The shifty sands in Tinubu, Aregbesola’s rift
The Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC) of the Lagos State chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC), formed and headed by the party’s national leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, wielded the big stick recently.
In a swift move, GAC proscribed all groupings in the party after its meeting on Wednesday. The shock wave reverberated across several political tendencies.
Observers were quick to interprete the developments as a sign of the “crack in the Bola Ahmed Tinubu political dynasty”. But it was not really new to many party insiders.
What was however baffling to outsiders was the insinuation that the council’s decision is the outburst of the ‘secret but cold war’ between Tinubu and his closest political ally and former Governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola.
In a communiqué signed by the 27-member GAC, which announced the dissolution of all political groups within the Lagos State APC, affirmed that the decision was intended to strengthen the party’s unity.
The state APC Chairman and member of GAC, Tunde Balogun, said all groups have been dissolved, just as he added that the Justice Forum (JF) and the Mandate Group (MG) were also affected by the ban.
But, as soon as the decision was taken, it was immediately interpreted among members of the public, who have long insinuated about the possible cold war between Tinubu and Aregbesola, took it to hook, line and sinker that the bond between the two political allies has finally burst.
But the national leader and his political protégée, Aregbesola, quickly went public in quick denial of any rift between them. They described reactions to the GAC decision as a mere misinterpretation of what the council intended to achieve, adding that those were the handiworks of mischief-makers.
However, analysts within and outside the party are still convinced there are more to the GAC’s decision that goes beyond the denials by Tinubu and the Minister of Interior.
Taking a cursory look at some of the possible reasons that might have fueled the perceived rift between the two allies, some party chieftains members said the perceived frosty relationship between them apparently started during the 2016 governorship primary in the Ondo State chapter.
During the primary, Tinubu openly expressed his preference for Mr. Segun Abraham, while Aregbesola and some strong members of Mandate Group pitched their tents with a former legal Adviser of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olusola Oke, who had defected to APC.
The incumbent governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, eventually won the primary and the governorship election in spite of Tinubu’s and Aregbesola’s preference.
Pundits, however, claimed that Tinubu was not really happy and comfortable with the fact that Aregbesola and some members of Mandate Group stood against his choice.
More so, the primary was painful to Tinubu, who as at then had a face-off with the erstwhile National Chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun to the extent of accusing the national chairman of corruption, which he put in a statement to the media.
It was also gathered that another issue that might have precipitated the rancor was at the tail end of Aregbesola’s tenure as governor in 2018, the party had to decide his successor.
As a sitting governor, the minister was said to be planning for a successor other than Mr. Gboyega Oyetola, who enjoined Tinubu’s endorsement.
But Aregbesola not only bowed to Tinubu’s preference for Oyetola but also worked for APC to retain control of the state without exposing his displeasure.
A source within Osun APC stated: “What pissed Aregbesola was the manner his successor had been trying to frustrate the minister’s political structure in the state since he took over in 2018.”
The Guardian was reliably informed that the relationship between Aregbesola, Tinubu and Oyetola worsened when the minister discovered that most often, his successor visited Lagos, especially the Ikoyi residence of the national leader without branching to pay homage to him in his Lagos residence even when the governor knows that Aregbesola was in Lagos
“But, politicians being what they are, Tinubu and Aregbesola were still able to manage their relationship and forge ahead,” the source said.
Then there was the allegation that Governor Oyetola, with the support of Tinubu, nominated a candidate other than Aregbesola as the ministerial nominee from Osun. When he found out, the Minister of Interior was said to have expressed dismay that the Lagos godfather, whom he served as Commissioner kept sealed lips, even while his successor was also busy dismantling his political structure.
Having realised how he was being rendered politically defenseless and irrelevant in Osun by his successor, Aregbesola was said to have chosen to return to his Lagos base and the Mandate Group for the 2023 battle ahead.
As part of his effort to re-launch himself, Aregebsola recently revamped the Mandate Group (MG), a core support group that helped Tinubu secure a second term in 2003. He appointed one of his boys, Abdullahi Enilolobo, as the new chairman of MG, while he elevated Cardinal James Odumbaku to the position of apex leader.
