Beneath Their Spin of No Rift

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It is true that the Minister of Interior, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola and his boss, National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Senator Bola Tinubu, are having it rough at the moment. Shola Oyeyipo reports

The parlance ‘there is no permanent friend in politics, only permanent interests,’ may be playing out between two major political figures in Southwest, Nigeria, the National Leader, All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu and one of his closest political mentees, former Osun State governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, who is presently the Minister of Interior.

Though the two men have been denying the fact that there is any form of rift between them, people in their circle feel that it is not true, and there is reliable evidence to prove that all is not well between them. It is obvious that the two men are not only working at cross purposes but also moving to checkmate each other as the country moves towards 2023, when another presidential election is billed to hold.

Those familiar with Tinubu know that the content of the letter by him and Aregbesola denying any rift between them is only a way to deflect the attention of the public from the truth.

In September 2018, when Tinubu told Nigerians that there was no rift between him and former Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, alluding to his many endorsements, including the one from his wife and other senators from the state. But by October of the same year, Ambode lost his return ticket. Tinubu supported someone else.

So, what’s the crux of the matter between Tinubu and Aregbesola? Though the feeling that all his not well between the duo was fueled by Tinubu’s recent decision to put an end to the growing influence of the Mandate Group in the Lagos State chapter of the APC, a move considered as a direct attack aimed at clipping Aregbesola’s political wings in the state, but it is a little more than that!

The ban of Mandate group was in fact aimed solely at stopping Aregbesola from further spreading his political tentacles in Lagos, because there were no other active groups in Lagos APC at the time outside Mandate.
The Justice Forum, which used to be the main rival group to Mandate is no longer active. It has no leadership. So, when the Mandate group was banned along with other groups, it was Aregbesola that was actually stopped, not any other group or groups. The emphasis on Mandate was just to make it look like a general ban on other groups.

The minister had made the APC Organising Secretary, Abdullahi Enilolobo, the Mandate Chairman and former deputy chairman, Cardinal Omolaja Odumbaku, the apex leader. There was also the Senator representing Lagos East, Bayo Oshinowo; Lagos West, Olamilekan Solomon; Chief of Staff to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, Mr. Tayo Ayinde and others, while he, Aregbesola, was named Grand Patron. This was unacceptable to the Lagos APC leadership and it had to be stopped!

One may be right to say Aregbesola was struggling to hold on to a political base in the Southwest. His predecessor in Osun State, Governor Gboyega Oyetola is practically undoing him in what many consider a proxy war and his effort to feather his nest in Lagos is also being met with stiff resistance.

What is Aregbesola’s sin? It seems he is sending a wrong signal of larger than life disposition about himself and his actions are being considered as treachery targeted at benefitting from any political misfortune that may befall Tinubu ahead of 2023, supposedly being his self-appointed second in command in Southwest politics.

Among other things, Aregbesola got it wrong in more than one way during his 63th birthday colloquium. He referred to Tinubu as ‘my brother and partner,’ in the struggle, a portrayer considered as incorrect, because as far as Tinubu is concerned, he was not even part of the struggle, so on what ground would he refer to him as brother or partner in the struggle, when he ordinarily refers to him as leader?

Another sin of the minister was that during his May 30, 2020 birthday celebration he handed the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai a platform to throw tantrums at Tinubu, when in a webinar he said Aregbesola remained his man but that Tinubu was not his man. He referenced that there were differences between him and the former Lagos governor.

There is no doubting that Aregbesola, as a close ally of Tinubu wielded considerable influence in Lagos politics. That probably spurred rumours about his aspiration to contest senatorial election in Lagos West senatorial district in 2019, a development that caused ripples of fury among Lagosians and which many felt made Senator Musilu Obanikoro, who is also very influential, to show interest in the West senatorial seat as a way to check him.

But Argegbesola will not just give up his influence in the state. He still asserts himself. He has a hold on the Lagos State House of Assembly, so muvh that he was said to have ordered the Speaker, Mr. Mudashiru Obasa, to reinstate sacked principal officers, without Tinubu’s approval. To the powers that be in Lagos, he was simply outstepping his bounds.

The recent skirmish in the Lagos Assembly is not unconnected with attempts to control the legislative arm in the state. Having served four terms in the House, Senator Bayo Osinowo, who has a huge influence on the House from his new base in Abuja, is said to be getting assistance from Aregbesola, in destabilising the leadership of the House. On Tinubu’s side, the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, is having Obasa’s back to manage the onslaught from Osinowo and Aregbesola.

But as it is, the Minister of Interior is fast losing his goodwill in Lagos for one other reason: he is believed to be using his influence as a minister to secure strategic appointments for his loyalists and expand his control base. This did not go down well with Tinubu. It was one of the reasons Tinubu is still not happy with the likes of former Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun and Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi.

Tinubu’s position on this has been that such appointments that are for the zone should be put on the table and shared among party loyalists accordingly. But for politicians who also want to gain some more influence among his supporters, they come handy. Aregbesola has allegedly given three of such appointments to some loyalists in his camp.

During the last 2019 general election, Alimosho, which is the largest local government area in Nigeria and Aregbesola’s base of influence did not yield much votes for the APC and this made the APC leadership question his control and influence, because likewise in Osun, the party fought tooth and nail to keep the state in its kitty after his eight years governorship.

“Lagos is weighing Aregbesola. They are seeing him more as a baggage, because Osun was not an easy win for APC and Alimosho too; what is he bringing to the table?” a source said.
There is also the feeling that he is subtly nursing a presidential ambition. The idea is not that he is planning to go all out against Tinubu but that in the event Tinubu’s ambition was thwarted, he’ll be lurking around as a direct beneficiary of such a development hence his expansionist moves in Lagos politics is seen as efforts to assist the anti-Tinubu forces to achieve their aims.

There are already moves in place to whittle down Aregbesola’s influence in Lagos. First, rather than assign him responsibilities that made him interface with party loyalists, Tinubu henceforth interacts directly with his loyalists and close political confidants. He will cease to delegate responsibilities to him so that there will be no ‘the Leaders said’ any longer.

Already there is a growing anti-Aregbesola campaign in Lagos. That will be intensified in the days to come. He would be advised to take a cue from the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who after contesting the governorship election in his home state took a backseat in Lagos politics.

But it will not end at that there will also be moves to reduce his influence in Osun, where he is considered not very popular. There will be agitations that he should also stop attempting to interfere in other states of the Southwest.

To finally sink him in Osun, the state is already planning to hold a local government election that will root out all his loyalists from the system, starting from the local government level up. The campaign now is, leave Lagos, stop interfering in Southwest states and vacate Osun.

Sources said Aregbesola is already seeing the handwriting on the wall and that not only is he denying that he is working against Tinubu’s interest, he has also been calling on some influential people to intervene. It is yet to be seen how this pans out.