Chief executives usually have an interest in who succeeds them. It appears to be the best way to protect their policies, reputation and perhaps even their lives and freedom after office. Many would do all they can to prevent a political enemy or an ideological opponent from taking over power from them.
In the Fourth Republic, in which Nigeria has had its only experience of a regular series of orderly changes of government at the national and sub-national levels, state governors have always tried to decide who their parties field to take over from them. Some have even been known to take extra-legal means to ensure they retain the loyalty of the successors they prodded to power.
At the national level, only President Olusegun Obasanjo has so far enjoyed the privilege of conducting the election that produced his preferred successor. After having his ambitious vice president, Atiku Abubakar, expelled from the ruling party, he virtually handpicked Katsina Governor Umar Yar’Adua and his running mate, Goodluck Jonathan. But those measures did not prevent Mr Obasanjo from being almost immediately stripped of the powers and influence he designed to retain for himself after office, as the chairman of his party’s board of trustees.
Buhari not Obasanjo
It is safe to say President Muhammadu Buhari did not influence his party’s nomination of his successor last June. He has also repeatedly stated, to the chagrin of his party members, that he does not care who Nigerians elect to take over from him on February 25, whether the person is from his own All Progressives Congress (APC) or from any of the 17 opposition parties.
Is the president’s unusual aloofness in this matter the result of lessons learnt from the frustration that Mr Obasanjo and many state governors have had with their handpicked or anointed successors? Or is it just a statement on Mr Buhari’s own nature, reflected even in the manner that he has run his government over the last seven and a half years?
At the height of his imperial military presidency, General Ibrahim Babangida said he did not know who would succeed him but he knew those who would not. He eventually ensured that the man who emerged from the election he conducted ended up in jail in Abuja, rather than at the Aso Rock Villa.
If President Buhari does not know who would succeed him on 29 May, does he also know who would not? His party members have reasons to be apprehensive, given the public perception of his relationship with (or attitude to) Bola Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate.
Is there a rift, or a cold war as some commentators have recently described it, between the two men whose alliance produced the first opposition victory in a Nigerian presidential election, eight years ago?
The truth is that the speculation of a rift has been going on almost forever. However, it became rife in the run-up to the presidential primaries of the party. Mr Tinubu was the first notable aspirant to declare his intention to seek the ticket of the party. He had made the announcement to State House correspondents after a visit to the president at the Aso Rock Villa in Abuja.
According to an associate, Mr Tinubu had broached the subject of his ambition with the president earlier in late 2021. He said the former Lagos governor was prepared to drop his interest at that point had the president told him of a different preference. “Tinubu said he would have only requested the president to allow him to make an input to the composition of that ticket,” the associate who prefers not to be named said.
After what he saw as encouragement from the president, Mr Tinubu announced his bid about three months later. The choice of location for the announcement appeared intended to communicate his anointing by the president. But after a few weeks of hesitation, the dam gate burst open as many other aspirants, including Mr Buhari’s ministers and many long shots, joined the race.
By the time Vice President Yemi Osinbajo too declared his bid and some curious names such as former president Goodluck Jonathan, Central bank governor Godwin Emefiele and African Development Bank President Akinwunmi Adesina dropped into the mix, the perception had crystalised that Mr Buhari might not want Mr Tinubu to take the ticket.
Subsequent repeated statements by the president or his aides that he had no anointed candidate did not change the perception of his antagonism to Mr Tinubu’s ambition. Many still believe that had the northern governors of the party not resolutely backed Mr Tinubu, the president, or whichever of the different factions of the cabal in his presidency had prevailed, would have imposed Senate President Ahmad Lawan, Mr Jonathan or Mr Emefiele on the party.
Mr Tinubu’s first outburst in Abeokuta, Ogun State, during which he made the controversial “Emi lokan’ statement, was believed to be borne out of his frustration with the shenanigans in the party traced to some trusted aides of the president.
Events since his eventual landslide victory at the primary election have thickened the suspicions of a frosty relationship with the president.
The ruling party had been spared a post-convention crisis of the magnitude that has divided the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Yet, many of Mr Tinubu’s opponents at the primary, including the vice president and some former ministers, have refused to take part in his campaign. Some observers believe that an intervention by the president would have persuaded such aspirants to change their attitude.
However, the president himself has been aloof from the campaign. He attended the flag-off rally in Jos, Plateau State, back in October but, immediately after, recoiled into his Aso Rock shell while the candidate, his supporter governors and party officials toured the country. After questions were raised about his detachment from the campaign, the party and the presidency announced that he would attend rallies in 10 states.
