Buhari is silent about running but he has stepped up his political activities, touring aggrieved areas and reconciling with neglected allies. Yet, not all declarations of loyalty are real.
The upsurge in political activities by the party and the presidency, the recent APC caucus and National Executive Council meetings, the sudden seriousness with the anti-corruption war, the reunion with perceived estranged party leaders, the vicious clampdown on those who want to contest in 2019, and his current tour of the aggrieved South-East region are all indications that Buhari is onto something.
One of the perceived estranged party leaders that Buhari has been hanging out with recently is Bola Ahmed Tinubu. On Oct 31, when Buhari met with the leaders of the APC ahead of the party’s NEC meetings, he had met Tinubu privately indoors. Although we might never know what they spoke about behind closed doors, but we can infer that it has to do with seeking Tinubu’s support for his re-election. After the meeting, Tinubu had publicly declared his support for the president, denying all reports of rift between him and the president. It is pathetic that while Tinubu was meeting with the president, his first son died of cardiac arrest, but his loyalists decided to wait for him to return to Lagos before breaking the news to him. Since the unfortunate incident, Tinubu has returned to his usual mood of eloquent silence.
Jagaban, as Tinubu is fondly called, is widely regarded as a heavyweight in Nigerian politics. Prior to 2003, he was one of 6 southwestern governors from the Alliance for Democracy(AD). A PDP political storm swept away all the AD governors except Tinubu, who did not only survive, but emerged even stronger. He has continued to wax stronger since then, successfully forming alliances that increased his political influence and installing two successors to the governor’s office in Lagos. He emerged out of the ruins of the AD, formed the Action Congress(AC), which culminated into the Action Congress of Nigerian. Finally, the Jagaban aligned his ACN with Buhari’s CPC, the remnant of the ANPP and a breakaway faction of the PDP in 2014 to form the All Progressives Congress(APC), the party that snatched power from the PDP and installed Buhari as president.
It has been over 2 years of APC rule and things have deteriorated between Buhari and Tinubu. The two seemed to have become estranged as communication between them dwindle and Buhari’s government is perceived to have taken so many steps without his consultation. On some occasions, Buhari had been seen to take a different course of action with a total disregard for Tinubu’s ideas. Also, many people complain that Tinubu has been cheated in appointments, as only a few of his loyalists were appointed by the president.
Also, in the series of state governorship elections between 2015 and now, Tinubu and the president have been seen to support different candidates at the primaries. This was quite obvious in the Ondo State gubernatorial election. The state is within the Southwest, generally regarded as Tinubu’s territory and many thought the president would allow him to endorse a candidate for the party. Instead, the president and his loyalists supported a candidate whom Tinubu had vehemently opposed. Even, some of Tinubu’s loyalists became instruments used to enforce the victory of the president’s candidate in a move seen to be a gross affront and embarrassment to Tinubu. It is therefore, surprising to many, that the Jagaban would publicly declare support for a man that seems to have treated him with so much disregard.
Tinubu’s declaration of support should not come as a surprise to anybody. The man is a political tactician with a briefcase full of diplomatic tricks, and he is just simply playing safe. One of his strengths is his ability to delay his intentions until the last minute, or not to declare them at all but simply act. We have to remember that despite the huge influence Tinubu wields, Buhari remains the president and has all the instruments of power at his disposal. The president is also an intense man, who has been seen to go after his perceived opponents ruthlessly. This can be glimpsed from the recent crackdown Fayose and Atiku. Two of Fayose’s aides were arrested by the EFCC less than 24 hours after he declared to run for president while Atiku’s logistics company, Intels has been disposed of its juiciest contract; the NPA concession, even before the man had declared his intention. While news reports were still going around that he had declared to run, Atiku himself started denying those news reports, apparently fearing a blow-back from the president’s henchmen.
Yoruba leaders have often been known to be adept at masking their true intentions. During the civil war, after the successful invasion of the midwest by forces loyal to Biafra, it has been said that Ojukwu had contacted Chief Obafemi Awolowo through Victor Banjo on the possibility of Yoruba support. Awolowo had assured Banjo that if the Biafran thrust to the West from the East succeeded, the Yoruba would support the Biafrans and declare Oduduwa state. However, when it appeared the Western thrust was going to fail, Awolowo quickly aligned with the Federal side and proposed a policy that would bring untold hardship to millions of Biafrans but would end the war quickly.
Tinubu himself has been known to be silent on his real intentions. In 2011, the ACN under Tinubu tacitly supported Goodluck Jonathan, despite having Nuhu Ribadu as its presidential candidate. They did not declare support for Jonathan publicly, they simply toned down their campaign for Ribadu and the results were glaring. When indeed, Tinubu decided to throw his full weight behind a politician as he did with Buhari in 2015, the results were also glaring.
While it is too early to speculate on the plans being hatched by this experienced political tactician, it is safe to take his declaration of loyalty to Buhari with a pinch of salt.