Nigeria 2023: Tinubu gathers allies, pushes against opponents ahead of May Presidential primary

By Akin Irede
Posted on Monday, 14 March 2022 10:04

Bola Ahmed Tinubu
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, APC national leader and presidential aspirant. (twitter/@AsiwajuTinubu)

Despite the crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress (APC), frontline Presidential hopeful, Bola Tinubu, seems unperturbed as his endorsements continue to increase. He now plans to get the full endorsement of the 305 members of the APC caucus in the House of Representatives in a crucial meeting this week. Will this be enough to swing the May Presidential primary in his favour?

Who can stop Bola Tinubu? This is the question on the lips of proud supporters and enemies of the APC stalwart and former Governor of Lagos State who has been on a nationwide tour since returning from his long medical trip to London last year after a knee surgery. Even during his three-month stay in London, his home transformed to a Mecca of sorts as associates and supporters including President Muhammadu Buhari and at least six governors visited him.

For someone who barely months ago could hardly stand without the aid of a walking stick, the self-styled godfather of Lagos politics has continued to run a packed schedule, visiting at least 12 states in the last three months.

Some of these states include Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo, Niger, Sokoto, Zamfara, Bauchi and Katsina. Having relocated his ‘operational headquarters’ from Lagos to Abuja, the ‘Jagaban’ has shown no signs of stopping and remains the only influential politician from the southwest that has declared his intention to contest while Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo continue their game of suspense. In the coming days, the Lagos godfather will be visiting the Christian conservative states in the southeast and the south-south in search of more endorsements.

A gale of endorsements

Scores of politicians and monarchs have continued to endorse the Lagos godfather. In Oyo State, the most influential monarch, the Alaafin of Oyo, Lamidi Adeyemi, publicly endorsed him and prayed for his success. The story has been the same in many other areas. Apart from the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu who is Tinubu’s protégé; and Osun State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, who is his cousin, other governors who have publicly endorsed Tinubu include: Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), Gboyega Bello Masari (Katsina) and Niger State Governor, Abubakar Bello, who is the acting chairman of the APC. Tinubu’s team claims that at least 14 governors are supporting him but most of them have yet to come out publicly to endorse him hence this claim cannot be independently verified.

However, some northern Muslim governors who have Vice-Presidential ambitions may not be keen on supporting Tinubu who himself is a Muslim as this could unsettle the country’s political equation. For such governors, Tinubu’s ambition must be stopped at all costs.

But Tinubu says he remains unnerved by his detractors. At a meeting in Ibadan recently, he said politics could indeed be dirty and he was willing to get soiled if it became necessary.

“I am out to become the President of Nigeria. No intimidation. Cowards die many times before their deaths. No blackmail or insult will make me angry to the extent that it will make me say no more, I don’t want it (Presidency) again… A Greek philosopher said if you want to wrestle with pigs, be ready to get dirty. I am ready to get dirty,” said the Lagos godfather.

Public image laundry

And although Tinubu says he is ready to get dirty, this has not stopped his public image laundry. The former governor, who will turn 70 on March 29, has lined up some activities geared towards boosting his public image which has been marred by allegations of corruption. Apart from a big event that will be organised for him, a biopic of his life as governor between 1999 and 2007 will hit the big screen soon on his birthday.

The movie titled, ‘Last Man Standing’, features some of the biggest names in Nigeria’s movie industry like Lateef Adedimeji who stars as Tinubu; and Segun Arinze. The biopic will also project Tinubu’s role as the leader of Nigeria’s opposition and how he helped Muhammadu Buhari emerge the President in 2015. Although producers claim it is not a propaganda tool, the movie will be expected to boost Tinubu’s public image.

Some popular actors in Nigeria including Mr Ibu, Foluke Daramola, Eniola Badmus, Harry Anyanwu, Benedict Johnson and several others have also endorsed the Lagos godfather even as others who have benefitted from his connections are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks.

The former governor has also engaged in acts of philanthropy in recent times, donating the total sum of $238,000 to victims of terrorism in Niger State and Zamfara. He made a similar donation in Katsina last year after a market fire.

Crucial meeting at House of Representatives

One of the most strategic moves Tinubu is making is his meeting with the 305 APC members in the House of Representatives on March 16. The meeting, which is a first of its kind, is being facilitated by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, a godson and protégé of the Lagos godfather who is playing an active role in the Presidential campaign.

