“I am different. I am Bola Tinubu, he is Muhammadu Buhari”, President Bola Tinubu told BBC’s Peter Okwoche in a rare interview during the presidential campaign, Since his inauguration, Mr Tinubu has been trying to show Nigerians that he is different from his predecessor, despite both of them being members of the same All Progressives Congress (APC).
That is now clear at least in his relationship with APC where he has left no one in doubt that he won’t be aloof when it comes to the leadership of the party. This is unlike Mr Buhari who, as president, only intervened when the party was in crisis. For instance, following the removal of Adams Oshiomhole as national chairman in 2020, Mr Buhari handed the party over to the APC governors through the Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee led by Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State.
Last year, the governors allocated the APC National Working Committee seats to their candidates and it took a lot of prompting before Mr Buhari agreed to pick the national chairman, finally settling for Abdulahi Adamu.
Nasir El-Rufai, then governor of Kaduna State, in an interview after the convention, said it took the prompting of the governors before Mr Buhari picked the former Nasarawa governor.
Muiz Banire, a former legal adviser of the party, said when Mr Buhari later decided to become active in the affairs of the party, his lack of understanding of the dynamics of politics misled him to wrong decisions.
“He does not understand the political dynamics. At the initial stage, he was aloof, but at the time he was to become an active participant, he got it wrong. For example, I do not see how you will take someone (Adamu) who is octogenarian to come and administer the party. He could only be an adviser. To administer the party, you need someone that is vibrant and still active,” Mr Banire said during a phone interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
The emergence of former Governor of Kano State, Umar Ganduje, a staunch ally of President Tinubu, as the national chairman and Ajibola Bashiru as secretary offers a preview of the style of the current president. It indicates that the days of the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF) running the party may be over.
Under Mr Buhari, the Adamu-led NWC emerged through a consensus arrangement and careful consideration of regional and bloc interests. Following the abrupt departure of Mr Adamu some weeks ago, many within the party had predicted that Tanko Almakura, who is also from Nasarawa State, would replace him in line with section 31.5 of the APC constitution, which stipulates the process for the replacement of members of the NWC.
But Mr Tinubu ignored elements within the party that cited the section, including the then national vice chairman, Salihu Lukman, who openly spoke against the nomination of Mr Ganduje.
“No section of the APC constitution gives anyone, including President Asiwaju Tinubu the power to act in any contrary way. Therefore, if this provision of the APC constitution is to be respected, Nasarawa State Executive Committee of the APC, which is where Sen. Adamu comes from should have the right to propose a replacement, which should be endorsed by the State Congress and the Zonal Executive Committee,” Mr Lukman had said.
The president ignored the issues raised, backed Mr Ganduje fully and got the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to confirm the decision.
In the past three months, Mr Tinubu has essentially taken control of the ruling party with the appointment of Messrs Ganduje and Bashiru to the two most powerful positions in the NWC.
Furthermore, the exit of Mr Lukman is significant because of the role he played in the removal of three successive national chairmen of the parrty – Messrs Oshiomhole, Mai Mala Buni and Adamu. The Kaduna politician was relentless in pushing for reforms in the party and described Mr Ganduje as “morally unfit” for the seat he now occupies in t6he APC.
Tinubu’s history of holding on to party structure
In the case of Mr Tinubu, he ensures that he controls the structure of the party whenever he had the power. In 2006, when he founded the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), he called on his old ally, Bisi Akande, to run the party. And while he was offering the platform to different presidential candidates in 2007 and 2011, Mr Tinubu never dropped his hold on the structure of the party with Mr Akande staying all through.
When the merger with the Congress for Progressive Change, All Nigerian People’s Party and other political parties birthed the APC in 2013, Mr Tinubu ensured that Mr Akande emerged the interim national chairman, until the 2014 convention that produced John Odigie-Oyegun. Mr Tinubu backed the former Edo State governor against Tom Ikimi for the position.
Mr Ikimi, in a piece titled: All Progressives Congress –‘My Reflection’ , accused Mr Tinubu of scheming to retain Mr Akande as the national chairman of the party “ad infinitum” but later settled for Mr Odigie-Oyegun following fierce opposition from some elements within the party.
“His last-minute efforts to rally a South West Leadership support for his absolute power over the party failed and chances of retaining Chief Bisi Akande as National Chairman also evaporated. In the circumstance as the only option was to find a successor National Chairman as well as other National Officers, an illegal process of horse-trading between the Governors and Tinubu was initiated.
“The Interim Executive Council had no knowledge of all these processes. Chief John Oyegun, a Tinubu plan B project said to be favored for his NADECO and SDP credentials and also as one who could be controlled now featured, came into the picture,” the Sani Abacha-era foreign minister said before fleeing the APC.
Two years later, the relationship between Messrs Tinubu and Odigie-Oyegun had reached a breaking point following the primary election that produced Rotimi Akeredolu as the governorship candidate of the party in Ondo State. Mr Tinubu, who backed Segun Abraham for the ticket, held nothing back after the primary as he accused Mr Odigie-Oyegun of collecting bribes and also demanded his resignation.
Mr Odigie- Oyegun survived the call because at that point, the former Lagos State governor was out of favour within the party. For two years, Mr Odigie-Oyegun held on and consolidated power. However, by 2018, with then-President Buhari facing re-election, he brought back Mr Tinubu to the fold and appointed him as chairman of a reconciliation committee. The former Lagos State governor used the position to rekindle the fight with his foe and renewed the ‘Oyegun must go’” rhetoric.
This time, it worked as the “body language of the president” forced Mr Odigie-Oyegun to decline to seek re-election while Mr Oshiomhole, an ally of Mr Tinubu, was adopted by consensus as national chairman at the June 2018 Convention.
