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That Southwest APC meeting sans verve, camaraderie

By Leo Sobechi
26 May 2021   |   4:30 am
It was majorly the political show of three main stalwarts: Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande and Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.

Akinrinade (left), Oyetola, Sanwo-Olu, Akinyelure, Tinubu, Akande, Osoba, Abiodun and Gbajabiamila

It was majorly the political show of three main stalwarts: Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande and Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila. Although the event was sold to the public as the meeting of Southwest caucus of All Progressives Congress (APC), it was more of an emergency crisis management meeting of like minds.

As the leaders lined up to tell the world what they discussed, the details of what they would not want to reveal about the meeting in the communiqué was well written on the face of the one they call the National Leader of APC: He was solemn, detached and struggling to achieve an equipoise to belie the threat to his political edifice caused by the burden he bears as the promoter of a wobbly alliance.

Apart from Sunday Adeyemi’s grassroots mobilization of the Yoruba for the impending national review of the Nigeria Project and the determined socio-political rebellion of some Southwest governors, Tinubu’s decision to convene the Southwest APC leaders’ meeting came as a last ditch effort to salvage the situation.

From being celebrated for his role in dethroning the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the pinnacle of national power and supporting the President Muhammadu Buhari’s electoral triumph after many failed attempts, the former Lagos State governor’s efforts do not seem to have brought back commensurate returns to the Southwest.

However, at the end of the day, the roll call of attendees showed some key stakeholders of the Tinubu political dynasty were not on board. The absence of Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Works and Housing Minister, Tunde Fashola and his Interior counterpart, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, chairman of Nigeria’s Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Ekiti State governor, Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, as well as Southwest Governors’ Forum chairman, Rotimi Aregbesola, raised the flag of a house in need of more harmony.

Others in attendance included governors of Lagos, Ogun and Osun States, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Prince Dapo Abiodun and Gboyega Oyetola, General Alani Akinrinde (rtd.); a former governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba; Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, Musiliu Smith, among others.

There were other salient issues arising from the Lagos House confab. What role was retired General Alani Akinrinade invited to play, when indeed he was not a party man? Is Senator Ibikunle Amosun not deserving of a seat at such a gathering?

Then, watchers of Southwest politics saw through the attempt to mask Chief Bisi Akande as the convener and raised posers over the venue and agenda: Why not at Ila Oragun? Even at that why the stress on forthcoming Lagos State Council poll by Tinubu?

In the two main issues that have defined the point of departure between the Tinubu political lineup and the Southwest people, the meeting endorsed the stand of Southern Governors on the ban of open grazing of cattle in Southern Nigeria. Of course, Ondo State governor, Akeredolu, who has been on the driving seat over the matter endeared himself to the people by his choice to side with Yoruba than kow-tow to political correctness.

But, perhaps in apparent bid to humour the Federal Government, which the zone helped to foist, the Lagos meeting distanced itself from the ethnic nationalism of Sunday Igboho and his co-travellers.

In the communiqué released after the meeting the leaders, while endorsing the position taken by the Southern Governors on modern approach to cattle rearing, said they were mindful of the short-term dislocation the halt to open grazing might cause.

However, asserting that the ban is in the best interest of all parties concerned, the Southwest leaders declared: “Such a decision will lessen tensions between farmers and herders, while also helping the long-term economic viability of both the farming and herding communities…

“We, therefore, recommend that the federal and state governments cooperate fully with each other to enact the necessary measures to encourage this more effective and modern method of cattle-rearing, so that both farmers and herders can pursue their livelihoods with greater productivity and in a more cooperative relationship that minimizes the friction between these two important pillars of our agricultural economy.”

Cloud of doubts
IT is tough to hazard a guess why Governors Fayemi and Akeredolu were conspicuously absent.

Were there suspicions over the governors’ stance on the twin issues or merely a perceived apprehension over their political preferences of ban on open grazing and ethnic nationalism and agitation for Oduduwa Republic? Akeredolu has never given any hint of interest in a possible presidential contest. But, the same could not be said of Fayemi, whose appearance at the Arewa House parley provided fresh basis for sustained media speculation that he was being used to spoil the national leader’s chances.

Visible Southwest APC leaders that attended, like Akande, former Governor Olusegun Osoba and Speaker Gbajabiamila, not to talk of Governors Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Prince Dapo Abiodun, could not be associated with any uprising against Tinubu’s political interest.

