On Tuesday, May 31, 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari, uncharacteristically made public his position on his relationship with the unofficial number two citizen of the ruling party, Senator Bola Tinubu and maybe unknowingly, but surely, set the tone for what would define their association, possibly for the rest of their lives.
To be clear, the President and Tinubu had never been social buddies or business pals. What brought them together, first, in the build-up to the 2011 presidential contest and later, in 2014, leading to the formation of their party, was politics or better still, the desire to use each other’s electoral strengths, to achieve lifetime ambitions of being Nigeria’s democratically-elected President.
On the basis of this alone, the President is morally-bound to support Tinubu’s ambition, since the former Lagos governor had fulfilled his own part of the deal.
But on this Tuesday, the President didn’t mince words in indicating he wasn’t ready to honour the gentleman agreement of both rubbing each other’s back. In a stump to the governors elected on the platform of the party, Mr. Buhari said: “In keeping with the established internal policies of the party and as we approach the convention in a few days, therefore, I wish to solicit the reciprocity and support of the Governors and other stakeholders in PICKING MY SUCCESSOR (emphasis mine), who would fly the flag of our party for election into the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
In attendance was the national chairman of the party, Adamu Abdullahi and it was just eight days to the presidential primary of the party.
Later developments proved that neither Tinubu, nor the South, was favoured by the President. But Tinubu bullied his way to the ticket and in his victory lap on June 8, 2022, confirmed he wasn’t the President’s choice. “I did not expect to win, but I won. I must be intoxicated with victory” he gushed. Two days earlier, Adamu, without doubt, acting on the instruction of Buhari, had unveiled North and the senate President, Ahmad Lawan as the combo choice of Aso Rock.
When the suspicion started growing that Aso Rock wasn’t disposed to power transfer to the South, even the taciturn Buhari’s darling, Minister of Works and Housing, Tunde Fashola joined the chorus about a gentleman agreement at the formative stage of APC that it would be turn of South after Buhari’s presidency. At the November 2020 presser, he almost certainly said the agreement was that it should be the turn of South West after Buhari, more as a response to the claim by Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi that he defected to APC because Aso Rock had assured it was South East’s turn to fill the presidency.
Fashola had said, “The truth is that what makes an agreement spectacular is the honour in which it is made, whether it is written. If it was written, there would be no court cases of breach of contract because it is a document that is written and signed that goes to court, but the private agreement you make with your brother and sister should not be breached. It must be honoured.”
Between Fashola who was present at the formation of the party and Umahi, a latter-day convert, who to believe, won’t and shouldn’t be a strenuous call.
Of course, Tinubu should be knocked for making an agreement with a race all about himself, when he said at the first Abeokuta Declaration that “it is turn of Yoruba and in Yorubaland, it is my turn” (Yoruba lokan. Ti a ba de ninile Yoruba, e mi lokan), but the President should not be spared, for not being honourable enough to at least, support power shift to the South, even if he would not be definite about zoning it, among the three Southern zones. Incidentally, all the three Southern zones had strong aspirants for the ticket, until the wrong-headed drafting of the opportunistic Lawan into the race, came into the equation.
Buhari’s decision and moves, to retain power in the North through another Northerner APC candidate after his eight years, fed straight into Tinubu’s fears about him, before their political association, when he described him to American diplomats in 2003 as “an agent of destabilization, ethnic bigot and religious fanatic” as revealed by US government documents leak. Yes, Tunde Rahman, Tinubu’s spokesperson issued a denial on February 7, 2020, 17 years after, but it was more of what Yoruba will call, “e je kape were lokoiyawoko le je kariona lo” (let’s humour a madman as the groom, to get easy passage.)
Buhari v Tinubu became a blockbuster from June 25, 2020 when the President ‘virtually’ demolished the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee of the party, believed to be strongly pro-Tinubu and working towards his emergence as the presidential candidate of the party and installed the Mai Mala Buni caretaker exco. The care-taking business is now a subject of multiple and multi-dimensional litigations and an albatross constantly threatening candidates of the party in all elections held since then, including all the APC candidates for the 2023 poll. The Buni conundrum will remain, until the Supreme Court rules in the Ekiti Governorship Election appeal, wherein Buni is now a party, unlike the Ondo narrow escape for Akeredolu, in which, the non-joinder of Buni, was the saving grace.
Since the ‘extraordinary’ replacement of Oshiomhole with Buni, Buhari and Tinubu have employed different kinds of subterfuge to outsmart each other. So far, street smartness has given Tinubu an edge. Whenever the heat becomes too much from the Villa, the Lagos ‘boy’ will throw in subtle blackmail by dragging their matter to the public arena like he has, twice, getting into the Sodeke mode. He must have also discovered that the President loves to appear too decent for ijagboro (public brawl), and will always recoil at the sight of one. So, Tinubu will do what Yoruba will call ‘a tinapetepetenipopa, eniba ta silarakopele’ (splash the mud then plead with those drenched with dirt). Then, he rocks away with victory.
Buhari appeared set to sit out Tinubu’s campaign, before the President was subtly blackmailed into hitting the trail. Through OgaGarubaShehu, the presidency was also forced to deny Buhari was engaging in anti-party after Tinubu’s sympathiser, Tanko Yakasai alleged Buhari’s infidelity to Tinubu. Over the President, Tinubu has established a huge moral advantage, by constantly through cronies, and once-in-blue-moon, via DIY, portraying Mr. President as an ungrateful element, who was helped up and now kicking down those he should ordinarily lend a hand, to also come up. The leverage is working, at least at the party level, but won’t likely count for much, in the general election.
For those who can read between the lines, Tinubu’s latest Abeokuta outing was to achieve the dual purposes of calling the President and his men out, and distancing himself from the disastrous portion of the Buhari legacy, portraying self as a victim of the administration’s maladministration. Tinubu may have the code that unlocks Buhari, but Nigerians had long tied him to the President and his scorecard, before the latest episode of the regular pains the government inflicts on Nigerians, despite his claim to BBC in December 2022, that he was unlike the Daura General.
But one good the latest outburst has done Nigerians is the revelation that the current administration, is deliberately undermining Nigerians to settle political scores. That would be treason against the people. Mr. Tinubu can’t walk this back, even if he tries to get the person of the President off the rope. Interesting times indeed.
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