Buhari legacy

Can APC’s Northern governors take Tinubu across the finishing line?

Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s only route to the presidency is predicated on him winning the largest chunk of the votes in the north.

It is clear that winning the South West alone would not in any way give him the prize; the lifelong ambition of becoming the president of Nigeria

With the majority of votes in the southeast and south-south effectively garrisoned by the Labour Party (LP) candidate, Peter Obi, and the south west, Mr. Tinubu’s natal and political base being very contestable, the presidential candidate of the ruling APC is banking on the fourteen governors from his party in the north to take him across the finishing line in 2023.

Unlike former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the late Moshood Abiola, Mr. Tinubu is politically unfamiliar to majority of voters in the north. He has always been a southwest-based and regionally-inclined kingmaker.

His dismal foray into south-south politics in 2020, when he vehemently supported the Edo State APC candidate Osaze Ize-Iyamu backed by his friend and acolyte, Adams Oshiomhole against the incumbent Governor, Godwin Obaseki ended in an ignoble defeat and retreat for Mr. Tinubu.

It was the northern political elite who drafted Mr. Obasanjo into the presidential race in 1998 and funded his ascension to the presidency in 1999. The former president has had a long ambivalent and chequered relationship with the north’s political and social elite. He has recently been accused of canvassing the region’s political and traditional leadership to support Mr. Obi’s candidacy.

“He is mobilising the Northern Elders Forum and the entire northerners to the Obi project. Obasanjo has suddenly woken up from his slumber to support Obi,” Mahdi Shehu, the Chairman of Dialogue Group under the New Nigerian Peoples Party, NNPP, complained in an interview in July.

“Mr. Tinubu does not possess the type of goodwill and political capital Chief Obasanjo has, and the late MKO Abiola had in the north,” a member of the House of Representatives from Plateau State said.

“He is depending on the governors to get the votes for him here in the north and I do not see how that will work out well. Many of the governors themselves are not popular. In Plateau state here, it will be very difficult for the APC to win despite the fact that our governor is his chief campaign officer,” he added.

“Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s politics has never been national, it has always been regional; in the southwest, and mostly in Lagos where he is the el-comandante and nobody can oppose him,” physician and public policy analyst, Professor Usman Yusuf told Arise Television last week.

Mr. Yusuf, an acolyte of the renowned Islamic cleric Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, posits that Tinubu’s “inexperience on the national front is showing,” noting further that, “when he started, it was the former SGF (Babachir Lawal) who was his very good friend who said that they would not go to the southeast because it is a waste of time and money. That is what he said.

“In the north, and this is what I am seeing, he (Tinubu) is sub-contracting the governors and political praise singers to bring the votes for him. This is a political miscalculation and nobody is advising him. None of the APC governors in the north has the goodwill of the people to deliver anything to Bola Ahmed Tinubu. If he is giving them money, he should collect his money back. He should come talk to us; we don’t know him.

“Look, let’s compare and contrast him; a Muslim holding the ticket from the southwest, with the late MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe. They are totally different people. MKO Abiola invested in relationships in the north for a very long-time, building people since 1979. So also, Obasanjo has invested in relationships in the north. This guy, Bola Tinubu thinks that it is bullion vans that will get him to the office without meeting the people, without talking to the people of the north. They are talking to themselves,” he said.

Mr. Tinubu’s challenge also comes from within his own party; powerful elements around President Muhammadu Buhari are not seemingly in support of his long-held ambition to become president of Nigeria.

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Mr. Buhari himself has publicly portrayed a neutral attitude to his party’s presidential flagbearer’s ambition.

“We shall not allow anyone to use money and thugs to intimidate the people,” the president told a regional election monitoring mission last week that Nigerians should freely choose their next leader.

His Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina told a national daily last month that, “if on February 25, next year, what the people decide is that it is Peter Obi they want, so be it and Mr. President will ensure that whoever the people vote for is the one that emerges. He will not do anything to circumvent or to short-circuit it. The will of the people must always prevail in a democracy. So, whatever is the will of the people as demonstrated on Election Day, is what must come to pass in my country.”

In September, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike alleged that some unnamed persons in the Presidency are backing the presidential candidate of the main opposition PDP, Atiku Abubakar.

“Why are they being so arrogant? I can tell you, they are arrogant because they believe somebody at the presidency is backing them. But what they don’t understand is that the same person at the presidency backed someone during the APC presidential primary and the person failed. I will tell Nigerians at the appropriate time who that person at the presidency that is backing them and making them arrogant,” he said.

“I can tell you categorically because I know that Tinubu was not the president’s choice for the party’s ticket,” a top official of the ruling party told BusinessDay, adding, “I can tell you categorically that the President wanted Rotimi Amaechi, but the APC governors, many of whom wanted to be running mate to Tinubu convinced the president to be neutral and allow the presidential primary process to throw up a candidate.

“The truth is that some of those that did not get the vice-presidential ticket have become disenchanted. I hope you know that five governors from our party are in talks with the PDP to join the Atiku campaign.”

In June, a few days before the APC presidential primaries, Mr. Buhari had told governors who are members of the APC to support his candidate. He, however, did not mention who the person was. The president’s statement had raised dust in the ruling party.

The president and his inner circle had honed in on the President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan after it was clear that Mr. Amaechi did not have the support of the majority of governors who controlled the delegates from their states and also after Atiku emerged as the PDP flagbearer and some powerful members within the party wanted the APC to nominate a Northern candidate to square up with the former Vice President.

Mr. Buhari’s powerful nephew, Mamman Daura, a former director-general of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura, as well as the national chairman of the APC, Abdullahi Adamu were believed to have convinced the president to throw his support behind the senate president.

In July 2020, Mr. Daura, while featuring in a BBC Hausa Service interview, said there was no need for zoning the presidential ticket to any part of the country.

“The senate president came in after it was clear that the governors were not with Amaechi and they believed that majority of the members of the national assembly were with Ahmed Lawan. They just did not want Tinubu, but they did not want to brashly show their distaste for him,” the senior party official opined.

It was this knowledge of the plans by the inner circle of the president to sabotage his presidential ambition that led to the famous public outburst of Tinubu in Abeokuta. Mr. Tinubu, had at the Presidential Lodge in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, while addressing APC delegates, defiantly declared, “If not for me that stood behind Buhari, he wouldn’t have become the president.”

Across the massive landscape of the region, Mr. Tinubu’s candidacy is not titillating the majority of voters. The region’s over fifty million punters are more excited or curious about the newest face among the three leading contenders. Peter Obi’s candidacy has spurned a lot of excitement in the Christian dominated areas of the north while there is a lot more curiosity about his candidature amongst Muslim voters.

Unlike Mr. Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar is better known in the region and has been defining himself as the northern candidate in the 2023 presidential elections.

Mr. Tinubu’s strategy of depending on his party’ governors to hand him victory in 2023 might just be a failing strategy as many of the governors themselves are neither popular enough nor delivered adequate socioeconomic dividends to their citizens to earn their trust.