Nigeria 2023: Is Tinubu’s Presidential ambition going to be thwarted?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Tuesday, 28 September 2021 17:35

Officials walk past a poster of Bola Tinubu in Lagos, Nigeria, Thursday, April 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

The Presidential ambition of All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain, Bola Tinubu, may come to an abrupt end if he doesn’t come up with a strategy to outsmart the new leadership of the party.

In early 2020, APC stalwart and former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, seemed to be in a position to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023. This was because – apart from his access to funds and enviable connections across the country – he had strong influence over the party led by its National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole.

Tinubu’s influence also seemed to extend to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), a federal agency committed to fighting financial crimes. The EFCC, led by Ibrahim Magu at the time, had received several petitions against Tinubu between 2017 and 2020 but took no action.

In contrast, the EFCC took swift action against Akinwunmi Ambode, the immediate past Governor of Lagos State who had dared to go against Tinubu’s wishes and was disgracefully defeated at the party’s primary in 2018.

Surely, Tinubu was invincible, and succeeding Buhari was inevitable or so it seemed.

Wind of change

But in June and July 2020, Tinubu’s fortunes began to change after what he described as an orchestrated attack against his nascent Presidential ambition. Oshiomhole, who is a former Governor of Edo State, had been engaged in a feud with his successor and protégé, Godwin Obaseki. This feud led to a cascade of events that would culminate in Oshiomhole’s suspension.

With Oshiomhole temporarily out of the way, Tinubu did everything possible to ensure that his ally, Abiola Ajimobi, whom he had made the deputy chairman of the APC months earlier, took over as the acting chairman of the APC. Unfortunately, Ajimobi contracted Covid-19 and was in intensive care. Two separate factions led by Hilliard Eta and Victor Giadom then claimed leadership of the APC.

As the party crisis continued to spiral out of control, a group of governors and some senior appointees of the President, who had no love for Oshiomhole, exploited the situation.

Some of them include: Governor Fayemi of Ekiti State, Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State, Kebbi Governor, Atiku Bagudu; and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State. They pressured the President to call a meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the APC and dissolve the committee to bring Oshiomhole’s leadership to an end. Buhari wilfully obliged.

To those who have been actively bleating how the President’s actions and the NEC meeting have ended my purported 2023 ambitions, I seek your pity. I am but a mere mortal who does not enjoy the length of foresight or political wisdom you profess to have…

In an unprecedented move, a caretaker committee headed by Governor Mai Mala Buni was inaugurated in the President’s chambers, while an oath was imposed upon them by the Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami. A Presidential order was given that all APC members must withdraw cases they had instituted in court. Those who failed to do so would be expelled from the party.

This Buni committee was given six months to reconcile members, boost the party’s membership and then organise a convention that would birth a new leadership for the party.

Admitting that some of Oshiomhole’s woes were linked to his supposed Presidential ambition, Tinubu said: “To those who have been actively bleating how the President’s actions and the NEC meeting have ended my purported 2023 ambitions, I seek your pity. I am but a mere mortal who does not enjoy the length of foresight or political wisdom you profess to have. Already, you have assigned colourful epitaphs to the 2023 death of an alleged political ambition that is not yet even born.”

He also defended Oshiomhole saying: “I believed and continue to believe that Comrade Oshiomhole tried his best.”

Going for gold

But Tinubu’s woes showed no signs of abating the following month as the Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, masterminded the removal of the EFCC chairman, Magu, in a most dishonourable manner and took effective control of the nation’s prime anti-corruption agency by proxy, reshuffling its leadership.

Abdulrasheed Bawa, who was appointed the Head of the Lagos Office of the commission, wrote a letter to an anti-corruption agency, the Code of Conduct Bureau, demanding the asset declaration forms of Tinubu and his successor, Babatunde Fashola as part of a wider investigation.

The EFCC also began investigating Babatunde Fowler, who had served as the head of the Lagos State tax agency as part of investigations into Alpha Beta, a private company with alleged links to Tinubu which had been given exclusive rights to help generate tax for the government.

