length they see down shows how great we are.”
Days later, his spokesperson, Tunde Rahman wrote an article he titled, “Tinubu and Edo Election; Traducers are Plotting for 2023,” in which he argued that, “Indeed, it must be pointed out clearly that beneath all the shenanigans that trailed Edo poll, underneath all of that rabble-rousing, rumour-mongering, campaign of calumny, character assassination, deceit and double-dealing is the matter of 2023.
“Rather than first helping their party solidify its stronghold and strengthen it for future elections and re-commit themselves to the party’s ideals and principles, the APC chieftains were tearing at the party’s fabric, destroying its foundation and preparing it for eventual disintegration in the name of playing politics of 2023. But like Asiwaju rightly observed, he is but a mere mortal who does not foresee tomorrow. What tomorrow holds, indeed what 2023 holds, is within the province of God Almighty.”
When contacted to elaborate further on the said traducers, Rahman said he wouldn’t want to say anymore than he had said in the article. Igbokwe also declined further comments.
Rahman is perhaps not wrong. The Edo poll had 2023 imprints all over it. It is the first major test of wit and grit as the race for President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor picks up. It was indeed a battle that pitted Tinubu against a team of governors and other interest parties, whose main objective, it would seem, is to ensure that the former Lagos governor’s influence is whittled down as much as possible.
They succeeded, and Tinubu’s defeat has far reaching implications. In a interview with a national daily last week, Ahmed Wambai, ex-National Vice Chairman, North Central of the APC made the point clear that 2023 presidency is the reason governors moved against Tinubu and Oshiomhole in the election, even as he argued that the APC is not a political party but amalgamation of interests for grapping power.
“They are against him because 2023 election is around the corner. Some of them want to be the next president, some want to be the vice president but they forgot that only God Almighty determines who becomes the next president and vice president. Many of them are living in illusion,” Wambai said.
Like Igbokwe, Rahman and other members of the party who have spoken on the subject, he tried to exonerate Buhari, arguing that those against Oshiomhole, “are the same clique against Mr President, Tinubu and the principle of the rule of law.” Theirs is an error that could yet prove fatal.
It seems obvious that it’s about retaining power in the North, and given his antecedents, nobody would want this more than the President. For Tinubu and his camp, the inability to face the reality that the president has no interest in relinquishing power to them has been a major undoing, and still it doesn’t seem that they have got a clue yet.
“I have worries for Tinubu. He knew all these things but he relied on Buhari and worked to make him the president,” noted Afenifere chieftain and elder statesman, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, “I said it before publicly that Buhari is deceiving Asiwaju.”
Indeed, the unfolding events have been a long time coming, and was predictable seven years ago when Tinubu cobbled an alliance with North and eventually birthed the Buhari presidency in 2015, evidently, in the understanding that both regions would share power and the North would reciprocate and back him in 2023… a political miscalculation.
No sooner was Buhari sworn in as president on May 29, than he practically shut the door against Tinubu. And ahead of 2023, the president’s body language firmly suggests he doesn’t favour a power return to South West.
“You think the president will be happy to share power with someone as powerful as Tinubu? He (Tinubu) is sitting on a false chair,” quipped former military governor and PDP chieftain, Chief Bode George. “It would be difficult, if not impossible for Tinubu to become president in 2023. I am sorry my Oga (Buhari) is their leader, however, we call Bola Tinubu the leader but we have a president. That doesn’t happen in our own party. You cannot have two leaders in a party.”
The is a consensus is that the Edo election outcome had more to do with the both the PDP and the APC coming together to stop Tinubu, an indication of what is likely to happen going into 2023.
“When I saw Tambuwal commending Buhari (over the Edo election), I already knew the cabal had already betrayed Tinubu,” noted activist Deji Adeyanju. “I want Tinubu to contest the 2023 presidential election under APC. That will be the end of his political career.”
Jagaban’s Rough Road To 2023
The Edo poll is the latest of what is, for many analysts, gradual and systemic decimation of Tinubu ahead of 2023 presidential election.
In 2013, Tinubu led the Southwest into an alliance with the North to birth the APC with the immediate agenda of removing Goodluck Jonathan from power, and replacing him with a Northern president. The expectation, evidently, was that the Southwest will take over by the time the North completes two terms in 2023, and most likely with him as the potential president.
But that expectation is increasingly looking forlorn, more so in the aftermath of the Edo polls. Buhari locked Tinubu out of the power loop upon taking power in 2015 and snubbed his ministerial nominees, what was one of several moves apparently aimed at whittling him down. And while the president courted the former Lagos governor again ahead of his reelection bid in 2019, it was predictably, a ‘romance’ that was never going to last.
In 2018, Tinubu engineered the removal of Chief John Oyegun as APC national and ensured that Oshiomhole became chairman of the party. 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 Obaseki and Oshiomhole 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 of 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. With the loss of the party in last Saturday’s Edo election, many say even his quest for president is effectively over. And it bears repeating that it’s been a long time coming.
When late last year, Kaduna based Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), in a press statement read by its spokesman, Abdul Aziz Suleiman, delivered scathing attack on Tinubu, it was for many, part of clandestine moves by certain political interests to halt his push for power ahead of 2023. And the move, for them, bore the imprints of Kaduna state governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai.
The attack had interestingly come days after Babatunde Fowler, a Tinubu loyalist, was booted out as Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) after his first tenure, in a move was widely interpreted as being targeted at his presidential ambition, with the possible intention of retaining power in the North.
“Prior to 2015, the emphasis of the ruling cabal in the North was that power must return to the North and stay with the North,” noted Chief Goddy Uwazurike, lawyer and president emeritus of Aka Ikenga. “But they didn’t add staying in the North then. In 2019, they said it was four plus four. Ahead of 2023, the campaign has shifted from power returning to the North to power staying permanently in the North.”
North determined to retain power?
Many observers posit that the plot to stop Tinubu is part of the broader project of Buhari and the North in general, to retain power in the region.
Although the likes of Kaduna governor, El-Rufai, who had initially argued in a prologue titled, ‘Defeating a Determined Incumbent – The Nigerian Experience’, which he contributed to a book: ‘Power of Possibilities and Politics of Change in Nigeria’, written by the Director-General of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, Salihu Lukman, that zoning of political offices is a barrier to political equality, made a U-Turn recently to back power return to the South in 2023, observers say with the Southeast and Southwest pushing for power, the idea might be to put the two regions on collision course.
“There is an attempt to force a clash between the Igbo and the Yoruba,” noted Aremo Oladotun, President, Yoruba youth leader. ” But whatever be the case, they cannot decide for the people. Tinubu is qualified as a citizen who had carved a niche for himself to contest for president and the group cannot decide for him and the APC.”
The Yoruba Summit Group reaffirmed the assertion in a communique at the end of its regular meeting held fortnight ago. The group vowed to boycott 2023 election altogether if the country was not restructured, while warning that there was a ploy to cause a rift between the two southern regions.
“The YSG also re-affirms its earlier position that notwithstanding the ambition by a very tiny household in our midst, the Yoruba Nation and her peoples should not be part of another charade in the name of 2023 Federal Elections,” the communique signed by the group’s spokesperson, Gboyega Adejumo read in in part.
“We should not confer legitimacy to an exercise in futility at the end of which the gloating message of the conqueror shall be: “go to court.” We therefore wish our peoples to be wary of the insolent offers of Presidency positions, pitting South East against South West Regions. It is a ruse!”