Former Lagos State governor’s victory at the All Progressives Congress’ presidential convention confirms hard work pays, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
The Yoruba say only the clay god that wants to demystify itself will go to the stream for a bath. Made of clay, such a god would easily dissipate at the touch of water. That may well be the lot of the erstwhile political associates of Bola Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos State, who, despite passionate appeals from older political war horses like Bisi Akande, founding national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, insisted on squaring up with the former governor at the party’s presidential nomination last Tuesday in Abuja.
By Wednesday morning when the results of the duel were announced, children who thought they had matured and learnt more tricks than their father had been wholly demystified. With a whopping 1,271 votes, Tinubu picked the top prize besting 13 other contestants who turned out to be very feeble in the epic fight. Rotimi Amaechi, two-term governor of Rivers State and former minister of Transportation, came a distant second with a paltry 316 votes, while Yemi Osinbajo, vice-president of the federation, came third with 235 ballots in his kitty.
Nine others had earlier stepped down, eight of them, including Abubakar Badaru and Kayode Fayemi, governors of Jigawa and Ekiti States; Ken Nnamani, former president of the Senate; Ibikunle Amosun and Ajayi Boroffice, both senators; Godswill Akpabio, former minister of Niger Delta; and Uju Ken-Ohanenye, the only female aspirant, asked their supporters to cast their ballot for Tinubu.
For him, it was not only a sweet victory but also evidence that hard work and tenacity of purpose pay. Sidelined by powerful forces within the kitchen cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari as early as 2016, the former Lagos State governor rather get angry and bellyache laid low, offering policy advice whenever he felt it was necessary. When in 2019 his political skills were needed to return the president to office, he was recalled and handed the campaign of Buhari. Again, as soon as victory was achieved, he got shoved aside.
In fairness to Buhari, he treated Tinubu with dignity, granting him audience whenever he requested even as the president refused to be lured into gating the former Lagos State governor. Perhaps one of the most talented political strategists among the pool of politicians in the arena today, Tinubu must have borrowed a sense from the Yoruba adage that advises the marketer to ignore the noise of the marketplace and concentrate on the negotiation with their client. This probably explains why in spite of all provocations by presidential hangers-on, he remained calm and ensured that his relationship with the president remained cordial.
This must have paid off handsomely for him as, despite the fact that he did not get any overt presidential endorsement, it is also hugely helpful that there was no open hostility to his aspiration by the president. Though there was gossip about Buhari’s preference for Ahmad Lawan, the president of the Senate, who reportedly joined the race at the behest of Abdullahi Adamu, the national chairman of the party, that now turns out an idle talk in the face of the resounding defeat of Lawan last Tuesday.
Rather than wait for the presidential endorsement that eventually never came for any of his co-contestants, Tinubu intensified his networking among the critical stakeholders in the party and the external political landscape. Knowing that it is the child that must first raise its hands before it could be carried, the Jagaban of Borgu entrenched himself in relevant strategic places.
Though from the South-west, he knew that in the APC, the North held the Ace. Tinubu, therefore, built strong relationships with the influential governors of high voting states like Kano’s Abdullahi Ganduje, Aminu Masari (Katsina) and Abubakar Bagudu (Kebbi) in the North-west, while managing the unpredictability of Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State even as he kept Aliyu Wamakko, the former governor of Sokoto State in his loop. In the North-central he was chummy with Niger’s Sani Bello and Kwara’s Abdulrahman Abdulrazak while cornering Kashim Shettima, the articulate former governor of Borno State to hold the North-east for him.
It was not as if he ignored his region. With Lagos and Osun States firmly in his grip, he knew he needed to manage his erstwhile allies Rotimi Akeredolu, governor of Ondo State and chairman of Southern Governors’ Forum, as well as Kayode Fayemi, governor of Ekiti State, who was also an aspirant. In Ogun, where Dapo Abiodun, the governor, preferred Osinbajo, he relied on his old ally, Segun Osoba, the former governor of the state.
In Oyo the only state where they had no governor, he had worked for him Bayo Adelabu, the party’s flag bearer in 2019, and the moment the former flag bearer lost out of the political equation, he was wise enough to seek accommodation with Teslim Folarin, the talented political conspirator who had clinched the governorship flag of the party in the state that has 99 delegates.
Although it was not clear how he managed the South-east and the South-south what was not in doubt was that Tinubu was the only aspirant that traversed the country, safe the South-east, canvassing his aspiration to the delegates. Most of the others did haphazard visits to a few states in the mistaken expectation that all they needed was for Buhari to raise their hands and they would be done. That did not happen.
However, the Jagaban Borgu has only crossed the first hurdle. The next stage is the straight fight with Atiku Abubakar, his erstwhile ally who is flying the flag of the Peoples Democratic Party. In that forthcoming contest, Tinubu would need more than hard work to survive. All hands must be on the deck of his party.
That, he seems to know and has begun the fence-mending project in his party. “The competition is over,” he said in his acceptance speech, calling on his co-contestants to come on board. Yesterday, he began a tour of the abodes of those who stepped down for him and meet also the National Working Committee and the 11 Northern governors of the party who resolved that power must shift to the South, a resolution that enhanced Tinubu’s victory.
Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from firstname.lastname@example.org