Although I have said in the past that next year’s presidential contest will be a short in the dark in light of the continually shifting political variables in the country, the auguries for Bola Ahmed Tinubu to clinch the nomination of APC aren’t looking pretty.
Unless something really dramatic happens between now and the next APC convention, Tinubu seems headed for an inexorably catastrophic political fall in the party he helped to form, fund, and get to power. It is now obvious to even a casual observer that the people who control the levers of APC want neither Bola Tinubu nor Yemi Osinbajo to be their party’s nominee for president in 2023.
There seems to be a coalescence of opinions in the upper reaches of APC’s hierarchy in the North that the party’s nominee should come from the South-South because they imagine that only a weak, politically rootless candidate from the region will guarantee their influence and continued access to the public till.
A section of APC’s northern power brokers wants former President Goodluck Jonathan to be APC’s standard bearer not only because they think he is easily manipulatable but also because he would be a lame-duck, term-limited president who would hand power back to them after four years.
Although “Constitution Alteration Bill Number 16,” which Muhammadu Buhari signed into law in 2018, makes it unconstitutional for vice presidents and deputy governors who complete the first terms of deceased or impeached and removed presidents and governors to run for election twice, many people pointed out that it can’t be applied retroactively to Jonathan.
Nonetheless, in a January 2012 ruling against Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa, Murtala Nyako of Adamawa, Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko of Sokoto, Ibrahim Idris of Kogi and Liyel Imoke of Cross Rivers, the Supreme Court said no Nigerian can constitutionally occupy an executive position for more than eight years.
So, were Jonathan to be elected president in 2023, he can’t constitutionally seek another term in 2027. That’s appealing to the rapacious APC vultures who are circling around and feeding fat on the carcass of power in Aso Rock.
Another northern APC faction wants Central Bank governor Godwin Emefiele to be APC’s nominee because of his deep embeddedness in the labyrinthine network of high-level corruption that the Aso Rock cabal has been enmeshed in since 2015.
Plus, as a Delta Igbo man who was born and raised in Lagos, it is expected that he would be a political orphan in all the political regions of the South and would be dependent on his political benefactors in the North for survival.
Not being a “core Igbo,” he can’t be “owned” by the Southeast and being “Igbo” in the South-South, he’d be a minority among minorities. Of course, that is an extremely naïve political calculation.
Although Buhari had mysteriously entertained the idea of endorsing Timipre Sylva as his successor, his preference didn’t seem to have had any buy-in from his own political operatives.
Ekiti State governor Kayode Fayemi is another dark horse. Certain powerful political forces in northern APC think he is tame, mild-mannered, and politically unrooted enough to not upset the apple-cart should it become inevitable that power should be transferred to the Southwest to compensate the region for providing the crucial support the APC needed to win— or successfully rig— the last two elections. Again, that is naïve reasoning.
But what has become obvious is that the two main criteria that honchos at APC have deployed to determine who will get their party’s nomination for president are guarantees of unfettered post-election access to the seat of power and vulnerability of the political base of the future president, which would require a contingent linkage with northern politicians for purely existential reasons.
Tinubu doesn’t fit the bill. He is fiercely independent, sees himself as an institution, is thoroughly rooted in the Southwest, has one of the most formidable political structures in the country and, most importantly, frames his presidency as an ethnic project.
The cabal knows that Tinubu’s ascendancy to the presidency will effectively draw the curtains on their reign. As George Orwell reminds us in 1984, “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end.”
With the nixing of direct primaries in APC, it’s now almost certain that Tinubu doesn’t stand even a snowball’s chance in hell of emerging as his party’s flag bear in 2023. Nor, of course, does Yemi Osinbajo, who has no political machinery to propel his campaign to begin with.
This awareness will cause Tinubu to bring it all down in APC. He is already leaving broad hints that he will either swim with the party or sink with it.
He signaled this at the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo when, according to the Vanguard, he said, “No amount of intimidation can stop me. I am ready to get dirty. I am out to become President of Nigeria. We are at the crossroads.”
His media aide issued a statement denying the accuracy of this sentiment. He quoted Tinubu to have instead said, “Kabiyesi, all I have come for is to beg you to continue to pray for me, the entire Yoruba race and the country.
“I am out to become the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and there is a wise saying that if you want to wrestle with the pig, be ready to get dirty and deal with the poo-poo.
“I am ready to get dirty. No intimidation, no blackmail, no sort of insult will get me angry to the extent that I will say ‘no more, I don’t want again.’”
Apparently, Vanguard’s and Tinubu media aide’s renditions of what Tinubu said are different because Tinubu originally spoke in Yoruba, not in English, but I don’t see any substantive difference between the first quotation and the “clarification” that came after it.
They both encapsulate a sentiment of desperation, of an acute self-awareness of an imminent loss of control, and of a desire to bring the house down if all else fails.
Tinubu is now undertaking what a friend in the Southwest has characterized as a “subversive tour” of Yoruba land where he takes subtle and not-too-subtle pot shots at the Aso Rock cabal. He has reduced his desperation for ascendancy to the presidency as the quest for a “Yoruba presidency,” perhaps in response to the artfully ethnic character of the Aso Rock cabal’s succession politics.
He no longer even cares to pretend that he wants a pan-Nigerian presidency, which is interesting given that had said in 1997 that he didn’t believe in one Nigeria because he wasn’t having his way.
And during a visit to the Ooni of Ife this week, he made it clear that Buhari is obligated to requite his support for him in 2015 and 2019.
“We went around the country in 2013 [sic] to campaign for Buhari,” he said. “Again in 2019, we stood with him, and he won. He will soon finish his tenure. I am saying they should not just leave the post; they should hand it over to me. I cannot demand it alone. I must seek your assistance.”
I don’t recall ever seeing this level of wildly desperate entitlement in any Nigerian politician in my lifetime. I think it’s a telling foretoken for how Tinubu will react when— not if—he officially loses the nomination of his party.
He will not support a South-South APC presidential candidate and will certainly give his all to scuttle APC’s chances in the Southwest in 2023 should that happen. However, should Fayemi become APC’s nominee, Tinubu’s resistance in the Southwest would be hampered by the ethnic solidarity of the Yoruba electorate, which would constitute a really brutal blow to him.
If PDP weren’t the disorganized, undisciplined party that it is now, it would take advantage of the dissension in APC to get back to power. Outside of Atiku Abubakar, who appears too financially hamstrung to launch another successful presidential run, I don’t see anyone in the party with a vast national appeal who can win a national election.
That is why it increasingly looks to me like a third party might win the 2023 election—if the election is free and fair, that is—and if my prognosis of APC’s Tinubu problem holds up.