•The Inside Story
The man of the moment right now is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the APC presidential flagbearer. He has just done what many thought was impossible to achieve by winning the APC primaries with a landslide victory, polling 1,271 votes, beating his fiercest contender, vice president Yemi Osinbajo, to a distant third. It was a befitting end to perhaps the biggest political convention in Nigeria’s recent history.
But those who have followed the gruelling journey of the man fondly called Jagaban Borgu will tell you his phenomenal success at the primary election did not come to him on a platter of gold. He fought many battles, overcame many challenges, including surviving a few betrayals to accomplish the first part of his desire to become president of the federal republic of Nigeria come 2023. The first challenge he had to face was the issue of his age and health. From the moment the rumours became rife that he was going to contest for the highest office in the land, questions about his age and his health status began to pop up. His critics wondered why at 70, he should be aspiring to be the president when there were much younger men available to take over the arduous task of running the country when president Buhari’s tenure ends next year. People also questioned the state of his health. His detractors and political rivals went to town saying his hands were barely steady and that if he sits too long in a spot he is likely to wee on himself. They had a video that went viral to support their case. The video showed Asiwaju in native attire with the dress wet at the lower part of the body, indicating, according to them, the fact that he had passed out urine right there where he sat at the event.
As it is characteristic of Tinubu, he barely responded to any of these. Instead, he kept his eye on his goal, traversing the length and breadth of the country as he embarked on a very frenetic consultation schedule. He literally tore the country inside out, moving from one state to the other in quick successions, holding long and extensive meeting meetings in between and leaving many to wonder if this was the man they said had poor health. It must be said that none of the other aspirants, including the far younger ones, embarked on consultations that was anything as rigorous as Tinubu’s. With this, not only did he make a mockery of the concerns raised about his age and ill health, but he also showed beyond doubts that he wanted the ticket more than any other individual.
It will also be recalled that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was the very first aspirant to officially declare his intention to contest for presidency. He made the bold move by going to meet the president to officially signify his intention to run. He then went on to address the press right there inside the Villa. Not a few disagreed with this move. They felt he had drawn the ire of the president by holding a press conference right inside the presidential villa, something considered an exclusive right of the president only. Not ony that, he referred to himself as a king maker, and insisted that it was time for him to become a king as well. He was obviously referring to the integral role he played in the emergence of president Buhari, first as the party’s flag bearer in 2014 and subsequently as president of Nigeria in 2015. For this, they said he will be punished by the president and his cabal. According to them, it was already evident from president Buhari’s body language that he did not approve of his declaration to run owing to his arrogance. This assertion made more logical sense at the time because there was already an existing impression that the relationship between Asiwaju and president Buhari had fallen apart and the powerful cabal within the presidency was doing everything possible to deepen the rift between them. But none of these mattered to the Jagaban. He maintained his relationship with the president and didn’t bother about the things he was hearing people say about him and Buhari. And even when the president made such careless statements such as what he said while responding to a question from journalists: “how can somebody stay in Lagos and be able to determine what happens in the presidency?” This shocked many as it was clear he was referring to Tinubu. When he was also asked who his preferred presidential; candidate is, the president said: “I can’t reveal his identity, if I do, he may be assassinated even before the elections.” Many felt he could not have been referring to his friend, Tinubu, because the man is not such a small fry that can be assassinated as easily as the president had sounded.
With all of these remarks and several others he made at different times, the president showed it clearly from his body language that Bola Ahmed Tinubu was not part of his succession plan at all. Tinubu knew this. He saw the handwriting on the wall but he was not the least fazed nor discouraged. He kept his eyes on his goal. He kept building bridges across the country and convincing Nigerians that he was the best presidential material at this point in time and that he had the experience to transform the country into the Nigeria of our dreams. All he asked president Buhari was a level playing ground where all the aspirants would be allowed to battle it out, with no special preference for anyone. In otherwords, he knew he was not the president’s anointed candidate and he was not asking to be one, all he was demanding for was fairness in the process and a level playing ground where all, including his preferred candidate, will be allowed to square up against each other without any interference from the presidency.
And indeed, all sorts of issues came up. There were strong moves within the presidency to settle for a consensus candidate. After the emergence of the party chairman, Abdullahi Adamu via consensus as demanded by the president, many didn’t expect the same process would be proposed to determine who picks the party’s presidential ticket at the convention. But, shockingly, the issue of a consensus candidate came up again. Things got heated to a point that that it was reported the president, while addressing APC governors who had come to meet with in the villa, had demanded that he should also be allowed to choose his own successor, just as they had chosen their own successors in their various states. The meeting ended in a deadlock. The governors put their feet down and insisted there was no way choosing the party’s flag bearer via consensus would bode well for the party. Now, the handwriting had gotten clearer. By this time, it became crystal clear to Asiwaju that he was not Buhari’s favoured candidate. Tinubu’s critics and political adversaries went to town saying it was all over for the APC national leader, that his long term ambition to become president had just fallen right on his face. Some Yoruba groups who never supported Tinubu’s presidential aspirations began to sing songs of victory, celebrating the seeming downfall of the man. They reminded him that they had shouted it from the rooftop that the northerners had no plans to relinquish power, not in the least hand it over to a Yoruba man. They told Tinubu to accept his failure and go lick his wounds. They told him he had reached the end of the road politically and that his dream to become president was over.
