TINUBU’S PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE AT THE VILLA

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Tinubu’s presidential aspiration declaration at the seat of power appears a pre-emptive strike, writes Bolaji Adebiyi

The serene but powerful ambience of the presidential villa, Abuja was the location Bola Tinubu chose to release his intention to take power in 2023. “Yes, I have informed the president of my intention,” he told State House correspondents on Monday, explaining, however, that President Muhammadu Buhari being a democrat gave no objection or support to it.

As if it was a novelty of sorts, tongues have been wagging about his action. Expectedly, the reactions have been mixed among political foes and allies. The foes immediately took to the internet to rehash weather-beaten and unproven allegations of improper conduct against him in an apparent attempt to water down the impact of the declaration. The allies, not necessarily responding to this, chorused his constitutional entitlement to his ambition to be the number one public officer of the federation. From what we have seen so far, it promises to be a long haul.

One intriguing thing though is Tinubu’s choice of Aso Rock for the release of his intention. For months, the media wave had been agog with speculations of his intention to run. Support groups had sprouted all over the place. One called South-West Agenda for Asiwaju (SWAGA) had even gone around the geo-political zone mobilising traditional rulers’ support, culminating in a carnival-like rally in Lagos a couple of months ago. The former governor of Lagos State too had held court with many support groups asking him to throw his heart into the ring. So, his adversaries asked, what the show at the villa was for? Should he not have taken the declaration to either of his Asokoro or Ikoyi residences?

This, for the politically uninitiated, might be naïve and moot questions but as the Yoruba would say, there is a clear understanding of the situation between a wailing child and the mother that is pacifying it. Those denigrating Tinubu’s use of Aso Rock as the locus of declaration, suggesting it’s an abuse of privilege no doubt speak out of a clear understanding of the political implication of his action. And the Jagaban of Borgu that took the action knew the message he was sending too.

Months before the declaration at the villa a web of controversy had been woven around two seemingly innocuous issues: an alleged gentleman agreement on the zoning of the presidential ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress; and the recommender of Yemi Osinbajo, silk and professor of Law, for his present position of vice-president in 2014. While party bigwigs from the South claimed that there was an unwritten agreement to cede the presidential ticket to the region after Buhari’s two terms, the ones from the North deny, contending that the APC constitution makes no such provision.

Even as this dispute raged and southern politicians launched a debate over which of the sub-regions, East or West, the ticket should be allotted, political actors of the West made a further claim that the agreement was in fact more specific. According to them, Buhari and Tinubu in the difficult process of the alliance that birthed the APC agreed on succession, the first leg of which was to be the latter’s nomination as vice-presidential running mate. Controversial as all of these turned out to be, what remained undisputed was the key role the former governor of Lagos State played in the emergence of APC as a virile opposition party and Buhari as the president.

For the Tinubu camp, therefore, the controversies were being played up by his foes, particularly at the villa, to downplay his contributions to the emergence of the party, and weaken his bid for the coveted seat. Without a doubt, efforts to clip his wings began immediately after victory was achieved in 2015. With no visible influence on the emergent cabinet and the boards of big parastatals, and virtually cut off from the seat of power, the Jagaban went back to Lagos to bid his time, occasionally allowed to visit the villa at the president’s instance. This was the situation until the need arose, three years later, for Buhari to run for a second term.

Not really wanted but needed, Tinubu was recalled to the villa and virtually handed the party machinery for the necessary revamp to engage the presidential electioneering that promised to be an epic battle given the underperformance of the APC. Led by his ally, Adams Oshiomhole, the party trounced the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party at the 2019 general elections. If Jagaban thought with the second victory the foes at the villa would turn a new leaf, subsequent events would show that he was mistaken as the honeymoon did not last.

A few months after Buhari’s inauguration for the second term of four years, permutations for the 2023 contest began in earnest. Power brokers at the villa knew that Tinubu would have to be cut off again and fast enough if they would not be done in. Their first move was to wrest the party machinery from him, then put him at arm’s length from the seat of power. The first they achieved was in June 2020 when they showed Oshiomhole and his colleagues in the National Working Committee the door and replaced them with a caretaker committee, which was to organise a special convention within six months. The six months tenure has since become indefinite as the committee led by Mai Mala Buni, erstwhile party scribe-turned governor of Yobe State, has stayed put at the party headquarters. It did more. It tactically collapsed all the party’s machinery, suspending, as it were, all its organs’ activity.

With the party machinery completely out of his hands, and belonging to no effective decision-making organs of the APC, his adversaries must have felt that they have him where they want him to be: A weakened political warlord with no internal party arsenal or reach to launch an effective bid.

Tinubu’s meeting with Buhari and the announcement of his bid in the villa on Monday, therefore, was like taking the battle to the enemy in a clear demonstration of his staying power in what promises to be a high-stakes power game that may make or mar the ruling party in months to come. More than a show of courtesy to the president, the Aso Rock declaration may as well be a pre-emptive strike against Vice-President Osinbajo’s speculated presidential ambition too. Should Buhari have given his word to Tinubu, what would Osinbajo do now? Go against the run of play and be ready to be damned? It would be interesting to see how this works out in the days ahead.

Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from bolaji.adebiyi@thisdaylive.com