Back channel schemes that decided Tinubu’s running mate
It was a challenge they never envisaged. Leaders of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), including the insiders in the Presidency, failed to plan for the unexpected outcome that trailed the June 6-8 Special Convention that threw up for Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, as winner of the presidential primary.
Sources within both the Presidency and the APC headquarters revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari did not envisage that a Muslim from the Southern part of the country should succeed him, especially given that he (President) rejected the Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket at the foundation level of the merger arrangement.
The source disclosed that although there was an agreement that the Presidency would shift to the South, specifically after his second term in office, the Tinubu option was clearly out of it. He noted that even in 2017, when the former Lagos State governor informed the President that the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, was about to return to Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the President did not make a direct promise to Tinubu about handing over to him.
“If you recall, Tinubu accompanied the President on a trip to Cote D’Ivoire. When Jagaban informed Baba Buhari that Atiku was set to rejoin PDP to contest the 2019 presidential election, the President said, thank you for this information, that means after this term you prepare,” he stated, adding that what Buhari meant was that Tinubu should prepare the Southwest for another battle.
However, the source remarked that Tinubu continued to hold onto the belief that the pre-merger agreement was built around him, particularly after his moves to be adopted as Buhari’s running mate hit the rocks.
It was gathered that Tinubu’s continued schemes towards contesting the party’s presidential ticket was part of the reason behind the dissolution of the APC National Working Committee (NWC) led by former Edo State governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
Oshiomhole was said to be too close to Tinubu in addition to other loyalist like the former Deputy Chairman (South/South) of the party, Chief Hillard Ntufam Etta. When Oshiomhole fell out with his then home state governor, Godwin Obaseki, those who were peeved by Tinubu’s plots to succeed Buhari decided to move against Oshiomhole and the NWC.
In an interview with The Guardian after the dissolution of the Oshiomhole-led NWC, Etta accused some Presidency insiders who orchestrated the dissolution of playing God. In the place of the NWC, a Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) headed by Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni, was set up.
Etta maintained that although the sacking of APC NWC was targeted at Tinubu’s loyalists, the party had merely sown the wind and will reap the whirlwind.
Could the present hullabaloo trailing the same faith presidential ticket be part of the whirlwind Chief Etta hinted? Some APC leaders blame President Buhari for the confusion within the party, contending that as the party’s leader, the President did not show sufficient courage and purposeful leadership.
A Senator from one of the Northwest states confided in The Guardian that governors from his zone are very pained by Tinubu’s choice of Senator Kashim Shettima as his running mate.
He disclosed that in the course of a series of consultative meetings over the issue of presidential running mate, it was resolved that the prospective Vice Presidential candidate should come from Northwest geopolitical zone.
But, the Senator contended that President Buhari’s failure to carry through his original idea of throwing up a preferred successor in the person of the Vice President, Prof, Yemi Osinbajo, gave room to the unexpected emergence of a Muslim candidate from the Southwest.
While confirming that there was an agreement that somebody from Southwest should succeed Buhari during the merger talks, the Senator explained that the President felt that a younger Christian candidate from the zone (Southwest) should be considered.
He disclosed that it was against that backdrop that the names of Osibanjo and the Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, started making the rounds, stressing that some northern governors who wanted to contest the Presidency quickly did a rethink.
“Honestly, I believe blame for what is going on in our party should go to President Buhari, because he did not do what he was supposed to do. The President was misadvised by some lobbyists and governors that were working for their selfish interest.
“I am aware that the President wanted Osinbajo to succeed him. But the state governors wanted Fayemi and some governors like Atiku Bagudu and Nasir El Rufai wanted to be running mate to any Southern Presidential candidate,” he surmised.
It could be recalled that at the height of the jostling for the APC presidential ticket, President Buhari pleaded with governors elected on the platform of the party to support him to personally throw up his successor.
In a remark during a closed door meeting with the governors at the Villa in May 31, President Buhari, who read from a prepared text reminded the governors that since they chose their successors without interference, they should support him to choose a presidential candidate capable of driving his vision and ideals of the party.
The newly elected APC national chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu and the 22 APC governors were in attendance at the parley, which was convened to iron out the issue of consensus presidential candidate for the party.
While making a case for consensus around his choice of Presidential candidate for APC, Buhari had urged the progressive governors “to ensure the emergence of a presidential candidate that would reflect all the party’s values and virtues,” even as he vowed to provide a stronger leadership that would improve the electoral fortunes of the APC at the forthcoming general election.
The President noted: “In pursuit of the foregoing objectives, the party has successfully established internal policies that promote continuity and smooth succession plans even at the state and local government levels.
“For example, first term Governors who have served credibly well have been encouraged to stand for re-election. Similarly, second term Governors have been accorded the privilege of promoting successors that are capable of driving their visions as well as the ideals of the party.”
However, The Guardian learned that following the negative backlash that followed the adoption of Senator Adamu as consensus candidate for the position of national chairman and seeing the cash bazaar at the PDP presidential primary, President Buhari was advised against going ahead to name him his preferred candidate.
