*As plans thicken to whittle down his power, influence in APC
From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Though he died several centuries before many of Nigeria’s current political leaders were born, Italian renaissance historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist and writer Niccolò Machiavelli appears to be their mentor. No wonder, he is regarded in the country’s political circle and beyond as the founder of modern political science. Indeed, the level of intrigues and machination going on in the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC today looks scripted for the contending forces in Machiavelli’s The Prince.
“If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared”, the evergreen political scientist had stated. “Men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge”, he explained further.
These Machiavellian quotes aptly capture the travails faced today by the National Leader of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The party leader had in an outburst last Sunday called for the removal of the party’s National Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun for allegedly sabotaging the will of democracy in Ondo State by overriding the decision of the appeal panel that asked for a fresh governorship primary following investigations that showed that the delegates’ list used had been tampered with.
The outburst didn’t come as a surprise to keen watchers of development in the APC since the party, which is an amalgamation of at least four different political parties, came into power over a year ago. Saturday Sun gathered that Tinubu’s political clout has indeed been curtailed and his ego badly bruised soon after President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in May 29, 2015 but he has quietly tagged along, keeping his game plan close to his chest. As such, his public statement on Sunday was a clear expression of his bottled up anger and frustration for months. Even though Odigie-Oyegun was the punch bag, the verbal attack was meant for the powers that be. Rather than rattle his adversaries, the outburst, Saturday Sun can authoritatively report, has indeed strengthened those after him to advance in their plot to deal him further blows.
It is an undeniable fact that Tinubu almost single-handedly made the election of President Buhari a reality, a development that has earned him the unofficial position of the National Leader of the APC. Though there are other political forces that equally made enormous financial contributions towards the election but it was almost certain that Tinubu’s contributions were unmatched. He indeed laid the foundation for the APC-Buhari presidency when he mobilized the party’s structure to give Buhari its presidential ticket at the national convention in Lagos between December 10 and 11, 2014. With about 8,000 delegates to ‘settle’, the ticket would have gone the way of either former Vice President Atiku Abubakar or former Kano Governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who both had enormous resources to woo delegates. Buhari could not have matched their financial war chest, even if he had; he was not ready to pay delegates for votes.
It was gathered that though President Buhari has consistently assured Tinubu during their private meetings that he would never be ungrateful to him for the roles he played in his emergence, powerful forces around the President see the party leader as “ a vicious and ruthless politician” who must not be allowed to control either party or any government structure, which they fear he could use to turn the table against Buhari and indeed Northern interest at the last minute. As such, they would rather let others take charge than a man with “enormous financial resources, overbearing political influence, wide political network and a dangerous political strategist.” This set the stage for the control of the National Assembly in June 2015. Though Buhari didn’t get his preferred candidates for the positions of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Reps, contending forces within the party were quick to align with the Atiku/Saraki camp to elect Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as presiding officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly, rather than allow Tinubu control any of the two chambers.
Another early sign came when President Buhari was to constitute his cabinet. The President did not only close his eyes to candidates like Messrs Wale Edun, Oladele Alake and others nominated for ministerial appointment by Tinubu but the President decided to appoint those Tinubu himself regards as “ex-associates turned renegades”, such as his former Chief of Staff and successor as Lagos Governor Babatunde Fashola, former Ekiti Governor Kayode Fayemi while the much coveted Minister of Finance portfolio was given to a nominee of Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun state.
To make matters worse for Tinubu, Fashola was made a super Minister combining three powerful portfolios of Power, Works and Housing. This was in spite of well-orchestrated efforts to portray Fashola as corrupt through systematic leaks of controversial contract awards details under his administration towards the period President Buhari was compiling his cabinet list. The decision to make Fashola a super Minister, many believe was to divert South West political patronage base from the Bourdillion Ikoyi home of Tinubu to Fashola. With his loud grumblings afterwards, Tinubu was placed under security watch as was exclusively reported by this paper on October 10, 2015. Security agencies had launched a surveillance ring around him and others, including some members of the National Assembly, over an alleged plot against President Buhari then.
The plot, sources said was not unconnected to the decision of President Buhari to dump several nominees submitted by some party leaders and political godfathers for ministerial appointments. Saturday Sun had reported then that of particular interest to some intelligence agencies keeping a tab on the plot was “the decision of an APC leader in the South-West to jet out of the country the moment he realised that he could not push through his ministerial nominees, only to be coordinating attacks against the President from his base outside the country.” Though The Sun subsequently published denials extracted from the presidency by Tinubu’s aides, the paper however reaffirmed the veracity of the facts of the story. Almost a year after the report, which generated heat within the party and government circles, developments since then, have continued to confirm the reported facts.