But on the day the first of the stated rallies was held in Ilorin, Kwara State, the president flew to Mauritania for an award ceremony. Following news of the president’s foreign trip, information emerged that the rally had been postponed. But this was immediately denied with another announcement that Vice President Osinbajo, who himself has not appeared at any of the rallies, would stand in for the president. But Mr Osinbajo did not attend the rally either. Instead, he was at Lagos for another ceremony.
Party sources said Mr Buhari had earlier rejected a request by Mr Tinubu for him to recommend names for consideration as a vice presidential candidate. And since the choice of Kashim Shettima sparked the same-faith controversy, the president has not spoken out or tried to pacify party leaders, including some of his own officials, who appear to have taken umbrage with the Tinubu campaign over the issue.
READ ALSO: Presidency speaks on alleged rift between Buhari, Tinubu
The speculations on the relationship between the president and his party’s flag bearer hit the headlines again last week after Mr Tinubu returned to Abeokuta and again made some critical remarks.
At a rally in the Ogun State capital on Wednesday, Mr Tinubu said the protracted fuel shortages that had been on for weeks across the country, and indeed for months in some parts of the country, as well as the shambolic implementation of the redesign of the naira were a plot to scuttle the general elections.
“They don’t want elections to take place, but we won’t accept that. They want to hide under fuel scarcity to cause a crisis so that there won’t be an election,” he said before thousands of his supporters.
“Whether there is fuel or not, we will vote. Without fuel, we shall vote. You know me very well, we are going to win. We are going to take over from them. We shall meet on Election Day. This election is a revolution, we are going to vote and we are going to win.”
The opposition immediately interpreted the remarks as an attack on President Buhari and Mr Tinubu’s concession of an election defeat. Others accused the ruling party candidate of attacking the currency redesign policy because it would stop him from buying votes during the election.
The CBN had on 26 October 2022, announced the plan to redesign the N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes and have them swapped for the old designs between December 15 and January 31. The policy was aimed at promoting a cashless economy and checking counterfeiting, terrorism funding and vote buying, among other benefits.
However, the implementation of the policy has been chaotic as new notes remain scarce across the country, two days to the close of the window for the swapping. Many calls have been made, including by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), for the extension of the 31 January deadline. But the CBN governor, Mr Emefiele, has insisted there will be no extension and President Buhari has backed him on it, despite the public outcry.
APC members, in particular Mr Tinubu’s supporters, think Mr Emefiele adopted the policy so close to the elections to hurt politicians for frustrating his bid to join the presidential race. Mr Emefiele’s clandestine bid had drawn him flak from within and outside the APC as he was rumoured to be the candidate of some aides of the president who had benefitted directly from his policies at the CBN or favour him for his generous funding support for government programmes and projects.
No rift with Buhari
On Saturday, Mr Tinubu dismissed the rumours of a rift. At a rally in Gusau, the Zamfara State capital, he said he has a deep respect for and a good relationship with the president. “I have supported President Buhari even before his first day in office. I will continue to be his supporter and friend after his last day in office.
“He tackled the problems other leaders ran from. He has earned a place in history that cannot be denied. I have said this before and will say it again now: when the true history of this moment is written, President Buhari shall be treated very kindly because of his contributions to the nation.”
Upon returning to Abuja from Abeokuta, he had reportedly met with governors Aminu Masari of Katsina, Babagana Zulum of Borno, and Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi before they proceeded to Daura to see the president, who was on a working visit to his home state, on Thursday night.
Mr Tinubu had taken a similar step after his first outburst in Abeokuta. He had rushed over to the State House to apologise to Mr Buhari for his remarks that were considered derogatory to the president.
Given his taciturn ways, it is difficult to read the mind of the president on this issue. His aloofness to his party’s campaigns is not a recent development. After his reelection in 2019, Mr Buhari did not attend any more rallies despite knowing that his party’s candidates faced serious opposition in some of the states that he had won with big margins. Eventually, the party lost the state elections in Bauchi and Sokoto and needed a supplementary poll to escape defeat in Kano.
While campaigning in Imo and Ogun states where the APC was split into factions, he refused to intervene in the disputes. Instead, he shockingly told voters at his rallies in those states to vote for him and whoever they preferred in the governorship elections.
There has been a rumour, promoted especially by the PDP, that some of the president’s aides have entered a pact to support the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar. Two spokespersons of Atiku, Dino Melaye and Daniel Bwala, went further to claim that 11 APC state governors were also working for Atiku. The APC and the presidency have denied those claims.
But given what we saw in the APC primaries, it is not inconceivable that some close aides of the president may be doing just as has been alleged. The leadership style of the president tends to allow his aides to decide their own directions even on critical issues. Because few get to see the president, those close to him have learnt to exercise his authority without taking responsibility for the consequences.
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