Tinubu unilaterally handpicked Chief John Odigie-Oyegun as the National Chairman of the party and most of the members of the party’s National Working Committee, NWC. Tinubu, who is referred to as the national leader of the party despite the fact that there is no such position in the party’s constitution, had his way in the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as the presidential candidate of the party. He also had the rare privilege of nominating Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as Buhari’s running mate.
Prior to the formation of APC, Tinubu was in charge of politics in four out of the six states in the South-West and with the victory of the party during the last general election, there were speculations that Tinubu was all out to expand his political territory to the federal level. Those close to the godfather of Lagos politics say the least he was expecting was the key to his own apartment within the Aso Rock presidential villa once Buhari is inaugurated.
Many members of the APC were uncomfortable with Tinubu’s stranglehold on the party and had been waiting for an opportunity to cut him down to size. It is believed that these APC members opposed to Tinubu’s hold on the party picked former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to lead the onslaught against Tinubu because of his clout, financial muscle and influence across the country.
If Tinubu was aware of the plot to water down his influence on the APC, it appears he underrated the influence and the damage the opposing bloc in the party could do. Tinubu did not read the handwriting on the wall when President Buhari declared during his inauguration that he belongs to everybody and belongs to nobody.
The opportunity to cut Tinubu to size by the Atiku camp presented itself in the run-up to the inauguration of the Eight National Assembly. In his usual action, Tinubu handpicked Senator Ahmed Lawan from Yobe State and his acolyte, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, to preside over the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Expectedly, the APC National Working Committee rubber-stamped the list of Tinubu’s nominees and ratified the list at a mock election held in Abuja few days to the inauguration of the National Assembly. But the Atiku group not only boycotted the mock election, they involved their political soul mates in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to foil Tinubu’s plot to foist stooges on the National Assembly.
When Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara emerged as the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively, the APC rejected their emergence insisting they will not recognise them and even threatened to sanction them and others that supported their emergence.
But Atiku ignore the APC statement which was signed by Alhaji Lai Mohammed (another acolyte of Tinubu) and went ahead to congratulate them.
The former Vice President noted in a press statement issued by his media office that with the election of its presiding officers, the Eighth National Assembly should swing to work and put the overall national interest beyond the personal political interest of its members.
Irrespective of the political mix through which the presiding officers emerged, he noted, the Eighth National Assembly should never lose focus of its role as a partner in progress with the other arms of government, especially the executive arm.
“The Nigerian people look up to the new National Assembly to work with the executive arm in finding solutions to the problems of insecurity, poverty, illiteracy and joblessness in the country. Their election is indeed a call to duty, and it is a call for which they cannot afford to fail the nation.”
However, the camp of Tinubu accused Atiku of working with those that frustrated the emergence of Lawan and Gbajabiamila in a bid to undermine the leadership of the party, constitute themselves into opposition within the party and hijack the party structure ahead of 2019 election.
Reacting to this allegation, Atiku acknowledged that it was legitimate and desirable for individuals and groups to seek to pursue their interests, but that such must be done with the benefit of sustaining democracy and promoting equity, fair play and justice in mind.
“Anything contrary may jeopardise our hard-earned democracy and constitute a clog in the wheel of the new administration,” he said.
He urged members of the APC to emulate the unity of all the presidential contestants after the party’s Lagos primaries and support President Muhammadu Buhari to form his government and get to work.
Atiku exonerated himself from the purported hijack of the party and the National Assembly towards 2019, saying that it was a figment of the imagination of those promoting it and urged Nigerians to ignore all such insinuation.
He said the recent outcome of the National Assembly elections, contrary to insinuations, were products of interplay of politics “which is itself in constant motion.”
Atiku, the Turakin Adamawa, restated his commitment to the Buhari administration and pledged to back the commitment with all of the assets at his disposal.
“Make no mistake about it, Atiku Abubakar holds Buhari in the highest esteem, and would always remain loyal to him and support him in every endeavour to succeed as president.
“We, the members of the President’s own family, need to lead in this direction for others to follow for the good of our nation and its people.”
Atiku denounced the “increasing determination of some people” to draw a wedge between Buhari and himself.
He said, “It has become crystal clear even to the blind that the motives of these hatchet men who are desperate to take every available newspaper space is to insult, vilify and calumniate the former Vice President.