Asiwaju didn’t pay them any attention. Those who know him closely only smiled and wondered if they knew the man they were talking about. Bola Tinubu flourishes more when he is pushed with his back against the wall. When it appears he is beaten, down and out, that is when he roars like a lion and fights back, often times getting the better of his adversaries. He made it clear that he was not going to accept a consensus arrangement and galvanized support from within and outside the northern fold. And this is where relationships he had built over the years began to count for him. The party’s northern governors came together and resolved that there was not going to be a consensus and that the party must stick to it’s original agreement to zone the presidency to the south. The APC northern governors rose up in support of zoning and totally refused to accept a consensus candidate. The south west governors followed suit. Not discouraged yet, news suddenly broke that Ahmad Lawan was the president’s consensus candidate and he had the backing of both the president and the APC national chairman. Again, the governors, both the northern and south west groups, stormed the presidential villa to meet with Mr. President who in very clear terms said he knew nothing about Ahmad Lawan being a consensus candidate. They thanked him and headed straight to the party’s secretariat to meet with Adamu, the party chairman. He was not in his office. They drove in convoy straight to his home. They all waited outside while Governor Sanwo-Olu went inside to bring him out. He was shocked when he met about a dozen powerful governors waiting to see him, none of them smiling. They were there to demand an explanation behind the Ahmad Lawan consensus story flying about. And that was the end of the plan to foist Lawan down the throat of the party as it’s consensus candidate.
Perhaps the biggest challenge Asiwaju had to face was the one that came from within his own fold. The young men of yesterday that he nurtured and transformed into leaders in their own rights felt they had come into their own. They felt they were now ripe, mature and ready to build their own political empires and it didn’t matter to them whether Asiwaju approved or not, or whether their political aspirations would run into conflict with his. They had tasted power. They wanted more.
First was the betrayal of the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo. Not many saw this coming. When the stories began making the rounds that he was also interested in running for presidency, a lot of people thought it was a joke, that it would never happen. And it is not because anyone thought he was not eminently qualified to contest for the highest office in the land, especially having served the President as his deputy for seven years, but because he was one of Asiwaju’s closest allies who knew more than anyone else that Tinubu had his eyes set on Aso Rock. In fact, Asiwaju had nominated him as the running mate to President Buhari then so he could have someone in the presidency who would have his back, come rain, come shine. In addition to this, the vice president is widely regarded as one Tinubu ally who had benefitted from him the most. In the end, the idea Asiwaju initially had with PYO in mind, failed to work. Osinbajo had tasted power as vice president and didn’t want to let go. Without bothering to consult with his leader, Asiwaju and get his approval to contest, he went on to declare for presidency, making it very clear that he was ready to go head to head with his former master and benefactor. And this triggered the beginning of one of the fiercest political rivalries witnessed in recent time, with the supporters of each contender throwing fireworks into the political space one after the other.
PYO was not the only Tinubu disciple who squared up against him for the presidential ticket, there were a couple of others like Senator Ibikunle Amosun and Governor Kayode Fayemi. They are also two of Asiwaju’s boys who many felt had fallen out with their leader and so, not a few were surprised when they also declared to run for president not minding that their leader, the man who took them to the exalted positions they all hold today, was also contesting for same position. These developments should ordinarily have worried anyone in Tinubu’s shoes. More so as there were concerns that if the south-west does not close rank, unite and present one candidate and a common front, the ticket might return to the south east or even the north. But not Tinubu. If he was worried, he didn’t show it. Every time he appeared in public, he would tell his supporters not to lose any sleep, that the ticket was a done deal.
Even Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State also tried to throw spanners in the wheel of Asiwaju’s when he asked Ogun delegates to vote for the vice president instead of Asiwaju. Weeks later, it was a livid Asiwaju who challenged Dapo Abiodun and declared that, apart from God, it was him, Asiwaju, who made him governor of Ogun State. In the heat of his emotional outburst, he remarked that he was the same person who helped Buhari become president after three failed attempts. Less than 24 hours after, news started flying around that the president was not happy with those remarks. Two days later, the APC chairman, Abdullahi Adamu issued a press release saying Tinubu will be punished by the party. Almost everybody thought Asiwaju would not be able to wriggle out of this one, that the cabal will ensure the coffin of Asiwaju’s aspiration is finally nailed. But of course, that didn’t happen. Not only did Asiwaju pick the ticket, he won by a landslide, despite all the odds and challenges mounted on his way.
This goes to show that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is far more tenacious and politically savvy than a lot of people are willing to acknowledge. His doggedness, smartness and can do spirit are just a few of his attributes that the country would require from the man that intends to take over the reins of power from President Buhari come next year. There is no doubt that if he wins the presidential elections, his experience in governance will put him in good stead and enable him to hit the ground running.