The voice is certainly that of Jacob, but the hands, from all indications are those of Esau. Many observers suggest it’s too early to call, but evident from last week’s scathing attack on former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu by the Kaduna based Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), for his men, is part of clandestine moves by certain political interests to halt his push for power ahead of 2023. And the move, for them, bears the imprints of Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.

Yet, there is a fresh dimension to it. Babatunde Fowler, Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), a core Tinubu loyalist, has become a hunted man; hunted by those believed to be part of the “Aso Rock” cabal, in what observers say is an attempt to clip the former governor’s wings.

“Fowler is likely to be sent parking any moment,” a source close to Aso Rock politics said. “He won’t get a second term. The man is not clean, but of course, it’s about getting Tinubu’s men out of the way.”

On Sunday, a letter written by President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari summoning Mr. Fowler to explain noticed discrepancies between what the agency declared as generated and what it actually generated went viral on social media.

In the said letter dated 8 August and addressed to the Executive Chairman, FIRS, Mr. Kyari noted that “We have observed significant variances between the budgeted collections and actual collections for the period 2015 to 2018.

“Accordingly, you are kindly invited to submit a comprehensive variance analysis explaining the reasons for the variances between budgeted and actual collections for each main tax item for each of the years 2015 to 2018.

“Furthermore, we observed that the actual collections for the period 2015 to 2017 were significantly worse than what was collected between 2012 and 2014. Accordingly, you are kindly invited to explain the reasons for the poor collections. You are kindly invited to respond by 19 August 2019.”

In the meantime, The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has commenced an investigation to a N1.2bn duty tour allowance fraud in the FIRS, with detectives said to have obtained details of the bank accounts of FIRS staff and were carrying out a painstaking forensic investigation into “the financial inflows and outflows” in the various accounts in different commercial banks.

The development, observers say, is a move to get loyalists of Tinubu out to pave the way for former SGF, Babagana Kingibe who the cabal is allegedly preparing as Buhari’s successor.

Indeed, although the 2023 presidential election is still four years away, quest for Buhari’s replacement has already pitted a section of the North against the Tinubu led South West, in what is, in many people’s opinion, always an inevitable turn of events.

On one side is Tinubu who, for the key role he played in the emergence of Mr. Buhari, has been positioning for power, in the expectation, perhaps, that the current holder of the coveted office would reciprocate his effort by backing him to become president.

On the other side, is Mallam El-Rufai and the “Aso Rock cabal”. The Kaduna governor has largely made known his intentions to fight to ensure power remains in the North and perhaps, understands his immediate task to be stopping Tinubu who he must consider the immediate threat to the ambition. A case of allies turned foes.

Both parties had worked to ensure Buhari’s emergence in 2015, but it would appear, with different expectations. Tinubu whose quest to be on the ticket with Buhari as vice presidential candidate was shut down by no less a person than Buhari himself, must have anticipated that his ultimate reward for backing the president would be a reciprocal backing of him in 2023.
But that may not have been the feeling in Buhari’s camp.

In truth, contrary to the widely held believe that there was some kind of succession arrangement between Buhari’s North, of which El-Rufai is an integral part, and Tinubu, information available to BusinessesHallmark suggests that the only condition the former Lagos governor brought to the table as condition for the All Progressive Congress (APC) alliance was himself being on the ticket as vice president.

Again, as opposed to what is public knowledge, those who formed the core of Buhari’s campaign in 2015 were El-Rufai, Pastor Tunde Bakare and Jimi Lawal. It was the trio, who led the initial effort to build alliances for Buhari and getting Tinubu’s support did prove somewhat problematic, and had required the intervention of the Awujale of Ijebu land, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona who had a close knit relationship with Jimi Lawal.

Tinubu had insisted on being on the ticket, and while the likes of former senate president, Bukola Saraki among others were staunch in their opposition to a Muslim/Muslim ticket, it was Buhari who ultimately rejected the idea of having Tinubu as his running mate.

At some point in the discussion, Tinubu called Buhari to a meeting in his Bourdillon, Ikoyi home – a meeting that had Rauf Aregbesola, then Osun State governor, and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, then Edo governor in attendance – wherein he told Buhari that the South West had stated their condition for backing his power bid to be his being on the ticket.

This, Buhari rejected, offering to only have him nominate two people of his choice so he could decide on one. The expectation in the Buhari camp at the time had been that Tinubu would nominate Governor Kayode Fayemi and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo so they will choose the former. But in the event, he nominated only Osinbajo.

In the course of the campaigns Tinubu, for his overwhelming influence in the South West, became the face of APC in the zone and even beyond, but he did not necessarily, as available information suggests, have close friendship with Buhari who was more given to the then Lagos governor, Babatunde Fashola, Fayemi and Ibikunle Amosun in the zone.

