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Understanding Tinubu’s presumed presidential plans amid worried opposition

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When on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Executive Council (NEC) announced the immediate dissolution of the party’s state and zonal executive committees across the country, suspense and apprehension took over.

Majorly, there were speculations that that sudden extreme decision was targeted at curtailing the perceived political influence of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, particularly his unstated presidential intention.

Some party faithful however, expressed apprehension that the move was a calculated attempt to rubbish the litigations against the party’s National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (NCECPC), led by Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni.

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Others said it was undertaken in a bid to rubbish Tinubu’s schemes of cornering the party’s structures for his presidential ambition.

However, APC stalwarts, mostly from the Southwest, who are said to be peeved at Tinubu’s political strangle hold in the zone, alongside other outsiders, who are opposed to him saw development as a way of reducing his influence in the party. They also held that it would cut short Tinubu’s undeclared 2023 presidential ambition, which they cite as reason for the raging rancor in the party.

Governors’ Ambush
ONE immediate interpretation of the development was that state governors elected on APC platform have finally taken over control of the party structure.

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But, others said since the Lagos executive, headed by Chief Tunde Balogun, one of Tinubu’s political benefactors, was dissolved along with others, the national leaders’ base had been weakened and made vulnerable for possible takeover, if and whenever the party decides to organise fresh congress later this year.

The calculation is that the dissolution would muzzle the national leader’s presidential ambition as far as APC platform is concerned, since it has lesser influence in Ekiti State, where Governor Kayode Fayemi, who is also the chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, holds sway.

It is also expected that Tinubu could also have issues in Ondo, where Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, incumbent Chairman of Southwest APC Governors’ Forum, holds sway, just as he may not be competitive in Oyo, which is being controlled by the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Then, those in the anti-Tinubu permutation believe that with the new development, the factional chairman of Lagos APC, Mr. Fouad Oki, who had been in court to challenge the legality of the Balogun executive, would gather enough clout to challenge the national leader’s designs in the next congress.

Cheerleaders
FORMER APC National Legal Adviser, Dr. Muiz Banire, who served as chairman of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) until his removal and Oki, have publicly commended the decision to unbundle the state and zonal executives.

Both Banire and Oki explained that Buni’s NCECPC, through the NEC, had successfully retrieved the party’s machinery from the likes of Tinubu and former national chairman, Oshiomhole, whom they believed covertly used the controversial 2018 congresses to remove erstwhile national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, and hijack the party.

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The duo have been out in the media explaining and rationalizing the benefits of dissolving the executives, as well as extending the tenure of NCECPC as the best steps ever taken to stabilize the party ahead of this year’s congresses and the 2023 general election.

Troubling Progress
ON December 8, 2020, the party’s NEC presided over by President Buhari approved the immediate dissolution of the party organs at the polling units, wards, local governments, states and zonal levels as well as the non-National Working Committee component of NEC. The body also ordered the immediate reconstitution with members of the dissolved state EXCOs serving in their respective offices in a caretaker capacity, but excluding the non-NWC members of NEC.

The NEC also extended the Mala Buni-led national caretaker committee’s tenure by another six months. This decision was contrary to what happened in the 2018 NEC meeting, when Odigie-Oyegun’s NWC tenure could not be extended.

Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, was able to convince Buhari on the implications of tenure extension for the then Odigie-Oyegun-led NWC when the Lagos chapter led by Chief Tajudeen Olusi, threatened to challenge the tenure extension in court.

Then, Banire, who was the party’s national legal adviser held a contrary view about dissolving Odigie-Oyegun’s led NWC and the dangers of conducting congresses in 2018 when general elections were to be held in early 2019. His explanations, as corroborated by Oki and some governors, like Kayode Fayemi, Nasir El Rufai, Rotimi Akeredolu among others was that the party might likely not be able to come out of the aftermath crises of the congresses.

Indeed, the 2018 congresses created a series of crises within the party while most of the primaries supervised by the Oshiomhole-led NWC were considered imperfect. Rivers, Zamfara, Ogun, Oyo and other states’ chapters of the party engulfed in crises after the 2018 primaries.

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Buni said his team has successfully doused the tense atmosphere in the party through his reconciliatory moves, acknowledging that loose ends are still visible in some quarters.

Oki said he had raised an alarm as far back as May 2018 regarding what he alleged as a daylight political robbery in Lagos, when his faction was relegated. That was part of his grouse against Tinubu and he has been resolute in fighting the injustice.

He said, “The erstwhile John Odigie Oyegun-led National Working Committee at its last meeting confirmed the irregularities in the conduct of congresses held in Lagos State. It set up a committee to seek a political solution to the imbroglio. Unfortunately, the committee did not take off because of the ‘bull’, which took over the China wares shop to play. Today, the party will be reformed and reorganized on the basis of the constitutionally-recognized wards and local government that is 245 wards and 20 local government political configurations.”

His permutation was that the Tunde Balogun-led Lagos executive, which the 2018 congress produced had gone with the recent dissolution and by implications the national leader’s control of Lagos politics would have waned.

But while Oki appears to be relishing in the dissolution of the executives of the party and their conversion to caretaker committee, a member of the Lagos APC Governors’ Advisory Council (GAC), Bashorun Olorunfunmi said it was unfortunate that some disgruntled Southwest politicians especially in APC are erroneously extending jealousy for Tinubu against the general interest of the entire Southwest and Yoruba race ahead of the 2023 general elections.

Olorunfunmi said Oki and Banire and those thinking alike with them have the right to their opinions as long as it is democracy “while those of us who are not in the same camp have the right to our views. The fact that the executives across the state were dissolved and at the same time converted to the caretaker committee does not change anything.”

