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Nigeria 2023 elections: Why fierce Buhari critic Femi Fani-Kayode joined presidential camp

By Akin Irede
Posted on Monday, 20 September 2021 14:33, updated on Thursday, 23 September 2021 16:53

Former Nigerian minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode
Former Nigerian minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, is making friends with the APC

Ahead of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, a former minister of aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, who was President Muhammadu Buhari’s fiercest critic, has joined the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). While the move has divided the APC, it appears to be an attempt by Buhari to counter powerful presidential aspirant Bola Tinubu in the south west.

The easiest way to get on the bad side of Fani-Kayode, popularly known as FFK, was to describe him as a member of the APC or a supporter of Buhari. A barrage of social media insults subsequently followed.

When a blog reported the rumour of his defection to the APC in December 2019, Fani-Kayode launched a tirade of abuse at the ruling party and even said he would rather die than join it.

He described the APC as an association of ‘Almajiri’- children who are sent far away to gain Islamic knowledge but end up becoming street beggars.

“The suggestion that I joined the APC is false and insulting. Those that are peddling this fake news should bury their heads in shame. With what we have witnessed I would rather die than join a filthy, rat-infested, sinking ship like the Almajiri Peoples Congress,” he said on Twitter.

“Those that claim that I have joined them and that seek to link my good name to such a bloodthirsty, blood-lusting, accursed political association of Boko Haramists, Fulani herdsmen, genocidal maniacs, ethnic cleansers, mass murderers, ethnic supremacists, religious bigots (sic)…”

“I am committed to opposing the APC and those that are in their ranks for the rest of my natural life and I will never join them no matter what!” said FFK. “They are nothing but darkness whilst I stand for the light of God and truth: there can be no fellowship between light and darkness.”

Fani-Kayode is known for regular diatribes fired at Buhari and all persons associated with him including ministers; party members; aides; relatives of the president; governors; Yemi Osinbajo (the vice president); members of the president’s ethnic group and religion; and even Christian clerics who dared visit Buhari.

Even when the president’s only son, Yusuf, suffered a bike accident and a brain injury in December 2017, Fani-Kayode seized the opportunity to take a dig at the president.

“God told Pharaoh to ‘let my people go’. Pharaoh asked who He was. God told him ‘I am the I Am, that I Am’ and sent signs of His awesome power. It cost Pharaoh both his own life and that of his son. Signs have been sent. Next comes the axe. Let God’s people go! I pray that the son of President Buhari recovers quickly and I wish him well.”

So intense was his dislike for Buhari that on one occasion, he described the president as the servant of the devil. “Buhari is an anointed servant of the devil and, like Pharaoh and Herod, he is a member of the kingdom of darkness.”

On 18 April 2018, while reacting to the killings of Christian and Muslim minorities, Fani-Kayode made one of his most scathing attacks yet, describing the president as Satan’s first born. “You kill Christians and Shiite Muslims and at the same time you release Boko Haram terrorists and protect murderous Fulani herdsmen. You are not a human being but a beast. You are Satan’s first born: an acolyte of the devil, a servant of the Baphomet and a shield-bearer of Lucifer.”

Police questioning boosts popularity

His controversial posts on social media would later earn him summons from the police for what they termed as “conspiracy, criminal defamation, inciting publication, injurious falsehood and conduct likely to cause breach of peace”.

However, the summons that led to detention and prosecution for alleged corruption only seemed to boost his social media popularity, as his followers increased to nearly two million on all platforms.

His anti-government posture also made him the sweetheart of secessionist and irredentist groups, as well as Christians who felt marginalised and unprotected by the Buhari government. On several occasions, he eulogised and visited the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra – Nnamdi Kanu – and Sunday Igboho, describing them as his brothers. For FFK, the enemy of his enemy is his friend.

However, by January 2021, Fani-Kayode seemed to have witnessed an ‘Apostle Paul’ conversion, as he set out on the ‘road to Damascus’ that would eventually lead him to the APC.

The former minister started spending an excessive amount of time with Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, a member of the APC whom he had once termed as “a useful idiot and an accursed slave” because of his loyalty to Buhari. He would later post photographs of himself with Bello on social media, describing the governor as “my brother and friend”.

Things became clearer in February when he met with the de facto chairman of the APC, Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State, who is leading the drive for mass defections to the ruling party ahead of the 2023 polls.

