No aspirant from the South can stand against the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on the contest for the presidency ahead of 2023, a chieftain of the ruling party, Senator Abu Ibrahim, has said.
Senator Ibrahim, who is a close confidant of both President Muhammadu Buhari and the Asiwaju, told Daily Trust on Sunday in an exclusive interview that all those being taunted for the presidency in the South-West were protégés of the former Lagos governor and would not compete against him.
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Narrating how he linked Buhari with Tinubu in 2010, the Katsina-born politician, who had been in the Senate for many years before he quit, said the alleged plan by some northern governors to retain power in the North would not scale through.
Asked if the reported presidential ambitions of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State would not affect the chances of Tinubu, Ibrahim said, “It is normal, but the issue is: Can they stand Tinubu in the South-West? They can see what is coming up. I don’t want to start discussing this issue; it is a different topic.
“Fayemi, for example, knows very well that he is Tinubu’s boy. He was living in Ghana when Tinubu brought him. I once slept in his house in Accra.
“Tinubu brought Fayemi back to Nigeria. Above other leading contenders, he picked him to be the governor of Ekiti State. When we met at Bourdillon (Tinubu’s residence), he told me to thank my friend for him. He said Asiwaju even mobilised fund for him after nominating him to be governor.
“He won the election, but in the second tenure, he failed to even win his ward, and he was made a minister. When he wanted to go for this present tenure, I went to the president and I said Fayemi may not be able to win without Tinubu, so he called Asiwaju and gave him the responsibility to deliver Ekiti for him.”
And on Osinbajo, he said, “The vice president was his commissioner for justice. He never lobbied for the office; he just picked and gave him that position. I have discussed with the vice president many times. I went to his house and office and we discussed the party and everything, including his relationship with Asiwaju. I know how he felt or how he feels about their relationship. He respects Tinubu so much that I feel he may not be able to contest against him.”
Senator Ibrahim also said the leadership of the APC was not using internal mechanisms to make the party stronger, hence the ravaging crises threatening its existence.
Asked whether the president would support Tinubu to actualise his dream of becoming president, Ibrahim, who said President Buhari was his house captain at secondary school in Katsina State, said he had no doubt on that because the former Lagos governor was instrumental to the emergence of Buhari in 2015 when he brought South-West votes to add to Buhari’s 12million in the North that culminated in victory after many trials.
“If we don’t support Tinubu, North-West politicians will suffer in the future as nobody will trust us again. So we have to make sure that this understanding is for our future politics,” he said.
Regarded as the father of merger, Senator Abu Ibrahim, in this exclusive interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, opened up on the much talked about understanding between President Muhammadu Buhari and the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on power rotation. He also spoke on the aspiration of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, saying they are Asiwaju’s boys.
What have you been doing since you left the parliament in 2019?
I am a very good farmer; I am into poultry farming and so on in Kaduna.
But most politicians find it difficult to adjust immediately after they leave elective office; how did you adjust?
You would find out that most of the politicians were defeated. In my case, I didn’t seek re-election, I left on my own. Most of them were not even re-nominated.
Why didn’t you seek re-election when you had the opportunity to do so?
I did not contest because of health reasons.
But you look healthier now, compared to when you were in parliament.
I was almost paralysed, I couldn’t talk and I was assisted by Tinubu. He took me to London, where I met doctors to know what was wrong with me. They found out that it was stress, too much work. So I told them about my daily life, what I did and they suggested that it was too much for me. They advised me to leave one, so I decided to leave the Senate.
In 2015 you were one of the few lawmakers who stood by Senator Ahmed Lawan when he first aspired for the Senate presidency. How would you assess the parliament under him?
He is doing very well, I have confidence in him and I know that he has experience, starting from the House of Representatives, two or three times, then he came to the Senate. In the Senate, he headed a critical committee, public accounts, and he was a very good contributor on the floor of the Senate. So looking at him, I am sure he would make a very good leader; that’s why I pitched my tent with him and I am not disappointed yet.
But some are saying he is too submissive when it comes to affairs between the National Assembly and the Presidency. What is your take on that?
