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Akande, Tinubu, Buhari and 2023 – Olusegun Adeniyi

Former Osun State Governor and founding national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Bisi Akande, released his memoir, ‘My Participations’ last week in Lagos and I have read it. The 534-page memoir, including an 11-page foreword by Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, was apparently written for two reasons. One, to render his own interpretation of past events in Yorubaland, especially since the return to civil rule in 1999. Two, to warn, albeit in a subtle manner, that President Muhammadu Buhari (who eulogized Akande at the ceremony) has a responsibility not to renege on a certain political agreement that facilitated his ascension to power in 2015.

Let’s begin with past events in Yorubaland. As someone who has been in politics since the Second Republic (beginning with the 1977 Constituent Assembly), and a founding member of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 1998, Akande belongs to a certain class of Yoruba leaders. They are old men who neither forget nor forgive an injury and for whom the past is often more important than the future. So, it is no surprise that Akande used his memoir to hit back at those who might have hurt him along his journey. But aside the Yoruba political leaders (including those now late) for whom Akande has unsavoury words, he also presented the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade and the Owa Obokun of Ijeshaland, Oba Adekunle Aromolaran as mere hustlers. Akande summarized his relationship with his former deputy, Senator Iyiola Omisore, thus: “Omisore crept into my life like a silent malignant tumor. He came in full force.”

Although the book could have been better produced and more tightly edited, Akande’s memoir is rich with historical insight and I found it enjoyable to read. Sample this: a month after the death of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1987, his disciples had gathered in Ikenne for their meeting when the late Mrs HID Awolowo took the chair usually sat on by her husband, wanting to preside. According to Akande, “Papa (Adekunle) Ajasin confronted her. ‘You have to leave that chair,’ he told her. ‘That is my chair!’” Awo’s wife immediately yielded the chair to Ajasin. The memoir also contains several gossipy bits like ‘Tinubu told me’, ‘Jakande told me’ etc. For instance, Akande’s bosom friend, Senator Mojisoluwa Akinfenwa has labelled him (Akande) a ‘pathological liar’. Interestingly, Akande did not directly discredit his friend in the memoir, but he quoted disparaging things about Akinfenwa which he claimed were told him by the late Chief Bola Ige!

What stands out most sharply is the division between and among Yoruba political leaders resulting from the 1999 conclave of 23 old men where Chief Olu Falae defeated the late Ige. The assassination of Ige in December 2001 remains an open sore and the single most important reason why Afenifere appears to have lost its way. Incidentally, I spoke to this issue 22 years ago in my 30th December 1999 column, ‘Before Afenifere Becomes Irrelevant’ and the subsequent one in January 2002, ‘No Longer Alu Janjan Kijan in Yorubaland’, following the assassination of Ige. I intend to come back to that issue one day.

Now, let’s begin with how Ige lost the AD presidential ticket to Falae in 1999, as recounted by Akande. With the conduct of the local government election scheduled early that year, a meeting of the party’s big wigs was convened at the home of the late Ambassador Tanko Yusuf in Kaduna. All Afenifere leaders (Bola Ige, Olaniwun Ajayi, Ayo Adebanjo, Ganiyu Daodu, Olu Falae, Segun Osoba, Femi Okunrounmu, Wahab Dosunmu, Bola Tinubu, Ayo Fasanmi) were in attendance. That night, Akande said he advised Ige to inform “his three friends” (Ajayi, Daudu and Adebanjo) about his presidential ambition. He said Ige heeded his admonition because he saw him discussing with the trio. Let’s take the rest of the story from Akande’s memoir: “We then left for Kaduna airport to board Chachangi airline for Lagos. Inside the plane, I saw his three friends talking animatedly with Chief Ayo Fasanmi. As soon as we alighted from the aircraft, Ayo Fasanmi asked me for a ride in my car to Dr Tunji Otegbeye’s house at Ikeja GRA. On our way, he told me that the three friends would not support Bola Ige’s ambition because, according to him, Bola Ige would be too tough to control as President of Nigeria. That began the surprises at the Ibadan D-Rovan meeting of Afenifere contrived committee where Chief Olu Falae was preferred to Chief Bola Ige as the presidential candidate of AD.”

On Ige’s assassination, Akande points fingers in the direction of President Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Olabode George, the late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, Omisore and other Southwest PDP leaders at the time without any evidence. But it was his recollection of what transpired moments after Ige was killed that is revealing. At the residence of the deceased in Ibadan, the Police Commissioner reportedly handed Akande his mobile phone, saying President Obasanjo was on the line. The following transpired, according to Akande:

“‘Now, you see the lapses in your security! Look at what happened to Bola Ige.’ The President was shouting at the other end. I was enraged at him. ‘You must be out of your mind Mr President. How can you say lapses in my security when Bola Ige was killed in Ibadan? I rule in Osun State. I am not the Governor of Oyo State. When his cap was removed at the Ife Palace during your wife’s chieftaincy ceremony, what did you do about it?’ Obasanjo cut the line. I gave the CP back his phone. Everyone was silent except those who were weeping silently. Few minutes later, Obasanjo called back on my own line. He started sermonizing. ‘You know that Bola Ige too was my friend. What happened was very unfortunate.’”

