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2023 Presidency: Tinubu’s declaration, implications for APC, PDP and Southeast

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
17 January 2022   |   4:22 am
It is possible that even the former Lagos State governor and leader of governing All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, did not know his singular visit to President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa last Monday would cause such political earthquake in the country. Hidden in the visit was all the various issues that…

It is possible that even the former Lagos State governor and leader of governing All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, did not know his singular visit to President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa last Monday would cause such political earthquake in the country.

Hidden in the visit was all the various issues that have been roiling Nigeria as it nears another general election year, 2023: The reverberations were felt within the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as well as the APC, especially given the conversation over which, between Southwest and Southeast should fly the party’s flag in the 2023 Presidential poll.

It was not just about the message he delivered, but the profile of the messenger combined to cause the ripples in the polity. For a very long time the subject of Tinubu’s Presidential aspiration has been dominating political discourse, not only in his party, but also the polity.

But, by making the disclosure at the Presidential Villa last Monday, Tinubu let loose the debates on zoning and micro-zoning within both PDP and APC. The speed with which the Ebonyi State governor, Chief David Nweze Umahi, followed hot on Tinubu’s heels to announce his participation in the Presidential contest, showed how tense the competition for APC’s ticket would be.

As chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum, Umahi’s declaration raised the tempo of Southeast’s clamour for a repeat of the 1999 zoning plan that gave the Southwest opportunity to field two strong Presidential contenders in the two major parties then.

What made Umahi’s announcement seem as if it was in response to Tinubu’s declaration was that in November 2020, when he crossed over from opposition PDP to governing APC, the Ebonyi State governor disclosed that he got unmistakable intelligence that PDP was determined to side-line Southeast in the consideration of which zone gets the party’s 2023 Presidential ticket.

Yet, within the APC, Tinubu was seen as the prime mover of the merger arrangement among various former opposition parties into an amalgam mega party that ended up defeating PDP in the 2015 Presidential poll.

Having therefore served as the rallying point for the governing party, it was believed in various circles that the former Lagos State governor was positioning himself for the ultimate prize. Tinubu was also said to have lost the opportunity to serve as APC’s Presidential running mate due to his Muslim religious background, because that would have amounted to an all-Muslim Presidency in a religious sensitive country.

Chequered ambition, APC, Oyegun’s cross
ASIWAJU Bola Tinubu’s presidential ambition had been a source of unease within the governing APC. The former Lagos State governor was said to have started the process of eliminating possible obstacles to his life-long ambition early in the life of the merger arrangement that berthed APC.

Former Sokoto State governor, Dr. Attahiru Bafarawa, told The Guardian how he convinced his former Lagos State counterpart on the need for opposition political parties to fuse together and confront the then governing PDP to avert the likelihood of one-party dictatorship in the country.

Bafarawa regretted that no sooner had the merger talks advanced to fruition than Tinubu began making covert manoeuvres to ensure that credible leaders were sidelined. The former Sokoto State helmsman wondered how APC, which promised to fight corruption decided to open its doors to prominent members of the very PDP the party adjudged as corrupt and undisciplined.

But, Tinubu, who had an eye on winning strategy, was said to have supported the admission of members of newPDP, led by his long term ally and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, to weaken the ruling party and boost APC structure and its campaign funding capacity.

The entry of five incumbent governors from Adamawa, Kano, Kwara, Rivers and Sokoto states spurred the exit of Bafarawa and Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, whose political rivals, Magatakarda Wammako and Rabiu Kwankwaso, were handed automatic leaders of the new party in their states.

But, while Bafarawa and Shekarau had their bitter experience early in the life of the party, former Edo and Kwara State governor, Chief Oyegun and Dr. Bukola Saraki respectively, were later to receive the fire of the Leader’s design to prepare grounds for the eventual domination of the APC platform.

Saraki, who later emerged as President of Senate in 2015, disclosed that life was made impossible for him as chairman of the National Assembly due to his insistence alongside other APC leaders that Buhari’s vice president should not be a Muslim as well.

Saraki traced his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for discrepancies in the Asset Declaration Forms when he served as governor to some highly placed machinations.

Further, the bickering between nPDP bloc and leaders of the original legacy parties, which ensued after Saraki’s emergence as President of Senate, was said to be orchestrated unfolding interests.

The emerging hide and seek in the party became evident when Saraki fell back on the quorum provided by members-elect from other parties to emerge as Senate President, just as Senator Ike Ekweremadu was also elected Deputy to throw up a grafted APC/PDP-led 8th Senate.

Conversely, part of the blame for the power sharing arrangement in the Senate and House of Representatives, where Hon. Yakubu Dogara from the nPDP wing of APC also emerged as Speaker, fell on the governing party’s national chairman, Chief Oyegun.

Oyegun was accused of being indulgent and beholden of some members, as well as lacking proactive leadership. Sign that the ‘national leader’ of the party, the Jagaban, was not pleased with Oyegun became public knowledge after the Ondo State governorship primary.

