By Jibrin Ibrahim
MY overriding impression of the APC Special Convention is that the presidential aspirants spent too much of their time singing praises to their beloved President Buhari. So did the governors in the period leading up to the primaries. They pledged loyalty to him again and again and again. When, however, it came to the one thing the President wanted – to be succeeded by his obedient Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, they all revolted and openly refused. The outcome of the Special Convention is that Muhammadu Buhari is now officially a lame duck President.
The “unkindest cut of all” was received from Jagaban of the World, the man who has clearly outgrown Borgu, and who a week before the primaries went to Abeokuta, Ogun State, and heaped the President with insults and insinuations. To be fair to him, given his role in the victory of the APC in 2015, he has had a sense of entitlement to being the next President and then he got the intelligence report that he was about to be dumped, hence his anger. After Tinubu’s Ogun diatribe, the APC chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, promised severe retribution. What Ahmed Tinubu got however was not retribution but the presidential ticket of the party on a golden platter with seven aspirants withdrawing for him while President Buhari watched with a smile that was no smile.
I feel for President Muhammadu Buhari. Having earlier told APC governors that he would like to decide his successor as they, the governors, had done. When the chairman of the party announced that the president’s choice was the Senate president, the next line in the script was to have been that party leaders and governors would embrace the decision and hug Ahmed Lawan. The actors had not read their lines, what happened next was an instant and total revolt and rejection. A flustered President Buhari had to come out Monday afternoon to tell 14 APC governors of the northern states that he had “no preferred candidate,” and had “anointed no one,” and was determined to ensure that “there shall be no imposition of any candidate on the party.”
This is the correct and proper position he should have stood by from the very beginning, but as we know very well from the arena of real politic in Nigeria, every politician in power dreams of installing their preferred candidate on the people. The overriding message from the side of the president and his team is the lack of planning and strategic thinking on their part.
I do not know whether there was strategic thinking on the side of the winner. What is clear is that Tinubu had two huge assets – knowledge of what Nigerian politicians are looking for and I am not allowed to say it is money. Secondly, in addition to having a very deep pocket, the time had come for him to reap results of a thirty-year programme of investing in promoting and placing politicians that had political IOU’s to him.
Tinubu’s political investments had matured and he could reap the profits. The winner, the Jagaban of the world, scored 1,271 votes to win the presidential primary of the ruling APC party by a landslide. He defeated 22 other aspirants in the race. We must not forget that each of the 23 aspirants paid N100 million to be in the contest. At the venue of the primary, seven of the 23 aspirants stepped down for Tinubu while one stepped down for Vice President Osinbajo. Only 14 aspirants, therefore, took part in the primary proper.
While Tinubu won with 1,271 votes, ex-transport minister Rotimi Amaechi came second with 316 votes. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo who gave the most inspirational speech came third with 235 votes while Senate President Ahmad Lawan, the former chosen one, came fourth with 152 votes. It is interesting that four aspirants who had paid 100 million naira to be allowed into the contest could not generate a single vote during the convention – Bakare, the senior pastor of the Citadel Global Community Church, Lagos; Rochas Okorocha, the senator representing Imo West Senatorial District at the National Assembly and former governor of Imo State; Jack Rich who described himself as being of poor parentage but built himself and made money; and one Ikeobasi Mokelu who told delegates he had come to praise the great achievements of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Don’t ask me why he paid N100 million to get two minutes to say Buhari is the greatest of the greatest. There are aspects of Nigeria’s political life that we, mere political scientists, do not understand. We can only guess that maybe investment in to contest might open doors to certain forms of pay-off that might not be open to us.
In the greatest understatement of the year, the winner of the primaries and the Jagaban of the world declared in his acceptance speech that he did not ‘expect to win’ the party’s presidential primary. He said he holds ‘no grudges’ against members of his party who worked against his candidature: “The competition is now over. Those who did not support me, you have nothing to fear. I hold no grudges and grievances. Let us each agree to join hands in defeating PDP and beat back their retrogressive understanding of Nigeria.” I wondered whether the statement means all those who worked against him will go to jail if he becomes president. Time will tell.
The biggest loser in the contest was Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who contested in the primaries, as a good and supportive pillar to President Muhammadu Buhari, who he said had achieved so much. The problem with his pitch was that Nigerians know that the president had achieved so little and is generally perceived as a failure. The irony was that in the first phase of the Buhari/Osinbajo duopoly when the vice president had opportunities to be acting president while his boss was in hospital, he had shown himself to be very competent and much better at governance than his boss. Alarmed, the cabal around the president caged him successfully and opportunities to show his capacity disappeared.
The vice president’s campaign strategy made Nigerians forget his earlier demonstrations of competence and the option of his coming out to expose boss would have simply precipitated a crisis in Aso Rock. Maybe Senator Kashim Shettima was right that the vice president is too nice and decent a person to be a Nigerian leader. I however totally reject Shettima’s advice that he should be selling ice cream and popcorn. He is young enough to still have a decade of active politics before him.
Ibrahim is a professor of political science and development consultant/expert, and Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development. He is also the Chair of the Editorial Board of Abuja-based online newspaper, Premium Times.