Not surprisingly, Akande is very critical of the Afenifere leadership, especially the quartet usually called the ‘Ijebu Mafia’ (Abraham Adesanya, Olanihun Ajayi, Solanke Onasanya and Ayo Adebanjo). Since Adebanjo is the only surviving member among them, Akande berated him on sundry issues, including the way Afenifere collaborated with Obasanjo in the weeks preceding the 2003 general election on account of ethnic ‘Parapoism’. Akande, who lost the Osun State gubernatorial election of that year because of the deal which allowed Obasanjo to snooker the AD Governors except Tinubu, wrote: “Shortly after we were rigged out of office, Chief Adebanjo came out with a statement that we, the governors, sold out to Obasanjo. He refused to admit that they, the so-called Afenifere leadership, shamelessly sold out on our behalf!”
Akande has bitter words for many people, except of course Tinubu, on whom he lavished praise at every turn. There is even an entire chapter (34) dedicated to the former Lagos State Governor titled, ‘Tinubu, The Strategic Thinker’.

Given the timing of Akande’s book and the tone, some will argue that it is a ‘Manifesto’ for 2023. The tendency within the APC to which Akande belongs believes that Buhari reneged on their agreement over the choice of running mate twice, first in 2011 and then again in 2015. On both occasions, it was about the idea of equal partnership. In my 2017 book, ‘Against The Run of Play: How an Incumbent President Was Defeated in Nigeria’, I spoke with many of the principal characters, including Mallam Nasir el-Rufai and Tinubu himself on this issue. I crave the indulgence of readers to take excerpts from the book before I conclude with my take on 2023 as it affects the ruling APC:

TINUBU ON THE 2011 BOTCHED DEAL
In putting the whole episode in context, Tinubu believes that the (2011) alliance could have worked if there was good faith on the part of the CPC leadership at the time. “In any marriage or partnership, there is usually a spirit driving such union and that is the spirit of sharing. But in the middle of negotiation, the CPC pre-emptively announced the choice of Pastor Tunde Bakare as the presidential running mate,” said Tinubu in my chat with him. That decision, he added, “roiled the waters and severely complicated matters because a crucial part of the negotiations and our understanding of the partnership was that the vice-presidential candidate would come from our side or at least we would have a substantial input into the selection process.”

The announcement of Pastor Bakare as the CPC presidential running mate undercut the efforts at joint working between the two parties. “I remember that Chief Bisi Akande was so livid that he was asking them, ‘What then is the alliance for’?” recounted Tinubu who explained what transpired during negotiations that took several days. “The choice of Pastor Bakare, we were made to understand, was to pacify the Nasir El-Rufai wing of the CPC that came from the ‘Save Nigeria Group’, but it wasn’t one we could accept in the circumstance, and we made that very clear,” said the former Lagos State Governor matter of factly. With the benefit of hindsight, Tinubu reflected that what the CPC could have done “was bring Pastor Bakare to us prior to making the announcement, while explaining the rationale that made him their preferred choice for the VP position. Perhaps, we would have examined the idea. Instead, the decision, when made public had the effect of a fait accompli.”

Tinubu pointed out that in the course of the entire negotiations, Pastor Bakare “was never present and as the person whose actions and acceptance of this decision was most pivotal, his absence from the talks concerned us. When we insisted on the slot, all they kept saying was that Pastor Bakare would resign, but again no specific plan or timeline was given for this. Because of this impasse, talks ultimately dissolved and we went our separate ways in the 2011 elections.” Tinubu clarified that ACN insisted on the CPC making the position vacant “for the ACN to fill, as that had been the initial understanding of how this partnership would be structured. We had no business with the precise manner in which they would rescind the announcement of Bakare. The crucial point was that the VP slot should be available for the ACN. Eventually, it became obvious that CPC was unable or perhaps unwilling to surrender the number two slot.”

At one point during a meeting with key national figures who were urging for the merger, according to Tinubu, he emphasized that the ACN had bent and shown flexibility on all other issues as far as possible. “I remember very vividly that I told these figures, ‘Dear Leaders, you invited us to this meeting, and for the sake of the country, I have tried to bend over backwards to accommodate your positions. But you are asking me to surrender my two legs for amputation and you are not even ready to provide a wheelchair to take me home.’”