At the primary, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, beat other contestants, including Segun Abraham, believed to be Tinubu’s preferred aspirant, to clinch the party’s ticket for the 2016 Ondo State gubernatorial poll.

Although Akeredolu, who polled 699 votes against Abraham (635), Olusola Oke (536) and Senator Ajayi Borofice (471), an APC appeal committee faulted the delegates’ list used for the September 3 primary and recommended its annulment.

But, the Oyegun-led NWC overruled the committee and promptly sent Akeredolu’s name to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as APC’s standard-bearer for the November 26, 2016 election.

The NWC in striking out the committee’s recommendation, held that the “report was prejudicial and largely perfunctory as its decision was based on unsubstantiated allegations and spurious claims of electoral manipulations.”

Stung by that unexpected turn of events, Tinubu, through his media office, called for Oyegun’s exit, alleging that the national chairman was “safeguarding the fraud done in Ondo by perpetrating a greater fraud.”

While alleging that Oyegun called the NWC members to an attitude of prayer before sneaking out to submit Aketi’s name, it declared: “For this and many other alleged actions of fraud, to rescue the party, Oyegun must go. He has shown that he and democratic fair-play cannot exist in the same party at the same time.”

The Ondo episode over, the former Lagos State governor also fired another salvo at the APC national chairman on February 21, 2018. This time around, Tinubu fell to the guile of the new power fulcrum at the Presidency by accepting President Buhari’s unilateral appointment as chairman of a one-man ad hoc reconciliation panel.

In the letter addressed to the President, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, Saraki and Dogara, Tinubu accused Oyegun of undermining his office and sabotaging his efforts to reconcile the party.

Part of the letter read: “Since the election, there have been several reports of lack of openness and fairness which have led to internal crisis in some of our states. There have been allegations of self-induced crisis resulting from merchandising of internal processes…

“I believe it was from this sober concern that President Muhammadu Buhari recently appointed me to lead the consultation, reconciliation and confidence-building efforts in our party. Upon the appointment, I gave the President my word that I would work diligently and objectively to achieve the goal set before me…

“Instead, you apparently seek to undermine my mandate by engaging in dilatory tactics for the most part. When forced to act, you do so in an arbitrary and capricious manner, without the counsel of other NWC members and without regard to our internal procedures.”

The combined effect of Tinubu’s verbal darts and subtle pressures was Oyegun’s loss of opportunity to contest the chairmanship position in 2018 for a second term. In his place, another former Edo State governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, was propped up and enthroned.

However, it did not take time before those who lost out through Oyegun’s ouster, particularly the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) began their salient moves to heat up the seat for Oshiomhole, who was seen as Tinubu’s manFriday.

On June 25, 2020, the APC National Executive Committee (NEC) descended on the Oshiomhole-led NWC and dismantled it. In its place, a 12-man Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) led by Governor Mai Mala Buni was set up.

At the collapse of the NWC, there was no mistaking the fact that those suspicious of Tinubu’s Presidential ambition wanted to put the party structure out of his armpit. The speculation was confirmed two days later, following Tinubu’s letter in which he sounded philosophical as opposed to the hot missives that propelled Oyegun’s ouster.

The strongman of Lagos politics wrote: “Some members went against their chairman in a bid to forcefully oust him. In hindsight, his fence-mending attempts were perhaps too little too late. I believed and continue to believe that Comrade Oshiomhole tried his best. Mistakes were made and he must own them.

“The President has spoken and his decision has been accepted…While we recognize that people have personal ambitions, those ambitions are secondary, not sacrosanct.

“To those who have been actively bleating how the President’s actions and the NEC meeting have ended my purported 2023 ambitions, I seek your pity. I am but a mere mortal who does not enjoy the length of foresight or political wisdom you profess to have. Already, you have assigned colourful epitaphs to the 2023 death of an alleged political ambition that is not yet even born.

“Personally, I find greater merit trying to help in the present by offering policy ideas, both privately and publicly, where I think they might help. I will continue in this same mode for the immediate future. 2023 will answer its own questions in due time.”

Commenting on Tinubu’s schemes, especially his letters during his term as national chairman, Oyegun told reporters during his 79th anniversary that his personal integrity was his staying power.

The former national chairman nonetheless noted that Tinubu’s letters “were destabilising,” adding that they were just challenges to be met.

“You were strengthened by the fact that there were no skeletons to unearth in the cupboard. So, I just let them glide by. Of course, they were destabilising; you have to manage the system such that the people don’t react against falsehood. By and large, you can see that it worked,” Oyegun had stated.

It is possible that Oyegun knew that such a day like last Monday would come when it would be obvious that part of the challenges in tending the party structure was actually for the 2023 Presidency.

Implications
ALTHOUGH Tinubu’s declaration for Presidency has been a subject of intense public curiosity, his consultation with President Buhari last Monday has a wide range of implications for the polity.

