By Haniel Ukpaukure
There is something about Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, which Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), finds fascinating.
It needs be mentioned here that Tinubu is not from Abeokuta; he is not from Ogun State. The story has it that the APC presidential flagbearer comes from a very remote area of Osun State that is not even easy to remember.
It is one of the controversies that have trailed the man whose life story is shrouded in mystery that he, an ‘immigrant’ has, for more than two decades, taken control of Lagos State, literally making the real landowners virtually subservient to him.
He decides who occupies what political office – from local government ward councilor to chairman; house of assembly member and speaker; National Assembly member, and state governor. Such is the power he wields that he personally denied a second term opportunity to a governor who was generally adjudged to perform well, even better than him, ignoring entreaties from President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Despite not having any ancestral link with Abeokuta, Tinubu seems to have considered the rocky town with historical significance the appropriate place to make heavyweight political statements that arrest the attention of the entire nation each time he makes them. And he would choose his Yoruba language to make such statements, for reasons nobody understands.
Recall that it was in Abeokuta where Tinubu, then an aspirant, made his famous Emi lo Kan statement in which he succeeded in blackmailing Buhari into keeping off the presidential primary election of the party.
At a meeting of party stakeholders, he had told Nigerians how he helped Buhari achieve, in 2015, what he could not achieve since 2003. As if to remind the president of a deal that may have been made behind closed doors, he let it be known that it was his turn to occupy Aso Rock. He made the statement against the background of speculations and fears that the president may not be favourably disposed to handing over power to him.
The strategy worked, though not without any attempt by the president to confirm the fears. Not being a politician, Buhari’s feeble, halfhearted and last-minute attempt to push Ahmad Lawan, President of the Senate, into the presidential race using Abdullahi Adamu, the APC National Chairman as the point man, met with failure, thanks to Tinubu’s superior political power.
On Wednesday, January 25 – exactly one month to the crucial presidential election at which Nigerians would choose Buhari’s successor –Tinubu had cause, once again, to be in Abeokuta where he dropped yet another political bombshell (in Yoruba).
This time, it was a direct attack on Buhari (even if he did not mention the president’s name), with allegation of attempts to scuttle the presidential election and, by extension, deny him the victory he believes is his, already.
The APC candidate told a crowd of party supporters that the lingering fuel scarcity and the redesigning of the naira note are part of a grand plot to ensure the election, which he is poised to win, does not hold. His use of the words, “they” and “them”, almost throughout the statement, left no one in doubt about the direction he was firing his missile.
It would be surprising if Tinubu and his campaign managers expected Buhari minders to be so dumb as to believe the denials that came the following day, by way of explanations that the attack was not directed at Aso Rock, but the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that is not in government, and therefore has nothing to do with the two issues the APC presidential candidate complained about.
A primary school pupil in Nigeria knows who the boss of Godwin Emefiele, the Central Bank Governor, is, and who the minister of petroleum is.
Before now, political commentators had said APC was a special purpose vehicle that was coupled together with strange parts for the singular purpose of wresting power from PDP. The belief in some quarters had been that once Buhari completes his tenure, the internal wrangling promoted by the different tendencies that formed the party, which it had managed to keep under wraps, would succeed in tearing it apart and may lead to the demise of the party.
The Emi lo Kan statement and the latest outburst may be signs that Tinubu, who personally designed the special purpose vehicle and provided the bulk of the funding that saw to its construction, is bent on ensuring that does not happen without him occupying Aso Rock, even if it means publicly taking on the man he helped to power.
There have been concerns within the leadership of the APC Presidential Campaign Council that Buhari has not shown enough commitment to Tinubu’s ambition and may, in fact, not be fully in support of it, especially after he told Nigerians, quite unusually, to vote for any party and any candidate of their choice. That statement raised quite a number of eyebrows, coming from the president and national leader of the party who should naturally ask Nigerians to vote for his party’s candidate.
The statement from Aso Rock, in December, 2022, that Buhari would be involved in the party’s presidential campaign in 10 states was seen as way of addressing those concerns. The president has indeed been part of the presidential campaign in Jos, Damaturu and Yola, where he asked the electorate to vote for Tinubu to ensure his legacies are sustained. But that has not stopped a man like Tanko Yakassai, an elder statesman, from querying Buhari’s commitment to the party’s presidential campaign project.
Tinubu’s latest salvo in Abeokuta may be an indication that he knows what the rest of Nigerians do not know. Despite his vain attempt at dragging PDP into his controversial campaign statement, he knows in his heart that Buhari is not a fool, and knows the target of his diatribe.
It seems certain that the continued existence of APC in the post-Buhari era is totally dependent on its winning the presidential election of next month. For Tinubu, his continued relevance in Nigerian politics at the national level is hinged on his occupation of the seat of power from May 29, 2023. Having come this far, the presidency is a matter of life and death for him, perhaps more than any other candidate in the race.
If APC should lose the election, Tinubu would return to Lagos to continue his grip on the state for as long as he breaths, as he would no longer wield any influence on the party, nationally. And since there would be nobody of his or Buhari’s stature and influence to continue to rally the different interests together, for those who would be left behind, it would be, “To thy tents, Oh Israel”.
Ukpaukure, a media consultant, lives in Lagos