On Thursday night, Malam Garba Shehu, Presidential spokesman, issued a statement in reaction to social media buzz on the perceived rift between President Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC). This has raised questions as to whether the honeymoon between the two political bedfellows is over.
During an exclusive interview with ARISE TV, Buhari reacted to a wide range of issues which expectedly generated different reactions. His remarks on zoning and the APC also set tongues wagging.
“You cannot sit there in Lagos, for instance, and decide on the fate of APC on zoning,” Buhari had said while responding to a question during the interview.
There are indications that Tinubu is interested in succeeding Buhari. Although the former Lagos State governor has not stated this publicly, his foot soldiers have been going around the country to solicit support for him. The Tinubu camp has also been at the forefront of groups clamouring for power shift to the south.
The hammer from Buhari
During the interview he granted ARISE TV, Buhari had said, “The hope of this administration is to see APC last beyond it. Therefore, we should allow the party to decide. The restructuring of the party has begun from the bottom to the top with the membership card registration. Every member of the party must be involved.
“We will soon conduct our convention. No single member of the party will be allowed to go against the wish of the party. 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.”
The specific reference to Lagos apparently caused a stir. Even those who are politically naïve know that the number one APC figure in the state is not Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu but the kingmaker, Jagaban of Borgu. Tinubu’s words are laws, at least in the state.
In Nigeria, he is unarguably the most influential in the class of those who governed between 1999 and 2007. Tinubu has played a critical role in bringing key politicians into limelight. After leaving the number one seat in Nigeria’s commercial capital, he has to a large extent determined the political fate of all those who occupied the exalted seat.
So, it was natural for people to have factored in Tinubu when Buhari made reference to Lagos while speaking on a critical issue in the ruling party. Let’s assume the president’s spokesman is right that Buhari had no political undertone when he made reference to someone in Lagos, but Tinubu’s conspicuous absence during Buhari’s one-day working visit tells a lot; it breeds suspicion.
A no-show for Tinubu
Buhari inaugurated some projects executed by both federal and state governments. Among these were the 157km Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge railway for commercial operations at the Mobolaji Johnson Station in Ebute Metta and the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure in Nigeria (also called the Deep Blue Project) at the ENL Terminal, Apapa Port. The president also handed over newly acquired security equipment and assets to the state police command.
These were major events that attracted key personalities such as Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives; South-West governors, cabinet ministers, traditional rulers, among others.
It was the president’s first visit to the state since Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu assumed office but Tinubu was nowhere near any of the venues where the president participated in those programmes.
Tinubu and Buhari have stayed away from each other for a very long time. Both men nevertheless met at Aso Villa after the deaths of General Ibrahim Attahiru and some military personnel in an air crash. This was after the media highlighted the gulf between both men who teamed up to end the 16-year dominance of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), setting a record of the first defeat of an incumbent president in an election.
During Tinubu’s last visit to the seat of power, the duo posed for the cameras and exchanged pleasantries but is that enough to conclude that all is well between them? No matter what the situation is, one thing is clear, the race for the 2023 election has commenced in earnest and surely, there are interesting times ahead.