The controversy around President Bola Tinubu seems pretentious, writes Bolaji Adebiyi

As the electioneering for Umaru Yar’Adua’s presidential bid reached a crescendo in 2007, a sticky issue was his health status. It had trended during the Peoples Democratic Party primaries earlier in the year, but that didn’t stop him from clinching the ticket. His traducers didn’t stop too, persisting in playing it up during the hot presidential campaign.

The media team, including this writer, met with Yar’Adua. In consultation with his personal physician, Salisu Banye, a one-page statement, clarifying his health status had been prepared for release. The candidate looked at the document. Brilliant, he said.

Just as the team was feeling a sigh of relief, he asked, “Bolaji, what do you intend to achieve with this?” The response was, “To take the wind out of the sail of the opposition by controlling the narrative.” Yar’Adua shook his head in disagreement. “It won’t control anything,” he stated firmly, explaining, “The people peddling this falsehood know they are lying. Once you clear this, they will find something else to peddle.”

Interestingly, when Yar’Adua was eventually convinced to embark on a media tour of the national dailies in Lagos, the team was embarrassed by the broad extent of his revelation, much more than the measured one page that had been prepared for release. “I am a human being, so, I have fallen sick; and I have recovered. I, however, can not assure anyone that I will not fall sick again. If I do, I can recover or die,” was his constant refrain at The Punch, The Guardian, Vanguard, and Daily Independent. How correct he was. In spite of his sincere disclosure, the negative campaign persisted even after he won the election well into his administration until he died in office.

Incidentally, Atiku Abubakar, two-time presidential candidate of the PDP (2019 and 2023) was the main opponent of Yar’Adua in the 2007 contest, running on the platform of Action Congress, the first mega-party formed by Bola Tinubu, who was exiting as the governor of Lagos State. That all three came from the same political camp, the People Front, later the Peoples Democratic Movement, put together by Shehu Yar’Adua, a former chief of staff, Supreme Headquarters, did not stop the first two from hounding Umaru, their erstwhile leader’s younger brother till death.

It would appear, therefore, that the ongoing negative campaign against Tinubu is true to type. It’s a trend of zero-sum or scorched-earth politics in which politicians enter a contest without any consideration for the possibility of a loss. This has intensified since 2007. In that year, Atiku lost the presidential chase but refused to accept defeat even after his judicial challenge hit the brick wall all the way to the Supreme Court. Working with Tinubu in the AC, later Action Congress of Nigeria, Yar’Adua and his administration were not given respite until the president died 0n 5 May 2010.

After Yar’Adua’s death, Atiku returned to the PDP shortly before the party’s primaries in 2011 and immediately led an internal revolt against Goodluck Jonathan, who had succeeded his boss. Leading the Northern elements in the party, they argued that the president ought to step aside so that another Northerner could complete the term of the North. Despite losing the battle, Atiku persisted and lost the ticket to Jonathan, who proceeded to win the general election.

Having lost out in the internal power struggle in the PDP, Atiku went underground and resurfaced on the eve of the 2014 primaries. Worsted again in his bid for the party’s presidential ticket, he led five governors, largely from the North, and some other leaders to team up with a coalition of parties, including All Nigeria People Party, All Progressives Grand Alliance, and Tinubu’s ACN to fight Jonathan. The product of that alliance, the All Progressives Congress, eventually unseated the PDP from power but not before Atiku’s presidential ambition had been scuttled by Muhammadu Buhari, who emerged as the party’s flagbearer.

If Atiku was happy with the victory of his party in the 2015 contest, his subsequent actions did not show that. Again, he went underground in faraway Dubai only to surface in 2018, porting from the APC to the PDP where he contested and won the party’s ticket for the 2019 presidential contest and lost to Buhari. He controverted the outcome and proceeded to the courts for adjudication without success, returning to his habitual hibernation in Dubai before resurfacing in 2022 for the PDP primaries that he again contested and won in a very bitter fight that left the party divided.

So, Atiku’s trajectory would seem to be not just that of perpetual conflicts but also a tendency to refuse to reconcile with the fact of defeat. Is it not possible to accept the outcome of an unsuccessful enterprise? But it is tempting to say that Tinubu’s current travail is his fair due, for he was part of the scorched-earth politics of the past in which opposition politicians not only refused to accept defeat but made governance uncomfortable for the victor.

Now, Atiku in collaboration with Peter Obi of the Labour Party is up in arms, using what is clearly subterfuge to compromise the electoral victory of Tinubu under the guise of a dubious fight for the moral conscience of the nation. Coming back empty-handed from a legal expedition in America, the PDP presidential candidate made recourse to the court of public opinion to procure what he lost in the court of law. His ally in the LP took it further on Wednesday when he asked the president to reintroduce himself to the World. What does that mean?

Both had commendably submitted their grievances to the courts of law. Obviously losing out on that front, they are taking their battles literarily to the mob. Clearly, there is no other explanation for this than Yar’Adua’s advice to his media team in 2007: Antagonists will always find something to say, and they will perpetually shift the goalpost. Atiku and Obi have moved from criminal conviction allegations, to certificate forgery, to age modification, and finally, identity theft.

There are, therefore, no assurances that they will rest after exhausting their rights at the Supreme Court. Tinubu must be prepared for a long haul. The consolation though, is that being a tested practitioner of the game, he would be up to the task.

Adebiyi, the executive editor of Western Post Newspaper, is a member of the Editorial Board of THISDAY Newspapers

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