“The Buhari campaign did not move smoothly when it was only Tinubu that we had as our major financier,” a source close to the President had noted. “If there was a rally to attend by 2pm for example, Buhari would arrive at the airport before 2pm but Tinubu would take another one or two hours to arrive. That often made Buhari upset.”

The source noted that, “It was when Rotimi Amaechi joined the campaign that everything changed. Amaechi became the major financier.”

Buhari, according to the source, did not particularly like Tinubu and this was evident in the way he related with him after he took power in 2015. Ultimately, the simmering rift between Tinubu and El-Rufai, or indeed Buhari’s North and South West was inevitable considering that both camps saw the APC alliance differently. Tinubu evidently saw it as an opportunity to get to the centre, but, for the likes of El-Rufai, it was a quest to return power to the North and keep it in the region.

“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.”

The Kaduna governor had gone to Lagos few months ago to teach Lagosians the trick of ending the reign of political godfathers, an apparent reference to Bola Tinubu. For a season, this “intrusion” into the Bourdillon Lion’s den was the subject of both direct and indirect exchanges between the two camps.

Few days ago, El-Rufai made the headlines for arguing 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.

“Even with our success in the 2015 elections, there is room for improvement,” he said. “Barriers to political equality, such as our seemingly entrenched though informal rule for zoning candidacies according to regions of origin, need to be de-emphasised and ultimately abandoned in favour of an emphasis on qualification, competence and character.”

While he did not particularly refer to Tinubu, it was, for many, obvious where he was headed; an attempt to counter the prevailing Southern argument that power ought to return to the region after Buhari’s eight years. At the mildest, perhaps, a slap on Tinubu’s face, or more broadly a warning to Southerners not to expect Northern backing in 2023.

“He was talking to Tinubu,” said Chief Tola Adeniyi, former MD, Daily Times of Nigeria, author and columnist. “And he is also conveying their determination not to relinquish power forever. They boasted before that once power comes back to them, nobody will take it again.”

Adeniyi noted that Buhari made his intentions clear when according to him, “he concentrated the entire security architecture of the country in the North.”

His assertion is perhaps a reality check. Buhari, from available information, had entered the presidential contest in 2003 to lead the Northern opposition to Olusegun Obasanjo who was to do one term and return power to the region, but who had reneged on the arrangement. It was this quest that consolidated his popularity in the North. He had sought Eastern alliance to achieve the quest, opting for Evans Enwerem as running mate in 2003, and Chuba Okadigbo in 2007. But the East opted for Obasanjo in 2003 and Umaru Ya’Adua who was Obasanjo’s candidate in 2007.

Upon taking power in 2015 therefore, it appeared that the immediate preoccupation of the Buhari was to consolidate same and preempt another slip to the South in the near future.

As Adeniyi pointed out, it is hard to see anything in Buhari’s body language that suggests an intention to cede power to anyone other than the North. The appropriation of the entire security architecture ought to have been a signal to his backers in the South, but interestingly, they rather chose to justify his moves. Indeed there has been a befuddling eagerness to validate whatever action the president takes.

From all indications, Buhari’s North has spent the greater part of his presidency trying to consolidate power and to push more strongly the narrative of a North with an overwhelming majority of the country’s voting population who can practically decide who gets what as far as Nigerian politics and power play is concerned.

This narrative, however false, is increasingly being validated. When in 2019 election, votes in the South were apparently suppressed and figures in the North evidently inflated, with even Boko Haram ravaged states turning out much more votes than peaceful Southern States, many APC supporters in the South saw nothing wrong with it. All was fine as long as their party was announced winner.

But it was likely an experiment, one that El-Rufai replicated in Kaduna with the choice of a Muslim deputy governor. Indeed a source close to the Kaduna governor say he now boasts unending that anyone who wants power henceforth must come to the North and beg for it and will only be considered on North’s own terms.

“He waves away the Igbo argument for power with the left hand,” the source said. “He insists that the Igbo think they can get power without coming to beg for it. And swears it can never happen.”

Many observers argue that at the core of the Northern argument for power is a certain belief, if not anger, that democracy has only worked for the South and created prosperity in the region to the detriment of the North. Apparently, Tinubu’s South West saw things differently. While the Tinubu camp may have seen the APC alliance as a North-South West alliance, which would bring about power sharing, events may have proven that to be erroneous.

Recent signals from the North are ominous. Last week’s allegation by the CNG through its spokesman, Abdul Aziz Suleiman that the former Lagos governor, despite his support for Buhari, was working to destabilize his government is perhaps, a pointer to what is coming.

The CNG had instructively, accused Tinubu of denying the South East the position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, an apparent attempt, observers say, to cause further disaffection between the East and the West with a view to paving the way for North-East alliance for 2023.

“There is an attempt to force a clash between the Igbo and the Yoruba,” noted Aremo Oladotun, President, Yoruba Council of Youth. “That’s the essence of the statement by the so called CNG. 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.”