By Comfort Obi
Let me begin with an apology. Please, excuse the title of this write-up. Penultimate week, I used a title almost similar to this. It was entitled: Ambode: Nigeria’s Most Powerless Governor.
But don’t be envious of Lagosians. They don’t proudly call their state “Eko for show” for nothing. It is their luck that God blessed them with men of two extremes. The most powerless governor. And the most powerful politician. Forget President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo or even former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Sure, they flex their muscles. Sure, they are powerful. Buhari, in case you forgot, is the President of the most populous black country in the world, with all its God-given resources, manpower, vibrant and innovative youths. Osinbajo is the country’s very energetic, cerebral Vice President, and Chief Executive Officer of Trader Moni. Then, Obasanjo is everybody’s foul-mouthed Baba, the grand headmaster who tries to whip us all into line – for good or bad. Yet, when it comes to politics, a former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, takes the cake. He is, easily, Nigeria’s most powerful politician. And everybody, especially in his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, bow and/or grovel before him.
Asiwaju’s powers transcend Lagos. But charity, it is said, begins at home. So, I start with his almost suffocating influence in Lagos with a couple of recent incidents.
From December 2018, to just last week, Lagosians were on edge over the state’s budget. Ambode, in his powerlessness, was not able to present the budget. He tried but was not allowed to. The State House of Assembly, led by its Speaker, the only Speaker of a House of Assembly in Nigeria who can threaten his governor at will, and/or ignore him, Mudashiru Obasa, threw all kinds of obstacles along the way. When a date was agreed upon, Ambode was stood up. Then, Obasa and company raised the ante. They waved an impeachment threat at Ambode. Many groups hit the roof. Carrying placards, they protested the constant humiliation of the governor, even after he had been humiliated out of a second term in office. Enough is enough, they chanted, and swore that any plans for Ambode’s impeachment will be resisted. Perhaps, buoyed by the huge support, Ambode found the courage which had deserted him since many months ago. He ignored the summons by the House of Assembly. The tension was so bad, it was suffocating.
Then, steps in the Asiwaju, very smoothly. Like an old headmaster, he summoned both parties, along with members of the Governors’ Advisory Council, touted as the highest decision making organ of the APC in the state. Not left out is Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the man for whom Ambode was ditched. Present, too, was his running mate, Dr. Femi Hamzat, the man whose name not a few Nigerians were hearing for the first time, but who, all the same, alleged that former President, Goodluck Jonathan, offered him five milliion dollars to support him, Jonathan, during the 2015 presidential election. Clean guy, no jokes intended, he said he rejected the offer. Problem: When Jonathan, in a swift reaction, called him a liar, and asked what electoral value he had at the time, deafening silence was, and still is, Hamzat’s answer to Jonathan. But I digress.
So, Tinubu called them together on Sunday, February 3, 2019. When they came out, everybody was happy. All were smiling. They even took a group photograph, and Ambode, looking like an abandoned orphan, stood by the Asiwaju. Tinubu has spoken. All is well. And like a messiah, he assured Ambode and Lagosians: “No more impeachment.” Lagosians clapped, and hailed Tinubu’s intervention. A couple of days later, Ambode presented the budget before the House. See? The Tinubu effect.
The questions many asked, however, were: Who was behind the budget delay and hints of an impeachment? They point accusing fingers at the godfather. Their reasoning: Without his support, where would the Lagos State House of Assembly get the courage to even dream of Ambode’s impeachment? They concluded that, perhaps, the godfather needed to teach Ambode more lessons, in case denying him a second term ticket was not enough lesson. Perhaps, Ambode is either strong-headed, or does not learn fast.
There were, for example, allegations that Ambode was neither releasing money to the House, nor for the Governorship campaign. They allege he refused to release some hundreds of millions of Naira for campaigns. What’s wrong with the guy? So, the impeachment threat. Anyway, now, money will flow.
