BOLA AHMED TINUBU is a redoubtable politician and one of the most dexterous political acrobats in the circus called Nigerian politics. Like him or loathe him, you deceive yourself if you say he is not consequential in determining who becomes Nigeria’s next president in 2023. Right now, Tinubu is one of the issues in Nigerian politics. For good or for ill, depending on which side of the political aisle you are entrenched in, Tinubu, the Jagaban of Borgu and Asiwaju of Lagos, is one of those who will determine who becomes Nigeria’s next leader. And that is putting the matter coyly because the word on the streets is that, this time around, the kingmaker wants to wear the crown himself.
How feasible is a Tinubu presidential project?
I am not one to dismiss it with a wave of the hand because in Nigeria, even a rookie analyst knows that the first law in Prediction 101 is “Never say never”. To my knowledge, Nigeria is the only country where reluctant candidates are foisted on the people, plucked from either retirement, anonymity or other pursuits and planted in the state house to run the show in accordance with the expectations of those who propped him up.
In 1978, Shehu Shagari wanted to be a senator. Indeed, we all thought the NPN presidential ticket would go to Maitama Sule, but the godfathers of the party drafted Shagari to contest the presidency. He became president after the 1979 presidential elections, albeit a reluctant one. He was a good man, incorruptible, but incapable of reining in the vultures surrounding him.
Twenty years later, Olusegun Obasanjo was fervently praying that the death sentence passed on him by Abacha’s kangaroo tribunal would not be carried out. Then Fate intervened. Abacha died. The succeeding military government plucked Obasanjo from jail, tidied him up and catapulted him to the presidency in 1999. He was a competent president in many respects, but an authoritarian one; certainly not a democrat.
In 2007 a retreating Obasanjo instructed all other contestants for the PDP presidential ticket to step down for Umaru Yar’ Adua and even foisted Goodluck Jonathan on him as running mate. When President Yar’Adua died in office, Jonathan (former deputy governor who unexpectedly became the governor when his boss was impeached in bizarre circumstances) found himself taking the oath of office as president and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. He completed Yar’Adua’s first term and won another four years in his own right. The most charitable thing one can say about the shy, good-hearted zoologist is that he wasn’t the best president Nigeria ever had. Apparently, governing Nigeria demands more than a good heart.
Between 2012 and 2013, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, having done a strategic calculation of how the incumbent President Jonathan could be defeated, approached Muhammadu Buhari, a serial loser in past presidential contests, and offered him the presidential ticket based on a merger of parties and pinching of identified heavyweights from PDP. Buhari’s party CPC, was controlling only Nasarawa State while Tinubu’s ACN had six governors, six state legislatures, etc. The attraction for Tinubu was Buhari’s cult following by northern voters who consistently gave him about 12 million votes. The added forces from ACN, ANPP, a faction of APGA and the breakaway faction of the PDP which called itself the New PDP teamed up with Buhari’s CPC to clinch victory — and Nigeria has never been the same since.
Now , we are on the march again. A group of Tinubu’s admirers led by Senator Dayo Adeyeye have launched a pro-Tinubu group, South West Agenda for Asiwaju (SWAGA), calling on their mentor to declare his interest in the 2023 presidential race. If you understand the lingo of Nigerian politics, this is one place where politicians routinely organise huge rallies of endorsement which they themselves had bankrolled. The fact that a man with boiling ambition has to be ‘begged’ to declare interest in a public office is a uniquely Nigerian art form.
But will Tinubu be president?
One cannot dismiss the amount of legwork that has been done to realise the Tinubu-for-president project. SWAGA gives you one of the ‘official’ reasons why Tinubu ought to succeed Buhari: “It is indeed payback time for our national leader, who had through his years of service contributed to the lives of many others and today you can see his footprints across the country… We shall continue to appeal to him to contest for the position of the President… We need viable, experienced and a man (sic) who understands the diverse nature of Nigerian economy.”
Tinubu’s foot-soldiers have gone round the six zones of Nigeria. In the North, they have not been as loud as SWAGA, but their conspiratorial style has been quite effective. The payback referred to by SWAGA strikes a tune with some northern leaders who feel that Tinubu should be rewarded for his role in making Buhari president.
But there are two other discernible groups that don’t want Tinubu. There is suspicion that Nasir el Rufa’i, Governor of Kaduna State, would prefer a younger person to Tinubu. If you put your ears to the ground, you’ll hear rumours of alliances between el Rufa’i and some southern politicians, notably Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi.
The other group deserving of mention is the Progressive Consolidation Group (PCG), a group backing Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023. The group was the first to receive official recognition as a support group of APC from the Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker Committee of the party. According to its leader, Bala Gide, “We deeply appreciate the widening mobilisation and deepening support that PCG and all associated groups working towards an Osinbajo presidency, all our grassroots and national leaders, as well as current governors, federal and state lawmakers along with various labour and professional groups will have further significant roles to play post-2023”.
The die is cast. In APC, it will be a straight contest between Tinubu, Osinbajo and a dark horse that may strut into the race course propelled by conspiratorial elements.
Given the weaponisation of religion in the country today, the feat achieved by the historic duo of MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe in 1993 with a Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket is inconceivable today. Therefore the following conclusion is inescapable to the dispassionate analyst:
If Tinubu is paired with a fellow muslim, Christians in the country will vote for the opposing party
If Tinubu is paired with a Christian from the North, Muslims in the North will not vote for the ticket because they would consider that combination as shutting them out of the power equation.
The fact that Tinubu’s wife is a Christian will not have any effect on the equation.
If the PDP fields Atiku Abubakar who is probably their best bet in combination with a strong running mate (I’ve heard Nyesom Wike’s name flung around) and if they are contending against a Tinubu/Christian running mate ticket, northern muslims are likely to vote for Atiku massively.
To have a chance of retaining power, a pairing of Osinbajo with a Muslim running mate from the North, appears to be APC’s best bet, especially if he secures the full blessing of his boss, Buhari, and his godfather, the Jagaban himself.
Osinbajo doesn’t excite serious negative passions in the Southeast and South-south, or any other zone of the country.
If President Buhari stands aloof, he may be the first and last president from the APC stable.
If Tinubu insists on self above party, the house that those legacy parties built together will collapse on their collective heads.
If PDP play their cards right, all they have to do is wait under the mango tree and pray for APC to violently shake it from the top. All that PDP would then have to do is simply bend down and pick the mango.
Neither Rowing Nor Roaring
Gernot Rohr, the Super Eagles Manager, needs to be saved from his misery by separating him from his job as soon as possible. In five years-plus, he has not been able to fashion out a discernible pattern of play for the senior team. The star-studded team is so uncoordinated that it is clear that only a top class coach can harmonise the diverse talents available.
It is regrettable that while smaller nations like Cameroon go for internationally acclaimed stars like Ruud Gullit, we are stuck with a 68-year-old journeyman who can neither roar like a lion nor row our soccer to the shores of glory. Most of the time, the totally uninspiring gaffer looks as helpless as the spectators in the stands.
Any player who says he won’t play for Nigeria unless Rohr is retained as coach should be blacklisted for all time. Why are our standards always so low?
- Wole Olaoye is a public relations practitioner and a public affairs commentator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers comments are welcome.