According to Tinubu’s letter which was read on the floor of the House, the former governor of Lagos State will be unveiling his manifesto and programmes. The Africa Report learnt that Tinubu’s move to get the endorsement of the House is very vital because the House will have a large voting power at the Presidential primary in May.

“The APC constitution says all serving members of the National Assembly will be delegates. This means that all 305 members will be voting. Already, a large number of the southwest and northern caucus has publicly endorsed Tinubu. So, he is trying to consolidate on this. It is a very strategic move,” said a top lawmaker.

How can Tinubu be stopped?

Tinubu’s old age and recurring health challenges have remained the biggest hurdles to his Presidential ambition coupled with an ongoing corruption probe.

“The only thing that I see stopping Tinubu now is his health. He seems healthier these days and we’re hoping that it doesn’t suffer a relapse,” said a member of his support group who craved anonymity. But Tinubu has argued on several occasions that he doesn’t need the strength of a manual labourer to be the President of Nigeria. Rather, all he needs is the mental capacity which he says he possesses.

And with the huge resources at his disposal along with his strong following in the party, Tinubu remains the aspirant to beat. However, the biggest endorsement he will need is that of Buhari who is the undisputed leader of the party and will have the final say on who emerges as the candidate of the APC. In an interview with Channels Television, Buhari when asked if he had a preferred candidate, said: “2023 is not my problem, I don’t care who succeeds me, let the person come, whoever the person is”. However, he quickly made a U-turn saying, “It is (a) secret. I wouldn’t (reveal his identity) because he may be eliminated if I mention (his name). I better keep it,” the President stated with a smile.

With such mixed signals, it remains unclear the role Buhari will play in determining the Presidential candidate of the APC as he has more often than not, failed to put his foot down on critical issues in the party, an attitude that has largely contributed to the ongoing crisis in the APC.

However, an aide to the President tells The Africa Report that the next Presidential candidate will emerge through a consensus and there would likely be no contest on the day of the Presidential primary.

“The President prefers the consensus option and that was why he insisted that it be included in the Electoral Act he signed last month. He would name his preferred candidate and expect the stakeholders in the party to endorse the person and other aspirants will step down.

“Once this is done, only one Presidential form will be printed and the consensus candidate will get that form. Then all delegates will converge on Eagle Square to affirm that person. This is what is likely to happen,” the President’s aide said while wishing to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to comment on party issues.

This view was also reiterated by Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State who said recently that both the APC chairman and the Presidential candidate would emerge through a consensus.

“As far as the convention is concerned, most likely we are going to go by consensus and that is how the election will also be carried out, by consensus.

“Going into our Presidential primary, when we get to that, most likely it will be done by consensus hopefully and if we cannot do that, we will do indirect (primary) most likely,” the governor said.

However, the new Electoral Act, 2022 which was signed by Buhari last month states that in the event a political party seeks to adopt the consensus option, all aspirants who agree to step down must put into writing that they are willingly stepping down and endorsing someone else. Interestingly, this clause was introduced by Tinubu’s godson, Gbajabiamila.

“Gbajabiamila had foreseen a possible move to edge Tinubu out through a dubious consensus arrangement which governors usually use in imposing candidates in their states. Hence, Gbajabiamila personally inserted a caveat which was a master stroke.

“The only way Tinubu can be stopped is if the APC refuses to sell a Presidential form to him but it will be dangerous to have Tinubu as an enemy ahead of such a crucial election. How the party handles Tinubu’s ambition could contribute to the APC’s success or defeat,” said a close aide to the Lagos godfather.

In a chat with The Africa Report, a federal lawmaker and chief campaigner of Tinubu, James Faleke, said the lawmakers were looking forward to meeting with Tinubu this week.

Faleke said he was confident that Tinubu would receive the support of the APC caucus in the House and would emerge as the candidate of the APC regardless of what mode of primaries would be adopted.

“The meeting is part of consultations. He is meeting with all leaders and the members of the National Assembly are critical stakeholders. It is obvious that he is the best man for the job. And even if the APC will be picking its candidate by consensus, you can be sure that he (Tinubu) will get the ticket as things are done in line with the Electoral Act,” says Faleke.

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