Yet, there are people who insist that Tinubu stepped in because he knew many Lagosians had become irritated over the Ambode issue, and were prepared to call anybody’s bluff, including Tinubu’s. He was denied a second term, they argued, because the godfather was angry, not that he under-performed. The spontaneous protests, it is alleged, were enough warning. There were fears in Tinubu’s circle, it is alleged, that Ambode, having been pushed into the gutter, no longer feared a fall, and could spoil a lot of things during this fluid period. What if his supporters, and they are many, decide to back another candidate?, they asked.
Every godfather knows when to pull the breaks. Not a few people say it has been Tinubu’s main stay. As smart as they come, he knows when to fight, and when to retreat. In the Ambode impeachment case, he knew he had to pull the breaks; that there could be a back-lash; that the consequences might have been too much; that it could spiral out of control.
Yet, nobody can take anything away from Tinubu’s powers. He is a master strategist. In the Governors’ class of 1999, he remains the most relevant. The most powerful. When one thinks he has fallen, he rises with more powers. When he takes a beating, he retreats, cries in the rain, re-strategises, and comes on stronger than ever. He is, without doubt, Nigeria’s most influential politician, a title a number of people hate to acknowledge. But, it’s true.
In Lagos, he changes political office holders the way women change their underwears. Ever since he left office as a governor, almost every political office holder in Lagos owes his/her position to Tinubu. He decides who gets what; who goes where, including local Councilors. The civil service is not allegedly spared. While his pretty, brilliant, effective wife, Remi, is heading to the Senate for the third consecutive time, a couple of others, no less brilliant or effective, have since been given the push. But they keep quiet, and still remain loyal. They seem to have no choice.
Just before you think his powers and influence are localised, they transcend Lagos state. They extend to other South-west states. He controls a faction of the Yoruba cultural group, Afenifere. A good number of Yoruba traditional rulers hold him in awe, and reverence. They are likely to do his biddings than those of anybody else. He has installed a couple of governors across the South-west, the latest being Osun state’s. A couple of governors in the South -west who dared him, are not finding governance easy in their states. They watch their backs, politically, every inch of the way.
Nationally, he is also on the big stage, and arguably, the most powerful man in the APC, forget whatever anybody tells you. Ask President Buhari, and even former Presidents Jonathan and Obasanjo, both of whom were not in the same party with him. Here are some proofs.
Proof one: During Obasanjo’s second tenure, the old man out-witted all the governors in the South-west, but Tinubu. He swept them out of office. Tinubu was the only man standing. All his former colleagues in the South west, and a couple of other politicians who had fallen out with him grovel before him, almost, to be relevant in politics. When they stay away from him, they ultimately go back. When they bad-mouth him, they go back to beg. He forgives them. Ask his former deputy when he was governor, Femi Pedro. Ask former Minister of State, Musiliu Obanikoro.
Proof two: When Tinubu, from behind, backed Jonathan in 2011, Jonathan swept the South-west, except Osun state where he, and then Governor Rauf Aregbesola, known as Tinubu’s man-friday, wanted to prove a point. In 2015, Tinubu pulled the rug from under Jonathan’s feet. He rallied the Yoruba against him and gave the votes to Buhari. When he gives an order, it is obeyed.
Proof three: For three consecutive times, Buhari fought to be the president of Nigeria. For those number of times, he failed badly, forget the tales about being rigged out. Then, steps in Tinubu, fully behind him in 2015. Completely repackaged, and backed with cash like he never thought possible before, Buhari ingnited a tsunami and, became Nigeria’s President.
