The Speaker’s presidential ambition may have run into a hitch as APC considers his candidacy a risk.
Officials serving with House of Representatives speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, almost seethe at suggestions the speaker may be preparing for the presidency in 2015, despite a list of high-ranking endorsements he has received lately.
Aides say reports of meetings involving the speaker for a likely presidential ticket are mere media inventions, and are largely imaginary.
“These things are all figments of the imagination of those who report them,” Imam Imam, spokesperson for the speaker, said recently.
He amplified that refutation with remarks about the speaker’s focus on his current mandate.
“The speaker has a four-year mandate on behalf of the Nigerian people and he has just reached mid-term; he wants to be left to do that job to the satisfaction of all Nigerians.”
But as the disclaimers are issued, evidences increasingly stack high, pointing to a politician with vigorous ambition, who only deploys caution to a well-known slippery turf.
Lawmakers and staff close to the speaker say instead of jumping at the multiple endorsements he has received lately, Mr. Tambuwal has given more attention to reviewing their sources, how sincere they may possibly be, and other relevant factors as he plods on attempting to avoid a pitfall.
In driving that thin-skinned process, the speaker’s most ranking endorsement yet- the call by former military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida, urging him to seek higher office- has turned out his most troubling, demanding of utmost prudence, according to officials knowledgeable about the matter.
Mr. Babangida’s call came early April at the investiture of the Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, as the Vanguard Newspaper’s Man of the Year. Speaking estimably of Mr. Tambuwal’s conduct in office as one capable “to sustain the labour of our heroes past”, the former leader urged the speaker to try something higher.
“When leaders like Tambuwal delivered on their electoral promises, we advise them to try something higher,” he said. “For Tambuwal, your guess is as good as mine.”
But the top-notch remark, his author well reputed for implicit and uncertain prospects, turned out one demanding of circumspection for the speaker; a scenario made worse by the retired general’s almost failure to convince all of his permanent disinterest in the position he has so yearned for since leaving office in 1993, our sources say.
“No one really knows whether it was a good thing the man did or not,” the source, who requested his identity not be disclosed, said.
Yet, however dismal or promising Mr. Babangida’s recommendation, it was that which dramatically upped the speaker’s rating as a prospective candidate for 2015, drawing talks of affiliation with the opposition parties for that purpose.
List of endorsements
After that encounter, Mr. Tambuwal has since been singled out for lavish praise repeatedly by regional leaders, politicians, lawmakers and even opposition party members; and he has followed those through with a body language that makes it tough straining him away from an imminent presidency plans as his aides so earnestly argue.
In each of the speaker’s recommendations, his relatively more stable leadership at the house and his staying power in jettisoning his party formular during his emergence as speaker in 2011, are constantly cited.
Recently, the Northern Elders’ Forum said while it had not decided on a consensus northern candidate for the presidency in 2015, Mr. Tambuwal was a striking option.
“The Northern Elders Forum will support a candidate from the North. But we have yet to zero in on anybody, whether Christian or Muslim. However, with what Tambuwal has done as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, he looks quite attractive,” the spokesman for the forum, Paul Unongo, was recently quoted by the Punch as saying.
In the last one year, Mr. Tambuwal has not only showed up in person at funeral, marriage and sundry events, he has also received multiple awards, academic and allied recognitions across the country – often known preludes to higher political opportunities. Last year, he was installed the Leadership Newspaper’s Politician of the Year.
On the domestic front, the speaker’s colleagues in the House of Representatives have discreetly rooted for him to join the presidential race when the time comes. Deputy spokesperson, Victor Ogene, came short of fully acknowledging that much recently when he told reporters the speaker was free and qualified to gun for the presidency. Mr. Ogene made it clear that the speaker will receive the support of members if he so decides.
At a birthday event in Abuja city centre mid-May, lawmakers from the chamber openly remarked how it was no secret that Mr. Tambuwal would be leading a presidential ticket deputized by the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola.
“Everyone knows that it is Tambuwal and Fashola,” one senior south west member of the House declared.
As part of that drive, Mr. Tambuwal reportedly met secretly with the national leaders of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, Muhammadu Buhari, and the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Ahmed Tinubu, at a private residence in Abuja recently where his (Speaker) political future topped the agenda.
The speaker’s office forcefully denies he ever attended such meeting.
“That’s a blatant lie,” Mr. Imam said. “If the speaker ever wanted to meet with Mr. Buhari, it will be in Kaduna not in Abuja.”
He buttressed that point by explaining the office’s routine of releasing photographs of any meeting the speaker and Mr. Buhari.
“These are the kind of things we try to avoid, so we make sure we do that to show we don’t have anything to hide,” he said.
On the speaker’s frequenting of functions- lately, those organized by the opposition parties- the office said the speaker reserved the right to do so since he was not only the speaker for the Peoples Democratic Party, but one for all Nigerians.
The speaker is also known not to be a favourite of the PDP, and the presidency, as evidenced by his conspicuous absence at the presentation of President Gooluck Jonathan’s scorecard on May 29, leading a presidency source to say that the joke in the presidency is that “the Speaker is an APC man in PDP government,”
But nearly more than any other consideration, Mr. Tambuwal’s perceived hobnobbing with the All Progressives Congress, APC, a party said to be considering handing him the merger’s presidential ticket if he dumps the PDP, is seen as both strategic and potentially perilous.
While the opposition leaders are said to be pleased with how the speaker steered the House during last year’s fuel subsidy uproar and his penchant for speaking up on national issues, the speaker is also said to be wary of not being ditched after getting tossed into the ring. He is also watchful against resentment from some of the party’s founders.
Osita Okechukwu, a chieftain of APC, lobbed that perception last week, denying claims that the yet-to-be registered party is wooing Mr. Tambuwal for a presidential ticket.
“Consider him for doing what?” Mr. Okechukwu asked. “Is it because he is a beneficiary of the revenge mission against Obasanjo and Jonathan for dumping the zoning policy of PDP? Can that be called achievement?”
“We thought he came to change things. We have since discovered he is still the same. He is part of the crowd.”
He said besides such considerations, the party’s constitution will sure not offer Mr. Tambuwal a slot.
“If he comes to APC he cannot beat Buhari in the north. He is an anti-democrat. His achievement is that he is just like Goodluck Jonathan. Is that what makes him fit for our ticket?”
Even more, some of the association’s chieftains, PREMIUM TIMES understands, fear that conceding the proposed party’s presidential ticket to Mr. Tambuwal might be a big risk as the PDP government may shovel the speaker’s past dirt in the house into the open in a political system where nearly every office holder is certain to have interned dubious records.
Mr. Tambuwal served as the ANPP/Minority Leader and PDP Deputy Whip before becoming Speaker against the PDP zoning policy, which had favoured the South West to produce the number four citizen.
The Speaker and his deputy, Emeka Ihedioha, are believed to be part of the generally perceived inglorious era of the immediate past Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, who is currently standing trial for corruption charges. Mr. Ihedioha served as the Whip while Mr. Tambuwal was his deputy in that era.
Such suspicion is what the speaker spends time reviewing to realize if he stands a chance for the elections, another source said.
Mr. Imam said he could not confirm whether the speaker has received any offer or has been involved in discussions with the APC potentially for the presidential elections. He however said the speaker remains a politician and all politicians have ambitions and he would prefer to “cross the bridge when we get there.”