In November 2021, Director General of Voice of Nigeria, (DG, VON), Mr. Osita Okechukwu, had pleaded with the former Lagos State governor to retain his status as kingmaker and refrain from contesting the 2023 Presidential election.

Okechukwu contended that given Tinubu’s prodigious political resources and intellect he would be better placed as a kingmaker to search out a younger aspirant from the South, preferably from Southeast to support.

The VON DG further argued that Tinubu would be killing two birds with one stone if he assists President Buhari and APC to throw up a younger politician from Southeast as potential successor, stressing that that way Tinubu would have removed the confusion faced by northerners in their hesitation to support power shift to the South due to bickering by Southwest and Southeast.

However, while speaking with State House Correspondents in apparent allusion to Okechukwu’s stance, Tinubu stated; “I’ve never seen the cap of a kingmaker before. That is the truth. And I’ve never seen where it is written in the rule book anywhere in any country that a kingmaker cannot be a king unless you commit murder.”

His determination to run for the Presidency could therefore further polarise South in such a way that a northern aspirant would not find reason to drop his ambition.

Tinubu’s declaration rubs off on the aspiration of some other Southwest stakeholders, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and outgoing Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi. Above all, it would exacerbate the struggle between the Southwest and Southeast for the APC ticket.

A chieftain of APC in Enugu State, Emperor Chris Baywoood-Ibe had at the height of speculated interest of Tinubu and Vice President Osinbajo in the 2023 Presidential race, stated that it was odd for any aspirant from Southwest to struggle with Southeast for the Presidential ticket after a cumulative 16 years at the Presidency.

Similarly, a member of the Osinbajo for President2023 Movement and governorship aspirant from Kebbi State, Mallam Salihu Nataro, told The Guardian in an interaction that Tinubu’s insistence to run, when Osinbajo is interested would force APC to look towards Southeast or South/South for its presidential standard bearer in 2023.

That sentiment seems to have propelled the declaration of Governor Umahi, who, like Tinubu, said he was not prepared to discuss other persons aspiring for the Presidency. Umahi, who said his track record of achievement in private business and as governor propelled him into the Presidential contest, adding that fairness and equity demands that the Southwest should reciprocate Southeast’s support for their son, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae in 1999.

However, Tinubu’s declaration for the 2023 Presidential contest seems to bolster PDP’s plan to field a northern candidate in the belief that the north would fall back on its demographic advantage to give PDP the Presidency.

But, a stakeholder from Taraba State, Tanko Yusuf, dismissed Tinubu’s aspiration saying that old man has paved his political retirement with the declaration to run.

Yusuf said Tinubu has shown that he wants to pursue his personal ambition and not a serious contest for the Presidency, adding, “It was obvious Asiwaju was badly advised. As any political gladiator knows, only the inexperienced and desperate would jump out early before the whistle is blown in a consequential election like Nigeria’s Presidential race.

“In 1999, Bola Ige was the first to declare. In 2003, it was Abubakar Atiku. In 2007, it was (Peter) Odili and (James) Ibori, in 2011 it was (Nuhu) Ribadu in front and in 2015, President Jonathan started the race before anyone could say Jack Robinson! In 2019, we all cannot forget quickly how Governor (Peter) Fayose launched his campaign. What do they have in common? “It is good Asiwaju himself admitted he was saying the truth and nothing but the truth, when he spoke of his ‘lifelong personal ambition’.”

Rivers State governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, had argued that PDP should be minded about winning the Presidential poll, stressing that you do not zone what you do not have. Also, the camp of Vice President Atiku Abubakar, believes that the North should be supported again until it wins the Presidential poll to make up for the years spent by former President Goodluck Jonathan in office.

ARISING from their meeting on January 13, 2022 in Abuja, leaders of Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF) resolved that all political parties taking part in the 2023 poll must zone their presidential ticket to the Southern part of the country.

The meeting resolved that any political party that defaults in the demand should not expect support from the four regions of North Central, Southeast, South/South and Southwest.

The Forum said it arrived at that decision based on the fact that the northern part of the country would have fully enjoyed the office of the Presidency for the full statutory period of eight years by 2023.

In a five-point communique made available to journalists in Abuja, yesterday, the SMBLF disclosed that “the meeting extensively discussed various issues on the state of affairs in the country, particularly, the security situation, restructuring, preparations for the 2023 General Elections and zoning.”

Signatories to the communique include, Chief Dr. E. K. Clark, OFR, CON – Leader PANDEF), Chief Ayo Adebanjo, (Leader, Afenifere), Prof. George Obiozor, (President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo) and Dr. Pogu Bitrus, (National President, Middle Belt Forum)

Consequently, while the Southwest and Southeast continue their chase for APC ticket, it is obvious that Tinubu’s early declaration would further impact on the schemes for the APC national convention.

At the convention, it would be Tinubu’s men versus the some governors as the party selects its national chairman, while other presidential aspirants would tag along or chart their own paths.