There must be something Asiwaju Bola Tinubu knows or does that is beyond other politicians; for he is the only politician since 1999 that sponsors people into political offices and they remain faithful and loyal to him.
In the three zones of the North as well as in the South-East and South-South, sometimes the relationship between a political godfather and a godson does not even last until the inauguration before turning sour. But in Tinubu’s case, no matter the attacks the public may heap on him about his political and financial stranglehold on his godsons’ tenures, they still remain loyal to him and maintain sealed lips. Whatever the reason for his ability to maintain a firm control over his protégés, Tinubu deserves commendation.
For long, there have been rumours over a frosty relationship between him and President Muhammadu Buhari. It is widely acknowledged that Buhari’s candidacy in the 2015 election got a big boost due to Tinubu’s support and media packaging. Buhari was effectively packaged as an angel with no blemish but with the Midas’ touch to cleanse Nigeria and catapult her into the First World in the twinkling of an eye.
The rumours about the rift between Buhari and Tinubu have refused to fizzle out despite all efforts made to deny them.
It was rumoured that Buhari made key political appointments, especially from the South-West, without any recourse to Tinubu, who is the godfather of the All Progressives Congress in the South-West as well as the National Leader of the APC. Then, when Prof John Paden presented Buhari-endorsed biography in October, a controversy arose from it. Rather than the public being concerned about the messages from the book, what occupied the attention of the public was the claim by the author that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was not nominated as Buhari’s running mate by Tinubu, but was chosen by Buhari in spite of Tinubu’s opposition to it.
There was also the rumour and gloating about the demystification of Tinubu over the governorship election in Ondo State. It was alleged that Tinubu supported Mr Olusegun Abraham in the APC primary but Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, supported by Buhari and the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, won the primary and went ahead to win the election on November 26, 2016. The result of the APC primary in Ondo State led to an exchange of words between Tinubu and Odigie-Oyegun, which further confirmed the suspicion of a rift between the APC leadership and Tinubu. The eventual victory of Akeredolu in the election was seen as the defeat of Tinubu in the APC politics in the South-West, where it was believed hitherto that any candidate backed by Tinubu in any APC election would win.
It was this seeming exclusion of Tinubu and others who worked for the emergence of the Buhari presidency that made the wife of the President, Mrs Aisha Buhari, to break protocol by granting an interview with the BBC in October in which she lamented that her husband had been hijacked by some people who did not work for his electoral victory.
These actions, seen as acts to whittle down the powers of Tinubu, made some of his loyalists recently to organise some activities in the South-West, especially in Lagos, with the theme: I Stand with Tinubu. They held a walk and a rally to show support for Tinubu.
Some opponents of Tinubu have said that his sidelining by Buhari serves him right, for he was warned about the consequences of working for a Buhari presidency. But some of his opponents have also kept their political differences aside and spoken against the sidelining of Tinubu, seeing it as a disservice to the South-West rather than to Tinubu as an individual. On his own part, Tinubu has publicly carried on as if all is well, insisting that he will not leave the APC, a party he was instrumental to building.
However, the part that is surprising is from the Buhari’s angle. Even though he has not said anything to confirm that he is intentionally sidelining Tinubu, his actions point to an affirmation. It is obvious that no powerful president would want to have anybody lord things over him, but there is no way a Tinubu can lord things over President Buhari. The office of the Nigerian President is too powerful for such to happen, unless the President willingly allows that.
What does Buhari lose by having more friends than foes around him? Nothing. The North was the core support base of Buhari during the 2015 election. The South-West was the core media base. Even though the votes of the South-West were split between the APC and the PDP, more went for the APC than the PDP. But most importantly, the media support for the APC from the South-West burnished Buhari’s image before the election and has helped to keep Buhari presidency afloat since May 29, 2015.
As a powerful president (with INEC under his control) and a retired general, Buhari can do without Tinubu and get his wish willy-nilly during the 2019 election, either as a candidate or a President who wishes to install his preferred as his successor. If protesters fill the streets in response to a poorly conducted election, he can release the soldiers on them. But what is the essence of taking a more tortuous route when there is a smoother and shorter route?
The South-East and South-South were not favourably disposed to the presidency of Buhari. Since assuming office, he has done little through his actions and utterances to win their hearts. The South-West has been his strong ally. Rather than worm his way deeper into the hearts of the South-West, Buhari seems to be more concerned about creating some enemies there.
Whatever some people may say, Tinubu is the political leader of the South-West. Unlike other zones which have not had any central political leader since the exit of the first generation politicians, the South-West voters listen to the voice and direction of Tinubu. The reason the South-West still supports Buhari is because Tinubu is still with the APC and has not withdrawn his support.
If Buhari counts on getting positive electoral results through unorthodox means, he may not need Tinubu by his side. But if he needs to get positive electoral results via votes in a free and fair election, he needs Tinubu as an ally.
Buhari needs to start playing politics the way it should be played by maintaining his friends and reaching out to his opponents, so as to win them over. This does not mean sharing money or food to people. It means taking different steps to make those who voted for him to feel proud that they voted for him and to make those who did not vote for him to vow to vote him if he presents himself again. It means inclusive governance: seeing Nigeria as one people with no first-class and second-class citizens. It also means visionary, purposeful people-centred governance.
An astute politician does not need to burn his or her bridges. A savvy politician does not need to ignite many fires around him, which will make him always quenching fires with no time for governance. A seasoned politician never tells a man directly or indirectly: “You can’t do anything to me.” It is completely unnecessary.
Buhari should change his brand of politics to achieve more results and have a happier following.