Yes, the National Assembly should check the Presidency, but there should be some understanding. There should be consultation between the two and that will bring stability in governance and even improve on the process of lawmaking.
But if there’s no consultation there will be conflicts.
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, crisis is rocking the ruling party in many states; it seems the APC has no conflict resolution mechanism, is that correct?
We have the mechanisms but they are not used.
What are they?
First of all, there is what we call caucus. Caucus is the meeting of the leadership of the party, and if the caucus was working; there won’t be problems. Let’s take state by state where we have these conflicts, such as Kebbi: Aliero and Bagudu are members of the caucus. Go to Kano: Shekarau and Ganduje are members of the caucus. In Osun, Aregbesola and Oyetola are members of the caucus, so if the caucus meets regularly all these conflicts would be sorted out there and then.
But unfortunately, Buni is from a rural state, where nobody can raise his or her head against him. He brought that system into our party and never calls any organ for a meeting – no National Executive Commission (NEC), no caucus – that is why the crises are everywhere.
But during his reign he was able to bring some bigwigs into the party, is that not enough success?
The defection of some Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors to the APC.
How many governors defected?
What has that brought to the party? Can all the governors win their states? That is not something you should praise because you brought somebody who has come to the end of his tenure and has nowhere to go; he is just looking for an organisation where he would be safe. So to me, it is not an added development to the party.
What about Zamfara governor?
That one is okay, but he was even trying to defect before we started talking to him, I knew him very well. He is safest to be in the APC because his biggest opposition is from the PDP side.
The APC never had a Board of Trustees meeting, meaning it started on a shaky note. Is this correct?
I disagree with you because the argument then was that the Board of Trustees symbolised a business concern. People were opposed to the idea of a BoT because most members of the NEC were also there, so what use is the body? If the NEC and the caucus were working very well, you don’t need the Board of Trustees.
Who should be held responsible?
Buni should be held responsible because he is the chairman of the party.
But there were some chairmen before him.
Yes, but they were calling for meetings. At least I know that during the time of Oshiomhole, he was calling for caucus and NEC meetings every three or four months. I was a member of the NEC and I attended those meetings. But this one never called for any NEC or caucus meeting. How can you run a party like that? Leaders don’t sit down and consult with your office, and when you are tired you run to your village and stay for one or two weeks and come back.
Why are you people afraid to conduct a convention; in the last one year it has been postponed thrice?
It is the issue of the present leadership. They think they can manipulate us, but they don’t know that we are ready. They cannot manipulate us because we are people who have won elections, so we know what we want. We can stand up against anybody who thinks he can stop us from getting what we want.
What role did you play in the formation of the APC?
That’s a long history and story. I remember that in 2010 I was a senator on the platform of the Congress for progressive Change (CPC), very close to President Buhari. When we were in secondary school, he was the house captain. He was in his final year while I was in my first year.
As for Tinubu, when I was in the Senate during the time of the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) under Babangida, he was also a senator. He was in the SDP while I was in the NRC. We were very compatible, so we decided to become friends in that Senate. That friendship continued to blossom.
When Buhari contested elections he was failing despite all his huge support. I went to him and I said, “Excuse me sir, for you to be president of Nigeria you will need a southern input.” He asked what I meant by southern input and I said he needed a constitutional spread; and to get that he needed somebody strong in the South who would back him. He asked if I had an idea and I said yes. He said okay, let’s discuss it, but I said let me go and talk to the person.
I flew to Lagos, and when I met Asiwaju, he too was concerned; that was how we started the discussion. We reflected on our relationship and decided to explore it. I said I wanted to introduce Buhari to him and he said let’s see how it would go. Fortunately, Fashola came in too and he gave an idea and support.
I went back to Kaduna, and luckily, there was the launch of the Sardauna Foundation and I invited Tinubu. He said we should have lunch with Buhari after the launch. That was in 2010.
We went to Buhari’s house for lunch and I told everybody around – Sarki Abba, the customs comptroller-general, Hammed Ali and others to excuse them for private discussions. They discussed for almost three hours, after which I accompanied Tinubu to the airport.
