September 26, (THEWILL) – As the first southern civilian governor in the fourth republic to host a Southern Governors Forum meeting in Akodo, Lagos State in 2000, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, 69, was understandably filled with nostalgia and a heightened sense of relief when he learnt that the Forum has been revived, ahead of the 2023 presidential election, by the current set of governors in the region.
Boxed into the South-West geopolitical zone by his main rivals and political enemies, mainly from the presidency, since news reports, his body language and movements betrayed his intention to run for the presidency in 2023, Tinubu, has seen the development as an opportunity to change his strategy and outwit his enemies.
THEWILL can authoritatively report that having watched, almost helplessly, as his perceived presidential ambition fueled by robust campaigns by trusted supporters nationwide was ruthlessly checkmated with the systematic removal of trusted aides from key positions and offices by the government, just as willing aides were openly recruited from his political ranks with juicy appointments, Tinubu saw the opening presented by the Southern Governors Forum as God sent.
That the Forum’s meeting is happening at a period ill-health has confined him to London where political bigwigs now routinely pay solidarity visits is, to say the least, a better chance to play the game he has devoted a better part of his life to, which is political brinkmanship and long, patient strategic planning.
THEWILL learnt that physical visits by loyalists, allies and supporters, has not only provided the Jagaban Borgu a healing balm, but also created the platform to receive and assess first-hand, undiluted information about ongoing political scheming and to nudge his group to continue to ramp up support for his presidential bid.
ILL-HEALTH AS BLESSING IN DISGUISE
A few weeks after Tinubu’s spokesman, Tunde Rahman, debunked his boss’s reported illness, saying he was hale and hearty and was only away on holiday abroad, matters took a turn for real when President Muhammadu Buhari, who was also in London for medicals, paid the politician a visit at his residence on August 12, 2021. The outcome of the visit punctured Rahman’s claims.
The visit clearly showed that Tinubu was struggling with an ailment. Aso Rock aides gloated over his ill-health. The photograph of Tinubu, which they put out subsequently, showed the key figure of the ruling All Progressives Congress leaning on a staff as he posed with the President for a photograph.
It remains unclear how the photograph found its way online within minutes and quickly gained traction on social media, but a Tinubu supporter told this newspaper that it was a classic lesson in demarketing by the Buhari presidency.
“That move read: Tinubu who wants to govern the country was ill and the President, who is universally known to periodically visit London hospital for medical check-up, was hale and hearty. Within a few minutes, the photo was all over social media,” the supporter said.
Worse still, the presidential visit came nine days after Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State visited Tinubu, his godfather, in London and on his return to the country showed off their photograph on social media, further affirming Rahman’s statement.
On his return to the country on August 4, Sanwo-Olu, told reporters in Lagos that he visited Tinubu in London and posed with him for photographs.
Sanwo-Olu said, “Yes, indeed, I am the one you saw in the picture that I took when I visited our leader in London just to dispel the rumour that he was sick and hospitalised.
“You saw him (Tinubu). He is well, healthy and we conversed. We talked about what is happening in our party and the nation. I went there just to say to him that all is well.
“I went to see things for myself. It is just to put the mind and heart of people to rest that there is nothing for us to worry about,” the governor disclosed.
As the presidency explained it, Buhari’s visit was a show of goodwill. The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said the President’s visit to Bola Tinubu was not a show of support for the earlier presidential ambition, but a visit to show goodwill
Adesina played down the perceived political tone of the visit. Buhari, he said, would not support any aspirant for the 2023 presidential election without APC’s affirmation.
When asked about the purpose of the meeting, Adesina said, “Yes, that meeting actually happened, but it is all about goodwill and best wishes.
“We know that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was in London about the same time the President was there. We don’t believe what we read on social media, but we have read a lot about Asiwaju Tinubu’s health. So the President’s visit was a goodwill visit.”
On whether the visit was a show of support for Tinubu’s possible presidential ambition, Adesina said, “The President still has two years less three months in his tenure of office. So, for him to start supporting somebody now will just be like jumping the gun and you know that President Buhari will never do that.