But, other insiders said the minister’s action was not directly targeted at the national leader, but the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, who was said to have taken some far-reaching decisions considered inimical to the political interest of Aregbesola in Lagos without being called to order by Tinubu.
It was gathered that GAC’s decision was instigated by Obasa to insulate himself from the excesses of MG members in the state Assembly.
“The appointment of Enilolobo by Aregbesola as the new leader of MG was considered an affront by Obasa. It was also seen as a threat to the political future of the Speaker, both in the Mandate Group and in Lagos and not necessarily that Tinubu used the GAC’s decision to embarrass his friend,” the source disclosed.
But countering that line of argument as baseless and insignificant, another source stated: “who is Obasa to influence the GAC, where there are elders and Tinubu to ban groups like MG and JF?
“Recall that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is a member of the Mandate Group, while his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, is of the Justice Forum (JF). Not long after Sanwo-Olu emerged as the governor-elect, there was a sharp rivalry between the MG and JF.
“When they went on a thank you visit to Lagos Central Senatorial district, after securing the party’s ticket, one of the elders, Alhaji Tajudeen Olusi, a founding member of JF, sounded a note of warning.
“He said MG should not consider itself superior, just as he canvassed that all the support groups should be collapsed under one umbrella.
“Right from that moment, the rivalry between the two major groups has been so intense and unprecedented that party elders kept warning the national leader of the danger such developments portends for the future of APC in Lagos, as well as that the governor and his deputy should have the opportunity to concentrate on governance.”
It was also gathered that Tinubu and the elders in the GAC might not have been comfortable with the apparent egocentric politics among members of the two major groups leading to the division in the House of Assembly, with speculations that some members of JF are already pushing Hamzat to seek the governorship ticket in 2023
“It was therefore incumbent on them to act fast before it was too late. The leaders also discovered to their chagrin that the party executive in Lagos is more or less like a toothless dog compared to the power and influence wielded by the splinter groups in decision making,” the source said.
The Guardian learnt that Tinubu and the GAC members reflected on the possible damages the rivalry between the two subgroups could inflict on their corporate and individual political reputations if the excesses of MG and JF were not curtailed ahead of 2023.
“For instance, when some members of JF did everything possible to save the immediate past governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, in the intrigues preceding the 2018 governorship primary, hawks in the MG were adamant about blocking Ambode’s return for a second term.
“If members of JF, who are allegedly instigating Hamzat to contest in 2023 have their way, the crisis that such a development may generate may ultimately fall on the shoulders of the national leader, particularly considering the fact that he (Tinubu) was said to have tried to frustrate former governor Babatunde Fashola in 2007 and Ambode in 2018.
Ruling Party And Political Grouping In Lagos
NO sooner had the former Military Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) started the transition to civil rule programme than Oba Hamzat, who had been a staunch political ally of Jakande since the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) days, left the former governor, Alhaji Jakande, to form the People Resolved Irrevocably to Maximise the Resources of the State for Excellence (PRIMROSE) alongside the likes of Bashorun Olorunfunmi, Kola Oseni, Tinubu, Henry Ajomale and others, to support the governorship ambition of Chief Dapo Sarumi.
Meanwhile, Jakande and his group supported Femi Agbalajobi on the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). That was the development that negatively affected the chances of SDP to produce the governor, and provided the opportunity for the late Governor Michael Otedola of National Republican Convention (NRC) to emerge.
Sources said Oba Hamzat and his loyalists parted ways with Jakande on the claim that no single individual should continue to dictate the direction of events tagged “no more baba so pe’.
The late Ogun monarch was also privy to the nomination of Tinubu as the SDP senatorial candidate in 1991, has developed a close relationship with the current APC national leader within the PRIMROSE group. That era ended, because the Third Republic was short-lived, following Babangida’s annulment of the June 12, 1993, Presidential election, believed to have been won by Chief MKO Abiola.
At the onset of the Fourth Republic in 1999, Oba Hamzat, foreseeing the dangers of aligning with Jakande on the same platform moved along with Tinubu and others in the PRIMROSE group to the Alliance for Democracy (AD).
With their closely-knit platform, it was easy for them to hijack the governorship ticket for Tinubu, having successfully wrestled the party’s structure from Alhaji Ganiyu Dawodu, who was then disposed to Eng. Funso Williams.
