Nigeria: Machine politics trump policy as APC picks Tinubu

Patrick Smith
By Patrick Smith
Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report.

Posted on Wednesday, 8 June 2022 13:34

Bola Tinubu on 2 June 2022 (facebook/Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu)
Bola Tinubu on 2 June 2022 (facebook/Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu)

By six o'clock this morning, Bola Tinubu’s newspaper ‘The Nation’ was confidently predicting that he would clinch the presidential nomination of the ruling All Progressives’ Congress (APC), winning over as many as 1,800 of the 2,322 accredited delegates in the primary elections. And ‘This Day’ newspaper, owned by fellow media baron Nduka Obaigbena, concurred.

Tinubu’s victory at the APC convention sets up a presidential election race with Atiku Abubakar, of the opposition People’s Democratic Party. Tinubu has already pronounced Abubakar, who won the PDP nomination at its convention on 28-29 May, a ‘worthy opponent’.

Others call them ‘two sides of the same coin’. Both men are in their 70s, having nurtured their political networks over the last three decades and are battling multiple ailments. Both claim, with varying degrees of veracity, to have played key roles in the struggle against military rule.

They have latched onto historic political movements in their regions. Tinubu jumped on to the powerful tradition founded by independence leader Obafemi Awolowo, which has laid the basis for the pro-democracy campaigns against successive military juntas.

Abubakar cut his teeth as an organiser for General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who after quitting the military, campaigned against the junta led by General Sani Abacha. When Yar’Adua was jailed, then poisoned by Abacha’s goons, Abubakar kept his political network operating, stretching across northern Nigeria.

That helped pitch both men into key positions after the fall of the Abacha regime. Abubakar served as Vice President to President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999-2007. Tinubu was governor of Lagos state in the same period.

In those positions, they amassed personal fortunes to become two of the richest men in the country while they cultivated their political networks – both determined to pursue the presidency of Nigeria. They both brush aside serial allegations of grand corruption and collusion with foreign business interests.

Machine politicians par excellence, Abubakar and Tinubu are experts in the horse-trading and last-minute deal making that goes into assembling political alliances across the regions.

And it is their ability raise funds from fellow business barons and disperse those funds that has lubricated their political campaigns. This year’s primary election campaigns are reckoned to have been the most expensive ever – with hundreds of millions of dollars spent on inducements to voting delegates.

‘Tightest presidential election in Nigeria for 40 years’

Abubakar won backers in the south while Tinubu has cultivated north-western leaders such as Abdullahi Ganduje, governor of Kano State, who presides over the second biggest voting bloc after Lagos.

It could make for the tightest presidential election in Nigeria for 40 years. A big risk is an embarrassingly low voter turn out in February 2023  – because of the lack of enthusiasm for either of them among younger Nigerians who represent the vast majority of registered voters.

The APC’s announcement of its presidential candidate follows a night of constant drama that began with the barracking of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo by Tinubu’s supporters as he entered the convention centre, accommpanied Ogun State governor Dapo Abiodun.

Another question arises over the rival candidates’ policy agendas – or lack thereof. They are both buccaneering businessmen, wedded to market economics although Tinubu professes to support more social programmes.

Neither Tinubu nor Abubakar, have put together detailed policy platforms of the kind drafter by younger technocratic contenders such as Vice President Osinbajo or Ekiti State governor Kayode Fayemi. The triumph of Tinubu and Abubakar in securing their parties’ nominations is one of politics over policy.

The drama continues…

The APC’s announcement of its presidential candidate follows a night of constant drama that began with the barracking of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo by Tinubu’s supporters as he entered the convention centre, accommpanied by Ogun State governor Dapo Abiodun.

Yelling ‘betrayer’ at the Vice President, the hecklers were building on Tinubu’s speech on 2 June at Abeokuta, when he claimed that he had installed Osinbajo as second in command in President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. Tinubu also referred to Buhari as a serial loser or ‘flunker’ – in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections – until he backed him.

Tinubu’s tirade culminated in his claim that it was the turn of the south west to get the party’s presidential nomination, and that it was his turn specifically as national leader who had ensured the party’s victory in two elections.

All that along with a derogatory reference to his host, governor Dapo Abiodun, which was shared  around social media, prompting condemnation of Tinubu’s remarks by the party chairman and Buhari ally, Abdullahi Adamu. For a few days, the row over his Abeokuta speech seemed to have halted Tinubu’s long march to the presidential candidacy.

The other candidates are all good men. But I sincerely believe I am the person this moment calls for.

Then Adamu announced on 6 June that the party had picked a ‘consensus candidate’ as its flagbearer in the shape of Senate President Ahmad Lawan, from Yobe State in the north-east.

Adamu’s announcement was quickly condemned by most of the governors in the northern states who reiterated their demand that the convention should choose a candidate from the south – in the spirit of rotating the top job between the two regions.

Adamu’s efforts on Lawan’s behalf quickly fell flat but took over the political news cycle for most of Monday. Meanwhile, Tinubu and his handlers had been rebuilding some bridges, insisting that he had the highest respect for President Buhari, as party delegates coverged on the Eagle Star convention centre in Abuja.

‘I am the person this moment calls for’

Tinubu kicked off the main proceedings on Tuesday evening by reading, haltingly, his speech to the convention: “The other candidates are all good men. But I sincerely believe I am the person this moment calls for.”

Then he added: “I cannot, on this day, talk of a bright and prosperous future without also declaring my determination to fight terrorism and insecurity to the very end.”

Tinubu’s speech was followed by a succession of contenders stepping down for him: Niger Delta Minister Godswill Akpabio; Senator Ibikinle Amosun; Jigawa governor Abubakar Badaru; former House Speaker Dimeji Bankole, Senator Ajayi Boroffice. The most significant name to step down for Tinubu was Ekiti governor and chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Kayode Fayemi.

After these carefully choreographed statements, the mood of the convention swung decisively in Tinubu’s direction. Those few delegates, who had not made up their minds before they entered the convention centre on Tuesday, would quickly pick up the pattern. President Buhari grimaced.

This didn’t deter Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi from dancing onto the podium to make a lively evangelical style address with a sideswipe at the massive vote-buying that has been reported ahead of the convention: “Do not assess us by how much we bring here – ask all of us what is our source of revenue. How did we get all of these funds?”

The last of the contenders to speak, Osinbajo also obliquely referred to the inducements showered on voting delegates: “You cannot wish this country well and vote for someone you do not believe in.”

Setting out the most comprehensive list of policy aims and achievements of the evening, Osinbajo spoke of the need to invest in world-class education and health services then hailed the progress in farming, manufacturing and fertiliser production together with Nigeria’s six unicorns – the billion-dollar tech start-up companies – that were attracting world attention.

It proved to be a brief outbreak of policy amid the convention razzmatazz. Then President Buhari bid his farewells and vote counting started at around 1.30 Wednesday morning.

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