On our way, he said Buhari was a good man and I knew we could work together and explore the possibility of bringing the desired changes to the country.
When I returned from the airport, Buhari praised Tinubu. He said the election was approaching but let’s see what would happen. He said he wanted Tinubu.
That was the idea, not merger or alliance. There was a CPC and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) alliance, but you know that a presidential system alliance doesn’t make sense.
We were looking to see how the CPC could produce the president while the vice president would come from the ACN. That was what we were talking about, but somehow, because of lack of time it didn’t go through and Buhari failed to get the 25 per cent in the required states. That was the 2011 elections.
I told him that we could start early, and reminded him that we could not win because he could not get the required spread. He said I should go ahead with my arrangement; and from there I started the second leg.
The first leg failed because of alliance, so in the second leg we started talking of merger from the onset. Then we brought the parties to come in. At that time, Buhari insisted on only the CPC and the ACN; but Tinubu said we had to bring the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), a breakaway from the PDP, then the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
At that time, there was this seeming understanding that Buhari should be the presidential candidate, after that, it would be Tinubu; that was subject to my understanding.
Was there any formal discussion between Tinubu and Buhari on that?
They discussed so many things. I believe Tinubu gave a commitment and said Buhari, as his senior, could be the president, even if he wanted to come under the ACN. That confidence was given. And I know that General Buhari, Tinubu and Baba Akande had so many meetings together.
Was there at any time, either a written or unwritten agreement, that Tinubu would take over from Buhari?
Yeah, but sometimes we make things indicative. As a politician, we know we cannot say ‘you be this’ without bringing my interest; it is not possible, usually. When I support you as governor, I will tell you what I want when you win. I know that there was this insistence that it must be Buhari, and after him, it must be Tinubu.
How can you quantify the support of Tinubu to Buhari’s emergence as president?
The South-West voted for Buhari and helped him to get the required 25 per cent, otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten it.
And you are attributing this to Tinubu?
Yes, I believe so because we couldn’t get it before then. It was only when he went with the ACN that he got it.
Do you see President Buhari reciprocating this gesture in 2023?
I know that Buhari is a reasonable man. He is realistic and doesn’t want anything that will spoil his work or give it a bad name. I am sure that if there was that agreement, he will conform to it support. And I know he respects Tinubu. They relate a lot and Tinubu visits regularly and discusses with him, so there’s that level of understanding and respect.
But reservations are being expressed in many quarters that Tinubu is not healthy; what do you say to that?
Tinubu is my friend, he is healthy. If I know that he cannot do it, I would have advised him to nominate somebody.
But it seems that these people you mentioned are now fighting Tinubu. Osinbajo and Fayemi are now eyeing the APC presidential ticket with him, what do you think?
It is normal now, but the issue is: Can they stand Tinubu in the South-West? They can see what is coming up. I don’t want to start discussing this issue; it is a different topic.
Fayemi, for example, knows very well that he is Tinubu’s boy. He was living in Ghana when Tinubu brought him. I once slept in his house in Accra.
When he was teaching there?
I don’t know whether he was teaching there, but I slept in his house in Accra, Ghana when we went for the inauguration of the then president, who he brought to Tinubu for assistance. After he brought him, he won and invited us. We were there in almost the same pavilion with former President Yar’adua. I think it was four of us from Nigeria.
Tinubu brought Fayemi back to Nigeria. Above other leading contenders, he picked him to be the governor of Ekiti State. When we met at Bourdillon (Tinubu’s residence), he told me to thank my friend for him. He said Asiwaju even mobilised fund for him after nominating him to be governor.
He won the election, but in the second tenure, he failed to even win his ward, and he was made a minister. When he wanted to go for this present tenure, I went to the president and I said Fayemi may not be able to win without Tinubu, so he called Asiwaju and gave him the responsibility to deliver Ekiti for him.
I am sure the president called Tinubu and told him what to do. So he went and spent days with him and he won. You can see the relationship. So how can he stand up and fight Tinubu?
What about the vice president?