“We cannot allow liars, denigrators and blackmailers and their sponsors to use Atiku as platform to ingratiate themselves with President Buhari and hijack his presidency under the pretext of loving him more than anyone else.
“These political ventriloquists are hiding behind the cover of anonymity to achieve their sinister agenda of making Atiku the fall guy in the unfolding political developments,” Atiku said.
In spite of Atiku’s position that the outcome of the National Assembly elections, contrary to insinuations, were products of interplay of politics “which is itself in constant motion”, it is strongly believed that Atiku is gradually positioning himself for the 2019 presidential race.
The struggle for 2019 is already gathering momentum as Buhari has given signals that he may not contest for second term as a result of old age.
Tinubu is said to have already settled for a former Governor of Kano state Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and it is alleged that this plot to foist the former governor on the party did not go down well with Atiku and some other members of the party.
It will be recalled that Senator Tinubu undermined Atiku’s presidential bid in 2007 under the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria and again in the 2014 when he supported the emergence of Buhari.
Not wanting history to repeat itself, Atiku is said to be taking proactive measures and there are speculations that he has a hand in the fresh rift within the NWC of the APC after the party’s Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Timi Frank, called for the immediate resignation of the party’s national chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, who is believed to be a puppet in Tinubu’s hand. But an aide to Atiku yesterday denied the allegation, saying those accusing Atiku are ignorant of his (Atiku’s) true nature as a nationalist and good party man.
Frank, who is believed to have shifted to Atiku’s camp, accused Oyegun and some members of the APC’s NWC of fueling rancor in the party, and stressed that it was unfortunate that the leadership of the party played hide and seek and over indulged themselves in the choice of Senate President and House Speaker.
“If my party could not keep to the promise of change, then we must correct them to keep to that. I have no fear or favour than to say that the current leadership of the party has practically failed. With this incident alone, the chairman should resign from his position after taking a position against the people and the people’s position has finally come to stay. In the Western world, by today the party’s national chairman would have resigned honourably.
“Not just the national chairman, but the entire leadership that took this decision of conducting mock election against the outcry of the larger members of the party. Against the bigger picture of Nigerians, a hand-full of the party leadership came to take a decision, and by today the people have shown that the voice of the people is the voice of God,” Timi Frank stated.
But political watchers of the unfolding drama in the APC are of the view that Tinubu has reasons to be worried if indeed he already has penciled down a candidate to fly the party’s flag in 2019. Atiku is the only one in the APC that has wide followership and influence like President Buhari.
Already, Atiku has successfully planted his long time aide and loyalist, Shehu Garba in the villa as Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to President Buhari, a position that would enable him to have first hand knowledge of the goings-on in the Villa to the advantage of his former principal and godfather.
In 2011, Atiku’s ‘boys’ Aminu Tambuwal and Emeka Ihedioha successfully maneuvered their way through the PDP to emerge Speaker and Deputy Speaker House of Representatives against the party’s anointed candidates. While Tambuwal is a well- known Atiku apostle, Ihedioha was a former Special Assistant, Media to Atiku when he was Vice-President. Ihedioha was introduced to Atiku by his aunt Dr. Mrs Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, former DG, Nigerian Stock Exchange.
While Buhari has large followership in the North, Atiku’s friends and followers are visible in all the 36 states and the federal capital territory. Atiku cultivated this followership since the days of the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP and continued to service this relationship across the country over the years.
Atiku understands the dynamics of politics, probably more than anyone in the APC does, and he is not pretentious about his ambition. Apart from the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Atiku is the only politician in the country that has a well-articulated programme (Blue print) of what he intends to do as President, and how to go about it.
Indeed, it is alleged by his loyalists that the PDP under Late President Umaru Yar’Adua stole the idea of Ministry of Niger Delta to solve the insurgency in the oil producing states, among other programmes, from Atiku.
Another Atiku supporter told Nigerian Pilot that “apart from having huge followership across the country, Atiku has the financial muscle to prosecute any election and his opponents, can only ignore his record as a dogged fighter, to their peril.
“The only thing Atiku needs is the appropriate platform that has national spread to achieve his presidential ambition”.
Political observers say if APC does not disintegrate before 2019 because of intra-party crisis, it remains to be seen how Tinubu would deny Atiku the party’s ticket now that Tinubu’s influence seems to be gradually waning in the party.