He adjusted his microphone and the words that issued from the mouthpiece were: “I am a youth!” There was a chorus of laughter. But, that metaphorical statement underscored Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu’s communication skills and political strategy.
The deeper import of that avowal was that for long, youths are said to be the leaders of tomorrow, for him and his politics, especially his contributions to Nigeria’s democracy and the coming together of fringe political parties to form the victorious All Progressives Congress (APC), today is that tomorrow he has been waiting for.
Moreover, since it is usually said that age is but a number and that it does not matter if you do not mind. In ‘I am a youth’, therefore Tinubu was contextualizing his mind frame and ideas for nation building.
However, ever since he decided to drop his hat in the ring for the 2023 Presidential ticket of APC, the mood in the party and across the country changed. As such, what he says or does not say were wont to make headlines and trend on the social media. And he has been saying a lot, even before then.
For instance, emerging from a closed door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in January, the former Lagos State governor told State House correspondents that he was in the villa to inform the President of his (Tinubu’s) Presidential ambition.
The next day and the weeks following, Tinubu’s visit on Buhari was the topic of discussion and commentaries, even as some questioned why he must go to the President alone and whether it was the President or Nigerians that should make him President.
Confronted with the barrage of media criticisms, it took a visit on the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedoyin Gbadebo in Abeokuta, for Tinubu to clarify the rationale for his consultation with Buhari and aspiration.
The APC leader was said to have told the Alake that his decision to make his aspiration known to Buhari was because of calls from his supporters and friends to run for President.
His words: “I told the President I want to replace you and I don’t want to offend you. I told the President I want to step in his shoes, but not step on his toes.
“I told him as the number one citizen, I should start my Presidential bid by informing you first, and he told me to inform the whole world, and I have done that,” Tinubu stated, stressing that he did not want his ambition to create bad blood between himself and the President.
Much of what brought Tinubu into public consciousness has to do with his survival of the 2003 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) electoral Tsunami in Southwest, which left Lagos as the only state standing on the Alliance for Democracy (AD) platform out of six.
Not that alone, apart from escaping defeat in the 2003 gubernatorial poll, Tinubu worked for the salvation of some of the AD states back into the progressive fold, including Osun, Ondo, Oyo and Ekiti. It was from the expoits that the Lagos State governor went ahead to plot the progressive takeover of the Presidency.
Smarting from the failed political understanding among the progressives, particularly an accord between Action Congress of Nigeria and General Muhammadu Buhari-led Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in 2011, Tinubu expanded the political scheme to dove-tail into an outright merger.
At a chance meeting with his former Sokoto State counterpart in United States, Dr. Attahiru Bafarawa was said to have informed Tinubu that unless opposition parties came together in a merger, it would be hard to dislodge PDP from power in Nigeria.
But as obtains in such tenuous political construction, the issue of which political parties should be involved nearly threatened the merger, because Buhari was said to be vehemently opposed to the inclusion of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) due to the short shrift the party gave to him in 2007.
Tinubu it was that helped to convince Buhari to mellow and allow the process to go on. Yet, at the fullness of the merger arrangement, the search for arrowheads to contest the 2015 general elections as Presidential candidate and running mate, became an issue.
First, the question of admitting the breakaway new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP) threw up new concerns as the former military head of state moved against associating with “those corrupt politicians.” Mallam Nasir el-Rufai reportedly travelled to Kaduna to plead with the general to overlook whoever is a thief or criminal so that after the election was won he could do what pleases him.
Thereafter, the next challenge to the merger process was who to deputise Buhari on the presidential ballot. Amid the heated debates, the leaders of nPDP mounted stiff opposition to the proposition for a Buhari/Tinubu ticket, stressing that a Muslim/Muslim joint ticket would excite the delicate religious sensibilities in the country.
At the end of the day, it was also said that to pacify the former Lagos State governor, Tinubu was asked to recommend possible running mates for Buhari. However, after the issue of President and running mate, Tinubu’s decision to foist Chief John Odigie-Oyegun on the party instead of Chief Tom Ikimi, was perceived as draconian.
Many of those in the merger committees, especially those from the South preferred Ikimi, but to please Tinubu, party stalwarts agreed, more so as Tinubu assured that Ikimi would serve in the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party.
The next stop in Tinubu’s APC odyssey was during the election of principal officers of the Eighth National Assembly. While the former Lagos State governor wanted Dr. Ahmad Lawan, most of the Senators-elect were peeved at the attempt by Tinubu to become the power behind the throne. Senator Bukola Saraki had before the day of proclamation won the hearts of the Senators-elect.