Some commentators point to that take-over as the root of the crisis in Lagos chapter of Afenifere. Leaders of the Yoruba socio-cultural group had supported Tinubu on the grounds that Williams was too closely associated with the military government.
They, however, fell apart with Tinubu and his allies, including Hamzat, after opposing Tinubu, who, after winning the 1999 governorship election, consciously alienated Dawodu.
Realising that if Tinubu could deal with Dawodu, he could also turn against him and his group in the party, Oba Hamzat formed the Justice Forum, alongside with his PRIMROSE colleagues, while governor Tinubu and Aregbesola, formed the Mandate Group.
As governor, Tinubu allowed his friend to direct the affairs of MG. The two groups, however, collaborated to achieve common goals when AD transmuted to Action Congress (AC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and later APC. Yet, the rivalry between them did not cease.
It is popularly held that Oba Hamzat remained politically influential even until his death due to his hold on Mushin politics, including his popularity across Lagos East, especially in the Epe division, where his son, Obafemi, emerged to aspire for the APC governorship ticket in 2015. It was also Oba Hamzat that introduced the former APC National Legal Adviser, Dr. Muiz Banire and Tinubu, to Mushin politics.
Tinubu, Aregbesola’s Rift Inconceivable
LOOKING back at the history of their relationship, it would be inconceivable that Tinubu and his protégé, Aregbesola, would throw caution to the wind and engage in a battle of wits.
Apart from serving as commissioner of works from 1999-2007 under Tinubu, Aregbesola benefitted from Tinubu’s influence to emerge as Osun State governor. Also, when the PDP wanted to muscle Aregebesola’s reelection in 2014, the national leader threw his weight to support him.
But Tinubu’s loyalists noted that Aregbesola started referring to Tinubu as “my brother and my partner”, rather than the usual “my leader and my mentor”. A top member of the party told The Guardian it would be very difficult if not impossible for the minister to confront Tinubu in whatever way and for whatever reason not to talk of the affinity between the family of the two politicians, especially their wives.
Aregbesola had, during a public function before he became governor, said he hardly eats elsewhere apart from Asiwaju’s house to show the closeness and affinity between the two.
Rationalising GAC’s Decision
ACCORDING to GAC, all groupings in APC like MG and JF, are inimical to the party’s unity and were therefore permanently disbanded and prohibited.
It charged Balogun with the task of promulgating more detailed regulations as to the prohibited and permissible activities for sub-party groupings, limiting reference to the names for historical purposes only.
In a communiqué, the council warned that party faithful members should no longer use the factions or their names for future party businesses and activities. “Continued holding of meetings in the name of the groups or to promoting such associations will amount to a violation of this resolution,” the communiqué stated.
Signatories to the communiqué were Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Governor Babajide Sanwoolu and his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, former Governors Babatunde Fashola and his successor, Akinwunmi Ambode; Prince Tajudeen Oluyole Olusi, Otunba Henry Oladele Ajomale, Otunba Bushura Alebiosu, Prince Abiodun Ogunleye, Omoba Murphy Adetoro, state chairman of the party, Babatunde Balogun among others.
The council, however, lamented that several attempts were put in place by Tinubu to unify and reconcile both the Mandate Group and Justice Forum by appointing their members into his cabinet.
It also noted that several meetings were held to eliminate divisions that could hurt the party, which led to the constitution of the GAC as an important party mechanism to deliberate and resolve important matters through dialogue and compromise, instead of fiat.
Meanwhile, a member of the GAC, Chief Lanre Rasak, who spoke with The Guardian yesterday dismissed the insinuation that the decision to ban all groupings in Lagos APC was part of Tinubu’s moves to check the influence of Aregbesola.
A member of the party however said there is no constitutional power backing the GAC to dissolve any group within the party. “At least, the GAC is also a group within the Lagos APC constituted by somebody to advise the governor. Where then does it derive its power to prohibit another group(s) within the party? APC cannot be run like a sole proprietor business.”
All said, most observers say they are yet to be convinced that all was well between both leaders, or even within the Tinubu political empire. Whatever be the true position, only time will tell.