A gigantic test of wills is rocking the All Progressives Congress just 12 days to the inauguration of President-elect Mohammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s substantive President.
Impeccable sources within the party told SUNDAY PUNCH over the weekend that some ex-governors, Buhari’s associates and mutinous party members from the South-West are trying to whittle down the influence that the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, will have on the incoming government.
Tinubu, the party’s undisputed leader in the South-West, is widely feted as the force behind the merger of all the major opposition parties in the country which led to the emergence of the APC as Nigeria’s major opposition party.
On several occasions, Buhari, who defeated President Goodluck Jonathan in the March 28 presidential elections, winning 15,424,921 votes to Jonathan’s 12 853,162 votes, has also acknowledged the efforts of the former governor of Lagos State, fondly referred to as Jagaban by his admirers.
However, multiple sources within the party told SUNDAY PUNCH that the relationship between the duo might have become strained in recent times as some forces within the party are bent on making Buhari to see Tinubu in another light.
Some powerbrokers within the party, some of whom are trusted by the president-elect, are said to be mounting pressure on him to reassess his ties with the APC national leader. These powerbrokers are also said to be questioning Tinubu’s and the South West’s contributions to Buhari’s election victory.
Recently, at a public function, the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwanu Akiolu, gave indications of the strained relationship between the duo, even as he asked people to pray that Tinubu’s “labour” would not be wasted.
“All Lagos residents should pray that the labour of Tinubu should not be in vain. A lot of things have been happening now. Some people have been telling Buhari all sorts of things. Awujale (Paramount Ruler of Ijebuland) and I have decided to meet Buhari because Lagos and South West states must benefit from the General Buhari administration,” he said.
Reliable sources within the party however told our correspondent that the gang up against the party leader started before the party’s victory at the elections.
One of the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told SUNDAY PUNCH that those opposed to Tinubu within the party first moved against the national leader during the APC’s national convention in June last year.
According to him, some ex-governors and other high-ranking members of the party backed a former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, against Tinubu’s candidate, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
The source, who is an associate of the national leader, said, “Even before Buhari emerged as the party’s presidential candidate, some people in the party, particularly the governors and some ex-governors, wanted another candidate as chairman. They were totally opposed to Odigie-Oyegun who was Tinubu’s choice. They believed that if they succeeded in getting their man as the chairman, they would have more control of the party, but they failed.”
The source added that the same scenario played out during the party’s presidential primaries. “It is not a secret: initially, the same group of people in the APC were totally opposed to Asiwaju’s choice of Buhari. They wanted either former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar or Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State. When you look at it critically, their choice of these candidates then was not based on any fundamental reason but just to oppose Tinubu and gain more ground in the party. It is funny that some of them who now move around with Buhari were totally against his candidature as APC’s flag bearer,” he said.
But the source ended his chat with our correspondent by saying, “We are optimistic that Buhari and Tinubu will manage their relationship well. They will not allow anyone to come between them.”
Another source within the party cited an incident during Buhari’s February Chatham House event in London as an example of the high level intra-party politics playing out within the party.
The source said both camps jostled to take the credit for producing the speech delivered by Buhari at Chatham House knowing that the speech would give the then APC presidential candidate a huge mileage within the international community.
The source said just before the event, a senior party member who is also a former governor of a South-West state, had rushed in to write the President-elect’s speech. The said ex-governor also presented the speech to the president-elect.
He said, “Not knowing that a speech had been prepared, the national leader asked if Buhari’s speech was ready. He was told that the ex-governor had written it and given it to Buhari. Tinubu was not happy because he knew nothing about the speech despite being one of the party’s top strategists. He asked that the speech be sent to him as a condition for him to attend the event. When he eventually got it, he turned it down because he felt the speech did not represent Buhari’s and the APC’s ideals properly.
“He then asked a team of experts to write another speech for Buhari. Asiwaju had to explain to Buhari why he felt the initial speech written by the former governor was not good enough.”
Asked why some of the party leaders appeared to be vehemently opposed to Tinubu, the source said, “Most of the people that have a grouse with our national leader believe he is too controlling and he’s not allowing them have a say. But they can express their grievances through better ways,” he said.
But as the inauguration day draws near, sources say the selection of ministers and top government officials for the new government is the newest phase of the battle of influence that is rocking the party.
The source said, “The battle has now shifted to the selection of Buhari’s new cabinet. Many of those opposed to Tinubu in the party have presented themselves and others as candidates. (Some of these people are from the South-West).
“There is another sub-group made up of northerners, mostly, Fulanis. They have been touting themselves as Buhari’s closest associates since he won the elections. We’ve heard them say that the North was the dominant factor in Buhari’s win and that even though the South-West voted for him, the North donated the majority votes.
“But they are making a mistake because if President Jonathan had won all the South-West states, Buhari’s victory would have been hard to come by. They also forget that it was on the platform of the APC that Buhari emerged President. If not for the merger, Buhari wouldn’t have won. He tried to win on the platform of the CPC in 2011, but it wasn’t successful.
“Having seen that their tactics of spreading bad rumours about Tinubu to Buhari is not working, they are now playing the ethnic card to divide them. Sadly, some of our ex-governors from the South-West and South-South have joined them to play this ethnic card.”
When asked how the national leader of the party was fighting back, another highly-placed source within the party said Nigerians should wait for the list of ministers.
“We are not in government yet but some people are making trouble underground. Anyway, the ministerial list will put them in check. They are following Buhari all over the place and trying to cause disaffection between him and Tinubu but it will yield nothing. Unfortunately for them, Buhari is not likely to have ministers of states so it narrows their chances of getting appointments. Some of our party members particularly from the South-West are in for a surprise when the ministerial list is out.”
Contacted on Saturday, a former National Publicity Secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, one of the parties that formed the APC, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, said Tinubu was bound to have opposition from within the party due to his political influence.
He reminded those who were challenging his authority in the party that the former Governor of Lagos State was one of the arrowheads of APC’s formation and the party’s victory at the 2015 general election.
Fashakin said, “In any gathering of human beings, you are bound to have people showing disapproval and disaffection about others; that is normal. The APC is not an exception. It is usually like that. Some people will say ‘what is his own? He is having too much influence. Is it only him?”
He, however, asked those who were opposed to Tinubu to consider the positive roles he had played in the party.
“During the electioneering, the PDP knew the people that were strategic to its electoral misfortune and the need to go after such individuals. One of them was Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Did you see the hate documentary that was produced and aired to disparage him at that time?
“The individuals talking now (against Tinubu) were not put under such scurrilous attacks. Did they experience such? Whatever they may say, when the history of APC is written, you cannot wish away what Tinubu has done,” Fashakin added.
A former Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Professor Tam David-West, one of Buhari’s biggest loyalists, also told SUNDAY PUNCH that there was nobody in the APC, no matter how influential he might be, that could influence the incoming President’s decisions.
He said, I don’t want to comment on it because I know it is not possible. Nobody can influence General Buhari. I know him.”
When contacted, the Director of Media and Publicity in the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation, Mr. Garba Shehu, described the moves by the individuals as a party issue. “It is a party issue, speak to Lai Mohammmed,” he said.
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mr. Lai Mohamed did not pick the calls made to his phone neither did he respond to the text messages sent to him by our correspondent.