Since President Muhammadu Buhari announced his decision to place a former governor of Lagos State, Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in full charge of his re-election campaign at the inauguration of All Progressives Congress (APC) 2019 Presidential Campaign Council in Abuja on Monday, it has thrown up several interpretations from political observers.
Some believe that Buhari might have taken the decision to express a loss of confidence in the Director-General of his re-election campaign, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, over the recently leaked controversial video where the Minister of Transportation allegedly says the president does not listen and neither takes advice nor reads to acquire information. Others are of the view that the decision must have been made based on the conviction that the national leader is of more value to the president’s re-election bid than the former governor of Rivers State.
Other observers say it was a ploy by Buhari to get Tinubu more committed to his re-election ambition, knowing fully that his (Buhari’s) popularity has drastically dropped and he needs the national leader’s ‘political wand’ to win the next presidential election, just as others says it was an attempt by the president to avoid the Presidential Debate slated for January 19.
Buhari had consistently contested the presidential seat from 2003 to 2011 and lost until he finally entered into a merger with the Tinubu-led Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) party to form APC in 2015 before he won. But as sooner as he became president (as is usual between political godfathers and their protégés in Nigeria), Buhari allegedly turned his back on the national leader for almost three years until it dawned on him that the Jagaban means more to his re-election ambition if he intends to win.
The relationship between Buhari and Tinubu was so sour that Buhari’s wife, Aisha, and Tinubu’s wife, Remi, cried out at some point. While Aisha alleged that some cabals in the Presidency had sidelined those who really contributed to her husband’s victory in 2015, Remi raised the alarm over the unfair treatment meted out to her husband in the party since APC came to power, saying her husband had been ‘thrashed’.
The rift between the Presidency and Tinubu went from bad to worse and it forced the national leader to go on self-exile until the tide suddenly changed in his favour. This was probably when Buhari realised the impact the former governor of Lagos played in the political re-engineering that led to his emergence as president in 2015.
However, some categories of observers are of the review that Buhari simply expects Tinubu to repeat the ‘victory magic’ he (Tinubu) applied in the September 2018 gubernatorial election in Osun State, where the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was coasting to victory until the tide changed after the re-run, thanks to Tinubu.
While Tinubu was undergoing ordeals with the Presidency, Amaechi and other cabals in APC were having it smooth and allegedly doing everything possible to undermine the national leader, in collaboration with the immediate past National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. There are speculations and insinuations emanating from the decision, with some saying that President Buhari would not entrust the strategic role of mobilising support and allies to Amaechi, who is like ‘a general without soldiers.’
‘General’ Amaechi lost grip of critical political structures since 2015 when he failed to install his successor in Rivers State through APC. Former President Goodluck Jonathan, using federal might and the powerful influence of his wife in the state, Dame Patience Jonathan, with a formidable and well-funded political structure of Nyesom Wike, displaced Amaechi in a bloody gubernatorial election in 2015.
Some critics have postulated on Amaechi’s political career and came off with the notion that he had never maintained a widespread political popularity in his state, let alone in the South-South geo-political zone; that his ascendancy to governorship was a gift of the gods, so to say. A former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, who Amaechi served as a Personal Assistant in his small private in Port Harcourt, was said to have railed-road him into the politics of the state by recommending his appointment as a Special Assistant to Governor Rufus Ada George in the ill-fated Third Republic.
Odili was said to have again been instrumental to the court victory that got him into Rivers State House of Assembly, where he ended as Speaker. Odili, it was also said, “donated” and propelled him to head the Forum of Speakers of Houses of Assembly in Nigeria, after then Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora, and ensured that he was the sole candidate at Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primaries at the Isaac Ada Boro Park in late 2006, a leap that made him governor via a Supreme Court verdict.
Wike, then a local government chairman, helped with him a second term mandate in 2003, in appreciation of the contributions of Amaechi, reportedly “put his life on the line, posted Amaechi into exile, and fought the battle of wits that made Amaechi the governor of Rivers State in 2007 through the courts, the second time.”
It is, therefore, still held by some analysts that Amaechi only won one election, the one Wike won for him as the Director-General of his gubernatorial campaign. His first job then as Buhari’s Director-General was helped by his understudying of Wike’s campaign strategies.
Similarly, the 2015 presidential election that ushered in President Buhari derived the bulk of votes from the North and Southwest, as the votes from the Southeast and South-South zones mainly went to ex-President Jonathan, which confirms the weak political structure and influence of Amaechi on his home turf, a situation that easily recommends him as a political lightweight.
Based on the foregoing, President Buhari is said to be much more comfortable delegating authority to Tinubu, who is perceived to still maintain substantial political stronghold in the Southwest, with equally financial muscles to deliver good results compared with Amaechi, who, nonetheless, is the campaign director-general.
