The 11th colloquium, to mark the 67th birthday, of the former Lagos State governor and National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, which held on 28th March, in Abuja, has been seen in some quarters to be a major positioning for his strongly perceived 2023 presidential ambition.
The event could not have passed unnoticed given the very elaborate arrangements put in place to draw local and global attention. The post-event activities have, however, raised loads of curiosity given the subtle push for a Tinubu presidency that emerged a day after.
The media blitz expectedly took root at Television Continental (TVC), where two acolytes of Asiwaju, on a programme styled This Morning, actively canvassed and defended a Tinubu Presidency in 2023.
It must be said that Tinubu’s colloquium is an annual ritual which attracts political and economic heavyweights who come to rub minds on issues of great national concern especially on socio-economic and governance issues. This year’s theme was “Investing in People: Jobs and the Economy.”
The colloquium had in attendance the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who represented President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, the Chief Host of the Colloquium and Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, Governors of Ondo, Zamfara, Ekiti, Kano, Plateau, Bauchi, Osun, the Governor-elect of Lagos State and Kwara State including Ministers, Traditional Rulers, Diplomats, Senators and some Service Chiefs.
The Political Journey of the Jagaban
Tinubu, popularly known as the Jagaban of the Borgu Kingdom in Niger State or the Asiwaju of Lagos, is one politician who has developed great political tentacles having been on the Nigerian political terrain for decades. He began his political walk in 1992 under the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He was elected senator for Lagos West senatorial district in 1993 – the election was prior to a military take-over in December 1993.
The Jagaban was one of the founding members of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) – a group formed on May 15, 1994 by a wide coalition of Nigerian democrats following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election by General Ibrahim Babangida. The leading members of the coalition included: Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Anthony Enahoro, Balarabe Musa, Rear Admiral Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu, Shafi Lawal Edu and Ayo Opadokun – who was secretary and spokesman for the coalition. The aim of NADECO was for the restoration of democracy and recognition of M. K. O. Abiola a democratically elected president. Thus, the group demanded that the then Head of State, General Sani Abacha steps down. Members of NADECO were either arrested or detained for questioning by the Abacha government. When the heat was high, several leading members of the group, in 1995, including the Jagaban, fled the country. Tinubu returned to the country in 1998; after the death of the military dictator, Abacha, which paved way for the present democratic dispensation.
Towards the build up to the democratic era which commenced in 1999, he contested for the governorship of Lagos State under the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and won. He was the political brain behind the party – The Action Congress of Nigeria formerly known as Action Congress (AC), which was formed through the merger of a faction of Alliance for Democracy (AD), the Justice Party (JP), the Alliance Congress of Democrats (ACD) and several other minor political parties in September 2006. This was a move to form a larger political opposition to the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the then Northern-dominated All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
However, in February 2013, he led the party – ACN – to merge with the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to form the All Progressives Congress (APC). The merger fulfilled its ambition of unseating the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. From the fore-going, it could be deduced that Tinubu has been playing opposition politics, reminiscent of what was obtainable in the Action Group (AG) of the first republic, prior to the victory of APC at the 2015 presidential election – of which he played a major role towards the win of President Muhammadu Buhari
A Pan-Nigerian Political Strategist
The likes of the Lion of Bourdillon, a moniker he (Tinubu) got in recognition of his political prowess, is rare. When he speaks, everyone listens. Any politician in the South-west who craves acceptability and patronage grovels at his feet. His political influence goes beyond the South-west region as he has built a massive political network in all the geopolitical zones of the country. This is practically exemplified in the kind of all-Nigeria cabinet he had when he was the governor of Lagos State (1999-2007). He had a number of Commissioners who were not from Lagos State – something that is extremely rare to find in other states.
For example, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who is from Ogun State was his Commissioner for Justice. The current Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who is from Kwara State, was his Chief of Staff. Dele Alake, who is from Ekiti State, was his Commissioner for Information. The immediate past governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, was his Commissioner for Works. Ben Akabueze from Anambra State was his Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Femi Lanlehin from Oyo State was his Special Adviser while Fola Arthur-Warrey from Delta State was his Commissioner for Land.
The aforementioned people have gone ahead to hold various higher political positions and Tinubu remains a reference point to their political successes. Governor Umar Ganduje of Kano and Senator Ahmed Lawan of Yobe State and a host of prominent northern leaders are also his close allies. It is pertinent to note that Joe Igbokwe, who is from Anambra, is APC spokesman in Lagos State.
Tinubu has taken time and resources to build a productive network for himself – expanding his political reach beyond the shores of the South-west zone. He is painstaking and formidable in playing political games. And he loses no opportunity at throwing jibes at political enemies while asserting his own credentials comprising his pronounced progressive inclination. For example, in 2018, while speaking at the Abiola Ajimobi Roundtable with the theme: “The Imperative of Building Institutions for Lasting Legacies,” organized as part of the activities marking the 69th birthday ceremony of Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, Tinubu indicated that unnamed “political prostitutes and robbers” denied Nigeria of a vibrant Senate presidency since 2015.