Even when the Saturday Sun report served as part of the early signs, Tinubu tried to put up a bold face and forged ahead albeit carefully. His recent efforts to get a South West police officer appointed as the Inspector General of Police were equally frustrated. Prior to that, he equally got bruised in Kogi State where he tried hard to get a Member of House of Reps from Ojodu Lagos federal constituency, James Abiodun Faleke elected as Governor but was pushed out.
And the Ondo debacle
Already bruised in Kogi, Tinubu saw the APC governorship primary in Ondo state as an opportunity to prove his relevance if not at the national level, at least in his South West base. But with Kogi still fresh in his mind, he kept silent on which of the over 25 candidates aspiring on APC platform he would support for the Ondo governorship. One of them, Senator Ajayi Borroface had been largely seen by many as Tinubu’s likely candidate because of the former’s closeness to the latter’s wife, Senator Oluremi Tinubu who is his colleague in the upper chamber of the National Assembly. Saturday Sun gathered that behind the scene, Tinubu was allegedly secretly giving support to his friend and business associate Engr Segun Abraham from Ondo North and Olusola Oke from Ondo South. After waiting till few weeks to the primary election without seeing any clear sign that President Buhari was going to back any of the aspirants, he openly threw his full weight behind Abraham, a decision that brought him under direct attack from some of the other aspirants especially Rotimi Akeredolu, a former governorship candidate of defunct ACN in the state, who cried blue murder.
Unknown to Tinubu and as he would later discover, his ex-associates turned adversaries, that is Fashola, Fayemi and others from South West in conjunction with their like minds; Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna, Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi and some elements within the presidency were fully behind Akeredolu to “decisively end Tinubu’s legacy of imposition.” They were so smooth and secretive to the point that it took Tinubu days after the primary to discover their fingerprints on Akeredolu’s unexpected emergence.
Saturday Sun gathered that even the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, David Babachir Lawal and a member of APC’s National Working Committee close to President Buhari visited Tinubu in Lagos a week after the primary reportedly to assure him that the President had no hand in what transpired in Ondo. With that, it was further learnt Tinubu decided to push for the cancellation of the poll and he succeeded in convincing the Mrs Helen Bendega-led appeal panel to upturn the result. Unfortunately, the new power brokers within the party were ahead of him. While the leader was still complaining and hoping the party’s leadership will approve the recommendation of the appeal panel, the young forces were in full control of the party’s structure to do their bidding and had even gone ahead to draw out plans and even prepared documents to floor him should he ask his candidates to challenge the party in court as was the case with Faleke in Kogi state.
When he thought he was going to have his way, the party leadership submitted Akeredolu’s name as the party’s candidate for the November governorship election in Ondo state. This Tinubu believes was a deliberate attempt to humiliate him. “Asiwaju believes if he was stopped in Kogi, he doesn’t see any justification for a repeat in Ondo state which is in his South West area of influence”, a source close to him told Saturday Sun.
Law of retribution
Notwithstanding the picture of betrayal and victim Tinubu may present today, many of his staunch opponents and some in the country’s political firmament believe that he deserves whatever he is getting and even more. Their argument, especially in the camp of renegades within his party is that he is reaping what he has for years sowed. They are quick to point out that Tinubu rode to power as Governor of Lagos state in 1999 on the back of Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organization, Afenifere but the group and its leaders were the first set of structures he dismantled as governor. The body and its leaders are yet to recover from those fatal blows till today. They are in disarray with many of the leaders dead even with their frustration and shock. The Deputy Governor chosen for Tinubu by Afenifere then, Senator Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele was forced out of government humiliated. The then Governor Tinubu thereafter promoted and empowered his own political structure, Bola Ahmed Tinubu Campaign Organisation, BATCO, which later metamorphosed into Mandate Group. With the latter well on ground and funded, Action Congress was founded after the Alliance for Democracy formed out of Afenifere and on which platform he was elected in 1999, had been badly battered and left prostrate. In summary, Tinubu allegedly deployed state resources to divide both Afenifere and AD to be able to take firm control of Lagos political structures knowing full well that if left intact, the forces that brought him to power could undo him in the 2003 polls. From that effort, he has been able to grow over the years to control not only Lagos but also other states in the South West and even beyond. This, he has been able to do, according to his strident critics, by playing the game of “godfatherism through imposition” successfully.
But as the years rolled by, discontent began to grow in his camp with beneficiaries of the same game gradually building a tent of rebellion. Same ‘rebels’ propped up by him are the same people he refers to today as ‘renegades’ who have joined forces with external powers to bring an end to his reign and brand of politics.