It becomes obvious that the Lagos meeting was, as close sources hinted, intended to analyse the emerging internal contestations within APC with a view to weighing the options.

Consequently, the error of omission or commission that screened out Fashola, Fayemi, Amosun and perhaps, Aregbesola, was cleverly arrived at, perhaps due to perception that they still young politically and could have other ideas different from that of the collective for 2023.

Or, was it that the voices of the absentees are not needed on “the topical national issues, including restructuring, devolution of powers and state policing, expected to be discussed at the meeting?” Some commentators believe that no matter what happens within and to the Tinubu’s camp during the forthcoming APC national convention, as well as the ultimate showdown at the presidential primary, it might be difficult to have all graduates from the national leader’s political institution in one camp.

Fashola, who told the Nigerian Senate in 2016 to pray that their loyalty would not be tested, has tried to manage his relationship with the home camp with élan. For Amosun, the distance, which began to widen during the nomination of ministers, continued after his tough re-election campaign and worsened during the buildup to the 2019 election.

For Aregbesola, the contradictions of style between his administration and that of his successor, Governor Gboyega Oyetola, which the national leader tried unsuccessfully to resolve in addition to his failed Senatorial aspiration for Lagos East, remain as signposts to the sourcing for self help.

Fayemi’s finesse
EKITI State governor, whose political style was sharply criticised in some quarters in the zone, has continued to bring urbane nature to bear in his relationship with Bourdillon political train station.

The chairman of NGF, perhaps knowing that the future has much in store for him shies away from any direct confrontation with Lagos. The way the Ekiti State second term governor handled the decision to keep him away from last Sunday meeting at Lagos House Marina shows his deep understanding of the complex situation.

Apart from rationalising his exclusion on the claim that a mix-up in the invitation caused it, Fayemi said he backs decisions arrived at the meeting.

In a statement, Governor Fayemi’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Yinka Oyebode, stated: “For clarity, the invitation for the meeting, which was said to have been sent via Whatsapp by Mr. Tunde Rahman, an aide to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, never got to Governor Fayemi.

“The absence of an invitation for the Southwest APC leaders meeting prevented the Governor from attending the meeting, as he was not aware. Governor Fayemi however sent an apology to the meeting through former Ekiti State Governor and Minister of Industries, Trade and Investments, Otunba Niyi Adebayo; as he was already scheduled to attend another engagement at the time he came to learn of the meeting.”

The statement noted that as a true democrat and Southwest leader committed to the welfare of the people, Fayemi “is however in total support of the decisions reached at the meeting, which include an endorsement of the positions earlier adopted by the Southern Governors’ Forum on the ban on open grazing and the need for true federalism, among otherrs.”

In trying to exonerate those who sidelined him, the Ekiti chief executive exposed the obvious gap among APC stakeholders in the zone, because under normal circumstances, a follow up call or even confirmation of his attendance would have been done.

Also, while the Ekiti State governor toed the path of geniality, his Ondo State counterpart was humbly political. He said his invitation came very late, which suggested either disdain or mischief in the mailing system. It is only in situation of emergency that a state chief executive could be invited shabbily to a formal meeting, where “topical national issues” would be discussed.

In a statement explaining his Principal’s absence, Mr. Richard Olatunde, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Akeredolu, said the governor would have loved to be present at the “commendable and timely” meeting, especially given that “the issues distilled bordered on the Southern Governors’ Asaba Declaration.”

He noted: “The issues discussed are germane, and are clear indications that men of goodwill are working together to solve the nation’s current challenges.

“As one of the leaders of the APC in the South West, and more so that, he presided over the Asaba meeting of the Southern Governors, nothing could be more spirit-lifting than the outcome of the Lagos meeting on Sunday. He, therefore, endorses all the resolutions reached by the leaders who attended the meeting.”

Approaching sunset
A look through Asiwaju Tinubu’s visage as Chief Akande read the communiqué shows that the usual sparks are dimming. The APC national leader seems to have come to the sudden realization that his calculations for post Buhari Presidency require fillip.

Is what he feared most coming to pass? Left to the former Lagos governor some of his lieutenant did not have to get too exposed to Abuja, let alone becoming ranking ministers. But he doesn’t need to fear. This is perhaps, a time to rebuild the old structure.

For respected leaders like Baba Akande, Aremo Osoba and Gbajabiamila, the pathway to a new politician future with Tinubu sounds as a moral burden they must shoulder. It has been a jolly ride and this is not time to quit.