Change of heart

From then on, Fani-Kayode stopped attacking the president and gradually began changing his views. In August, he set social media alight when he attended the wedding of Buhari’s son, Yusuf, took pictures with government aides and ministers whom he had once described in the most uncharitable manner.

Perhaps, the most controversial was his photo with Isa Pantami, the minister of communications and digital economy, whom months earlier he had said was a “self-seeking and fanatical monster and cold-blooded and heartless beast who regards himself as a high standing member of our community and who constantly and disrespectfully refers to Christians as unbelievers and should be arrested by the authorities like a common criminal, stripped naked, put in chains, placed in a tiny monkey cage, paraded before the public, tried in a court of law and made to spend the rest of his sorry life in that facility [Guantanamo Bay] for his undying and remorseless support and love for terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

He would later describe Pantami as his “brother and friend” and tell critics who reminded him of his vituperations against the minister to “go and die”.

Last week, Fani-Kayode was formally received into the APC by Buhari at the presidential villa, a move which has been rejected by a large section of party supporters, many of whom have been on the receiving end of the former minister’s verbal lashes.

Many wonder why the former minister has been given a hero’s welcome by the president, when all he has is a social media presence and no electoral value or grassroots following. Incidentally, his ‘former brothers’ in the struggle – such as Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho – now languish behind bars.

“Despite all my push for the APC, Abuja has not given me a phone call, [much less invited] me for a coffee with c-in-c; but here is a political charlatan and prostitute being given a red carpet in the seat of power, Abuja. APC rewards enemies. They pamper enemies. This life, no balance at all (sic),” says Joe Igbokwe, a former chairman of the Conference of APC Publicity Secretaries, who was on many occasions on the receiving end of Fani-Kayode’s vituperations.

Fani-Kayode has no political base. He is from Osun State in the south-west but is registered in Abuja. He is on a mission to scuttle Tinubu’s chances. He was promised a ministerial appointment and with the ongoing reshuffling of the president’s cabinet, he might just be favoured; but this will again expose President Buhari’s anti-corruption war as a charade.

“Please, I am ok where I am today, but I know countless number of APC diehards who are 100% better than FFK. Nobody has remembered them. Not even a recharge card, not even a bottle of coke, not even thank you.”

Solomon Dalung, who served as the sports minister during Buhari’s first term from 2015 to 2019, also criticises Fani-Kayode’s defection. “In the whole of my existence, I have not been ashamed of myself like Thursday when I watched Femi Fani-Kayode standing by the president [at] State House in Abuja. I have no problems with people’s political affiliations, but I have issues with [how] the confidence and goodwill of Nigerians [is] being gambled […] recklessly by clueless political elites.”

“Loyalty in the APC party is a capital offence; no wonder Femi Fani-Kayode insulted President Buhari and swore he will prefer to die than join[…] APC. He is now the latest political bride of the president whom he earlier called a criminal,” he says.

Senator Babafemi Ojudu, the president’s political adviser, described FFK’s defection to the APC as “the saddest day of my political career.”

Government appointment on the cards?

Sources however told The Africa Report that Fani-Kayode was promised a government appointment and his corruption charges may be dropped in the coming months, as has been the case with a few others who previously defected to the ruling party.

He is also expected to checkmate some south-west elements pushing for APC leader, Bola Tinubu, to succeed Buhari in 2023.

“Fani-Kayode has no political base. He is from Osun State in the south-west but is registered in Abuja. He is on a mission to scuttle Tinubu’s chances. He was promised a ministerial appointment and with the ongoing reshuffling of the president’s cabinet, he might just be favoured; but this will again expose President Buhari’s anti-corruption war as a charade,” a top politician says.

Confirming his dislike for Tinubu in February, Fani-Kayode said he would be inclined to join the APC because Tinubu’s influence in the party had waned immensely.

“One thing I will say is this. The APC of today is led by people that are far more urbane, far more cosmopolitan, far more educated, and far more moderate than the APC of yesterday. The leadership of the party is different…Oshiomhole has gone; the power of people like Bola Tinubu has waned immensely which for me is very important. I am not ashamed to say so. I am not fearful.

“You now have people that are a bit more refined and a little bit more accommodating at the helm of affairs. That is why you now see they have the wisdom to reach out to people because they are smart and they want to win in 2023 and that is how it should be. You don’t close doors to people,” Fani-Kayode said.

If indeed politics makes strange bedfellows, the race to 2023 will be no exception

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