The vice president was his commissioner for justice. He never lobbied for the office; he just picked and gave him that position. I have discussed with the vice president many times. I went to his house and office and we discussed the party and everything, including his relationship with Asiwaju. I know how he felt or how he feels about their relationship. He respects Tinubu so much that I feel he may not be able to contest against him.
But the campaign is everywhere now.
We politicians have problems with supporters; sometimes they will take their feelings and say this is your mind, this is what you want.
Don’t you think this is the right time for Tinubu to call his people and coalesce into a force?
I know that when he came back from London he called the vice president. I was there when the vice president came to the house for discussion. I didn’t participate in the discussion but I know that Tinubu is insisting they work together for the South-West.
Is it like a gang-up against Tinubu?
It is normal, any time. Look at the gang up I got in my constituency as a simple senator.
If you say APC, you say Tinubu. That means they are admitting he is far ahead of everybody because the 12million voters who supported Buhari liked Tinubu. After all, they believe Tinubu gave Buhari the opportunity to become president.
So he has this sympathy. All the 12million voters of Buhari were sympathetic to Tinubu, and that is a very big lead. Nobody in the APC has that kind of sympathy with Buhari’s supporters like Tinubu.
Do you mean the APC would be defeated without Tinubu flying the party’s ticket?
For two reasons, I think if the APC is wise they should give Tinubu the presidential ticket. I told you already that he has the sympathy of the 12million voters of Buhari. I am a beneficiary of that; they call me Baba Merger and because of that, I won all my 117 wards in 2015.
So, with this feeling of Buhari’s supporters, Tinubu has already won their sympathy, a place in their hearts, almost all of them.
There is this claim that a certain group within the presidency doesn’t want Tinubu, do you think so?
It is a normal thing with a certain group. I have been in the inner kitchen of Buhari and we relate very well.
Let me tell you that if the APC doesn’t give Tinubu the ticket, the 12 million supporters may not like it, and they may become disgruntled and may not come out to vote.
Secondly, the understanding between Tinubu and Buhari is very important to the North-West because there is an understanding that if we don’t support Tinubu, politicians from this region will suffer in the future as nobody will trust them again. So it is our duty to make sure that this understanding is for our future politics.
Is it beyond Buhari and Tinubu?
It is beyond Buhari and Tinubu. And if we don’t do it, the North-West will be isolated.
If Tinubu is unable to pick the party’s ticket, do you see him breaking the table?
Tinubu is not such a man; he believes in God. We were discussing recently and he said that as a businessman he would go and continue his business. But I said he should not even talk about it because if he doesn’t win, the party won’t win.
What you people are not aware of is that I am not just following Tinubu, I call him every day to ask about the issue of my constituency, security, economy, poverty. We discuss all these things and he told me what the solutions are. And I think they are doable solutions. I am not going to be the one to mention them; it is going to be his manifestos.
Finally, what do you think of the so-called plot by some northern governors to retain the presidency come 2023?
I laugh because they are paperweight governors; they are novices. They forgot how MKO Abiola defeated Bashir Tofa in Kano as the presidential candidate of the NRC.
We have seen history. Many of the APC governors cannot bring a half-million votes. We assess each one of them and know what they can do in their states.
But the problem now, according to the governors, is: Who will be his running mate as he is a Muslim?
When you become a candidate it is easier for you to pick a running mate.
Do you see a Muslim-Muslim ticket?
I have not seen anything on that. We aim to win the election, so if that will make us win, we will do it. But when the time comes, we will assess the situation and take the best bet. For example, my best is to bring Governor Zulum to be vice president. When we bring him we will know how to deal with the other positions, for unanimous reasons. The position of the president of the Senate should be unanimous, for example, which is more powerful than the vice president.
What do you think Tinubu would represent in Nigeria’s polity?
Look at his background, including how he brought people from the South-East, North and everywhere to represent Lagos. I know of a commissioner in Lagos who is from Katsina. There are other states in the cabinet of Lagos.
He is a nationalist who knows how to work with the different tribes of the country. So I know he will look at all the angles of Nigeria and allow fair representation.