That Saraki emerged as the President of Senate, as well as the fact that the meeting convened by the national leader, which was billed to have President Buhari in attendance failed and facilitated Saraki’s election were the first tell tale signs that an imaginary line had been drawn to curtail Tinubu’s powers.
Not long after that unexpected loss of influence, the national chairman, Oyegun, whom Tinubu pushed forward, started listening to new masters by interpreting President Buhari’s body language as it relates to the Lion of Bourdillon.
Signs that all was not well between Tinubu and Oyegun came to light, when the Kogi State governorship poll, which would have gone to James Faleke was botched after the death of the governorship candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu. Faleke, who was Audu’s running mate was expected to step into the shoes of his principal, but the internal political contradictions in the governing party rendered it improbable.
The distance between Tinubu and Oyegun, by extension the cabal, continued Tinubu’s letter complaining against Oyegun’s running of APC, stressing that the former Edo State governor was making his (Tinubu’s) job of reconciling the party very hard.
President Buhari had announced the former Lagos State governor as the head of an adhoc reconciliation committee. However, Oyegun and members of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) felt that the responsibility of setting up such a committee was theirs.
In the build up to the 2019 election, precisely the APC second national convention, Tinubu succeeded in replacing Oyegun with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who had just rounded off his second term as governor of Edo State. It happened that acceding to Tinubu’s choice of Oshiomhole was an affected posture of solidarity with the former Lagos State governor and the powers that be knew that it would end up a pyrrhic victory for Tinubu after the main election was won.
Midway into Oshiomhole’s term as national chairman, on June 25, 2020 he was swept out of office alongside other members of the NWC, who were all perceived as Tinubu’s loyalists.
In his letter to party faithful, Tinubu cried out that APC was derailing, remarking that those with eyes set on the 2023 Presidential ticket of the party were busy undermining the party’s progressive inclination and distracting President Buhari from his onerous responsibility of steering the ship of the nation after COVID-19 ravages on the economy.
From then on, whatever step he took or whatever sentiment weaved, Tinubu was sure to be misconstrued, thereby showing that he was no longer in the bright books of the powers that be.
Such was the setting that when Tinubu went on consultation visit to the Olubadan-designate, Lekan Balogun, his symbolic statement of being ready get dirty was twisted to convey the impression that he was ready to fight dirty to claim the APC Presidential ticket.
It took a statement from Tinubu’s media aide, Tunde Rahman, to clarify the “unwarranted attacks against him.” According to Rahman, Tinubu employed the metaphor of wrestling with the pig to the effect that “if you decide to wrestle with the pig, you must be ready to get dirty.”
It was obvious that those who decided to take the message out of context were merely expressing and even expanding the distance between Tinubu and Buhari to serve the political narrative against his Presidential ambition.
“For clarity, Tinubu, while addressing the Olubadan designate, said: ‘Kabiyesi, all I have come for is to beg you to continue to pray for me, the entire Yoruba race and the country.
“I am out to become the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and there is a wise saying that if you want to wrestle with the pig, be ready to get dirty and deal with the poo-poo (faeces). I am ready to get dirty. No intimidation, no blackmail, no sort of insult will get me angry to the extent that I will say no more, I don’t want again,” Rahman explained.
It was against that tinted background that Tinubu’s recent statement in Ogun State became a matter of miscellaneous interpretations. Some commentators held that being privy to President Buhari’s aversion to his Presidential aspirantion, Tinubu spoke out of frustration.
Others said Tinubu wanted so much to reveal the betrayer that Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has proved himself to be in relation to the race for the APC Presidential ticket.
Tinubu was forced to make himself clear this time. In a statement he signed, the APC leader noted: “We have entered the meat of primary season. Sensationalism and wilful inaccuracy tend to push aside truth during such moments.
“I make this statement so that truth and accuracy may have a chance. It is important that people truly know what I said and where I stand. Whatever view you have of me is within your right to make. But let it be based on truth and not on falsehood or reckless exaggeration.”
While stressing that he has “no apologies for seeking the party’s nomination,” the former Lagos State governor declared: “My respect and regard for President Buhari as Commander-in-chief of this nation and as a person are high and unfailing. I shall never denigrate him.
“I certainly did not do so in Abeokuta. We have been political partners for a long time and I hope that partnership continues well into the future. I would do nothing to jeopardize it. I believe our party is the best hope for the nation to right itself.
“I believe I have a future role larger than the one I now have. I also believe President Buhari has a continuing and important role to play even after his tenure as president is over.”