As 2023 politicking begins to gather momentum, the crack that divides the camp of President Muhammadu Buhari and that of a national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has widened, Daily Trust reports.
But while some sources admitted there were issues between the two strongmen, a university lecturer with a good understanding of Nigerian political schemings, said the purported rift was tactically created to push Tinubu aside and pave way for another aspirant to clinch the party’s ticket to the presidency.
Our correspondents report that the last time the two leaders met was on January 7, 2020, when Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, visited State House, Abuja.
Daily Trust could not establish the last time the president and the former governor spoke on phone, but multiple sources said all was not well between the duo.
After three attempts for the presidency, Buhari aligned with Tinubu and others to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2013, leading to his victory.
Daily Trust reports that soon after Buhari took over, Tinubu was not seen around the presidency until 2018 when politicking for the 2019 general elections commenced.
Another lull by Tinubu
Since the commencement of President Buhari’s second term, the former Lagos State governor has only visited the president on few occasions even as, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the president has been hosting top members of the party.
On Friday, he received three APC governors, Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi), Muhammad Badaru Abubakar (Jigawa) and Mai Mala Buni (Yobe) who is the national caretaker committee chairman of the ruling party.
On Monday, he met with former Governor Gbenga Daniel and ex-Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole.
On Tuesday, the president met with Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State.
Though Asiwaju is reportedly out of the country, his “distance from the Villa” is being interpreted in many quarters as a manifestation of a rift between his camp and that of President Buhari with the 2023 presidential election as the bone of contention.
During his last visit on January 7, 2020, Tinubu described President Buhari as a man of character and courage who would never accept the offer of a third term in office.
Before then, they had held a similar closed-door meeting on November 2, 2018. But Tinubu declined to comment on the outcome of the parley.
Tinubu had earlier on October 31, 2018, met with President Buhari and dismissed the call for the resignation of the then national chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
How governors weakened Tinubu’s influence
Despite spirited efforts by Tinubu to save Oshiomhole, a key figure in his camp, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the APC sacked him.
The sacking of Oshiomhole, with the blessing of Buhari, weakened the camp of Tinubu as the party machinery has been taken over by governors.
After the sack of Oshiomhole, Governor Buni was made the chairman of the caretaker committee of the party.
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 pave way for the continuation of the caretaker committee.
The claims by Jigawa State governor and chairman of the party’s Strategy and Contact Committee, Muhammad Badaru Abubakar, on Tuesday that the convention would not be shifted was received with a pinch of salt by party stakeholders.
Daily Trust reports that the party’s machinery is being controlled by the governors, especially the trio of Buni, Badaru and Bagudu, with the support of the presidency.
In October last year during the #EndSARS protest, Tinubu was in the eye of the storm as he was accused of being one of the sponsors of the protest; an allegation those in support of Tinubu described as lies, insisting that he was among those that suffered serious losses and therefore could not have been a sponsor.
Speaking during a Channels TV programme, Tinubu said some people lied to the Presidency that he was behind the protests.
‘Buhari under pressure not to support Tinubu’
A member of the first family said there were efforts to convince the president to support a candidate that would protect his (Buhari’s) interest when he exits the presidency in 2023.
“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 after his tenure,” the source, who sought not to be named, said.
Similarly, a cabinet member said: “The president is not interested in Tinubu’s candidature because he is not convinced that Asiwaju is the right person to succeed him.”
Daily Trust reports however that Tinubu has not formally declared his intention to contest for the presidency but different groups are openly campaigning for him.
Ambode, Omisore, others to ‘tame’ Tinubu
As part of measures to whittle down the influence of Tinubu in the South-West, the ruling APC has continued to bring in people who are perceived to be opposed to the former Lagos State governor.
A former governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, whose second term bid in 2019 Tinubu worked against, was on Tuesday named as a member of the contact and strategy committee of the party.
Aside Ambode, the party has harvested top shots in the South-West political zone, including a former deputy governor of Osun State, Iyiola Omisore; a former governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel, and former Speaker Bankole, among others.
There are reports that they were cajoled by the APC towards demystifying Tinubu ahead of 2023.
Why crack will persist – APC chieftains
Talking about the relationship between Buhari and Tinubu, a source in the presidency said: “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,” he said.
A ranking APC lawmaker also told Daily Trust that the president was not happy with happenings in the South-West even as he accused Tinubu of doing nothing visible to quench the rising agitations in the region.
“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.
“Also, the president has had reservations about Tinubu’s personality because he sees him like any other politician in the country. But he became suspicious of him when Tinubu started claiming the title of a national leader of the party after the 2015 elections.
“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,” he said.
‘Crack between Buhari, Asiwaju hearsay’
But an influential member of the party close to both President Buhari and Tinubu said there was no crack between the two personalities.
