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QuickRead: That snide remark by Buhari on ‘Lagos’

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On June 10, during an interview on national television, President Muhammadu Buhari made a comment that many Nigerians have come to believe was aimed at former Lagos State Governor and acclaimed National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

When asked which part of the south APC would support to control the presidency when he leaves office in 2023, Buhari suggested the party would decide when the time was ripe but not without what critics have considered a dig at Lagos.

Among others, he was quoted to have said:

“Should we allow the party to decide? I just told you we started from bottom up. And I gave the acting Chairman (Mala Buni) the end of this month of June to give me a report on the convention we are going to conduct and then arrange the elections.

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“So, members of the party will feel they are involved in decision making. Nobody is just sitting in Lagos and asking them what to do. This is what we are arranging. Succession plan depends on the party. We are going to leave it to the party. The party will sit and make a decision.”

The supposed dig at Tinubu is held by many as an indirect response to visible clamours by his political acolytes to persuade him to take a shot at Nigeria’s presidency in 2023. Tinubu has neither denied nor confirmed insinuations that he is gearing up to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Presidency, speaking through the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu, has since debunked any attempt to malign Tinubu, describing such insinuations as a “malicious campaign to drive a wedge between the President and Tinubu.”

He added, “The mention he made of Lagos was not a reference to the respected party leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, as the opposition party’s predatory designs would put it in order to damage the excellent relationship between the two of them.

“The President, the Asiwaju and the rapidly growing members of the party want a dynastic succession of elected leaders. The APC should not be distracted from its progress as a Democratic Party.”

Despite the denial by the Presidency, there are sufficient grounds to speculate that there is growing tension between the camps of both men. Papering over it is to pretend that there are no records of such public face-offs in the past.

The cold war between the once chummy political allies has been ongoing for sometime and became manifest last year when Buhari, against permutations, endorsed the sacking of Adams Oshiomhole, a known and strong ally of Tinubu, and acknowledged out-of-favour Victor Gaidom, as acting National Chairman of the party.

Barely 24 hours later, the President orchestrated the dissolution of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC), and went on to install the Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni, to lead the party’s caretaker committee.

The intrigues that played out showed that the plot had the backing of Kebbi and Kaduna State governors, Abubakar Bagudu and Nasir El-Rufai, respectively, as well as Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, who are all said to belong to the same political camp opposed to Tinubu’s 2023 presidential ambition.

Even as controversy trails Buhari’s recent commentary on the ruling party’s game plans for 2023, many are quick to reflect on his emergence as President in 2015 which had the signature of Tinubu all over it.

Was Buhari’s remark, “no one can sit in Lagos and decide on the fate of the party” truly an unintended slip? Perhaps, no.

Keen political watchers would quickly point to the fact that since the APC came into power in 2015, Tinubu has continued to face challenges from other party leaders denying him a firm grip on the party, for fear that he could become too influential.

Indeed, in a leaked interview last year, a top member of the party and a close associate of President Buhari had betrayed the presidency stating, among others, that:

“President Buhari has never had a cordial relationship with Asiwaju. He just believes that the former governor of Lagos State should be used to achieve his ambition. After the 2015 elections, you will recall that Asiwaju was abandoned.

“He was brought close again before the 2019 elections. So, there is no need to worry about their relationship. It is the same scenario that is playing out.

“I can bet you the president will not come out openly to support him (Tinubu) to become president even though the former Lagos State governor believes that this is payback time considering the huge investment he made in Buhari and the APC.

“As you know, the national leader of a ruling party should be the president. You know, the former Lagos governor is arrogant and the president is stubborn, the two cannot go together.”

Similarly, a close member of the President’s supposed inner caucus, was also quoted as saying:

“The president is not interested in Tinubu’s candidature because he is not convinced that Asiwaju is the right person to succeed him.

“We believe that Tinubu will not protect Buhari’s interest after his tenure, hence the need to look elsewhere. We are working hard to convince the president to support a candidate that would protect his interest and that of the North after his tenure.”

With emotions seemingly betrayed, and a few facts flying in the open, the plot to pay Tinubu back with bad coins appears fully hatched.

It has also been argued that with Buni as the caretaker committee chairman of the APC, the schemes seem to be falling in place as twice, the tenure of the committee has been extended and there are reports that the national convention of the party scheduled for June this year, might be postponed to allow Buni to continue as head of the caretaker committee.

Another hint that Tinubu may, indeed, be losing his previously firm grip of the party is the fact that the APC is now being controlled by northern governors, especially the trio of Buni, El-Rufai, Jigawa State governor and chairman of the APC Strategy and Contact Committee, Muhammad Badaru Abubakar, and Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State.

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As part of measures to further whittle down the influence of Tinubu in the South-West, the ruling party continues to bring in people who are perceived to be opposed to the ambition of the Asiwaju into several committees, a case in point being the appointment of former Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, whose second term bid in 2019 was allegedly truncated by Tinubu, as a member of the contact and strategy committee of the party.

The permutations and emerging intrigues do not show a presidency willing and ready to reward Tinubu for his past roles in propping up the ruling party, even as it has been argued that Buhari’s disposition is typical of his aloofness.

A major challenge staring APC in the face, therefore, is whether it is ready to risk a monumental realignment of forces if Tinubu, frustrated by the ungratefulness of the party he helped build and nurture, resolves to cause a marriage between his huge followers and a groundswell of anti-Buhari forces in the South-East and Middle Belt of Nigeria.

For a fact, Tinubu’s influence in the South-West cannot be wished away with a wave of the hand. In the South-West region, where the agitation for Tinubu’s presidency has been rife, his numerous disciples are said to be keenly watching the unfolding scenarios and exploring other options ahead of the election.

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