Nigeria 2023: Can cabal and Abdullahi Adamu stop Bola Tinubu?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Tuesday, 7 June 2022 10:50

Senate President Ahmad Lawan (lt) and Lagos godfather, Bola Tinubu.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan (lt) and Lagos godfather, Bola Tinubu.

Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) will pick its Presidential candidate today. The national chairman of the APC, Abdullahi Adamu, backed by a powerful cabal in the Presidency, claims Senate President Ahmad Lawan is the chosen one. But Lagos godfather, Bola Tinubu, remains adamant he should be picked. Who will come out the winner in this game of thrones?

Abdullahi Adamu, the 75 year-old chairman of Nigeria’s ruling party and point man of the powerful cabal calling the shots in Nigeria’s Presidency, got more than he bargained for on Monday when he announced to the top executives of the APC that Senate President Ahmad Lawan was the preferred Presidential candidate, giving the impression that President Muhammadu Buhari had anointed him.

“The national chairman informed us that after the consultations hosted by the President, he was instructed to inform us that Ahmad Lawan is the preferred choice. We were only informed, it wasn’t deliberated upon. Neither was our opinion sought,” says Dayo Israel, the national youth leader of the party and ardent supporter of Tinubu.

The move elicited negative reactions from 12 northern governors that had earlier in the week insisted that since President Buhari – a northerner – had served nearly two terms, it was only fair for a southerner to emerge as the Presidential candidate of the party. Therefore, Lawan — a northerner — ought not to be considered for the position at all.

Also, President Buhari’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, quickly issued a statement, insisting that the President had not anointed any candidate but had only called on stakeholders in the party to ensure that the large number of aspirants is trimmed drastically through a consensus arrangement.

Nigeria’s electoral law states that for a candidate to emerge by consensus, all aspirants must state specifically in writing that they are withdrawing from the race, a development that has not happened.

This now means all 21 Presidential aspirants will have to head to the battlefield.

Those still in the race as of now are:

  • Lawan, Lagos godfather, Bola Tinubu; Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State; his Ebonyi State counterpart, Dave Umahi; Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and Governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade.
  • Former governors: Rotimi Amaechi, Ogbonnaya Onu, Godswill Akpabio, Rochas Okorocha, Sani Yerima and Ibikunle Amosun are also battle ready along with ex-Minister, Emeka Nwajiuiba, oil businessman, Tein Jack-Rich; Deputy Senate Majority Leader, Ajayi Boroffice; a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole; activist pastor, Tunde Bakare; Mrs Uju Ken-Ohnenye; Pastor Nicholas Nwagbo, and former Minister of Information, Ikeobasi Mokelu.

 Consensus versus Tinubu

Despite the large number of aspirants, however, Tinubu, the 70 year-old former governor of Lagos State and ex-Mobil executive remains the man to beat having gained the support of a large number of governors. Consequently, it remains difficult to beat him unless the consensus option is adopted.

By law, the consensus method involves aspirants stepping down and throwing their weight behind one person. In practice, however, the consensus method involves the President or governor anointing one of the aspirants and demanding that all other contestants queue behind that person. This arrangement could be enforced by inducement, coercion or subterfuge as seen at the primaries conducted across the 36 states last month.

While all the aspirants have agreed to a consensus should the party insist on it, Tinubu has defiantly stated that he will never accept such an arrangement and would rather lose on the battlefield like a warrior. Indeed, Tinubu who is super wealthy, has a huge support base, owns media houses, hundreds of support groups, and can easily afford the best lawyers in the country, which could bring down the APC Presidential primary should he be defeated by illegal means.

This has made it next to impossible to force a consensus as was done at the last convention of the primary in March.

A former National Legal Adviser of the APC, Babatunde Ogala, who now heads the legal department of Tinubu’s campaign organisation, says fielding a consensus candidate through the backdoor would be a “legal impossibility” at this point as it would be at variance with the electoral law and therefore illegal.

“This is because under the regime of the Electoral Act 2022, consensus, though provided for as one of the means by which a political party may produce its candidate, must specifically occur in a precise form,” says Ogala.

He made reference to Section 84(11) of the Electoral Act 2022 which states: where a political party is unable to secure a written consent of all cleared aspirants for the purpose of a consensus candidate, it shall revert to the choice of direct or indirect primaries for the nomination of candidates for the aforesaid elective position.”

Ogala said since none of the above conditions had occurred in respect of producing the presidential candidate of the APC, it meant that there could be no consensus.

Can Tinubu be punished?

Tinubu had in the past seven years been relegated by President Buhari and a tiny cabal led by the President’s influential nephew, Mamman Daura. For years, the Lagos godfather had been the butt of jokes from the opposition as many of his key allies been sidelined in Buhari’s government.

In 2018, Tinubu’s wife, Remi, accused the President of dumping her husband, saying, “We were running three campaigns in my house and for him to be trashed like that?” However, Tinubu remained resolute as his eyes were fixed on the grand prize- the Presidency of Nigeria.

Tinubu said he has no other ambition but to lead Nigeria… Nobody can stop him from contesting. It is his right. But we cannot allow him to do something that is not right and we leave it just like that.

Barely four days to the highly anticipated primary, however, Tinubu decided he wouldn’t condone any plot to undermine him anymore. At a gathering last week with delegates he said Buhari was a serial election loser and even cried on national television over his woeful record but Buhari’s story changed when he intervened and helped him to win the Presidential poll in 2015.

This set Tinubu on a collision course with the cabal and the national chairman of the APC. Adamu insisted that Tinubu “will not go unpunished” for ridiculing the President. He said even a drunkard would not talk in the manner which Tinubu did.

