By Olakunle Olafioye
The simmering cold war between the king and the chief kingmaker appears to be over. The national leader of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress, APC, Bola Tinubu surprisingly made it into President Mohammadu Buhari’s entourage to Abidjan, capital of Cote D’Ivoire for the 5th European Union-African-Union Summit. Alongside, Governors Emmanuel Udom of Akwa and his Bauchi counterparts, Mohammed Abubakar and analysts are quick to interpret the fresh rapprochement as one of indications that political re-alignments ahead of the 2019 elections have begun in earnest.
Tinubu would have been a stranger in the President’s convoy to Abidjan only a few weeks back when it was widely speculated that the relationship between the two political actors had suddenly gone frosty. The desperation to punctuate PDP’s rule since 1999 when the nation returned democratic rule had brought the duo together into the same fold in the build up to the 2015 general elections. While watchers of event envisaged a more robust relationship between the President and Tinubu who was widely credited for APC and Buhari’s victory at the 2015 presidential election, evidence that things had fallen apart between them, manifested clearly months after the election.
If signs that the honeymoon between the President and the former Lagos State governor was over had multiplied rapidly in less than a year after APC’s shocking victory at 2015 polls, it was Tinubu’s call in September 2016 for the resignation of the National Chairman of the ruling APC, John Odigie Oyegu, whose emergence as national chairman of the ruling party was believed to have been championed by the former Lagos governor that drove the frosty relationship away from the realm of speculation to reality in the consciousness of political watchers.
Tinubu had accused Oyegun of sabotaging democracy in Ondo State by overriding the decision of the appeal panel that asked for a fresh governorship primary after claims that the delegates list used had been tampered with, to the disadvantage of the choice candidate of the former governor of Lagos State, Dr. Olusegun Abraham.
The defeat of Tinubu’s candidate in Ondo State last year was yet another confirmation of the strident power play and plot to rein in the man who has been widely acknowledged for the defeat of the then ruling PDP and Buhari’s ascendancy to power in 2015. A similar scenario had played out in Kogi earlier where the APC national leader was politically outmuscled as his preferred candidate for the state’s supplementary election, James Faleke, lost out to Yahya Bello, despite winning the election on a joint gubernatorial ticket with the late Audu Abubakar who died shortly before the result of the governorship was announced.
But what many commentators described as the rudest of treachery against Tinubu’s generosity to his political protégés came when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s statement during a church programme, where he declared he was made Vice President by God was interpreted to mean that he did not owe Tinubu for his position as VP. If Osinbajo’s comment was taken out of context, the launching of a biography of Buhari authored by Professor John Paden, who claimed that Osinbajo’s choice as Vice President was opposed by Tinubu, according to analysts, clearly accentuated the desperation to undermine Tinubu’s worth politically.
A clearer picture of the intra-party cold war within the ruling APC however, emerged last year when the President openly contested the appropriate nomenclature for Tinubu, the founder and leader of the APC. President Buhari was reported to have declared that Tinubu was not the national leader of the party but just one of the leaders at an event at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa while playing host to APC chieftains and members of the National Assembly.
Buhari’s declaration was allegedly informed by Senate President, Bukola Saraki who while observing protocols in the course of making his remarks, addressed Tinubu as “the national leader of APC”.
The President, it was reported, wasted no time, seizing the opportunity to communicate his message to everyone at the occasion including the ex-governor of Lagos, saying “Tinubu is not the national leader of the APC but one of the national leaders”.
The development had at the time propelled some socio-cultural and political groups in the north to call on the President on the need to avoid unnecessary feud with a national leader of the party, which they opined was capable of destroying the ruling party. The Chairman, Coalition of Political Parties in Kaduna State, Muhammadu Sani-Ahmed while noting that the two leaders had at the time denied any feud between them on the pages of newspapers, said that with the pivotal role played by Tinubu during the 2015 presidential election, there was a need for the two leaders to come together and settle their differences.
“Nigerians are not stupid. Even the blind knows that the relationship between the President and the national leader of APC is not cordial.
“This feud is being fuelled by those close to the President. They are telling the President the wrong things. The President and Tinubu must come together regardless of their differences to settle their rift before the 2019 elections because if it continues like this till that time, it will certainly affect the chances of the APC.” Ahmed-Sanni had said at the time.
Also lending his voice to the calls for caution over the simmering cold war then, A Second Republic member of the House of Representatives and Convener, Coalition of Northern Intellectuals, Politicians and Businessmen, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, called on the president to apply caution in his handling of the feud with the former governor of Lagos.
“Given the tenuous nature of this administration, APC and of course, the powerful enemies undoubtedly which Tinubu has, he Buhari should do well to please take it easy. Some of us believe that Tinubu certainly has done some good for the party, Buhari as a person, and for the country; we would not want him to fall by the wayside as a result of the lack of tact,” he had said.
Chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the APC, Chief Henry Ajomale said the rapprochement between the President and the former Lagos State governor should not be seen as a surprise as the claims of frictions between the two political actors was untrue. He pointed out that Tinubu, while the speculation of friction between the duo was rife, visited the President in London along with Chief Bisi Akande.
“Nigerians should not be surprised. It was not true that they had some frictions or there was a fight going on between them. It was around that time that the Mr. President fell sick and he went to see him along with Baba Akande. Nobody can argue that and when he came back he too was outside the country for some time. The rapprochement became more visible when he came back. Unofficially, Asiwaju has been meeting with the President for some time.
They campaigned together but he (Tinubu) just wanted to give him time to settle down. He has his own problems that he’s running after. He has to run after his business too. It’s now that the time is ripe because the President has settled down for almost three years now; that is what I believe has brought them together.
Asked about the statement credited to the President when the President was quoted to have said Tinubu was not the national leader of APC but just one of the leaders of party, the Lagos State Chairman of the party said, “If you look at the hierarchy of the party, it depends on the understanding of the mechanism of the party. If you call him a national leader, he is truly national leader. The President is also a national leader of the party. Atiku was also a national leader. So it depends on the understanding of the people to it. They did not say he is the defacto or dejure leader but he is called national leader. If he is called a national leader and the President misconstrued it to mean that he is one of the national leaders, it is fine, it’s understandable but the President did not say Asiwaju is not a national leader”, he said.
In the opinion of a political analyst, Dr. John-Kennedy Osuala, the development playing out between the President and the former governor of Lagos is a confirmation of the truism that no permanent foe or friend in politics; only permanent interest exists.
“There is a principle which says there is no permanent friend nor permanent enemy in politics; what we have is permanent interest. Tinubu and Buhari have permanent interests. If they pretended to be on different pages to the public, professional politicians will tell you that there was no time they were actually on different pages. It may be basic interest or what people will call business disagreement. If they come back that is perfect. They are only observing the law which says no permanent friend or permanent enemy in politics only permanent interest,” he noted.
Osuala who was also a PDP presidential aspirant in 2015 called on the two political leaders to put the interest of the nation first in their relationship. “But what some of us are talking about is that the interest of the entire nation should be paramount. Will their coming together advance the course of justice, the course of democracy, the course of productivity? That should be the question. Whatever the source of their disagreement may be let them think about the interest of Nigerians. I welcome anything that will bring peace between the two colossuses but let the rapprochement be in the overall interest of Nigerians,” he advised.