EL-RUFAI’S RESPONSE:
El-Rufai’s reflections on the turn of events contradicts that of Tinubu because, as far as he is concerned, it was “the ACN leadership who double-crossed Buhari and the CPC” in the negotiations preceding the 2011 presidential election. He also debunked the insinuation that he had any political ambition in the period preceding the 2011 general election. Narrating what he knew at the time – since he was not close to Buhari and was merely a distant CPC sympathizer by virtue of his association with Pastor Tunde Bakare – El-Rufai indicated that the agreement between CPC and ACN was that while the former would hold convention and pick a presidential candidate without a running mate, the latter would hold a convention without a presidential candidate, “because the Action Congress (AC), as the party was known at the time, was to produce the running mate in what was to be a joint ticket. That was the agreement.”

By the time the AC had their convention during which they added “Nigeria” to the party’s name and nominated Mallam Nuhu Ribadu as their presidential candidate, El-Rufai felt it was evident that there was a breach of good faith in the negotiations with CPC. “For me, that was the deal breaker. I know the pressure that was brought on Pastor Bakare to accept being running mate to General Buhari. He didn’t want the job and I was one of the people who persuaded him to take it,” said El-Rufai, who further claimed to be the one who told Buhari that Pastor Bakare was ready to step down for ACN candidate. “I remember Tinubu and his people had left for Lagos and we made frantic efforts to bring them back. I recall seeking the intervention of the Awujale of Ijebuland and the Oba of Lagos but by then, time was no longer on our side,” said El-Rufai.

To El-Rufai, the experience of the 2011 election so shattered Buhari that he was initially reluctant about revisiting the idea of any merger talk with Tinubu. “But I was part of a group that persuaded him that without the alliance with South-West, of which Tinubu remains very critical, there was no way there could be any serious opposition platform to defeat the PDP. General Buhari eventually saw our point and I was part of the team that encouraged him to visit Tinubu at his home after receiving the Silverbird Lifetime Award along with General Danjuma and others in Lagos,” explained El-Rufai, currently Governor of Kaduna State…

ENDNOTE:The foregoing may be past, but remains important, especially for the future of the APC. With growing security challenges that embolden bandits to carve out territories and collect taxes from rural dwellers in some northern states, the mounting debt burden for a country without any clear idea about repayment, collapsing social sectors like education and health, Nigeria is in a bad place. To worsen matters, we are graduating millions of our young people into unemployment and misery every year. But those are not the issues that will decide 2023 nor will our politicians even bother to engage them as they seek power. In the build-up to 2023, as it was in previous elections, the contentions will not be about programmes, policies, and ideals. What we will witness are cold calculations and personal interest, ethnicity, religion etc. in both the ruling APC and the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

However, attention is now on APC, especially following Akande’s memoir where he described Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as “one of our brightest boys”. The memoir also implies that the arrangement that brought Buhari to power in 2015 presupposes that it is the turn of the Tinubu-led defunct ACN or at best the Southwest to produce the APC presidential candidate in 2023. That leaves us with the question of the exact nature of this pact between Buhari and Tinubu when they strategized to capture power in 2015.

Whatever may have been the deal, I do not envy the president. According to the author, when the idea of a political marriage between the Southwest and Northwest started with Tinubu and Buhari as principals, not only was he (Akande) skeptical, he was also warned against it. Let’s hear Akande: “One Yoruba leader after another begun (sic) to call me aside to warn about the dangers of dealing with the Fulani. I was literally being invited to many Yoruba sectoral meetings to explain if it would be practicable for our group to internalize the historical Fulani’s true or perceived antecedents of turning friends to slaves; of becoming the king among strange princes in the palace of another man’s culture; and of reducing landlord communities to territorial vassalage…”

In the event that a Northerner secures the presidential ticket of the APC for 2023, what will Akande tell these Yoruba leaders who called to warn him? How do these permutations respond to the genuine agitation in the Southeast that the presidency be ceded to one of their own? Should Tinubu (who admitted on Tuesday in Abuja that he is still consulting) decide to join the presidential race, how will he navigate the tricky issue of religion that was used to edge him out of the vice-presidential slot on two different occasions? Where does Osinbajo, whose supporters have already started their not-so-subtle campaign, stand? And very importantly, on whose side will Buhari himself tilt his support when the chips are down?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but they are what the APC may be contending with in the weeks and months ahead. And whether we like it or not, they will impact the future of our country. Meanwhile, Akande also gave his version as to how Osinbajo emerged the vice-presidential candidate to Buhari in 2015. His account is not materially different from mine, except that much of what I wrote in ‘Against The Run of Play’ came directly from Tinubu. While I recommend Akande’s memoir, interested readers might also find my book useful as we enter this most interesting political season in Nigeria.

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