By Shuaib I. Shuaib

Everyone in the ruling All Progressives Congress seems to want a say
in who gets to be governor in Ondo State. For party leader; Bola
Tinubu, it is actually a battle for survival. This is one election
that could lead to his political decline even though the moment he
failed to become APCs vice presidential candidate was when it all
started. The upcoming election in the state has also become symbolic
with all that is going wrong with APC. Of these, probably the most
significant is how Tinubu sees his role in the party and in the
southwest, how the party has treated him and of course President
Muhammadu Buhari’s response to his troubles. The former Lagos governor
is not hiding his disaffection deliberately choosing to boycott a
campaign rally the president attended. Governors in the region loyal
him also stayed away; a message to Buhari. And for those in doubt, the
election in Ondo is not only about Ondo. It is about the politics of
the southwest and Tinubu’s place in it. It is about APC’s future in
the southwest. And it is about the unity of the southwest in future
national elections.
Back to the growing cracks in APC, there is also Buhari’s detachment
from political activities and how it could affect his presidency. The
president has shown no interest in rewarding party loyalists with
political appointments. It is almost like he has no intention of
seeking reelection. But there is another conundrum the party will soon
have to face up to and that is where to place Vice President Yemi
Osinbajo.
Every three to four months, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo finds his way to
Aso Rock under the guise of offering his views and wisdom to President
Muhammadu Buhari. Indeed the former president has more than a decade
of governing experience to make him an invaluable source of
information and advice. But all of his publicized visits could just be
his way of openly and consistently declaring his loyalty to Buhari; a
must for someone of his standing in a country where political turf
wars are a constant. Obasanjo was once a tenant of Aso Rock, so he
knows what it feels like when there are political actors out there
seeking to overshadow a president. Back in 1999, the opposition
Alliance for Democracy won the six governorship seats in the
southwest. It left the president bare with no political base but
almost immediately after coming to office, Obasanjo searched for the
most prominent politician in the southwest, finding it in Bola Ige, he
named him his attorney general. This was the first sign the president
didn’t want anyone but himself to be political leader of the region.
But not everyone understood. It wasn’t until his party swept the
governorship polls in 2003 that it dawned on Yoruba elders that he
wouldn’t accept opposition politics from them.
Donald Trump, the president-elect of the United States of America has
the whole world on edge. But his rise to power has done even more to
unsettle his political party and the handful of presidential hopefuls
who were looking to pick up from his expected loss. Top on that list
is the Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. The speaker had a
running battle with Trump the candidate and at a point was unwilling
to endorse him. Four years ago, Ryan was running mate to a candidate
who eventually lost to Barack Obama. And earlier this year, when Ryan
was initially offered the position of speaker; he didn’t want it. No
one needed to say it; he was aiming higher. But for such coveted
positions, you only get one chance in politics. With Trump’s
surprising victory, the door was not only shut to a future
presidential bid, but the speaker now found himself fighting for his
seat as speaker. His response was immediate. In a press conference, he
declared allegiance to the president-elect without any reservations.
Politics at that national level is exposing the weaknesses of Bola
Tinubu. Even for a president, keeping total control of a political
party is a herculean task. But that appears to mean nothing to
Asiwaju. Obasanjo had to wrestle Atiku for control of PDP in 2003 and
again ahead of the 2007 elections. And former president, Goodluck
Jonathan initially lobbied the governors before finally deciding to
divide and break the Governors’ Forum which in return ended up costing
him his presidency. But the most glaring of Asiwaju’s weaknesses is
his understanding of political power, what to do with it and most
crucial, how to relate with those in power. Without a doubt, he is an
outstanding politician. Where Tinubu however appears to be losing
sight of reality is his willingness to compete for space with both the
president and vice president when he should be conceding space to
them. The fact that they are in the same party is reason enough for
him not to try and share political space with them. The only other
person that is willing to challenge the president and vice president
for political space is Atiku Abubakar. But Atiku is a former vice
president and somehow everyone has learnt to tolerate his ambition.
And because of his clash with Obasanjo, he has become a symbol of the
country’s democracy or maybe an expression of the democratic freedom
to challenge a sitting president for his office; no different from the
way Buhari became a symbol of opposition. Tinubu like Atiku could be
unsatisfied with how events are unfolding in APC. There are stories of
impending political realignments and even the formation of a new
political party making the rounds. Whether it will be a break away
from the PDP, the APC or both is actually the unwise thing anybody
could do right now. It would mean politicians have learnt nothing from
how political parties evolved between 1999 and 2015. The success of
the 2015 general elections all but killed the idea of multi-party
system in Nigeria. The fracturing of PDP will ensure APC gets to rule
for at least 16 years; and the 16-year cycle being how long it will
take opposition political parties to realize they have to come
together. And if by chance, both PDP and APC are fractured, the
consequences could be devastating. A very unpredicted and unstable
person could end up as president. That intense competition to weed out
the weakest and the unfit will be absent.
Buhari is not a young man and whether he will want to seek re-election
or will be able to is a million naira question. But then his age is
one reason so many are looking beyond the Buhari years. It is also why
a number of presidential hopefuls need to consolidate their hold on
the levers of power and party structures across states. But the
president himself is not giving enough room to anyone to consolidate
power within the ruling APC. The one person who has openly expressed
dissatisfaction with this state of affairs is Bola Tinubu. He has
spoken publicly about it castigating the party chairman in the
process. Support groups have held rallies on his behalf and a
delegation led by Bisi Akande has even visited the president to
protest how unfairly the former Lagos governor is being treated.
Statements that were leaked to the media about that meeting were aimed
to put Tinubu on the same political footing with the president. This
is the most telling sign that APC leaders in the southwest and
particularly, Bola Tinubu are yet to come to terms with today’s
reality. That reality is that the winning ticket at the election
paired Buhari with Osinbajo.
It is no secret, Tinubu fought tooth and nail to be Buhari’s running
mate. But the moment he conceded that position to Yemi Osinbajo, it
was not only the vice presidency he was conceding. At that moment, he
gave up his leadership role in the politics of the southwest and gave
it to Osinbajo. And the longer political leaders in the region are
unwilling to face this new reality, the more likely it is that they
will push Nigeria to the brink. It won’t be today. it won’t be
tomorrow. It could come years down the line long after both Tinubu and
Osinbajo would have left the political scene. It will be left to
others to clean up the mess they leave behind. A political rivalry
within the southwest is very much capable of pushing Nigeria to the
edge. A power tussle within the Nigerian Army in the late 80’s and
early 90’s led Nigeria down a dark road and we are still feeling its
repercussion long after most of the principal actors have left the
corridors of power.
Today, it doesn’t matter who made Osinbajo politically. As long as he
is vice president, Bola Tinubu has a moral duty to declare loyalty to
him and political leaders in the southwest must put his aspirations
first above all others and denying him that privilege could be
dangerous for everyone and even the country.

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