The plot thickens
For the renegades and their allies, the battle against him has just begun. For them, stopping him in Kogi and Ondo is a prelude to the bigger plot of pushing him out of the APC and limiting him to only Lagos and Osun for a while. Soon after rooting him out of the Ondo contest, Saturday Sun learnt that the younger forces have already begun preparations for Ekiti state against next year. They believe he would want to throw up Special Adviser on political matters in Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s office, Senator Babafemi Ojudu or his son in law, Hon Oyetunde Ojo as the APC governorship candidate or Hon Opeyemi Bamidele at the expense of Deputy National Chairman of the party, Engr Segun Oni who this paper can report authoritatively is keenly interested in vying for same seat. Tinubu’s adversaries are counting on their control of the party and more importantly the control of majority of current party delegates by both Fayemi and former governor of the state, Niyi Adebayo.
Calculations within the ‘renegades camp’ show that by the time they deal Tinubu another humiliating blow in Ekiti, he would be considering pulling out of APC to safeguard his foothold in Lagos and Osun ahead of the next elections. While the renegades are working hard to secure the South West from Tinubu and make it easy for Buhari or any other candidate produced by the party to win in 2019, Tinubu has also continuously come under attack from the camp of old Buhari loyalists in the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. This camp has largely made the process of confidence building between Buhari and Tinubu almost impossible because of their very bad impression of the latter. They believe Tinubu can spring a surprise betrayal in the last minute and for them, he needs not be allowed to stand any chance by then. As such, the earlier he is pushed out the better. For these adversaries, their consolation lies in the Buhari’s administration’s vigorous fight against corruption. “Everyone knows Tinubu lives in a glass house and will not want a stone come near him”, one of the renegades told Saturday Sun in Abuja on Thursday.
Boasting about his vulnerability, the source said the number of renegades who still surround Tinubu pretending to be loyalists are more than those outside.
“Just imagine how easy it was to get the transcript of all that transpired when he was receiving a segment of APC chieftains from South West who paid him a solidarity visit last weekend after keeping them waiting for over five hours”, the source added.
Tinubu was quoted as saying during the meeting that he regrets building APC and giving Buhari a platform to become president. “We all knew he didn’t merit to be president, but you know how we politicians behave when we are desperate for electoral position; we beg. That was how President Buhari always and frequently came to my private house here in Ikoyi with his entourage, which included that Nasir (El-Rufai) and others. Now they occupy Aso Rock and they think Asiwaju Tinubu is finished. He is using people I brought from obscurity against me. Now they say my mouth is smelling. They say I’m no longer relevant. The battle line is drawn, I will show them the meaning of Asiwaju”, he allegedly told the gathering. Though, Tinubu’s Media Office denied the statement which Saturday Sun can again authoritatively report was leaked on social media by members of the “renegades camp”, he never denied the meeting held. In fact, one of those at the meeting Prof Sola Adeyeye in a statement calling for truce, admitted stumbling into the meeting but said the things attributed to Tinubu were not his choice of words.
The much-awaited outburst
It was no surprise to those who have been following developments within the APC that Tinubu had to launch a verbal attack on the party and its leadership on Sunday.
Tinubu in the statement issued by his Media Office alleged that Oyegun’s action in allegedly subverting the will of the people was not of his doing, saying that for a man of the age of the national chairman to have done what he did that he must have been under the influence of a “powerful and sinister arm at work.”
Tinubu, who said that the APC was now under threat of being suffocated by anti-democratic forces pretending to be progressives, said: “The APC, a party born of the quest for democratic good governance, is under critical threat by those who managed to be in the party but never of it.
Though Tinubu accused Oyegun at least once in every paragraph of the statement, those close to him told Saturday Sun that “he knows Oyegun is just one man who cannot dictate anything in the party but his message is to the cabal of Hausa/Fulani that has now hijacked the party and government using renegades in the South West against him. He (Tinubu) believes Hausa/Fulani have a history of using renegades against their benefactors and his outburst signifies he would no longer keep quiet.”
The Atiku twist
In a surprise twist, former Vice President and APC chieftain, Atiku Abubakar who is not in the same camp with Tinubu on Wednesday issued a statement to back his rival’s complaint against the party. He charged the party to promote the rule of law and due process in the conduct of its affairs, noting that they were germane to its unity and stability.
Mr. Abubakar said it was imperative for the national leadership of the party to live by the rules of internal democracy and respect for democratic consensus, warning that “you cannot break your own rules without creating problems.”
He argued that the party was supposed to be an impartial entity in the arbitration of crisis amongst its members in any given election.
He further contended that since the APC found veritable reasons to review the outcome of the gubernatorial primary election it conducted in Ondo State, and was able to establish valid grounds to cancel that election and call for a fresh one, the decision to deviate from its own resolution is a negation of due process and an unfashionable hollow in democratic best practices.
“It was wrong for the APC to have set aside a resolution it had reached aimed at resolving the crisis in our party in Ondo State. It is a recipe for acrimony and division,” he said.
The former vice president also noted that pretending a problem doesn’t exist won’t make that problem go away, and therefore, advised the leadership of the party to do a soul searching and address why this problem arose and escalated.
