Nigeria: The Man Who Would Be President

By Richard Mammah

Asiwaju Bola Tinubu chaired the 2021 Sarduana Annual Memorial Lecture in Kaduna.Photo courtesy

Interest in the succession to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari was raised a notch higher recently when the National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Party, APC, and already touted front-runner in the 2023 presidential process, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, undertook two high profile visits to the north-ward Kano and Kaduna states.

A Yoruba from the South West, Tinubu who has been a two-time governor in Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, Lagos, was presumably now formally reaching out for the handshake across Jebba as part of what pundits believe is part of a wider process of throwing his hat into the ring and definitively signaling that he was prepared and ready to take the reins of office after President Buhari would have completed his second term in office by May 2023.

Given Nigeria’s political divisions and demographic make-up, it is apparent that no single political player can all by himself work his way into the most exalted office in the land.

First, the constitution prescribes that any intending office holder at this level must not only be fielded by a contending political party, he must also secure a majority of the votes from the contest and a minimum of 25 percent of the votes recorded in two thirds of the 36 states in the country and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. For Buhari who has for many years, commanded a relative cult-like following across large swathes of the North, meeting this electoral criteria was even a challenge until he found better cross-cutting relationships across more segments of the country.

So, for an aspirant like Tinubu, he must ford the triple hurdles of getting a party nomination, a majority of ballots and a quarter of the votes cast in all 36 states and Abuja, the imperative of reaching across Nigeria’s divisions cannot be discountenanced if his ambition is to attract the required traction. And underscoring this point is the fact that he had even before now almost practically been spending large amounts of time in his Abuja lodgings, from where he had been quietly reaching out to more and more of his supporters and foot soldiers in the North.

Some of this attention surely helped Tinubu in attracting the fairly enthusiastic audience and crowd showings that were recorded in the course of this recent Northern showing.

But not many think that the Jagaban Borgu should now go to sleep after his Kaduna/Kano performance in the belief that all is well with his aspiration as far as the North is concerned.

One of such expressions of caution is coming from the activist and former Senator representing the Kaduna Central District in the National Assembly, Shehu Sani. He has advised the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress to be generally wary in his dealings with northerners, and especially members of the Northern political class.

Rather than be taken in by platitudes and speeches made at such orchestrated events as his appearances at Arewa House, Kaduna and in Kano, the former Senator is advising the political hopeful to ensure that he gets his own team that would work with him and in the process also afford him better counsel as to the deeper and underlying issues about how well or not he is accepted in the region.

Affirming that at the moment, the majority of the common people in the North do not exactly support Tinubu’s presidential ambition, he urged him to take lessons from the experiences of the likes of Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola who finally found out that he could not count on the support of quite critical northerners that he had been relying on.

“Well, the person of Asiwaju is the one I know in the field of struggle. He was one of those in the struggle for the restoration of democracy and also a leading figure in the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) while I was part of the fight for democracy. We worked together for MKO’s project and for the resistance against the annulment.’

Making an allusion to an earlier tweet where he had counselled that Tinubu should get Hausa speakers who are loyal to him to help with proper translations of remarks made by Northerners in the course of his trips, he remarked that this would help get a proper and accurate gauge that he could work with, even as he linked it with the travails of MKO Abiola.

“I know [Tinubu] personally. But what I tweeted is more of a Biblical/Shakespearian allegory or whatever one can use in sending message to someone and what I am trying to say is that as he is allegedly moving towards contesting for the presidency, he should try to know the actual feeling on the ground as far as the North is concerned because I know what Abiola went through.

“Abiola served the North more than any other businessman from the western part of Nigeria. He printed the Quran and shared it to many Muslims. He donated houses and empowered people; he supported academics and religious clerics. Abiola was one of those passionate about the unity of Nigeria because of the solidarity between the South-West and the northern part of Nigeria. But how did he end up? They (northerners) conspired against him and sabotaged him and at the end of the day, he was gone.”