“Before the 2019 elections, people began to campaign for him (Buhari) before INEC blew the whistle for the campaign to start. He was the one who came out to say ‘No, don’t do it. Don’t jump the gun.’ The President himself will dare not jump the gun in terms of supporting one candidate or the other.
But a dependable source, who asked not to be named for political reasons, summarised the outcome of the presidential visit this way: “The visit clearly showed that the presidency will take every opportunity to diminish the Tinubu factor in 2023 politics. But he (Tinubu) will always outsmart them. The rumoured illness has become a blessing in disguise as things are now working in favour of the Jagaban,” the source said.
Even so, it turned out that one of Tinubu’s reactions to the damaging photo was to move to outsmart his rivals by giving his full blessings to the Southern Governors Forum and urging the five governors on the platform of the ruling APC in the South-West to actively participate.
According to sources, the Forum’s meeting is not only timely, but also syncs with Tinubu’s ambition. Recall that the 17 governors met in Lagos on July 5, 2021 and declared, among others, that the presidency in 2023 must return to the South.
After the meeting, the governors reiterated their commitment to the politics of equity, fairness, justice and unanimously agreed that the presidency should be rotated between southern and northern Nigeria. They resolved that the next President of Nigeria should emerge from the southern region. They also called for the signing of an anti-open grazing law.
That by-partisan agreement, which the governors restated at their September 17, 2021 meeting in Enugu, the third in a series, connects with the ambition of Tinubu, a southerner, to vie for the number one office in the country in 2023.
TINUBU CHANGES TACTICS
THEWILL gathered that during their meeting, Tinubu urged Sanwo- Olu to ensure that he played an active role in the Southern Governors Forum meeting and that the forum’s demand for a southern president, come 2023, must be supported fully.
Tinubu, according to informed sources at the meeting, said the demand for a southern president would put pressure on the APC leadership to cede the party’s presidential slot to the South.
He also believed that if it is zoned to the South, the South-West, where APC has five governors (Lagos, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and Ogun), would be most favoured and that would boost his chances of emerging as the candidate of the party in the 2023 presidential election.
Our source further said, “You know, even Sanwo-Olu said Tinubu and himself discussed happenings in the party, the APC. That is the truth. They discussed a new strategy and he told him to play a key role in the Southern Governors Forum with the possibility of securing their support after he gets the APC ticket.”
Moreover, the Forum also provided a platform for the Jagaban to extend and consolidate his reach beyond the South-West where his enemies had trapped him and kept raiding his teeming followers, intending to weaken his base.
A CONFIRMATION OF STRATEGY
Alluding to Tinubu’s new strategy, Governor of Ondo State and Chairman of the SGF, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, said in an interview broadcast on national television last week that the ailing politician is the “Capo di tutti of the South-West and the South-South.”
Insisting that the next president must come from the South, Akeredolu explained that his recent visit to London alongside Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State was to see for themselves the true health status of their leader, Tinubu, and to await his directive on the future politics in the southern region.
“We went to visit our National Leader. I was there because rumours were flying here and there. It was important for us to go and see for ourselves.
“I have seen for myself and there is nothing alarming about his health. We are praying that he returns on time.
“He’s the capo for us here in the South-West and South-South. We are waiting for him to return. By the time he comes, we can make some important decisions and he’ll support us,” he said.
The Lagos State support for Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State on the issue of collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) by the states and the signing of the Anti-Open Grazing Law by all the states in the South-West, many believe, has the approval of Tinubu and it is a means of starting a new romance between Lagos and other states in the South, with a view to seeking their support for Tinubu’s ambition.
SUPPORTERS KEEP THE FLAG FLYING
Tinubu is one name amongst a few from the South in his party who are being tipped to succeed President Buhari.
Although he has not officially declared his ambition to govern the country, many are already campaigning for his candidature.
Politicians and current affairs strategists in the country give Tinubu the credit for helping Buhari to achieve his presidential ambition in 2015 after making three futile attempts. It is speculated in APC’s top circles that an unwritten agreement was reached during the party’s formative stage that Tinubu would succeed President Buhari.
Although Tinubu’s ill-health caused his supporters a scare and temporarily doused the momentum of his presidential campaign, there is however a renewed vigour amongst his supporters.