Dapo Apara, a former Managing Director of Alpha Beta, who wrote a petition to the EFCC against Magu, said in court documents that Tinubu had boasted that Magu would protect him hence every petition against him would not be touched. Both Tinubu and Alpha Beta have since denied this.

The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and the House of Assembly, both loyal to Tinubu, swiftly passed a law that ensured the state government would have exclusive powers to investigate and prosecute cases on the diversion of state funds in an apparent move to protect Tinubu, but the state government denied this. Malami, however, trashed the new law while instructions were given to the EFCC to continue the Tinubu probe.

“The law is clear, where there is an inconsistency between the federal law and a state’s law, the state law naturally gives way,” Malami said.

“So I think it is a function of law. We have been looking at it from the perspective of law and we shall certainly do the needful within the context of consistencies or otherwise. There is no way you can make federal law subservient to local law, it is a constitutional provision, and within the context of legislation, the state must naturally operate within the constitutional bounds,” he added.

Fresh voter registration

On the party front, the new APC leadership ordered a fresh voter registration exercise effectively taking over the old voter register that had been managed by Tinubu in Lagos State.

While Tinubu has been relegated within the party, his health status also continues to raise questions. The APC stalwart, who has been abroad for nearly three months after a back and knee surgery, was visited by President Buhari in August while standing with the aid of a walking stick.

He has since been visited by several governors, senators and other elected officials. But his health problem raises questions about his fitness for office amid a desire by Nigerians to see an end to the likes of Buhari who has spent over 250 non-consecutive days on medical leave in London in the last six years.

In his absence, however, the new APC leadership led by Buni has grown stronger. The committee, which had an initial life span of six months, has now been in charge of the APC for 15 months and counting. Within the period, the committee has brought in three governors and six senators into the APC from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Different face for 2023 Presidential ticket

There are now reports that the Buni committee is planning on bringing former president Goodluck Jonathan to the APC and handing him the Presidential ticket on a silver platter while Buni will be picked as his running mate to be Vice-President for four years from where he will become the President in 2027. An alternative plan is for Buni to be made the chairman of the APC perpetually.

The APC is also pushing for the emergence of a Presidential candidate through consensus, meaning a candidate would emerge through affirmation and not an open primary thereby killing off competition.

With Tinubu’s sphere of influence now more limited within the APC, his supposed Presidential ambition seems like a pipe dream. Those who still believe in a South-West Presidency have shifted their focus to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, seen as a younger and more dynamic alternative who can easily be paired with a northern Muslim running mate.

What options exist for Tinubu?

Already there are moves by Tinubu’s camp to remove Buni and reverse everything he is doing. Some APC members in Ekiti State who are loyal to Tinubu have asked a court to sack Buni as chairman of the party and annul the 31 July ward congresses of the party in Ekiti State.

For Tinubu, retaining his influence and power remains his utmost concern and he will attain this at all cost even if he doesn’t get the ticket, a former aide of his told The Africa Report.

“I worked with Tinubu long enough to know his style. Currently he is still recuperating from a knee and back surgery and is undergoing therapy so he is not dwelling too much on politics. However, if Buni and his clique foist anyone on the party as we hear he wants to bring Jonathan, Tinubu will not mind supporting someone secretly in another party that will be loyal to him. He will support that person with money. It is all about personal interest,” he said.

Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, a former minister of works, told The Africa Report that the ganging-up against Tinubu would fail because he was already steps ahead of his opponents.

Ogunlewe added: “Don’t mind those people. We are on top of it. No matter how clever they are, we will go to a national convention and defeat them. If they want to micro-manage it and say they want a consensus, we will not agree and we will insist on a national convention and anybody that the party wants will win.

“When you are in a competition, you don’t allow your opponent to dictate everything. You also have your own plan. That is politics for you. You cannot stop them from doing what they want. They will present their own person and we will do our own and we will go to the field and people will vote.”

With the 2023 elections drawing closer each day, will Tinubu be able to turn the tide?

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