Proof four: When Buhari eventually became the President, he tried to sideline Tinubu. Tales had it that it was on the advice of a few people around the President. Hurt, Tinubu crawled back into his shell. Some people mocked him. We told you so, they said. We told you this man will use you and dump you. Even his wife, Remi, in a whiff of anger, during an interview, lashed out that her husband was treated like thrash after helping the APC to win big. But Asiwaju said not a word. He re-strategised. And soon, Buhari came calling. He made Tinubu the Chairman of APC’s Reconciliation Committee, nationwide. Even though that was a mission unaccomplished, it was still a recognition of Tinubu’s powers and influence. Tinubu fingered former APC National Chairman, John Odigie Oyegun, as the guy behind the failure of the assignment. And Oyegun paid dearly for that. Tinubu made sure Oyegun lost his coveted office. He then installed the foul-mouthed Adams Oshiomhole in Oyegun’s place. Since then, Oyegun has been rendered irrelevant, almost, in the APC. He hardly talks. Oshiomhole has been acting the good boy. He needs to. During the party’s primaries, he showed the Asiwaju how grateful and subservient he is to him. After former Governor of Cross River State, Clement Ebri, cancelled the primaries that threw up Sanwo-Olu, describing it as a no-event, Ebri was forced to swallow his vomit within 24 hours. As Nigerians watched, with mouths agape, Ebri announced Sanwo-Olu winner. There is no prize for guessing who pulled the strings. Oshiomhole made not a whimper. In nearby Ogun state, Governor Ibikunle Amosun, as close as he is to the President, was unable to pull that stuff with Oshiomhole. When it concerns Tinubu, Oshiomhole walks as if he is walking on egg shells.
Proof five: A few weeks ago, Tinubu pulled the big one. In constituting the Presidential Campaign Team, Buhari named him his Co-Chairman. Meaning: The two of them would drive the campaign train. The President is supposed to be the chief driver. Afterall, it is his campaign. But no. On the inauguration day, Buhari withdrew, and told a shocked nation that the Asiwaju would lead his campaign. That he, Buhari, would be too busy with governance to campaign. The President’s position was greeted with jeers. Not a few people laughed. He does not have the strength or capacity to stand the rigours of a campaign, they mocked.
Perhaps, realising the damage, his mangers quickly announced that the President would lead his campaign in all the 36 states of the federation and Abuja. He has so far managed to, the number of embarrassing gaffes and situations notwithstanding. Yet, nobody will forget that President Buhari once ceded his job to Tinubu.
This other day in an interview he granted to the Vanguard, Sokoto state Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, re-confirmed Tinubu’s powers. The problems the Executive and Legislative arms of government are having are traceable to Tinubu, he sensationally revealed. In the run-up to the 2015 elections, Tambuwal disclosed, Tinubu had endorsed Bukola Saraki for the position of Senate President. But he turned against him when Saraki opposed Tinubu as Buhari’s running mate. A Muslim-Muslim ticket will be dangerous for the party, Bukola and some others reasoned. To get back at Saraki, Tinubu picked Lawan, the now Senate Leader. Even when he, Tambuwal, pleaded that Saraki become the Deputy Senate President under Lawan, Tinubu refused. All of them, including Tambuwal, and Governor Abdulazeez Yari of Zamfara state, who stood against Tinubu’s Vice Presidency, became his political enemies. It was also same way Femi Gbajabiamila, House Leader, lost the Speakership allegedly, on Tinubu’s advice. He refused to have Dogara as his running mate. According to Tambuwal, that was how Lawan and Gbajabiamila lost the coveted offices.
Tinubu has fought battles. He has lost a couple of them, and won most, beginning with a certificate scandal in 1999 when he was first elected governor. But the 2019 general elections will be his biggest battle. If he succeeds in installing Sanwo-Olu as Lagos governor, that will be another feather to his many caps. He would have installed three governors in quick succession If Tinubu pulls another overwhelming victory for Buhari in the South west, thus handing over the Presidency to him, Tinubu would have become unarguably, Nigeria’s ultimate political godfather. Problem may be how it would play out later.
In Lagos, he might still remain the most powerful politician since Sanwo-Olu will do everything to avoid the Ambode treatment. But nationally? That may pose a problem. Nothing stops Buhari from freezing him out again after victory. Afterall he is not going for a third term. New alliances will start as soon as Buhari is sworn in. And, it may pose a problem for the Asiwaju. Here is why?
In the APC, especially in the South west, he has as many admirers and loyalists as those who cannot stand him. A couple of them have eyes on 2023, the year Tinubu plans to be the Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria – with a Christian running mate from the North West. If Buhari loses, however, I cannot begin to imagine what Tinubu’s fate will be, because it may have a spiral effect on Lagos politics. So, if that happens, will he lose all? Perhaps. But don’t bet on it. The man is a master strategist. Hard to ignore.