Less than six months in the job, Mr Oshiomhole already racked up enough enemies that were calling for his removal, particularly among the powerful APC governors. Mr Tinubu openly supported his ally by insisting that the party is “supreme”.
“We all have to respect the party supremacy. You were all here when we had the Congress, we elected the new executives, we had the convention, the NEC was formed and we surrendered to avoid conflict, to avoid domination, to avoid abuses of power, we surrendered our rights, all rights to the National Working Committee headed by Adams Oshiomhole,” Mr Tinubu said against calls for Mr Oshiomhole’s removal.
The former Edo State governor held on but from Zamfara to Ogun to Imo states, the list of enemies was long, including the wife of the then president, Aisha Buhari.
By June 2020, Mr Oshiomhole met his waterloo. Ironically, it was through his estranged political godson, Godwin Obaseki. The Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), led by Kayode Fayemi, had a multi-party coalition against the former union leader. The APC governors refused to campaign against Mr Obaseki, despite his cross-over to the PDP.
When the Buni-led caretaker was inaugurated, it was a complete takeover by the governors. And Mr Tinubu was remarkably quiet as many speculated that there were attempts to freeze him out of the party. During the last convention that brought in Mr Adamu, once again Mr Tinubu was relatively quiet but candidates he is believed to have supported got the positions of national secretary and youth leader through some of the South-west governors.
Gboyega Oyetola, then governor of Osun, and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos nominated the National Secretary, Iyiola Omisore, and National Youth Leader, Dayo Israel. Messrs Omisore and Israel later played prominent roles in the primary election that produced Mr Tinubu in June 2023.
Not having the national chairman of the party on his side almost cost him during the presidential primaries but his alignment with the PGF helped to outmanoeuvre Mr Adamu, who had announced former Senate President Ahmad Lawan as the preferred candidate for the APC. Several APC governors openly challenged Mr Adamu.
Is Loyalty Enough to help Ganduje keep his job
During the presidential primaries and the main election, Mr Ganduje stood firm with the former Lagos State governor and moved across the country with him. And Mr Tinubu’s 517,341 votes in Kano was the second-highest that he polled in a state.
Not too long after the presidential election, there were speculations that the parley between Mr Tinubu and Rabiu Kwankwaso could leave out Mr Ganduje in the cold.
Following the meeting between Messrs Kwankwaso and Tinubu in France, there was an audio leak purported to be a conversation between Mr Ganduje and Kabiru Masari, a close ally of President Tinubu. In the audio record, Mr Ganduje was lamenting being sidelined after the election. During the inauguration of the president, there was also a video clip that trended online, where the former Kano State governor was denied access to the VIP section at the Eagle Square because he did not have the VIP access card.
But all the rumours of rift have since been buried, first with the emergence of Barau Jibrin as the Deputy Senate President and after the president also supported Mr Ganduje to emerge as APC Chairman. These two positions came at the expense of the North-central geopolitical zone. Also, during the composition of the cabinet, Mr Tinubu withdrew the nomination of Maryam Shetty after the camp of Mr Ganduje protested against it.
However, holding on to the national chairmanship is complicated and requires more than loyalty to the president. Yes, Mr Tinubu is different from his predecessor on the administration of the party but history has shown that even a rift with a ward chairperson of the party can lead to the downfall of a national leader.
The biggest threat is the governors. Under former President Buhari, the governors had free rein over the party. Now, they have to contend with a president who will not sit in the background and an NWC that tilts towards the president.
Two weeks ago, Mr Ganduje had his first baptism of fire when Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State led a protest to the national secretariat of the APC over the nomination of Duro Meseko as the deputy national publicity of the party. The position became vacant following the resignation of Muritala Ajaka, who is running in the 11 November Kogi governorship election as the candidate of the Social Democratic Party. Mr Bello, according to reports, preferred Yahaya Ismail for the position. Following the protest, Mr Ganduje met with the governor to resolve the issue.
The first litmus test for Mr Ganduje will come in the three off-season governorship elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states in November. In Kogi, the party faces a tough battle to retain the state, and also faces a tough battle against an incumbent in Bayelsa State. There is also a crisis brewing in Ondo State between Governor Rotomi Akeredolu and his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, who is facing impeachment. The crisis may spill over to the primary election in 2024.
Mr Ganduje will also have to manage the fallout from other primary elections in Osun, Ekiti, Edo and Anambra states. And he may also be considered for re-election in 2026 on his performance in those early tests, when he completes the tenure of Mr Adamu.
Speaking on the challenges ahead of the former Kano State governor, Mr Banire said two major factors could lead to the downfall of any chairperson of the party – failure to adhere to the constitution of the party and political overbearing.
“Essentially, the instability is about the non-compliance with the constitution of the party. For example, if you are meant to convene the NEC of the party quarterly, and you refuse to convene the NEC for six-seven months. If you say that the treasurer and secretary must be signatories to the account and you have not complied, maybe as chairman you are signing – in all these instances, I can tell you for free that there is overreaching of the constitution of the party.,”
“Overbearing – when the chairman is overbearing. When he does things in his own way, particularly when it comes to the party’s ticket and taking unilateral decisions without consulting the NWC – those are the things that could earn him that turbulence,” Mr Banire said.
Mr Ganduje could also get a boost within the party if the Supreme Court affirms the ruling of the Kano State Governorship Election Tribunal that declared Nasir Gawuna as the winner of the election. Mr Gawuna, a Ganduje ally, was the APC candidate in the Kano governorship election but lost to the candidate of the NNPP. However, given the experience of Mr Oshiomhole, having the governor of your state from your party has its own challenges.
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