Tinubu’s Perceived 2023 Presidential Ambition
Following the posture of the 11th colloquium and the tributes that have come from his political camp, there are strong indications that his presidential ambition is close to the brim. A leading Northern politician, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, recently, told The Interview: “There may be unwritten understanding that when President Muhammadu Buhari finishes, the Vice President will likely be the next presidential candidate of the APC. If it’s not Osinbajo, then somebody from there, probably Tinubu will likely emerge as the candidate of the APC.” It could be recalled that Tinubu was on the verge of becoming President Buhari’s running mate during the build up to the 2015 presidential polls.
He was, however, allegedly stopped by the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and other political like minds based on the premise that a Muslim/Muslim ticket should not be obtainable in a religiously diverse country like Nigeria. “Again, let me reiterate my position that my uncertain and complex relationship with Tinubu has been continually defined by the event of 2014 when I and other leaders of the APC opposed the Muslim-Muslim ticket arrangement about to be foisted on the APC for the 2015 polls,” Saraki said.
Also, Saraki while replying a letter Tinubu wrote him – The Tinubu Rhetoric: My Response – in 2018, alleged that Tinubu is only supporting President Buhari’s re-election with the hope of succeeding him in 2023. “However, during those meetings, the point of disagreement between me and him was that while I expressed my worry that there was nothing on the ground to assure me that the administrative style and attitude would change in the next four years in a manner that would enable us to deliver the positive changes we promised to our people, he (Tinubu) expressed a strong opinion that he would rather ‘support a Buhari on the hospital stretcher’ to get a second term because in 2023, power will shift to the South-west.
“This Tinubu viewpoint was not only expressed to me but to several of my colleagues; so much for acting in national interest. It is clear that while my own decision is based on protecting collective, national interest, Tinubu will rather live with the identified inadequacies in the government for the sake of fulfilling and preserving his presidential ambition in 2023. This new position of Tinubu has only demonstrated inconsistency, particularly when one reviews his antecedent over the years.”
The arguments appear to lend some weight to speculations that the Jagaban has an eye on the presidency. However, it is Tinubu’s perceived ambition, and the doublespeak by chieftains of the ruling party (APC) in the run up to 2019 presidential campaigns, on how power would return to the South-west, that has raised confusing eyebrows.
This is because during the 2019 presidential campaign, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola and the Vice President Osinbajo told the Yorubas to support President Buhari’s reelection bid in order to have power return to the South-west. But the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha and the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, including the Governor of Imo State, Chief Rochas Okorocha, urged Igbos to vote for Buhari in order for them to have the opportunity of producing a President in 2023
It is actually on the heels of supporting President Buhari in order to have an Igbo President come 2023 that the Senior Special Assistant to Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State on Event Management, Mr Chido Obidiegwu, had, “one-on-one Nigeria,” for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2019 presidential campaigns. According to him, “One-on-one Nigeria” is an independent network of Ndigbo determined to achieve Igbo Presidency by returning President Buhari for a second term. This we do through a massive awareness to convince Ndigbo that four years of President Buhari is better than eight years of any other person for us to achieve this dream via a project tagged 4 is better 8.”
On the other hand, Yakasai, during his interview with The Interview noted, “I don’t see any possibility that the party (APC) will think of giving its candidacy to the South-east, against the support it got from the South-west. Apart from the votes, don’t forget that APC also enjoyed material support from the South-west.”
Now that the 2019 elections have come and gone, it would seem that the submission of Yakasai stands because Buhari lost in all the 5 states of the South-east while in South-west the President only lost in Ondo and Oyo States, a disturbing development in the views of some analysts.
However, the truth remains that a politician of Tinubu’s might and posture cannot be written off come 2023. Many agree that he has worked hard in building the political expressway for himself. His political sagacity is deeply felt in all parts of the country. If Tinubu finally comes out to declare that he is in for the presidential tussle in 2023, there probably would be no Igbo politician that will have that political energy to stand him.
The Igbo presidency may be long overdue. Yes. However, the question that needs to be answered is, which Igbo politician has the strong political network Tinubu has? Beyond sentiments, therefore, this should serve as a wakeup call for the Igbo nation to brace up if they truly want to taste the presidency in 2023. They really need to work hard and build strategic alliances the way Tinubu has built – over the years.
It is well within the rights of Tinubu, as a Nigerian, to contest for the most exalted office in the country – the presidency. He has laid the foundational framework that can see him climb the ladder, if he finally declares his intention for 2023 presidency. In every front, he has everything on his side. He was a huge instrument that saw President Buhari become a President after 12 years of contesting unsuccessively. The North may be eager to reward him for the role he played for President Buhari if he finally runs for the presidency.
It is of great essence to note that he equally has a media empire that can project his cause just like they have done over the years. His investment and commitment to such media platforms as The Nation Newspaper, TVC News, Adama FM and Max FM are no longer secrets.
The 11th colloquium that held recently attests to Tinubu’s political reach and influence given the caliber of prominent Nigerians who were in attendance. The emerging national discourse centered around Asiwaju is, therefore, one that cannot be wished away easily.
The year 2023 might, indeed, be heavily pregnant for the Nigerian project. Should Tinubu or will Tinubu fall for the 2023 Presidency bait is the question most analysts will have to contend with in the weeks and months ahead.