IF there were any doubts about the position of the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on the policies and posture of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency in the build-up to this year’s general election, his campaign performance at the MKO Abiola Stadium, Abeokuta, on Wednesday put paid to them. The masks were completely taken off as the Lagos political lord and APC national leader unfolded his disenchantment with the state of affairs. Addressing the mammoth crowd that had come to hear him speak at the rally which had in attendance the party’s vice presidential candidate, Kashim Shettima; the governor of Ogun State, Prince Dapo Abiodun, his wife, Bamidele; former Governor Gbenga Daniel; former Governor Gboyega Oyetola and many party leaders, Tinubu declared categorically that the lingering fuel crisis around the country and the introduction of new naira notes were a plot to sabotage his chances at the presidential election, vowing to end the scarcity of petroleum products if elected into office on February 25. He argued that some powers were plotting to scuttle the transition process, insisting that their actions would fail.
According to him, those behind the fuel crisis knew why they hoarded petroleum products and changed the currency. He said in Yoruba: “Let fuel be expensive; only they know where they kept it. Keep petrol, keep the naira, we will vote and be elected. You may change the ink of naira notes. What you expect will not happen. We will win. They thought they could cause trouble; they sabotaged fuel but with or without fuel, with or without motorcycles and tricycles, we will vote and win. This is a superior revolution. We will take over government through our PVCs. Even if they say there is no fuel, we will trek to the polling units.” In a move which suggested that he was being subtly checked as he spoke, he hushed the old men around him, declaring that he must speak his mind. He was egged on at every turn by the Fuji king Wasiu Ayinde Anifowoshe, alias K1 De Ultimate, who urged him to speak his mind and damn the consequences.
Paradoxically, Tinubu’s position on the fuel crisis may be interpreted in conflicting ways. In the first, apparently positive reading, he is casting himself in the mould of a candidate hamstrung by the establishment, but whose voters are determined to elect nonetheless. In that case, he is a man beloved by the people but betrayed by his own party. In the second, negative, reading, he could be seen as a presidential candidate who, rather than sympathizing with Nigerians over the present harrowing hardship over fuel, sees it as a weapon ranged against his electoral success. If the case is made that Tinubu just wants to be president from May while Nigerians just want to get fuel to survive January, then the conclusion must be unflattering. In that case, the verdict that must inevitably emerge is that he is incredibly selfish. Either way, however, he would have put the Buhari administration and his party in a tight spot. It is his party, the APC, that is in power and if as he suggests, it is responsible for fuel crisis, then critics would accuse him of trying to shy away from the collective responsibility that his membership of the party and his role in bringing Buhari to power represents.
In any case, because Tinubu is a frontline presidential candidate, whatever he says is bound to make the headlines. As an ex-senator, two-time governor of Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, and arguably the most powerful political figure in Nigeria’s South-West, Tinubu commands fanatical following among thousands, if not millions, of people within and outside his base. Besides, the fact that he is one of the actors that engineered the dislodgment of Nigeria’s former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had increased his bragging rights ahead of the APC presidential primary held last year. However, since the campaigns started, public speeches and appearances have tended to point to weaknesses in his current physical and intellectual make-up. For one, he is widely seen as a gaffe machine given the incoherent statements he has made on the podium. For another, his performance at Chatham House, London where he delegated associates to answer questions posed to him, gave rise to credibility questions around his fitness for Nigeria’s top job.
But it is not for incoherent babble that he is currently in the news. Tinubu spoke very clearly in Abeokuta, but the location brought back memories of his famous speech while campaigning as an APC presidential aspirant in the state last year. It was in Abeokuta that Tinubu introduced the use of “O lule” and Emilokan to Nigeria’s political lexicon, making statements that were deemed disparaging to the person and office of President Buhari. And on Wednesday, not a few commentators felt that he spoke like an opposition candidate, thumbing down his own party’s cashless policy. By dismissing the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) cashless policy as a ruse, the APC candidate has opened a floodgate of emotions in the polity. For one, the opposition PDP and Labour Party (LP) have taken him on for subtly blaming President Buhari for what they termed his campaign woes. As a matter of fact, the LP urged him to stop visiting Abeokuta given his tendency to make wrong statements in the ancient city, while the presidential candidate of the little-known African Democratic Congress (ADC), Dumebi Kachikwu, went as far as calling on him to excuse himself from the 2023 presidential race as “a candidate with significant cognitive disabilities embarrassing my nation and making a mockery of the entire political process.”
But while the position of the opposition parties may be coloured by the threat that Tinubu’s campaign poses to their own, there are assumptions inbuilt into Tinubu’s Abeokuta declarations that must be interesting to Nigerians. In rolling out its cashless policy, the CBN had made no secret of its desire to curb the influence of money in Nigeria’s electoral process. Speaking against the backdrop of politicians’ well-known pre-election predilection for amassing a heavy warchest with which to “mobilise” voters on election day through what is called the dibo-ko-sebe (vote and cook soup) strategy in the South-West, the CBN had imposed limits on the amounts of cash individuals and corporations could withdraw on a daily basis. However, the CBN boss, Godwin Emefiele, has been facing significant travails in the polity since the rollout of the plan in October last year, with analysts linking those travails to a political class hamstrung by the cashless policy. By openly taking the anti-Emefiele route in Abeokuta on Wednesday, therefore, Tinubu gave ample indications that the policy widely hailed as a template for curbing the corruption in Nigeria’s political process is a threat to his ambition. That way, he unveiled a marked departure from President Buhari’s position on the reasons behind the redesign.
Speaking after his meeting his Royal Majesty, King Charles III in Buckingham Palace, last year, Buhari had declared that there was no going back on the planned redesign of the N1,000, N500, and N200 bank notes, and that politicians would not be allowed to mobilise resources and thugs to intimidate voters in the 2023 general elections. He said, “No going back. My aim is to make sure that Nigerians believe that we respect them as an administration.” Buhari being the beneficiary of free and fair elections conducted by his predecessor, his anxiety seems to be about the burden of history. But Tinubu’s anxiety seems to be strictly about the fulfilment of a life-long dream, yet the field where both must operate is the 2023 elections. That is the kernel of the matter. Like his predecessor Jonathan, Buhari appears poised to please the nation and advance democracy, and may not budge even when openly chastised by dissidents within his party.
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