In a phone interview, he said: “You know when an election is approaching people will want to fuel crisis and all sorts of theories will be in the media.
“To me, this is normal in the political setting of the country. With or without Buhari, Tinubu’s influence in the South-West cannot be wished away.”
Asked why Tinubu has not visited the Villa in the last 14 months, he said: “My friend, he is abroad.
“There are a lot of things that are not meant for public consumption. If Tinubu is going to contest, he will not be doing so against Buhari. So, what is the area of conflict?
“Two, the time is not ripe for the president to show or endorse any of the aspirants; the real politics has not started. Tinubu has been away for about a month.”
Tinubu’s supporters explore options
In the South-West, especially Lagos, 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.
Many of them believe the alleged move by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to open a fresh investigation against him was the product of a rift between him and the president.
But his loyalists say they were unperturbed by the seeming gang-up, describing the purported probe as a “campaign of calumny against the national leader of the APC.”
Speaking with our correspondent, the founder of Tinubu 2023 Non-Negotiable, Kunle Okunola, insisted that the recent move to probe the assets declaration of Asiwaju by the EFCC was politically motivated.
He vowed that all forms of scheming against him would fail.
According to him, the 2023 presidency of Tinubu is not about him or Buhari, saying Asiwaju remained the choice of Nigerians of all divides.
He said: “I don’t want the politics of bickering and speculation that there is a problem between Asiwaju and Mr President as if Nigeria belongs to Mr President or one person. Nigeria is not for Asiwaju, neither for Mr President.
“Nigeria belongs to all of us and any good person who wants the best for this nation would do the needful at the right time.
“We saw the same thing when Buhari came. Despite the speculation that he had no certificate, nobody was able to investigate him. So, the same thing would happen to Asiwaju.
“We are less concerned, we are moving on with our vision,” he said. The spokesman of the APC in Lagos, Seye Oladejo, agreed with Okunola and stressed that the sponsored attacks against Tinubu cannot stop him.
He said, “The rift remains in the realm of rumour-mongering and idle speculation.
“However, the history of this dispensation will be incomplete without the leadership role of Tinubu in the unprecedented dislodgement of the then ruling PDP by a galvanized opposition.
“The cabal should continue to live in self-deceit until the appointed time.”
Presidency being manipulated to diminish Tinubu – Don
Dissecting the situation, an Associate Professor of Political Sociology, University of Abuja, Dr Abubakar Umar Kari, said the presidency is being manipulated to diminish Tinubu.
In an interview, Kari said: “There may not be any real crack between the two leaders as par deteriorating personal relationship or political differences.
“I am not aware of any incident, issue, disagreement or bone of contention indicating a parting of ways between the two.
“By nature, Buhari is very aloof, does not openly socialise, nor is he given to display of amity. This is why some people accuse him of not caring about others.
“For the same reason, some people believe Buhari is selfish and is not concerned about anyone, particularly now that he is not looking for anything from anybody.
“I am one of those who think PMB will not play any significant role in the 2023 politicking.
“This indifferent attitude is bad news for Tinubu who would expect Buhari to support him if just to return the favour he did to him in 2014/15.
“Buhari’s nonchalance is what is fuelling the speculation that there is a crack between the two.”
According to Prof. Kari, there are some powerful individuals, close to the president who have been invoking his name to pursue and achieve their political goals.
“Most of them are implacably opposed to Tinubu and his presidential ambition. They are the ones creating and propagating the impression that all is not well between Tinubu and the president. They are deftly using and manipulating the presidency and the party machinery to diminish Tinubu’s influence and support base.
“This will continue and intensify going into 2023, even as Buhari’s characteristic indifference will also likely worsen, notwithstanding the adverse consequences of same to Tinubu and many others in the APC, including the party itself.”
Buhari, Tinubu relationship cordial, productive – Media aide
Tinubu’s media aide, Tunde Rahman, told Daily Trust the relationship between President Buhari and Tinubu is a good and productive one.
“The insinuation of a cold war between them is the stuff of idle gossip by people who profit from causing controversy where there is none.
“Asiwaju Tinubu is a loyal man and devoted patriot who stands committed, in any capacity he can, to supporting President Buhari realise his policy objectives for the benefit of all Nigerians.
“It is a testament to the quality of the relationship between them that President Buhari has so kindly agreed to chair the 12th annual colloquium marking Asiwaju‘s birthday on Monday.
“We expect the colloquium to be a productive and enlightening event where important issues are discussed and serious recommendations made. This is the type of interaction that will help Nigeria achieve its better self,” he said.
Efforts to get the reaction from the presidency were not successful as the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, did not reply to a text message sent to him after phone calls.
By Ismail Mudashir, Muideen Olaniyi (Abuja) & Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos)