2019: APC’s defining battle, Tinubu’s game plan
Recently, National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju fired what could be described as a warning shot about the nature of political aggregations surrounding the 2019 Presidential race, particularly in the ruling party.
Although the former Lagos State governor returned days later to deny his position on the matter through his aides, the message about town remained that Tinubu has indicated interest in contesting the presidency in 2019.
If he was testing the waters or merely baiting journalists, the former Governor of Lagos State did not expect the kind of impact his benign, even if jocularly statement, left on the nation’s polity.
Not minding the intensity of the rebuttal, the fact that Tinubu actually said that he cannot rule out the possibility of running for the office of the president, revealed the plots and counterplots, including underground plots that have been accentuated by the long absence of President Muhammadu Buhari from the country.
Again the fact that the APC playmaker made his remarks while fielding questions from journalists in Akure, Ondo, shortly after the inauguration of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, makes it telling. After all, as an experienced politician, dating back to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) days of military President Ibrahim Babangida’s two-party quasi-democracy, the Jagaban could not be accused of unguarded utterance.
Stressing on the possibility of presidential contest, he said it would be an opportunity to serve his country, adding: “There is nothing wrong with such ambition. It depends on the timing and the environment and what political leadership dictates. I will not brush aside such an aspiration.
It has been historical even that Buhari tried first, second, third, and fourth before he got it. Maybe as a senator, maybe as a president, you cannot rule it out. How can I rule such a thing out, the opportunity to serve my country? But you only do that when there is a vacancy.”
It would be recalled that during the build up to the 2011 presidential election, when the idea of political collaboration between the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) was mooted, Tinubu was said to have told Buhari having been Senator and State Governor, what remained for him was the presidency. That shows that the aspiration for the presidency is not anathema to the former governor’s political dreams.
But his attendance of the Akeredolu inauguration, despite the bad blood created by his preference for a rival governorship aspirant and electioneering intrigues, showed the re-invigoration of Tinubu’s belief that his political future could still be guaranteed in the APC.
On several occasions the APC leader found it hard to hide or emasculate his frustrations with the obvious dissonance between the party and its programme design and intended course. And on each of those occasions, he voiced his concerns, even if in intemperate tenor.
It all began with the politics of National Assembly leadership, where the leader lost out in the warp and woof that defined the selection of floor functionaries in both chambers of the federal legislature.
Then in the choice of cabinet members, even though most of his men found space in the government at the centre, they were no doubt placed at posts not entirely in sync with his mind frame. For instance, instead of the core ministry of Finance, Tinubu’s acolytes were put in positions at the fringes of policy execution, rather than formulation and implementation. Placing Fowler at the head of Federal Inland Revenue, does not command equal degree of influence as that of Finance Minister.
The greatest indicators that things were not going according to Tinubu’s designs in APC emerged, first during the substitution crisis in Kogi governorship; and later, when he lashed out at the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, as well as, the Ondo governorship at height of which he called for the review of the party leadership.
But in none of those instances did Asiwaju’s utterances cause political commotion, particularly in the north than his stated intention to drop his hat in the ring for the party’s presidential ticket. This is because the only man who had been the target of most plots concerning the 2019 in the north was former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.
Aside from Atiku, former Kano State Governor, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, had to contend with the local political irritations of his former ally and protégé, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, obviously for his abiding interest to contest for the presidency again in 2019.
However, a new twist in the concentric intrigues about the 2019 presidential race was introduced by the sudden medical vacation embarked upon by President Buhari. Sources within the APC disclosed that obviously, not unaware of the scale of the President’s health challenges, some of those circulating around the Presidency as playmakers started scheming for positions of relevance in anticipation of the fact that the come may come to become, not much longer.
A source very intimate with the power circles in the north confided in The Guardian that close allies of President Buhari know that he must not be subjected to the stress of two terms, stressing that that explained the launch of what appeared to be the President’s autobiography early in the life of his administration.
“But, most importantly, you should know that as soon as His Excellency wrote to the Senate to announce the extension of his vacation, some of these people started maneuvering to be becoming Vice President.
“They were scrambling for the position with the intention to run for the presidency in 2019, because they know that (Prof. Yemi) Osinbajo would not try to run as the Yoruba has taken their turn,” the source explained, saying that the likelihood of Osinbajo mounting the saddle was a question of time.
Senator representing Kaduna Central in the Senate, Shehu Sani, who is angling to take over from Malam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, as governor of the state; had told journalists in Kano, that some Buhari’s political appointees were scrambling to take Osinbajo’s place in the expectation that Buhari may not overcome his medical challenges.
Senator Sani revealed that the activities and duplicitous dispositions of those overambitious elements are well known to both Buhari and Osinbajo, remarking that the two leaders distrust the overzealous aides, who he called hyenas.
The Budding Scenario
In his statement denying the possibility of his squaring it out against Buhari, whom he supported in 2015 to defeat the incumbent Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Tinubu also denounced suggestions that he was in talks with some PDP elements to activate another mega political coalition for the 2019 presidential poll.
Maintaining that he would not contest against Buhari or support anyone that does so, Tinubu’s Media Officer, Tunde Rahman declared: “As long as that patriotic and committed man named Muhammadu Buhari holds and seeks to hold the mantle as our president, then Tinubu stands behind him in unwavering support and confidence.”
Nonetheless, those who are conversant with the issues surrounding Buhari’s medical vacation, say that Tinubu’s plans for the presidency are a kind of tactical preparation for “the soon coming scenario.”
A source from Kano State, who spoke in confidence with The Guardian, said the former Lagos Governor seems to be aware that a lot of politicians in the north have continued to view his intrigues with deep suspicion and were prepared to ensure that it does not go further.
He said that Tinubu found out from the feebleness and slightly inaudible speeches of Buhari during their meeting in London, that the President may not likely regain strength to function actively for the remaining two years, not to talk of contesting the 2019 presidential election, pointing out that those opposed to him are working to limit his influence in APC.
“One of the suggestions being contemplated is to ensure that whoever should become Osinbajo’s deputy would be acceptable to one north and be disposed to the idea of political alliance with Southeast,” he added.
Going by that tactical frame therefore, it could as well as be that Tinubu’s presidential kite was intended to shore up his support base and possibly work for the emergence of a Christian presidential aspirant from the North to pair up with. It was gathered that one of the reasons Tinubu spurned support for Kwankwaso despite pleas from influential northern leaders, who wanted a younger candidate in 2015, was mainly on account of his age and religious background.
“This is not the first time Tinubu should be playing political chess with the north. He did it during the SDP days, now in the APC we all know he is scheming for a Christian presidential aspirant because he narrowly lost the Vice Presidency based on his religious belief,” said a middle belt politician in the House of Representatives.
There are also suggestions that Tinubu was getting set to fight against attempts to diminish his influence in Southwest, as well as, building alliances to influence the emergence of the next presidential candidate of APC or in the alternative throw support for Atiku if APC decides to undermine his influence.
Most of the schemes and calculations would depend on what happens in the next few weeks as plans thicken to ensure President Buhari’s return, even if for a brief stay before returning to London.