Balance of Power: Southern unity is crucial to Nigeria’s stability

By Olu Fasan

AS I write, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Lagos State governor, has just emerged as the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, in next year’s general election.Those who thought Tinubu’s recent outburst might work against him were proved wrong. If anything, the outburst reminded APC governors, leaders and delegates of Tinubu’s investment in the party, and, therefore, his indispensability and entitlement.

Without a doubt, Tinubu’s emotional speech in Abeokuta on June 3 was provoked by a deep fear that his party might deny him its ticket for the 2023 presidential race. Thus, he spoke in anger to remind them of his singular role in the emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari as president in 2015 after three failed attempts.

Dramatising his words for maximum effect, Tinubu said that Buhari ran for president “the first time, he crashed (“olule”); the second time, he crashed; the third time, he crashed. And he wept on national television”. He went on to say that without him, Buhari wouldn’t have been president in 2015. “I made Buhari president,” he said, before staking a bold claim: “It is my turn to be president.”

Inevitably, Tinubu’s outburst provoked responses from the party’s leadership and the presidency, fuelling speculations that he mightbe denied the party’s presidential ticket. In an angry response, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, national chairman of APC, said Tinubu’s “utterances are very insulting”, adding that he “does not show any appreciable level of respect for the office of Mr. President”. He threatened that the party might sanction Tinubu for his “unbecoming” behaviour.

A few days later, the presidency responded, debunking Tinubu’s claim that without him Buhari wouldn’t have become president. In a statement issued by Buhari’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, the presidency said: “No one can or should claim to have made Buhari president in 2015.” More instructively, it added: “Yet, as important as that moment was, it is not what should decide the next general election”, suggesting that Tinubu could not rely on whatever role he played in 2015 to stake any claim to APC’s ticket for the 2023 presidency.

This was the rather hostile atmosphere that Tinubu faced ahead of his party’s presidential primary this week. The situation wasn’t helped by the frenzied attempt by APC governors to find a consensus candidate, as requested by President Buhari. More alarmingly, there was a sinister attempt by the APC national chairman to impose Ahmad Lawan, the Senate President, as the consensus candidate, a move that Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State poopooed as “an expensive joke” and “a flight of fancy” by Adamu.

In the end, however, it was an anti-climax, a damp squib. Once President Buhari decided there must be a proper primary election, it was clear that Tinubu would coast to victory. With about seven candidates stepping down for him, he secured an outstanding result. But why did Tinubu achieve such an overwhelming success in the APC primary? Well, it’s a product of years of self-interested and strategic calculations coupled with a ferocious sense of entitlement. Tinubu is arguably the wealthiest politician in APC, and probably one with the widest network, who invested heavily in party matters.

Tinubu is not called a consulate strategist for nothing. He famously said: “Seeking the presidency is my lifelong ambition.” In another statement, he said: “Since the time we started the Action Congress, AC, and the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, I wanted to contest for president.” But, if so, one might ask: Why did he seek the office for the first time in 2022, at the age of 70?

Well, while he may have wanted to run for president for years, truth is, Tinubu lacked the platform to achieve it. His then parties, AC, and ACN, were regional parties, and he didn’t want to run and lose under them. Instead, he set out to ingratiate himself with the North, form an alliance with a Northern party or group and be a running-mate to a Northern candidate, all in the hope of eventually becoming president.

Thus, in 2007, Tinubu gave the presidential ticket of the AC to the then vice president, Atiku Abubakar, who was estranged from his party, PDP. Tinubu wanted to be Atiku’s running mate, but, instead, Atiku picked Senator Ben Obi. In the end, Atiku secured just 2,637,848 votes across the country. In 2011, Tinubu gave the presidential ticket of ACN to the former chairman of the EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu. Ribadu also did poorly, securing only 2,079,151 votes all over the country. So, Tinubu’s regional parties could not make Atiku or Ribadu president, not did they give Tinubu himself a route to the presidency.

But all that changed with the formation of the APC in 2013. It’s utterly incontrovertible that Tinubu was pivotal to the founding of APC. Truth is, without him,there would have been no APC, and without APC, no Buhari presidency. All APC members, including the delegates who voted this week, recognise that. They recognise too that he would have been Buhari’s running-mate and vice president but for the opposition to a Muslim-Muslim ticket. They also know his track record of funding parties and elections over the years.

In his autobiography My Participations, Chief Bisi Akande, former Osun State governor, wrote: “Anytime there was need for money, Atiku would say ‘Bola, please help us’”, adding: “Bola was the only one spending the money among us.” Forget about the source of his wealth, a question for another time, but the truth is that he spends it on party matters.

So, self-interested calculations and entitlement politics have earned Tinubu his party ticket for the 2023 presidency. But he faces daunting challenges ahead, one of which is whether he will pick a Northern Muslim or a Northern Christian running mate, and the implications of either decision. Next year, Tinubu will face Atiku as his main opponent at the poll. On balance, the latter will win. Faced with two ‘evils’, Nigerians will choose the lesser!

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