By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
Dilemma has become more than a brief interruption for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party and its leadership as social and political challenges continue to rain down like snowflakes. With leader of the party and current President of the country, Muhammadu Buhari, finding his squeaky clean image battered by allegations of nepotism, ethnic favouritism and tolerance of rampant corruption by close lieutenants, the political environment going into pre election year 2018 has been charged. Stuck in the middle between the agitations for restructuring from his people in the Southwest and his loyalty to the President whose Northern establishment handlers flay the notion of restructuring, National Leader of the APC, Asiwaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has found himself squeezed between two conflicting tendencies the resolution of which may determine his continued relevance on the political stage. Renowned to be a “a cat with nine lives”, the wily politician is about to fight the battle of his life, as his position in the unfolding existential struggle between statist feudal conservatism and liberal market -oriented republicanism comes to a head.
Ahead of the 2019 presidential election, the Lion of Bourdillon, as he is popularly called,
faces the dilemma of either backing the re-election bid of President Muhammadu Buhari, or risk openly opposing the president.
His formidable constituency in the South West, already disenchanted with the president’s slovenly performance and alleged indifference to the interests of the Yoruba is spoiling for a showdown. While the Yoruba are largely against the re-election of the president in 2019, they are, however, unsure whether Tinubu would throw his weight behind their collective disposition.
Tinubu himself is playing a game of silence with his blunt refusal to disclose where his loyalty lies.
Sources close to the politician say that he is faced with the dilemma of choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Should he back the president against the wish of his people he faces the possibility of losing his hold on the South West where he has reigned largely unchallenged for almost twenty years, or face the consequences of Buhari winning the election without his support.
Tinubu has fought several successful battles in the past. One of which was in 2002 when the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), ahead of the 2003 polls had threatened to overrun the South West, the ethnic base of President Olusegun Obasanjo, a former Army General. Lagos State, where Tinubu governed was to be captured at all costs in a battle named ‘Operation Capture The South West’ in order to give Obasanjo a semblance of home base support.
Tinubu’s party, the erswhile Alliance for Democracy (AD), which controlled the South West at the time had entered into an agreement with Obasanjo to back his second term ambition while the AD governors were to be supported at the governorship polls.
The vulpine Tinubu, however, warned colleagues of a plot by the former Army Commander to forcibly take over the South West through the back door. Unfortunately, the leadership of the AD ignored his warnings and got punished by Obasanjo sweeping up the South West votes and sentencing them to political Siberia.
While former governors Olusegun Osoba of Ogun; Bisi Akande of Osun; Niyi Adebayo of Ekiti; Late Lam Adesina of Oyo and Late Adebayo Adefarati of Ondo States were soundly defeated at home and booted out of office, Tinubu successfully defeated the federal might to win a second term. The victory catapulted him into privileged power and prominence, which he has since deployed to install himself as political kingmaker in the South West and a major power broker nationally.
Since then, Tinubu has never looked back, romping from one victory to another. Just like he did in 2013, he teamed up with other power brokers across the country to confront the federal might of former President Goodluck Jonathan in the countdown to the 2015 general elections and upstaged Jonathan’s perceived power of incumbency.
The ex-President was soundly defeated and sent packing to his Otuoke country home in Bayelsa State. Former military head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari took over the reins of the country as the new president. Celebrations were frenzied. Promises of inclusiveness and change were made. A new alliance was forged. But the honeymoon lasted for as long as it took to shoot spittle in the air and watch it land on the floor.
Less than a year into the life of the new government, signs of a crack within the coalition began to emerge. Allegations of betrayal and promises not kept flew like a swarm of gazelles. By the end of the second year of the administration, it was clear to all that things had fallen apart and the centre was no longer holding.
A close ally of the former Lagos State governor, Alhaji Rasheed Inaolaji, lamented that what was planned and agreed upon by the various parties that formed the APC is not what the president is executing.
“The president has disappointed us. In fact, it was a stab in the back. These times are sour and very discomforting. We (Tinubu`s camp) are full of pains and regrets” Inaolaji said.
However, a former Tinubu ally who was against the alliance with Buhari from the beginning, and who did not want his identity revealed, said Tinubu should be blamed for his predicament.
“He (Tinubu) has strategized himself out of relevance and contention in the political dynamics of the All Progressive Congress, a political party that was his brainchild to a large extent. We warned him, but he did not listen. Through overconfidence, carelessness, naivety, contempt of and for history, disrespect of elders, he has strategized himself into trouble.
“He has lost out with the government at the centre and may lose his stronghold and go into oblivion if he does not retrace his steps and still go ahead to support Buhari in the 2019 presidential election.
“The extent of humiliation that Asiwaju Tinubu has been subjected to by the Buhari Presidency he empowered could only be fathomed when it is realized that Tinubu could not boast of any candidate in the cabinet of President Buhari,” he said.