“Tinubu said he has no other ambition but to lead Nigeria… Nobody can stop him from contesting. It is his right. But we cannot allow him to do something that is not right and we leave it just like that. We are not scared whether this will mess up his aspiration. He should have known that this could mess up his aspiration,” Adamu told BBC Hausa Service.

“We are the President’s allies. We are the APC. We will not allow anybody to talk bad about the President,” he added.

Later, the President’s Spokesman, Garba Shehu, in a statement also downplayed Tinubu’s role in Buhari’s victory, adding that it was Nigerians that made Buhari win. Shehu said Tinubu could not take the glory for Buhari’s victory as he was supported by millions of Nigerians.

But with Tinubu in pole position to win the APC primary, the question remained, how could he be punished? 

Lawan gambit

Desperate to ensure that Tinubu doesn’t get power coupled with the inability of other aspirants to pull enough delegates to their side, the Presidency cabal along with Adamu decided that Lawan would be the best bet. Unfortunately, it seems they didn’t carry Buhari along or get his full commitment hence the plot failed on Monday.

Could Lawan still emerge the winner of the Presidential primary? Tactically, this is still possible. The Africa Report learnt that Lawan is still making moves to get the full support of the southeast and the south-south delegates which constitute over a quarter of the total number of delegates. A LAwan candidacy would mean that someone from the southeast or south-south could emerge as his running mate. Should he win all their votes along with his home state of Yobe and a few from other states, then mathematically, he could still win.

And although 12 of the 14 APC northern governors have endorsed a power shift to the south, Lawan could still get some solidarity votes from the north. Besides this, there are allegations that the list of delegates is still with Adamu and could be easily be altered by the APC chairman in favour of Lawan. Should this occur, Tinubu could be defeated at the primary.

A chieftain of the APC who wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter, said it would be dangerous for Tinubu to underestimate Adamu.

 “Adamu is the chairman of the APC and therefore could not have claimed that Lawan was Buhari’s candidate just out of the blue. There is a plan. Adamu has the list of delegates and this could be altered. This would be easy in states that have no APC governor or states that have factions. Adamu could pick the faction he wants to use and this could alter the outcome of the primary,” he said.

Already, Adamu has hurriedly obtained a court order barring statutory delegates from voting at the primary.  He also went incommunicado for several hours in what seems like a tactical move.

The Osinbajo/Fayemi factor

Although Tinubu is clearly in the lead, this could also change because his former protégés – Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and Governor Kayode Fayemi– are in the race. Osinbajo was handpicked by Tinubu as Buhari’s running mate in 2014 but he is now contesting against Tinubu, his former boss.

To Tinubu supporters, Osinabjo is a traitor who must not be rewarded with the APC’s Presidential ticket no matter what.

In a lengthy article published in the Vanguard on Monday, veteran journalist, Bayo Onanuga, who is the spokesperson for Tinubu’s campaign, wrote he was the one who introduced Osinbajo to Tinubu in 1999, a decision he now regrets.

“Looking back now, did I regret what I did in January 1999. Yes, I would say I have some regret… I could not have foreseen today’s turn of events between Tinubu and Osinbajo, who I nominated to be justice commissioner,” Onanuga stated.

If they will allow the process to be free and fair, someone from the southwest will emerge as the candidate.

But Osinbajo, an eloquent and charming preacher, has been able to garner support from some governors who see him as cool-headed and Presidential in nature. The fact that he is a Christian also makes his candidacy saleable as it would be easy for any of the northern Muslim governors to emerge as his running mate unlike Tinubu who is a Muslim and would find it difficult executing a Muslim/Muslim ticket in a much divided country. This also applies to Fayemi, the Chairman of the governors’ forum who is also Roman Catholic.

Should they team up with Lawan, Amaechi and others against Tinubu, they stand a fighting chance.

In a chat with The Africa Report, Kamilu Fage of the Department of Political Science, Bayero University Kano, says he believes Tinubu remains the candidate to beat.

Fage, who is a former vice president of the Nigerian Political Science Association and has studied Nigeria’s political landscape for decades, adds that Amaechi and other aspirants from the southeast and the south-south seem to be out of the race.

“If they will allow the process to be free and fair, someone from the southwest will emerge as the candidate. Tinubu is still very powerful. To me, I feel if things go to plan and delegates are allowed freely and if money comes into play, Tinubu could win because there wouldn’t be any candidate that can match him.

He continues: “Another angle could be that if the northern governors follow through with their position that a southern candidate should emerge, many of them are looking towards being the Vice-Presidential candidate, I think they could back Osinbajo. So, it is largely between these two scenarios. Let us also not forget that some from the north, maybe some will go with Lawan too.”

But former Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State believes Tinubu is swimming against the tide and could still be outmanoeuvred by the cabal just like the late MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the 12 June 1993 Presidential election who was denied victory, detained and died under controversial circumstances.

Last option?

A last option will be for Buhari to directly endorse a southern aspirant and ask the governors – who control over 65% of the delegates – to implement his plan.

Already, 12 northern governors have presented a shortlist which includes five southern aspirants: Tinubu, Osinbajo, Fayemi, Amaechi and Governor Dave Umahi. Should Buhari snub Tinubu and pick any of the four, victory will become an uphill task for the Lagos godfather. Noteworthy is that Buhari usually consults members of his cabal before such key decisions are taken.

“It is obvious Buhari will anoint someone to be the candidate of the APC. How he goes about it will determine if there will be crisis or not and from the look of things, it may not be Tinubu even though Tinubu played a major role in Buhari’s emergence in 2015,” Buba Galadima, a former associate to the President, told The Africa Report.

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