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The octogenarian said he aligned with what the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola said that there was an agreement in the APC in 2014 that the presidency would come to Southwest after Buhari’s tenure “anything contrary to that is unacceptable and if the recent decision is aimed to truncate that agreement it is as well unacceptable.”

Olorunfunmi told The Guardian that the issue in question is not about Tinubu, but it is a collective decision the zone’s political actors must critically look into and work towards instead of the unnecessary bickering and hatred, which some elements in the party are currently displaying.”

Oki

He also faulted Oki, saying he seems to allow ‘bitterness’ more than reasoning otherwise “those who dissolved the executives and converted them to caretaker committee understood what they did. The caretaker would still be used by the party to achieve whatever it wants although there may be rules.”

In another reaction, the State’s Publicity Secretary of APC, Mr. Seye Oladejo said he would only react to Banire and Oki based on the respect he has for the media “otherwise, under no circumstances should anybody seek the downfall of his benefactor. Whether they like it or not, Tinubu is still their benefactor. The fact they are happy the executive was dissolved has changed nothing other than the name, caretaker.”

When prompted further on Tinubu presidential ambition, Oladejo said it is an open game and the constitution allows anybody to contest and anybody can as well oppose an aspirant, that is democracy.”

Bakare’s Fangled Backing
BUT, from the least expected quarters came a robust support for Tinubu is the senior pastor of Citadel Global Community Church in Lagos, Tunde Bakare, who has been a fervent critic of the national leader.

Bakare, without mincing words, said Tinubu has fought and won many battles on behalf of the Yoruba people.

The cleric said Tinubu is like the Jephthah in the Bible, saying despite the circumstances of his birth, he rose to power and delivered Lagos and almost all the Southwest states from the “onslaught of PDP. God does not need anyone’s permission to put Tinubu in a hall of fame as he has fought and won battles.

“Like Jephthah the Gileadite, he has fought many battles on behalf of the Yoruba people and won despite his rough beginning and God does not need anybody’s permission to put such in his hall of fame despite their past deeds and ancestry.

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“Despite his growing up challenges, the dents and the detours of his life, he like Jephthah delivered Lagos State and nearly all the southwest states from the onslaught of the PDP from 1999 to 2007.

“Truth be told, without his cooperation and political dexterity, the APC victory at the polls in 2015 and 2019 would have been impossible,” the preacher cum politician said.

A close ally of the Jagaban, and member of his political think-tank, confided in The Guardian that southwest zone is playing a underestimated politics that would aid the mischievous Buni Committee, which he said would not only affect Tinubu, but also the region as preparation for 2023 heats up.

He stated: “You will be surprised that the destructive rancor among our politicians would aid what the caretaker committee is currently trying to achieve.”

Expressing the hope that the mischief-makers in APC do not provoke Tinubu to a point where the national leader would be forced to quit the party, he declared: “I tell you if that happened, Tinubu is so entrenched in Lagos and he has the capacity to fight back, which is what the North, especially Buhari is waiting for so that they would encourage PDP to pick a northerner to retain the presidency.

“In fact, a northerner once told me that Buhari is bent on destroying APC, so that PDP can present a northern candidate. He said
Tinubu is making inroads in states like Kano, Katsina, Borno and Bauchi.”

BUT appealing to the national leader over his presidential ambition, General Secretary, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide said although Tinubu is yet to declare his ambition “everything about him is pointing to the fact that he is interested and has made up his mind to contest to race come 2023.”

Speaking in line with Bakare, the YCE scribe said the national leader has actually paid his dues and has all it takes to contest according to the Constitution of the country “but my advice to him is the need to place the interest of the country and especially that of Yoruba race before his personal ambition.”

Olajide said from all indices that have happened in the past five years under the Muhammadu Buhari-led government of APC; “it won’t be appropriate for Nigeria to look for anybody above the age of 65 as president again. This is my personal opinion and advice to Tinubu and I hope he will take it in the interest of Nigeria and Yoruba race.”

Olajide urged Tinubu and other Southwest stakeholders in and outside the ruling party not to allow the ambition of any individual or group for the 2023 presidency further divide in Yoruba people.

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He stressed: “The way the issue is going, there is need for caution so that we won’t further compound the challenges Nigeria have been facing especially since this administration came on board in 2015. The issue should not be about Tinubu but the country, which is currently at a crossroads occasioned by the glaring mismanagement.”

Chief Akin Oke, the chairman of APC in Oyo State said the issue raised by those who think the decision of the NEC on December 8 that it was targeted to reduce the influence of some stakeholders in the party ahead of 2023 was speculative, “what is most important to look at is the likely consequences the decision would create as the party progresses. I have not read Banire and Oki’s reactions on the matter but my concern is that whatever damages the action must have caused must not be allowed to go beyond what it is at present otherwise it might affect us as a party.”

The immediate past APC Southwest Publicity Secretary, Karounwi Oladapo said there is no doubt that the APC NEC’s December 8 dissolution of all executive arms of the party would generate many speculations but to feel that it was targeted at any individual or reduce the chance of anybody from aspiring “is not acceptable.”

According to him, “Tinubu is free to contest and as I speak, I will also contest for the presidency in 2023 if nobody comes out in Ekiti State. But my take is if the national leader is not showing interest, like some are saying, it will give the Southwest the chance to rally around a consensus candidate in the party to be presented. We must realise the fact that whether or not the north concedes the ticket to us, nothing will stop the South-South and Southeast for contesting the same ticket with us. It is therefore necessary to forge a common front.”

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