A source in the Presidency confided in BH that the president and his men feel threatened by the seeming larger-than-life image of Asiwaju which they fear would swallow their own ambitions. He also said that those around the president, especially his supposed ‘brain box’, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, have convinced the president not to share power with any kingmaker.
It was gathered that on getting to power, Buhari loyalists erected barricades around the president to keep Tinubu at bay. The attempt by Tinubu to have his candidates at the National Assembly emerge President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives was frustrated in the main by the president’s men, not just by the doggedness of Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara who emerged President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively, in spite of the party’s directive to the contrary.
A lot of his nominees for top jobs at the federal level were ignored not because they were not qualified but as a strategy of disarming him. One of them was Wale Edun, who was tipped as Finance Minister.
Business Hallmark findings revealed that Tinubu does not have a single minister in the present cabinet. From Lagos State, one of the sworn enemies of Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola, was appointed against his will. He could not stop his appointment despite all his efforts.
In Ogun State, Governor Ibikunle Amosun nominated the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun. From Oyo State, President Buhari chose the gubernatorial candidate of his political Party, CPC, in the previous election, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu as minister. From Ekiti State, former Governor Kayode Fayemi, who was another beneficiary of Tinubu’s godfatherism went behind him to get a ministerial appointment, again to the chagrin of Tinubu.
In Osun State, he failed to get Buhari to appoint former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who helped his protégé, Governor Raufu Aregbesola get a second term. His nominee for the position of Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), was dropped for Abubakar Malami.
The president did not stop there. Working with the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, he began to reduce Tinubu’s influence in the party,
His anointed candidate for the Ondo State governorship seat, Segun Abraham, was stopped from winning the primary. In his reaction, Tinubu was unable to hide his frustration and openly called for the resignation of Odigie-Oyegun. A call that Buhari ignored. The same scenario also played out in Kogi, where his candidate for governor, Hon. Faleke was stopped for Governor Bello. Several such defiance of his preference abound.
On the back of these serial, albeit subtle snubs, the ex-Governor of Lagos State, has found himself stuck in hole. Supporting or opposing President Mohammadu Buhari in the 2019 presidential election have equally uncertain consequences which could put paid to his political future.
Information available to BH suggets that there is a groundswell of opposition to President Buhari in the South West and that it would be a desperate move of double or fold for Tinubu to openly support him in the 2019 election.
Those who spoke with our correspondent said that the president had squandered the goodwill with which he was elected. Since his inauguration on May 29, 2015, he had continued to make enemies and sought protection within his ethnic enclave. In the process, he has lost many of his staunch supporters especially in the South-west.
A poll conducted by BH indicates that if election holds today, the president will get less that 35% of the votes in the region.
Aware of the anger of the South West and the danger of losing them completely, the president, it was gathered, has tried to reach out to Tinubu. Though, it could not be confirmed, it was learnt that several promises were made to the APC leader, including choice positions in a reconstituted cabinet.
However, Tinubu seems to be at a crossroads. Should he stick to Buhari and risk further alienation if he wins a second term as well as face mutiny at home? Or should he work against the president and face his wrath if he wins another term in office?
For many of Tinubu’s close allies, deciding on which option is not an easy task. This is because each option carries huge risks.
The Chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the All Progressives Congress, Chief Henry Ajomale, said that the party elders in the South West will take a decision at the appropriate time.
“Consultations are ongoing. We are going to take our supporters along in any decision we are going to make. But it is too early now. Let us get to the bridge before crossing it”, he said.
Although Tinubu might have found himself in a unique position to tilt votes, he still faces very difficult options. Among these is whether to support Buhari for a second term or strike a deal with the PDP or any other party and stop the president from winning.
While the first option appears to be the most attractive, his supporters fear that Buhari will not spare Tinubu and his people if he wins a second term.
“After all, by then the president needs no favour from anyone. He can therefore afford to crush his enemies and retire as many as possible politically”, said an APC ward leader in Ifako-Ijaiye.
Tinubu’s flamboyant street smartness has so far kept him at the pinnacle of political leadership in the country at both the regional and national levels, but that charmed life looks like coming to an end as two mighty forces seem clearly destined to collide in a maelstrom of political conflict in 2019. The South West tired and angry over the Presidents equivocation on issues of national restructuring, evident nepotism and clannishness has punctured the image the APC propaganda machine had successfully created in 2015. Many of the regions observers have noted that the masquerades mask has become unclad and what lies behind the heavy drapery is a mere mortal with personal and philosophical challenges that make him an unsuitable candidate for the office of president of a united, republican, competitive and private-sector friendly Nigeria. Tinubu may decide to buck this sentiment but if the South West decide to give him an ethnic mule kick the consequences could be worse than a political coma.