A member of the House of Representatives, Hon. James Faleke (APC- Lagos), has dropped a hint that the support group for Tinubu’s bid would formally take off in October.
Faleke, who is currently representing Ikeja Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives and is known to be a close confidant of Tinubu, said, “Tinubu Support Group will be inaugurated in October and we urge his loyalists to be fully on ground in their states so that they can be our contact persons.”
He commended the Asiwaju Women Cooperative Society (AWCS) for persuading Tinubu to contest the presidential election and expressed excitement at their support, saying women should not be ignored during elections because they constitute a great number of voters.
“This is a selfless goal and an instinct from your leader which prompted her to canvass support for Asiwaju’s presidency in 2023. We must all register in our various wards as card carrying members of our party. That is the only thing you can do to make Asiwaju the president of Nigeria,’’ Faleke said, addressing members of the group.
He noted that Tinubu remained the only person that could pilot the affairs of the country, adding that his achievement as governor of Lagos State was a testament of his competence.
A group supporting Tinubu’s ambition was launched about a year ago in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. The group which styles itself as the South West Agenda for Asiwaju (SWAGA) is led by former Minister of Works, Dayo Adeyeye and it has been in the forefront campaigning for Tinubu’s presidency come 2023.
POLITICS OF LONDON VISIT TO TINUBU
At the last count, not less than 30 high profile politicians and government functionaries have visited Tinubu in the last two months. The Jagaban Borgu’s former trusted aides, who have since reportedly joined the presidency against the Lagos strongman, the Minister of Interior and former Governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, who was until recently Tinubu’s right hand man, and his immediate successor as governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, now Minister of Works and Housing, were conspicuously absent.
Those who have visited Tinubu in London in the last two months are Governor Sanwo-Olu, his Ondo, Ogun and Ekiti counterparts, Rotimi Akeredolu; Dapo Abiodun and Kayode Fayemi, respectively; as well as Governor Umar Ganduje of Kano State, his wife and four members of the state assembly.
Others are Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; ex-Governor of Ogun State and current Senator representing Ogun Central, Ibikunle Amosun (a presidential hopeful); former Governor of Borno State and current Senator representing Borno Central, Kashim Shettima; and a member of the House of Reps representing Gubio, Kaga and Magumeri Federal Constituency of Borno State, Usman Zanna.
Also on the list are Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Obafemi Hamzat; Chief of Staff to the Lagos State Governor, Tayo Ayinde; Deputy Chief of Staff to Lagos State Governor, Gboyega Soyannwo; Special Adviser to Lagos State Governor on Education, Tokunbo Wahab; and former APC National Legal Adviser, Muiz Banire.
Others are Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa; Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, Temitope Adewale; Chairman of the House Committee on Physical Planning and Urban Development, Nureni Akinsanya; as well as Chairman of the House Committee on Overseas Investments and Sustainable Development Goals, Sylvester Ogunkelu.
The Senator representing Lagos East Senatorial District, Adetokunbo Abiru, Senator Adeola Solomon from Lagos West; Senator Opeyemi Bamidele from Ekiti Central; Senator Adelere Oriolowo from Osun West; and Senator Mohammed Sanni from Niger East also visited.
The visitors also included Chairman of Isolo Local Council Development Area, Adebayo Olasoju; another politician, Adekunle Akanbi; and popular Fuji musician, Wasiu Ayinde, popularly called KWAM 1.
Unlike in 2000 and then 17 years later, when former Governor Akunwumin Ambode hosted it in Lagos with Bayelsa’s Seriake Dickson and Akwa Ibom’s Udom Emmanuel as co-Chairmen, the current Southern Governors Forum has increased in tempo and gamesmanship. Since reconvening in Asaba last May, it has held meetings in Lagos and Enugu with the fourth meeting holding in Port Harcourt in November.
It may turn out to be a formidable platform for envisaged political changes the country is yet to witness in the face of agitation for restructuring and fiscal federalism following the ongoing VAT war between Rivers, Lagos States and the Federal Government. And seasoned politicians like the Jagaban can only be factored into the calculations provided by the platform he helped start 22 years ago.