Keen observers say Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu used his trip to the North to meet voters and power brokers who are normally not on social media.Photo credit twitter

A mine field of booby traps

The deterioration of affairs in the polity at the moment has even made political permutations more difficult as there are indeed an ever increasing array of contending matters. One of these is the inconvenient issue of religion. Though it has almost always been a factor, it promises to take a high note of its own in the Tinubu aspiration at some point in the process. This is more so when the same Tinubu had also been a front-line contender for the VP position in 2015 before religion and several other related-intrigue points stopped him.

In the 2023 drive, the religion card is already registering in two ways in preliminary debates of the subject. One, against the backdrop of the ethno-religious tensions in the land at the moment, would the dominant Christian electorate of the South eventually see the Muslim Tinubu as their own candidate without any scruples? And even for the North, what kind of VP choice should Tinubu be considering? A Northern Christian to balance his Southern Muslim card? But should he take that route, would the majority Northern Muslims see such as choice as sufficiently representative of their own ethos? Heads, tails, this is surely going to be one tough nut to crack.

There is also the issue of South West, South East relations and the continuing clamour for a President of South East origin.

Says the political activist and pundit, Tony Akata:

‘Tinubu’s major obstacles would come from the South, that is from within the Yoruba and Igbo blocs. He is also thinking he would get the support of the North but this is quite tricky. If they get, say a Tambuwal to run against him in the North, he would then have even major issues even in the North. We should not forget the experiences of Abiola and even Obasanjo so easily when it comes to having politicians from the South having dealings with the North.’

But there are those who believe that given the state of political and economic failing in which the country is presently enmeshed, and the very parlous security situation countrywide, angling for political office at this time is simply building on quicksand.

‘My take is that without the institution of serious restructuring and electoral reforms, we should simply not bother with elections and electoral contests in 2023. It is simply a distraction. Will there be a Nigeria by 2023? At least not in a state for these so called elections to be held. And on the specific candidacy of Bola Tinubu, I am not impressed. He does not have what I believe the next leader of Nigeria should have. So my response to his candidacy straight away is a no-no,’ Okiemute Umukoro, a business systems expert remarked.

His view is not dissimilar from that of Allison Etemike, a lawyer and social commentator.

‘Tinubu does not have what it takes to hold Nigeria together beyond 2023. The Nigerian political class know that they have literally boxed the nation into a cul de sac. They are aware. That we are faced with a very onerous task and most herculean challenge. What is needed is a honest, courageous, conscientious, charismatic, even-handed and fair leader. And I am not satisfied that Bola Tinubu is that person.’

Bola Tinubu and President Buhari have been known to be strong allies

The blogger and activist, Sunday Esado is also not enamoured of the Tinubu presidency project and he explains:

‘As a patriotic Nigerian, I believe a Tinubu Presidency would further plunge our country into political nepotism and wanton destruction occasioned by embezzlement, malfeasance, financial recklessness and lawlessness. We should just take a look at what is going on in Lagos and imagine the whole country as an extension of Lagos.’

But he also thinks that there are more obstacles and challenges for the dream of the former Mobil Accountant to become Nigeria’s Number One citizen.

‘First, Tinubu needs massive support in the north where he has little or no popularity at all. A candidate like Atiku would definitely cash in on this loophole if he emerges the flagbearer for PDP in 2023. This would explain why Tinubu has been deliberate in his drive to win the north over.

Second, I would have suggested Nuhu Ribadu or Governor El-Rufai as potential vice Presidents for him, but I am reminded that the Muslim – Muslim equation was the main reason he had to relinquish his Vice Presidential ambition to Yemi Osinbajo in 2015 in the first place. It is surely going to be interesting and full of twists and turns. But one thing is obvious. Tinubu wants to be President. He has always wanted to be. It was one of the main reasons for the coalition that led to the removal of Jonathan in 2015 and there are flyers and posters in that regard already in some parts of Lagos and elsewhere in the country.’

*Culled from April Issue of PAV Magazine

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