Using the SWOT analysis, the Southwest geopolitical zone, apart from the North, which is considered a sure support base for Buhari’s ambition, is the strongest area of strength for the Buhari’s second term ambition because of the vice presidential office occupied by Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Choosing a campaign strategist from such a zone is not only politically expedient, but also rationally calculative.
It must, however, be noted that Buhari’s handing over the re-election campaign to Tinubu is not the first attempt by the president to woo the national leader back to his side. Several steps have been taken that indicated his readiness to do everything possible to pacify the former governor of Lagos and his Southwest base ahead of the 2019 election. One of the steps included the appointment of Tinubu by Buhari to head the party’s reconciliation committee, which eventually did not achieve much before the party’s ward and state congresses held in May last year.
Also, Buhari deliberately succumbed to Tinubu’s and his adherents’ insistence that Odigie-Oyegun must leave while a national congress was held against the suggestion of some party members that the tenure of the Odigie-Oyegun-led National Working Committee (NWC) be extended. Initially, the president approved the tenure extension suggestion only to make a U-turn and succumb to Tinubu.
It is not also out of place to say that the emergence of the incumbent National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, is the desire of the national leader with the consent of Buhari. It is, therefore, not strange that Buhari handed over full control of his re-election campaign rein to Tinubu on the premise that the national leader still has a strong footage in the Southwest, which is essential to his (Buhari) second term ambition.
While making the announcement, Buhari promised to ensure that governance and his work as president of the country do not suffer within the next 40 days despite the task ahead.
He acknowledged that the campaign would be grueling, and directed the national leader of the party and co-chairman of the exercise, Tinubu, to take charge of the project and keep a 24-hour vigil over it.Buhari had said, “Though we will all be deeply involved, I would like to assure the nation that I would do my part without making governance or my work [to] suffer. Tinubu, my co-chairman, will be fully in charge, and is going to be on 24-hour vigil.”
According to Buhari, the operational buck of the campaign stops at Tinubu’s table. He urged all in the leadership and those in field operations on the campaign trail and in the secretariat to consult with the former Lagos State governor whenever guidance is needed.
However, what is the guaranty that Buhari may not yet again sideline Tinubu after he would have clinched the Presidency a second time and deal Tinubu a worst hand than the first since Buhari would have nothing to lose or gain from Tinubu. The president’s perfidy has become legendary as evidenced from his campaign promises of 2015, which most Nigerians agree he was yet to keep. Sadly, Tinubu cannot say nay to Mr. President either because he needs to show good faith with Buhari else what scorecard made him to go into self-exile could be shown him again.
Buhari said the campaign council was constituted with the conscious determination to ensure inclusiveness and excellence, and he expected to conduct the campaign based on “our modest achievements to turn around the beleaguered country from insecurity, stagnation and massive abuse of scarce public resources.”
Meanwhile, the president has been accused of taking the decision with the motives to garner votes from the Southwest. The Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, said the development was deceitful and tantamount to wanting to rig the next general election.In a phone conversation with The Guardian yesterday, the spokesperson for the group, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said any attempt by Buhari to avoid the presidential debate slated for next week could spell doom for his re-election bid. Odumakin said the appointment smacked of deceit, noting, “I think the whole thing is just to make Tinubu feel good and think he is being reckoned with. But in any case, it is said that those who don’t learn from history will repeat it.
“This confirms that there are political forces that see some personalities at desperate times as people they can just toy with and once they dangle some carrots before them, there will be no problem. But if he (Buhari) tries to avoid the debate, it cannot work. Nigerians will not be unwise to vote for anybody that is not ready to debate.”
In another reaction, National Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralph Nwosu, said the decision was an infertile effort that would not yield any good result. He maintained that as long as Buhari is the one fielded by APC, the party does not have a candidate for the coming election. He noted that his tour around the country had shown that the people are tired of the present administration and therefore want a change.
“APC and Buhari are playing politics,” Nwosu said. “We want to know: is the coming election going to be about Buhari’s presidency, Tinubu’s presidency or Lagos presidency? The Nigerian voters have got very sophisticated and they know there is a vacuum in the villa. The electorates in the last three years have got too much of hunger and unemployment. Therefore, it is imperative that they vote out this government.
“In my tour around the country in the last one month, all I heard from the people is that they want somebody else at the villa given the failure of this administration. This people are from Kano and Daura; they want a working president at the villa.”
However, a member of the ruling party, Mr. Fouad Oki, said there was nothing ambiguous about what Buhari did since he had explained that he would not want the campaign issues to distract him from governance. Oki also dismissed the insinuation that the president must have conceded the co-chairmanship of his re-election campaign to Tinubu due to ill-health and a means to avoid the stress of campaign across the country.
According to Oki, “If you understand the structure of campaign committee, there is always a chairman and vice chairman. In most cases, the candidate, who is the principal person, is the chairman while, for instance, in Lagos, where I have served several as a director-general of campaigns, the vice chairman of the party is sometimes appointed as campaign chairman. The director-general is just like a managing director.”