The no love lost relationship between Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State, is basically as a result of who occupies the position of national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
While many South Western politicians in APC strongly believe that Tinubu is the national leader of the party those from the North and key politicians in the presidency believe that there can only be one national leader and that is no other person than President Buhari.
Having contested the presidential election and lost in 2003, 2007 and 2011, Tinubu, who was the national leader of the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the dominant party in the South West, had approached Buhari, who was the national leader of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) on the need to form an alliance that will confront the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2015 presidential election.
Other political parties such as the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) led by Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, keyed into the idea and it led to the formation of the APC in 2013.
While many agreed that President Buhari should be the candidate of the party, the party leaders in the South West rooted for Tinubu as his running mate but the idea was jettisoned following the outcry over presenting a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
After consultations, the party eventually settled for Yemi Osinbajo, a loyalist of Tinubu and former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos.
According to a key official of the party who has deep knowledge of the issue, crisis began shortly after the party won the election and Buhari by virtue of his position as the president was unofficially declared as the national leader of the party.
This, Independent learnt, did not go down well with some of Tinubu’s loyalists who felt Buhari should not be allowed to take total control of the party both as president and national leader.
According to him, “There is clearly a power tussle between President Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu. It began shortly after the victory of the APC in the presidential election.
“You will remember that the then national publicity secretary of the APC, now Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, went on national television where he said President Buhari is not the national leader of the party. His claim was later countered by the presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, on the same television station, who said Buhari by virtue of his position as president is the national leader of the party.
“The South West leaders felt Tinubu aside his major contributions towards the success of the party should be the national leader and play the role the late Obafemi Awolowo played in the then Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).”
Though top officials of the party have always denied the existence of any rift between the president and Tinubu, things, however, got to a head during the dinner event at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in which President Buhari played host to APC chieftains and members of the National Assembly.
According to one of the aides of the Senate president, who was present at the occasion, Senate President Bukola Saraki while observing protocol in the course of making his remarks addressed Tinubu as “the national leader of APC.”
Buhari immediately seized the moment to set the records straight taking his turn to speak immediately after the Senate president’s remarks.
According to our source, Buhari looked at Tinubu straight in the eyes and said “Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu even though the Senate president addressed you as the national leader of APC, you are not the national leader of the party. You are one of the national leaders of the APC.”
Another member of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC), who spoke with Independent, also confirmed that the crisis between Buhari and Tinubu was solely based on who occupies the position of national leader of the party.
He added that the president decided to stamp his authority as “there cannot be two captains in a ship.
“Till today, many APC leaders and members in the South West, especially in Lagos always refer to Tinubu as the national leader of the party. They believe President Buhari cannot be the party’s national leader. Even his media organisations, both print and electronic, always refer to him as such. The world over, that position always goes to the president. Even in PDP, the position is always reserved for the president but I wonder why that of APC will be different.
“That is the primary issue among the two. The other factors have to do with appointments and some underlying issues that cannot be made public.”
Independent findings also revealed that the issue of who occupies the position of the party’s national leader has deeply polarised members of the party.
When asked who the national leader of APC is, Segun Olulade, a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly representing Epe Constituency II, said every member of the party has no doubt that Tinubu currently occupies the position.
“There is no question about that, the national leader of the APC today is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. They themselves know that. Tinubu is not just the national leader of the APC; he is the founder of APC. He co-founded this party with President Muhammadu Buhari; nobody can take that away from him. He is a major contributor to the merger that produced the APC today. ACN, as it was then, was the dominant party in the merger. So, if for any reason, he is the undisputed national leader of our party”, he said.
A chieftain of the party in Kano, Alhaji Ya’u Abubakar, said President Buhari is the only national leader of the party. According to him, “Tell me on what basis is Tinubu our national leader. Those saying the position automatically goes to him are talking nonsense. Is he the only one who made contribution to the success of APC? I also made contributions no matter how small it is.”
In an interview with Independent, Tunji Abayomi, another chieftain of the party and constitutional lawyer, said Tinubu is not APC’s national leader but one of the party’s major national leaders.
“The president is the national leader of the party but Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is one of the major leaders of the party. There is nothing like a national leader outside the president everywhere.
“If you say Asiwaju Tinubu is the national leader of the party, it then means that you are putting him ahead of the president. I don’t think Asiwaju Tinubu himself has ever said that he is the national leader of the APC; though I know a lot of people say it maybe because of his contributions to formation and success of the party. We must be fair to him.
“He has never told anybody that he is the party’s national leader. I have been with him and we interact all the time. I think he must be recognised as one of the major leaders of the party because there are lots of leaders. For example, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is a leader of the party, especially when you look at the political hierarchy based on his position as a former vice president. But the president is a first among equals. So, you cannot talk of any other person as the national leader of the APC”, he said.
It would be recalled that in his letter to John Odigie-Oyegun, the national chairman of the party, Tinubu had said the title of APC’s national leader was unofficially given to him by those who recognised the significant role he played in the party’s formation.
Meanwhile, a new political party may emerge by February next year to be sponsored by disgruntled members of the ruling APC, it was revealed on Tuesday.
Timi Frank, Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, at a press conference said that the APC that is going through torrid time because of the series of internal wrangling threatening the peace of the party may disintegrate by early next year.
According to Frank, the party as presently constituted under the leadership of John Odigie-Oyegun is in a bad shape and might not survive till 2019 if drastic measures, including sack of Odigie-Oyegun, are urgently pursued.
As a loyal party member who wants to ensure the survival of the party, he disclosed that he has mapped out plans to go on a consultative tour to all party leaders beginning from President Muhammadu Buhari with a view to getting the chairman removed and get the party saved.
“I don’t want APC to die under Oyegun and it is important for President Muhammadu Buhari to have a rethink.
“When Oyegun was chairman of ANPP, it was his incompetence that led Buhari out of the party to form CPC. This man’s same incompetence is about to drive most members of the party out if something urgent is not done.
“APC has within now and January 2017 to get things right, failure to do so before that time might be too late because most of us by then will be seeking alternatives to pursue our political agenda.
“If we are not careful, there might not be APC in 2019”, he warned.