Nigeria 2023: Are Buhari’s men frustrating Tinubu’s campaign?

By Eniola Akinkuotu

Posted on Thursday, 26 January 2023 11:17
Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari arrives at the flag off ceremony of the Kolmani Oil Development in Bauchi State
Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari arrives at the flag off ceremony of the Kolmani Oil Development in Bauchi State, Nigeria November 22, 2022. Nigeria Presidency office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT

As Nigeria prepares for next month's presidential election, allegations have emerged that a cabal within the presidency is undermining the campaign of the ruling party's candidate, Bola Tinubu. The recent scarcity of petrol and shortage of redesigned currency have fuelled these claims. How this will impact the outcome of the poll?

In September 2020, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike alleged that some individuals within the presidency were working secretly to secure the victory of the main opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar. The presidency attempted to dispel these rumours, with the president’s spokesman issuing a statement reaffirming Muhammadu Buhari’s support for Tinubu. However, Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo have not appeared at Tinubu’s rallies, in spite of the latter’s campaign team announcing that the president had agreed to accompany him for rallies in ten states.

Buhari has attended rallies in only three states. He skipped the rallies in Ogun and Kwara states, and the Sokoto rally was postponed due to his absence. The allegations of a cabal within the presidency undermining Tinubu’s campaign, coupled with the ongoing petrol scarcity and currency shortage, raise concerns about the potential impact on the election outcome.

The cat is out of the bag. We know the plan. We know who you are using. We know who is behind it.

As Nigeria gears up for its general election next month, the northern strategy of the main opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has sparked concern among supporters of the ruling party’s candidate, Tinubu. With his southern base in trouble due to the rising popularity of third force candidate, Peter Obi, of the Labour Party, Atiku has turned his attention to the north in search of votes. He has intensified his lobbying in the region and has reportedly reached out to the core northern establishment for support in the absence of President Buhari, who will not be on the ballot.

Tinubu’s camp alleges that a powerful cabal within the presidency, led by Buhari’s 83-year-old nephew, Mamman Daura, is supporting Atiku in the spirit of northern solidarity. They claim that this cabal is using state institutions, including the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the Independent National Electoral Commission and some security agencies, to foster Atiku’s campaign.

“We know what is happening. These guys are working for Atiku and they are trying to frustrate Tinubu, but it will fail. The scarcity of the new naira notes is aimed at [frustrating] Tinubu, but he will always be ahead of them,” says an anonymous member of Tinubu’s campaign. While it remains to be seen how this alleged cabal’s actions will impact the outcome of the election, it is clear that Atiku’s northern strategy has Tinubu’s camp on high alert.

Emefiele’s Naira redesign

In the lead-up to Nigeria’s upcoming election, tensions are high within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party as allegations of sabotage and political manoeuvring swirl.

At the centre of the controversy is Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Godwin Emefiele, who announced plans to redesign the country’s N200, N500, and N1,000 notes in October of last year. The move, which is set to take effect on January 31, aims to curb counterfeiting and reduce the amount of money outside of the banking system. However, many see the decision as a thinly veiled attempt to curb vote-buying in the lead-up to the election.

Emefiele’s relationship with the ruling party has been fraught for some time, with Tinubu’s campaign spokesman describing his bid for the presidency as “immoral and illegal”. The CBN governor is said to have close ties to a powerful cabal within the presidency and Tinubu’s supporters accuse him of using state institutions and security agencies to further his own agenda. The Department of State Services, Nigeria’s secret police, has even accused Emefiele of economic sabotage and terrorism financing and attempted to arrest him.

Despite criticism from many Nigerians and a resolution passed by the APC-led parliament to extend the deadline for the new notes, Emefiele has refused to back down. The controversy surrounding the redesign has only added to the already fraught political climate in Nigeria as the country prepares for its next election.

Fuel scarcity

Fuel scarcity in Nigeria has caused widespread hardship for citizens and has led to growing discontent with the APC. This comes at a critical time for the ruling party as it faces a highly competitive election next month.

The petrol shortage, which has persisted for several months, has been particularly severe in cities like Lagos, which already struggles with traffic congestion. This has led to many Nigerians vowing to not support the APC in the upcoming election.

Frustrated by these developments, Tinubu launched a tirade against his opponents in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital. He also vowed to snatch power from them at the poll next month.

“We will seize power from them through our voter cards…They’re hoarding fuel and hoarding the naira… Still, we will vote, and we will win this election. Whether they change the ink of the naira or spend money till they are in debt, things won’t turn out as they hope, we are the ones who will win the election, and our opponents will fail,” he said.

Tinubu’s campaigners quickly followed up on social media by attacking those apparently seeking to frustrate his campaign.

“Whatever your plans are to scuttle this election, whether, through new naira notes, fuel scarcity or creating an atmosphere of fear and panic, you shall fail. The cat is out of the bag. We know the plan. We know who you are using. We know who is behind it. We know what to do,” Femi Fani-Kayode, a spokesman for Tinubu’s campaign, said on Twitter.

I’m not sure if Buhari is happy with the candidature of Tinubu…

Dayo Israel, the national youth leader of the APC, who has a close relationship with Tinubu, also said on Twitter: “No matter the sabotage, Asiwaju will win. Scheme as much as you can. It will fail.”

Earlier in the week, Tanko Yakassai, the 97-year-old elder statesman who has endorsed Tinubu, questioned Buhari’s commitment to Tinubu’s campaign.

“I’m not sure if Buhari is happy with the candidature of Tinubu… I have my doubts. I don’t know, but I have not seen […] commitment from him [in] supporting the candidature of Tinubu in APC. I’m not sure if it’s APC or not, but definitely, the personality of Tinubu doesn’t make him happy from my assessment of the situation,” he said on Control TV.

However, the presidency swiftly hit back, denying insinuations that Buhari was not committed to Tinubu’s campaign. Buhari’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, said Yakassai was indeed mistaken and probably needed help due to his old age. He said Buhari would continue to attend Tinubu’s rallies when he can.

Can Tinubu win?

Some of Tinubu’s supporters believe that his outburst will put Buhari on his toes and force him to intervene in the petrol scarcity by virtue of his position as the oil minister. They also argue that the president may finally take decisive actions against appointees like Emefiele.

Even so, the main opposition believes Tinubu’s outburst is a sign of imminent defeat. In a message he sent to The Africa Report, Phrank Shaibu, a spokesman for Atiku, says Tinubu is only unhappy because the new currency policy will prevent him from buying votes on election day.

“Having seen his imminent defeat at the polls, he is already using the fuel scarcity and naira redesign as excuses. Tinubu should throw in the towel or get ready to be disgraced on 25 February 2023. A word is enough for the wise,” Shaibu says.

Additionally, Diran Onifade, a spokesman for Peter Obi’s campaign, says Tinubu’s outburst is clear evidence that the APC has failed. He wonders why Tinubu is promising to continue with Buhari’s legacy if elected.

“He could have been talking to the CBN governor [Godwin Emefiele] and the minister of petroleum […]. Who is the minister of petroleum in this respect? President Muhammadu Buhari, the same man that Tinubu has been saying he wants to take over from and continue the good work,” Onifade says.

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