This is just as sources disclosed that names on the various shortlists presented to the President did not inspire confidence of party stakeholders, with many insisting that only the former Lagos State governor, Tinubu, could do battle with PDP standard bearer, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
A former member of the APC NWC confided in The Guardian that prior to Atiku’s emergence as PDP presidential candidate, some Presidency insiders were working on the possibility of a showdown between Osinbajo and Peter Obi.
“But, things took a dramatic turn immediately Atiku became the PDP candidate and even the President bowed to the majority opinion that the ticket be thrown open so that the most popular candidate could emerge.
“At the end of the day, the contest ended in favour of the ‘highest bidder,’ something the President warned against in allusion to Tinubu’s ability to find his way in a free contest,” he stated.
Chickens Home To Roost
NOTHING explains Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s surprise emergence as APc’s presidential contender than the controversies trailing his choice of running mate. Amid doubts about the possibility of repeating a Muslim/Muslim ticket which he had previously suggested in 2014 and 2019, Tinubu indicated that his prospective running mate would come from the Northeast geopolitical zone.
That clue sparked serious concerns within the fold of Northwest governors, who made efforts to assure the presidential candidate that with the voting numbers from the Northwest, a Muslim/Muslim joint presidential ticket would not portend any electoral danger.
To strengthen that argument, the outgoing Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, supported his preferred APC governorship successor, Senator Uba Sani, to retain the first female deputy governor of the state, Dr. Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe, on the ticket for the 2023 poll.
With that bold statement, Governor El Rufai believed that he has buoyed Tinubu’s confidence in a Muslim/Muslim ticket, which he (El Rufai) believes would favour him as a front-runner for the position of presidential running mate from Northwest.
Nonetheless, banking on Tinubu’s promise of looking towards the Northeast to pick the APC Vice Presidential candidate, the Planning and Strategy Committee of Tinubu Campaign Organisation (TCO) populated names of Christian electives from Northeast.
The committee led by former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir Lawal, recommended the following from Northeast: Governor Babagana Zulum, Senator Kashim Shettima, Senator Anthony Manzo, former Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, Kashim Imam, Amina Mohammed, (UN Deputy Secretary-General) and Ambassador Fatima Balla.
Those who were shortlisted from Northwest geopolitical zone, included Governor El-Rufai, Senator Atiku Bagudu, Senator Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko and Hajiya Najatu Mohammed.
Both El Rufai and Bagudu had high hopes to be selected, especially having downplayed any deleterious electoral consequences on a possible Muslim/Muslim ticket, which they pushed in the belief that the Christians names being considered from Northeast were of “relative electoral worth.”
Not that alone, the Progressives Governors’ Forum had earlier enjoined the presidential candidate to pick his running mate from among them given their contribution to his emergence and to bolster them towards effective electioneering.
It was against the backdrop of the governors’ demand that Tinubu was said to have reached out to incumbent Borno State governor, Zulum, who gave a singular condition to be met before he could accept the offer. The Borno State governor said the only way he could accept to be presidential running mate is if his benefactor, Senator Shettima, declined the offer.
Zulum’s conditionality was said to have pleased Tinubu, who had secretly desired that his campaign director pairs up with him on the presidential ticket. Elated by Zulum’s stance, Tinubu had told reporters in Abuja that he had the name of his running mate in his pocket book, before traveling out of the country.
The former Lagos State governor was also said to have overlooked El Rufai despite spirited lobby that the Kaduna State governor would add much electoral value to the ticket.
But, sources said Tinubu was suspicious of the Kaduna State governor, particularly given former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s character assessment of the diminutive, but cerebral former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Yet, it was gathered from close Tinubu confidants that the APC presidential candidate did not forget El Rufai’s tantrums in Lagos against political godfathers.
It could be recalled that on Sunday May 5, 2019, at an event organised by Bridge Club, which was packaged to sell the Kaduna State governor’s speculated presidential ambition, advised estranged Tinubu’s supporters like Muiz Banire on how to retire godfathers in the state.
“Here in Lagos, you have over six million registered voters; only about a million voted (in 2019 general election); five million did not vote. If I want to run for Governor of Lagos, I will start now.
“I will commission a study to know why those five million registered voters did not vote; where do they go on Election Day? Then, I will start visiting them for the next four years. I will try and get just two million of them to come and vote for me; I will defeat any godfather. The key is to go to the people. The card readers and the biometric registers have given us the tools to connect directly with the people.
“I assure you if you do that for the next four years, connecting with the people; the tin godfather, you will retire him or her permanently. But it is hard work; it requires three to four years of hard work. So, if you want to run in 2023, you should start now. Many of the godfathers are either on paper or in the mind of people in politics. They are defeatable,” El Rufai declared.
This was just as others claimed that El Rufai cleverly masked his support among Osinbajo, Rotimi Amaechi and Fayemi only to belatedly root for Tinubu. “These considerations knocked him off,” said a Tinubu acolyte.
The other option from Northwest, Bagudu, was said to have lost out because he “benefitted tremendously from the chairmanship of the Special Convention,’ and as such, did not have any outstanding political IOU to claim.
As Tinubu plots to be his own man, what remains to be seen is how those with unmet expectations would exact their own pound of flesh, especially given the disquiet in some APC circles, where people like Babachir Lawal are crying foul at his choice of Shettima.