Eagle Square melodrama and the crowning of Bola Tinubu
The dust is yet to settle a week after Bola Tinubu emerged as the flagbearer of the ruling APC for next February’s presidential election.
What many did not know is that the main factor that worked on the behalf of Tinubu was the very crucial decision that President Muhammadu Buhari declined to make.
Buhari adamant, insists on open, free race
On the night of Monday preceding the convention, two members of the party’s National Working Committee went to see Buhari in Aso Rock along with two governors – Simon Lalong of Plateau and Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi. Their mandate was to persuade the president to convey to them his choice of a successor. Abdullahi Adamu, the party chairman who had announced that Senate President Ahmed Lawan had been chosen as the consensus candidate was widely rebuked by his NWC colleagues. He backed out from attending this meeting, feeling betrayed.
When the team arrived at Aso Rock for the meeting, it had a crucial document which had been processed through the group of northern APC governors. The document was the result of a secret polling which had listed the five most popular presidential aspirants of the party in the following order – Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the top followed by Tinubu, Amaechi, Fayemi and Umahi.
All they asked of the president was for him to pick his choice. The president was adamant that he won’t, even after he was assured that he could count on 16 APC governors to do his bidding at the convention. The president simply said they should go and prepare for an open race. The representatives of the party kept insisting that Buhari name his pick. It had become clear that there would be only one outcome of an open race – a clear, if not, landslide victory for Tinubu.
Tinubu was coming to the party as the most resourced, the one who had been on this case for longer and had built an incredible political machine with tentacles across the country.
Enter the First Lady
The meeting broke up late into the early hours of Tuesday. Shortly after, it emerged that Aisha Buhari, the first lady, had been holding consultations with the Tinubu camp. She had thrown her support behind the former governor of Lagos commonly called national leader. Her message was simple. Aisha had told her husband that as a man of honour, if he won’t support Tinubu, he should instead canvas for an open, free race. Many say this resonated well even though the intentions may not have been dubious.
And the cabal
The so-called cabal that supposedly wields a larger-than-life influence on crucial matters, had sought to push its own agenda. It is believed that the cabal was behind the choice of Ahmed Lawan as the consensus candidate. When the plot of the cabal failed, Nasir El Rufai, Kaduna State governor, was invited to attend a sudden meeting in the Abuja home of Mamman Daura. There were others seated with the 83-year-old nephew of the president who became a newspaper editor before managing the famed New Nigerian newspapers from 1969 to 1975. He is said to be a leading member of the infamous Kaduna mafia, a group of Northern Nigerian elites composed of businessmen, civil servants, intellectuals and military officers.
Those who were with him on this night included two serving ministers from the north and a security chief. The simple instruction to El Rufai was, go and get a nomination form and enter the race. The Kaduna governor had decided, along with other northern governors, that the presidency should go to the south. He insisted that it would be treachery if he accepted their offer. It had been well reported in the media that the cabal or some of its members did not want Osinbajo to succeed Buhari. One reason was the sack and humiliation, in 2018, of Lawal Daura, the former security chief, over the controversial assault on the national assembly while Buhari was away.
Osinbajo and the ominous signs
By Tuesday night it had become clear that Buhari, despite the pressure on him from the governors, would not pick a successor. Before leaving for the convention at Eagle Square, Osinbajo’s campaign team began to see the ominous signs. As one put it, “a free vote is a vote for Asiwaju.” The vice president was encouraged to dash to see Buhari for a quick last minute one on one. Rather he left for the convention. Aisha had convinced Buhari to back an open, free race, and remain a man of honour if he refused to back Asiwaju. It is now history that Asiwaju cleared the polls by a wide margin.
Strong man of faith accepts his fate
The vice president is said to be stoic in his defeat. One Aso Rock official called him a strong man of faith who is taking his fate calmly. Those around him say he is still dealing with how it happened that his party would settle for a Muslim Muslim candidate — the only likely outcome of Tinubu’s victory.
He is is also wondering how the party dumped him despite his seven years of loyal service and duty to the president and the nation. Osinbajo, aware that his plate is full, has since congratulated his erstwhile benefactor and leader.
Saleh Maman, minister of power, has persuaded him to broker a meeting with stakeholders in the sector to arrest the crisis that has thrown Nigeria into darkness. There is growing disaffection in the country as diesel price rises above N820 a litre. That crucial stakeholder meeting may be held this weekend or early next week, say sources at the ministry of power.
Now the hard work for Tinubu
Two strong forces have now hit the APC. One is the acrimony that has resulted from the humiliation of its national legislators, about half of whom will not be returning to the national assembly after losing the primaries. The legislators are upset and spoiling for a fight which is threatening the party’s unity ahead of the election. They are instigating to veto the electoral bill that Buhari failed to sign. Some have perfected plans to decamp.
The other huge challenge that Tinubu and the party must now deal with is the backlash that will follow the appointment of a Muslim vice-presidential candidate. Kashim Shettima, governor of Borno and a former senator, is the clear favourite.
Tinubu must also deal with the possible repeat of the case in 2015. when some northern PDP state governors worked in secret against Goodluck Jonathan which led to his defeat by Buhari. Some political leaders from the north are said to feel more comfortable with Atiku Abubakar than Tinubu.
The worry of some is that the former Lagos State Governor who already has deep pockets will become too powerful. He may also, they allege, come after some who sought his defeat at the primaries.