South West and politicking in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari’s seemingly lasting desire to cultivate the South West, especially through keeping in constant touch with Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu is a fascinating feature in his effort to concretize his administration, now six months old.
Tinubu has the distinction of leading from the zone the forces of Coalition with the North. He thus masterminded moving the zone for the first time into national Politics.
But even at that, Tinubu, former Lagos State governor and a powerhouse of the All Progressives Congress (APC), through controlling the levers of power in the currently dominating political tendency in the South West, faces tough challenges. The challenges are both at home and in Abuja with his opponents allegedly feeling he needed to be cut down to size.
In the area of appointments, for example, especially during the recently concluded ministerial exercise, Buhari along with his kitchen cabinet played without any inputs from the Jagaban of Borgu Kingdom, the Niger State community title given to him in recognition of him like “leader of warriors.”
But in the Yoruba South West, Buhari is said to listen more to his great friend and pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly in Lagos, Tunde Bakare. In Abuja, the man who has the President’s ear the most according to insiders is Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State. He is called in Aso Villa circles the veritable brain-box of this government.
Bakare who was Buhari running mate in the 2011 presidential election, which they ran under Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and el-Rufai are friends. Bakare wrote the forward to el-Rufai’s autobiography, “The Accidental Public Servant.”
Buhari and Tinubu
The President and his camp come across as acutely aware that Tinubu is a masquerade of sorts, one who should not be trifled with. And so, a captivating aspect of their political relationship plays out in two seemingly contradictory ways.
Buhari would appear concerned with the future of the APC, the party, which now controls the federal government and majority of the 36 states. The President would thus be seen to do all within his powers not to hurt the main plank of the coalition that brought about their surprise first contest victory last March.
Buhari would do things that would hurt Tinubu and those leaders of the zone close to him. He would do them to maintain his integrity as an anti-corruption czar and a leader or chief agent of change as propounded by the APC.
It is some sort of delicate balancing politics, President cum kitchen cabinet power play, with Buhari straining to hold on to Tinubu’s hand like his pal, yet the President at the same time acts as if cautioned to “beware” of the masquerade; “be wary of giving him room to dance.”
In the ministerial exercise, Buhari certainly kept a dignified distance from Tinubu. He kept President Olusegun Obasanjo in check. Obasanjo paid open and clandestine visits to Buhari at the villa. Nothing came out for him. Some of his known preferred such Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Chukwuma Soludo and Obi Ezekwuesili were mentioned again and again. No dice.
The President having bitten Tinubu hard finds ways, small acts of comradeship to carry him along. No matter what his opponents may be saying, Tinubu is not one to brush aside with a careless wave of the hand. Buhari seems fully aware of it.
While the President was swearing in 36 Ministers and ministers of state (that is, chief executives and junior ministers) in the Council Chamber of Aso Villa, Abuja on November 11, Asiwaju Tinubu was at about the same time a guest of Governor Nasir el-Rufai in Kaduna to flag-off a Taxi-cabs Scheme. It could be a tactical move on all sides, politically significant than different leaders performing different official functions at about the same time.
El-Rufai, is an ambitious politician. Along with his Sokoto State counterpart, Governor Aminu Tambuwal, their presidential ambition is of complete public Knowledge. El-Rufai would cultivate Tinubu. Tinubu had allegedly played a Tambuwal card before but the northern caucus of the APC rode that one to favor Buhari.
El-Rufai would seek to deepen his political profile by keeping in touch with Tinubu. El-Rufai is one to watch, especially if the President at the end of his first term tour of duty decides not to bid for the second term.
Buhari too plays it smart. Chief Bisi Akande, Tinubu’s fellow leader and right hand old man in the APC South West caucus was at the induction of the new ministers. Tinubu and Akande joined the President to visit Adamawa Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Yola two days after the swearing in of ministers.
The APC leaders appear to completely recognize the importance of, and critical roles Tinubu plays both with his influence and enormous resources at his disposal.
After being sworn in, Dr Christopher Ogbonnaya Onu, minister of Science and Technology led a “thank you” entourage to Tinubu in Lagos. It was like Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal who during his thanksgiving praised Tinubu, and publicly acknowledged him as the one without whom his nomination would not be possible, being a minority Christian, from Adamawa State.
Prominent northern APC leaders handle Tinubu with deft maneuvering like Buhari. Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, for example, who had crossed swords with Tinubu in the political arena in the past and who hails from Adamawa State and was at home in Yola on account of the marriage of his three daughters on the same day and at about the time Buhari and his entourage were at the IDP camp (married November 14) stayed clear of that event.
He is reputedly the arrowhead of Tinubu’s demystification whereby the principal officers of the National Assembly elected last June dramatically overcame those openly backed by the South West political juggernaut’s camp of the APC.
Tinubu and South West team to Abuja
Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo and Babatunde Fowler, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) boss may be counted to swear by Tinubu any day and any time. He contributed greatly to their emerging.
And that is even when they were, especially in the Vice President’s case, not his exclusive creation but more over the northern camp’s instigation and support for a “harmless” figure politically not strong enough to engage Buhari in the contest for power at Aso Villa as Atuku squared off with Obasanjo during their time.
As for the South West Ministers – Mr.Babatunde Raji Fashola (newly redesigned ministry of power, works and housing), Dr. John Kayode Fayemi (solid minerals), Adebayo Shittu (Communications) Mrs. Kemi Adeosun (finance), and Prof. Isaac Adewale (health) – are the President and his kitchen cabinet creation.
They are technocrats in Abuja. Their tables are full and they will be very busy serving Nigeria under Buhari. They would seek to distinguish themselves by performance if only to prove the confidence, which the President placed in them. They could enhance their national visibility overnight.
Fashola, the three-in-one Minister, more than any other, is probably on track to move to great heights in Abuja, particularly if he could replicate the high level of brilliance and competence he had shown as Tinubu’s worthy successor in Lagos as the immediate past two-term governor of the state.
But in the end, they would achieve a measure of national visibility. As for their political weight and electoral value, especially in the crucial matter of the grassroots politics, it is going to take quite some doing for almost all of them and across considerable encouragement and support from the President.
When Fashola, called “baba fash” by his numerous admirers back in Lagos returns home, he would have to find a way to pay obeisance to his godfather. It is never far from so.
Buhari has come through with being mindful of Tinubu. The President gave strong ministerial roles to his choices from the South West. He also recognised the zone in the area of the economy.
Power is not served a la Carte, Tinubu would often tell a reporter at an interview. The food term used by Tinubu to show that power is not given has ironically be used to seek to neutralize him.
Asiwaju Tinubu certainly had not bargained for the hurtful doses he has so far been served in the area of federal appointments. But elections shall come. And when they do, the Jagaban shall still have a chance to strut his stuff.