According to him, the party leadership should always be guided by respect for the rules, fairness, equity, neutrality and respect for democratic consensus.
He also urged the leadership of the party to retrace its steps and do the needful to restore confidence among the conflicting parties in the state for the overall benefit of the ruling party.
Atiku’s position is however not surprising to those who understand the goings on in the party. It’s about his own interest, not more about supporting Tinubu.
The former VP has his eyes on the presidency in 2019 and he is currently battling the SGF Babachir Lawal to control the party structure in their Adamawa home state. The SGF who allegedly heads the political wing of the Buhari government months back, allegedly got the national headquarters of the party to dissolve the Adamawa state party executive, which was under the control of Atiku and Governor Jibrilla Bindow and replaced with a caretaker executive loyal to Lawal. As a result, Atiku and Bindow recently visited the APC headquarters in Abuja to complain about this and the decision to smuggle Nuhu Ribadu who is again eyeing Adamawa governorship in 2019 back to the party without consultation with the state chapter. Since then, the party has failed to touch their complaint.
Even old foes, allies defend Tinubu
Unexpectedly, an elder statesman and Afenifere leader, Ayo Adebanjo who was one of the victims of Tinubu’s past political game, was one of the people that had come out to condemn the treatment the party leader is getting from APC.
“People are expecting me to mock Tinubu and say God has dealt with him over the manner he treated me and other Yoruba leaders but I won’t do that because what is after six is more than seven. Attack on Tinubu is not directly at him but attack on Yoruba land. I am not shortsighted. They want to break us up and cause division so that they can take over. He (Tinubu) has made his mistake and I hope he has learnt from it.
“When he went into the alliance, I warned him that they are conglomeration of incompatibles but they chose to ignore. But I strongly believe that the gang up against him is a ploy to divide the Yoruba land so that these Northerners can take over. I can see that and nobody can convince me about that. Tinubu may have his fault but he has not been treated well by his party”, the Afenifere leader was quoted as saying.
Former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, also sympathized with Tinubu, stressing that he had warned that ‘northern allies in APC’ would betray him. “Another is the destruction and demystification of Bola Tinubu and his Yoruba loyalists by his erstwhile northern allies in the APC. Only a fool did not see that one coming and I am rather surprised that Tinubu’s followers are now crying foul and alleging that there is a northern conspiracy. Didn’t they know that before? Were they not warned over and over again?” Fani-Kayode was quoted as saying.
A renowned politician, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, also said the feud between Tinubu and Odigie- Oyegun, was long overdue. He said the misunderstanding did not come as a surprise to keen political observers, saying people like him had anticipated the crisis soon after the formation of the present government.
“APC is an amalgamation of four to five political groups. After the formation of the government, only members of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) were being considered for political patronage, while members of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been sidelined.”
Yakasai added that members of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) “are neither here nor there” in spite of the appointment of the erstwhile party’s former national chairman, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, as a minister.
“The ACN leader, Asiwaju Tinubu, is totally out of the picture despite the fact that the vice president (Yemi Osinbajo) is his nominee. The appointment of Fashola to the jumbo ministry is considered personal, just like that of Amaechi. Bukola’s emergence as Senate president was largely due to his personal financial prowess and the support he received from the PDP members in the Senate,” he noted.
The elder statesman further said that prior to the financial crises the country was plunged into, the vice president was “a mere onlooker”, as according to him, his (Osinbajo’s) new found relevance was made possible by his position as the chairman of the National Economic Council, which conferred on him the position of the chairman of the Economic Team of the government.
Badly wounded already and waiting to take his own pound of flesh, it is not likely Tinubu will go all out for any showdown with Buhari this early as he did against former President Goodluck Jonathan because of his level of vulnerability, he would rather chose to pipe low for now. His endurance pill would however wear out next year when the party begins its congress to elect delegates from the ward to the national level.
Saturday Sun gathered that by then, the forces against Tinubu and the various contending blocs within APC would have become more ferocious and ready for an open confrontation. By then, there would be realignments of forces and those that will pull out would have fully defined their option. But for Tinubu, attention will be more on him than any other power bloc. It’s either he resigns to fate and watch till the end or he fully withdraws to his Lagos base to consolidate and play opposition because Ogun, Oyo, Ondo and Ekiti states have for now slipped out of his control and areas of influence.
But before then, the theatre of war may witness some form of guerilla warfare both in the media and on the political turf. As a tested and rugged fighter, Tinubu and his loyalists may likely flex muscle in the November governorship election in Ondo. If APC wins the election, which is unlikely in the present circumstance, Tinubu’s adversaries would have been more strengthened in their plot against him. And if PDP wins, then he is the culprit and there would be more justification to crucify him. Head or tail, this is not the best of weather for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.