The story of the relationship between President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is an open secret. The role Asiwaju played in the emergence of Buhari as the winner of the 2015 presidential election has been well documented. And despite a few rough patches, these two gentlemen have remained good friends. And now that the election is upon us, Buhari is set to end his eight year tenure and hand over power to another democratically elected president, and he will, expectedly, be hoping to hand over to his friend and party’s presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. But the recent developments within and outside the party have shown that, sometimes, these things are not as straight forward as they appear.
Usually, the sitting president whose tenure is about to come to an end often has an interest in who succeeds him. It appears to be the best way to protect their policies, reputation and perhaps even their lives and freedom after office. Many would do all they can to prevent a political enemy or an ideological opponent from taking over power from them.
In the Fourth Republic, in which Nigeria has had its only experience of a regular series of orderly changes of government at the national and sub-national levels, state governors have always tried to decide who their parties field to take over from them. Some have even been known to take extra-legal means to ensure they retain the loyalty of the successors they prodded to power.
At the national level, only President Olusegun Obasanjo has so far enjoyed the privilege of conducting the election that produced his preferred successor. After having his ambitious Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, expelled from the ruling party, he virtually handpicked Katsina Governor Umar Yar’Adua and his running mate, Goodluck Jonathan.
It is safe to say President Muhammadu Buhari did not influence his party’s nomination of his successor last June. He has also repeatedly stated, to the chagrin of his party members, that he does not care who Nigerians elect to take over from him on February 25, whether the person is from his own All Progressives Congress (APC) or from any of the 17 opposition parties.
And this has got many people wondering, is the president’s unusual aloofness in this matter the result of lessons learnt from the frustration that Obasanjo and many state governors have had with their handpicked or anointed successors? Or is it just Buhari’s own nature, reflected even in the manner that he has run his government over the last seven and a half years? Is he even willing and looking forward to handing over power to his friend, Asiwaju, if he eventuially emerges winner of the presidential election?
At the height of his imperial military presidency, General Ibrahim Babangida said he did not know who would succeed him but he knew those who would not. He eventually ensured that the man who emerged from the election he conducted ended up in jail in Abuja, rather than at the Aso Rock Villa.
If President Buhari does not know who would succeed him on 29 May, does he also know who would not? His party members have reasons to be apprehensive, given the public perception of his relationship with Bola Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate. Is there a rift, or a cold war as some commentators have recently described it, between the two men whose alliance produced the first opposition victory in a Nigerian presidential election, eight years ago?
The truth is that the speculation of a rift has been going on almost forever. However, it became rife in the run-up to the presidential primaries of the party. Tinubu was the first notable aspirant to declare his intention to seek the ticket of the party. He had made the announcement to State House correspondents after a visit to the president at the Aso Rock Villa in Abuja.
According to a source close to the APC hierachy, Asiwaju had broached the subject of his ambition with the president earlier in late 2021. He said the former Lagos governor was prepared to drop his interest at that point had the president told him of a different preference. “Tinubu said he would have only requested the president to allow him to make an input to the composition of that ticket,” the source who prefers not to be named said.
After what he saw as encouragement from the president, Tinubu announced his bid about three months later. The choice of location for the announcement appeared intended to communicate his anointing by the president. But after a few weeks of hesitation, the dam gate burst open as many other aspirants, including President Buhari’s ministers and many long shots, joined the race.
By the time Vice President Yemi Osinbajo too declared his bid and some curious names such as former President Goodluck Jonathan, Central bank governor Godwin Emefiele and African Development Bank President Akinwunmi Adesina dropped into the mix, many began to get the impression Buhari might not want Tinubu to take the ticket.
Subsequent repeated statements by the president or his aides that he had no anointed candidate did not change the perception of his antagonism to Asiwaju’s ambition. Many still believe that had the northern governors of the party not resolutely backed Tinubu, the president, or whichever of the different factions of the cabal in his presidency had prevailed, would have imposed Senate President Ahmad Lawan, former president Jonathan or CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele on the party. Tinubu’s first outburst in Abeokuta, Ogun State, during which he made the controversial “Emi lokan’ statement, was believed to be borne out of his frustration with the shenanigans in the party traced to some trusted aides of the president.
Events since his eventual landslide victory at the primary election have thickened the suspicions of a frosty relationship with the president. The ruling party had been spared a post-convention crisis of the magnitude that has divided the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Yet, many of Asiwaju’s opponents at the primary, including the vice president and some former ministers, have refused to take part in his campaign. Some observers believe that perhaps an intervention by the president would have persuaded such aspirants to change their attitude.
