By Ochereome Nnanna
ASIWAJU Bola Ahmed Tinubu, BAT,is a central figure in this political dispensation under President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress, APC, Federal Government. That cannot be disputed. He was the strong hand that pulled together the various main political platforms to forge easily the most successful and formidable political alliance in the nation’s history.
Honestly, I was stunned when he forewent his party, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, by dissolving it into the APC coalition on Thursday, 18th April 2013. By so doing, Tinubu’s ACN became the first major coalition partner to take the plunge; a move described by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Spokesman, Dr. Doyin Okupe, as “political suicide”. It was not until a month later (11th May 2013) that the All Nigerian People’s Party, ANPP, and Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, formally came on board.
Tinubu, even today, calls it a “personal sacrifice” to save Nigeria. Given the fact that mergers and alliances have produced a very little result when ranged against dominant ruling parties like the People’s Democratic Party (then) was, it was a daring gamble, but it paid off in the end, mainly because the ruling party self-destructed. A huge chunk of it (the “new” PDP) pulled away from the grasp of the President and joined the opposition APC, and most of those remaining behind in the PDP merely collected huge amounts of money for the campaigns and either refused to deploy them for the party to retain power, or went outright to the aid of the ballooning opposition.
During the campaigns for the 2015 general election, the APC published a list of 81 campaign promises which captured the imagination and appetites of many Nigerians for the “change” the party was pushing for. Occupying a distant Number 61 on this litany of promises was this item which mirrors Tinubu’s well-known political model, the “true federalism” agenda:
“Initiating action to amend the Nigerian constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit”.
Two things jumped into my mind when I saw this item. Number one was that Tinubu had probably succeeded in factoring his own ideological disposition into a future putative Buhari regime. This was highly expected, especially by the people of the South West who have, down our history, made this a top demand to give each federating unit the freedom to operate, compete and develop at their respective paces rather than being bogged down by the sheer weight of over-centralisation. Without this important item, a merger with Buhari who was being propped up for president did not seem to have any meaning beyond personal gains, such as allocation of juicy offices and generous economic concessions, which will have very little impact on the people of the South West and Nigerians in general.
The second issue that came to my mind was how “true federalism” was going to be accommodated in a Buhari presidency, in view of his well-known political predilections which stood totally against the concept.
Buhari is a well-known Sokoto Caliphatist, committed to a strong centre and strong state, with Muslim and Fulani interests usually placed above those of the nation. Caliphate politics sees Nigeria as a colonial booty of Arewa North bequeathed to it by our former colonial master, Britain. Any call for true federalism is seen as an ulterior motive to take away the booty from Arewa North, and such callers are regarded as treasonable felons. True federalism is seen as “anti-North” by those who come from Buhari’s background. I wondered how the same Buhari, with his unbending military background and conservative bent, would accommodate true federalism. I was very sceptical. I wrote severally to say so, but I kept a watchful eye to see how it would all play out.
As soon as Buhari assumed power two years ago, he unfolded in full blast his Caliphatist agenda and modus operandi in the ways he made his appointments and justified them. In fact, he went beyond my personal expectations in some areas. For instance, I never, for the life of me, believed that any leader in today’s Nigeria would tolerate what the armed Fulani militias have been doing to Nigerians all over the country. Buhari refused to even acknowledge these bandits which by 2016, had emerged as the fourth most notorious killing machine in the world. Instead, Buhari sent our military to pursue cattle rustlers. The safety of cows was more important than the lives and property of Nigerian citizens which Buhari and the APC were elected to protect.
After initially tag-teaming with the President in failed bids to impose the leadership of the National Assembly on its members, Tinubu’s direct impact on the APC Federal Government and even the Party itself of which he is touted as the National Leader seemed to grow smaller and smaller. It got so bad that the newfound Buhari camp in the APC shoved aside Tinubu’s candidate for the Ondo governorship election, Olusegun Abraham, whom Buhari-supported Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) defeated at the party primaries conducted by the party’s officials in spite of Tinubu’s protests. Akeredolu later won the election, thus planting Buhari’s foot in the South West in spite of Tinubu.
With no effort whatsoever being made by the Buhari regime to address Item 61 of its campaign promises, I once wrote an article asking Tinubu when he would start demanding for it.
It came as a surprise, however, when for the first time since the APC came to power two years ago, Tinubu sent the Governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, last week Wednesday to the 91st anniversary of Daily Times newspaper to read a keynote speech in his name. Tinubu said:
“Let us streamline governance; federalism is the word and deed. Our constitution declares Nigeria a federation of 36 states. However, we still grapple with the vestiges of our past under military rule. In any case, we still function like a unitary state despite the constitution. More power and resources need to devolve to the states…”
This statement sent tongues (including mine) wagging. How come it was during President Buhari’s absence on indefinite medical leave that Tinubu is coming back to this issue for which he fought as part of NADECO and went into exile? When the National Conference was taking place in 2014 where South West and other Southern delegates went to argue for true federalism, Tinubu famously called it a “deception”. With the change of regime and his political party in power, why did he keep quiet about it till now that Buhari is away So, why now? If Buhari comes back to his duty post, will Tinubu be courageous enough to ask him to address this question?
Or, is this a pointer to something else? His longstanding political friend, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a new convert to the true federalism and restructuring campaign, has been harping on this progressive item for the past one year. The Turaki Adamawa and Jagaban Borgu have been linked to a possible realignment of political forces towards 2019, though Tinubu has been shy on this, choosing instead to trumpet for more support for the Buhari/Osinbajo regime.
Tinubu could well be flying a kite, but the exact picture of it will surely be evident in the nearest future.