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Nigeria 2023: Tinubu struggles to salvage presidential ambition from Kano fire

By Akin Irede
Posted on Tuesday, 7 December 2021 12:10

Former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu is contemplating his political future. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

With over 5 million votes at stake in Nigeria's Kano State, the struggle for the soul of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has reached a climax, which has produced two factions in the state. APC leader, Bola Tinubu must now pick which faction to work with in order to save his presidential ambition

On 11 March 2019, Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje was on the verge of defeat, trailing Abba Yusuf of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by over 26,000 votes. The development threw panic into the camp of the APC because of the sheer importance of Kano, a state which has historically produced the highest number of votes in the country.

However, it was also an ego thing. How could Abba, a political greenhorn, who is the son-in-law of Ganduje’s former boss turned foe, Rabiu Kwankwaso, defeat a sitting governor?

For the APC, a party eager to hold on to power beyond 2023, winning elections could be a pipe dream without Kano State. Lagos State has the highest number of voters, but it has consistently failed to exploit its numerical strength due to a low voter turnout, but in Kano State, the votes are usually intimidating. For instance, in the last presidential election, Kano’s 1.8 million votes surpassed those from Ebonyi, Abia, Ekiti and Bayelsa states combined. Losing Kano State to the PDP would have been the beginning of the end for the APC.

Luckily for Ganduje, however, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the election inconclusive and ordered a supplementary poll. Reports began to circulate that Tinubu had flown to Kano to bail Ganduje, but he denied it. Even so, what could not be disputed was that thanks to the quick thinking of some key APC leaders, including Tinubu and the presidency, Ganduje was able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the most controversial manner.

Tinubu’s payback

Ganduje’s ‘near-death’ political experience brought him closer to Tinubu, who had played a huge role in his re-election. Eager to pay him back, the governor made it clear to his associates that he would be supporting Tinubu’s presidential election in 2023.

Thus, not many were surprised when last March, Tinubu’s yearly birthday symposium – which has been held in Lagos and Abuja for the last 12 years – was held in Kano State with Ganduje as the chief host. During Tinubu’s stay, Ganduje seized the opportunity to introduce him to several key players in Kano politics.

Soon enough, almost all loyalists of Ganduje in Kano State became part of the Tinubu project. At the inauguration of a campaign office in honour of Tinubu, Ganduje’s alter ego, Hamisu Chidari – who is also the speaker of the Kano State Assembly – said the entire Kano State linked to the APC was behind the Tinubu project.

“My purpose is to kick-start the journey that will take us to the villa, by God’s grace, with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the number one citizen of Nigeria. In Kano, being the state with the highest number of delegates, we have already decided, we have already concluded, we are set to give him at least 98% of delegates in the primaries. Not only that, we are set – as usual – to give him the highest number of votes so that come 29 May 2023, we will be at the Eagle Square to swear him in as the president,” he said.

In a bid to consolidate his hold over the party, Ganduje took full control of the APC congresses in the state, effectively handpicking all those who would hold key positions in the state’s chapter of the party. He ensured that Abdullahi Abbas emerged as the chairman of the APC in the state, while his supporters held all strategic positions. All, it seemed, was going according to plan.

Not so fast

However, Ganduje’s activities were opposed by some in Kano APC who felt marginalised. They subsequently formed a group known as the G7, with the sole aim of seizing control of the party from Ganduje. The group is led by former Governor Ibrahim Shekarau who is also a serving senator.

Others in the G7 include Senator Barau Jibrin, Honourable Shaaban Sharada, who is a former aide to President Buhari; Honourable Nasiru Abduwa, Tijjani Jobe and Haruna Dederi. The Shekarau-led group conducted parallel congresses, to the chagrin of Ganduje. They elected Ahmadu Danzago as their factional chairman and also opened an office in the state.

It is a tricky situation. The best thing would be for the two factions to reconcile, but as things stand, Tinubu cannot openly support Ganduje because a court has dissolved his faction and has recognised the Shekarau faction.

The rebel group alleged that the Ganduje faction of the APC did not conduct congresses, but merely wrote down results and appointed leaders in the state under the guise of ‘consensus candidacy’. They subsequently approached a high court in Abuja, praying the court to declare that Ganduje’s faction did not conduct proper congresses and should thus be dissolved, while their own faction should be declared as the legitimate one.

The Ganduje faction challenged the suit, arguing that the court lacked the jurisdiction over a matter that happened in Kano State, but the judge would not have any of it. He upheld the prayers of the Shekarau faction, effectively snatching the structure of the party from Ganduje.

Amid the controversy, the national leadership of the APC, led by Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State, kept mum. However, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and Muhammad Badaru of Jigawa State, who are part of the Buni clique, wasted no time in recognising the Shekarau faction even though Ganduje has vowed to appeal the matter.

Official endorsement

At the weekend, during a public event at the Bayero University in Kano, Fayemi and Badaru – who are opposed to Tinubu’s presidential ambition – identified Danzago as the “chairman of the APC in Kano State”, effectively identifying with the Shekarau faction.

Incidentally, Ganduje refused to attend the event that saw many supporters of Fayemi carry banners which read ‘Fayemi for president 2023’. With Fayemi also gunning for the presidency, the act of recognising Danzago as chairman shows the camp he belongs to.

When asked why they recognised the Shekarau faction, an aide to Fayemi told The Africa Report: “We are simply obeying the law. A court has recognised that faction and so we must comply.”

This is expected to worsen the crisis in the state in the coming days. Already, the APC secretariat being operated by the Shekarau faction has been burnt down by thugs believed to be loyal to Ganduje, but the state government has denied this. Shekarau and his clique, however, are not leaving anything to chance. They have now filed an official police complaint demanding protection and an investigation.

Tinubu’s dilemma

Eager to save his presidential ambition, Tinubu invited Shekarau to his Lagos home on Sunday (5 December), with a view to reconciling the factions. Nevertheless, should Tinubu’s reconciliation efforts fail, would he continue to support Ganduje whose ship is sinking, or the Shekarau faction whose legitimacy is still being challenged in court?

A top aide, who sought anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said: “It is a tricky situation. The best thing would be for the two factions to reconcile, but as things stand, Tinubu cannot openly support Ganduje because a court has dissolved his faction and has recognised the Shekarau faction.

“Also, Tinubu cannot openly support Shekarau because Ganduje would not be happy about it. What if Tinubu supports the Shekarau faction and Ganduje wins his appeal? Would Ganduje still support his ambition? [Therefore], he has to be diplomatic at this moment because Kano is too important.”

Nonetheless, Jimoh Nureni, the lawyer who represented Shekarau’s faction, tells The Africa Report that he is confident that the Court of Appeal will uphold their victory.

“We are very confident of victory. The court ruled that Ganduje’s faction conducted no congresses and this is a fact,” he says.

Officially, the national leadership of the APC claims it will still recognise Ganduje’s faction until it has been served with the court judgment.

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