However, the president himself has been aloof from the campaign. He attended the flag-off rally in Jos, Plateau State, back in October but, immediately after, recoiled into his Aso Rock shell while the candidate, his supporter governors and party officials toured the country. After questions were raised about his detachment from the campaign, the party and the presidency announced that he would attend rallies in 10 states. And he has indeed appeared in so many of the APC rallies since then. He was also present at the APC last mega rally in Lagos held days ago.
But on the day the first of the stated rallies was held in Ilorin, Kwara State, the president flew to Mauritania for an award ceremony. Following news of the president’s foreign trip, information emerged that the rally had been postponed. But this was immediately denied with another announcement that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who himself has not appeared at any of the rallies, would stand in for the president. But Osinbajo did not attend the rally either. Instead, he was at Lagos for another ceremony.
According to party sources, Buhari had earlier rejected a request by Tinubu for him to recommend names for consideration as a vice presidential candidate. And since the choice of Kashim Shettima sparked the same-faith controversy, the president has not spoken out or tried to pacify party leaders, including some of his own officials, who appear to have shown aparthy with the Tinubu campaign over the issue.
The speculations on the relationship between the president and his party’s flag bearer hit the headlines again a couple of weeks ago after Tinubu returned to Abeokuta and again made some critical remarks. At a rally in the Ogun State capital on Wednesday, Asiwaju said the protracted fuel shortages that had been on for weeks across the country, and indeed for months in some parts of the country, as well as the shambolic implementation of the redesign of the naira were a plot to scuttle the general elections.
“They don’t want elections to take place, but we won’t accept that. They want to hide under fuel scarcity to cause a crisis so that there won’t be an election,” he said before thousands of his supporters.
“Whether there is fuel or not, we will vote. Without fuel, we shall vote. You know me very well, we are going to win. We are going to take over from them. We shall meet on Election Day. This election is a revolution, we are going to vote and we are going to win.”
The opposition immediately interpreted the remarks as an attack on President Buhari and Tinubu’s concession of an election defeat. Others accused the ruling party candidate of attacking the currency redesign policy because it would stop him from buying votes during the election. The CBN had on 26 October 2022, announced the plan to redesign the N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes and have them swapped for the old designs between December 15 and January 31. The policy was aimed at promoting a cashless economy and checking counterfeiting, terrorism funding and vote buying, among other benefits.
However, the implementation of the policy has been chaotic as new notes remain scarce across the country. Some group of Governors took the federal government to court and got a Supreme Court judgement banning the use of the old naira notes by February 10. But the CBN governor, Mr Emefiele, insisted there will be no extension and President Buhari has backed him on it, despite the public outcry.
APC members, in particular Tinubu’s supporters, think Mr Emefiele adopted the policy so close to the elections to hurt politicians for frustrating his bid to join the presidential race. Mr Emefiele’s clandestine bid had drawn him flak from within and outside the APC as he was rumoured to be the candidate of some aides of the president who had benefitted directly from his policies at the CBN or favour him for his generous funding support for government programmes and projects.
But Tinubu has since dismissed the rumours of a rift. At a rally in Gusau, the Zamfara State capital, he said he has a deep respect for and a good relationship with the president. “I have supported President Buhari even before his first day in office. I will continue to be his supporter and friend after his last day in office.
“He tackled the problems other leaders ran from. He has earned a place in history that cannot be denied. I have said this before and will say it again now: when the true history of this moment is written, President Buhari shall be treated very kindly because of his contributions to the nation.”
Upon returning to Abuja from Abeokuta, he had reportedly met with governors Aminu Masari of Katsina, Babagana Zulum of Borno, and Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi before they proceeded to Daura to see the president, who was on a working visit to his home state, on Thursday night.
It will be recalled that Tinubu had taken a similar step after his first outburst in Abeokuta. He had rushed over to the State House to speak with Buhari over his remarks that were considered derogatory to the president. From that time to now, it is safe to say that the relationship between the two has remained solid. President Buhari has attended more rallies since that outburst in Abeokuta and has repeatedly urged Nigerians to vote for Tinubu because he is confident he has the capacity and will make a fantastic President.
The question on the lips of many who have watched developments between these two closely is, will President Buhari hand over power to his friend, Asiwaju Bola Ahmerd Tinubu? Can he trust his friend, Asiwaju, a sourtherner, with power? Will President Buhari yield to pressure from his close aides and some powerful northern cabals not to hand over power to Asiwaju? Given his taciturn ways, it is difficult to read the mind of the president on this issue. His aloofness sometimes makes it utterly difficult for anyone to know what’s going on in his mind. But the die is cast now. The election is here. Soon, barring any unforseen development, a winner will be announced and the inevitable May 29 will arrive. The whole world will be watching to see on which side of history President Buhari will want to be remembered.
– W3ALE LAWAL
Send Us News, Gist, more... to email@example.com | Twitter: @CitypeopleMagz