The making of foot soldiers

The Senate, on July 30, 2019, concluded the screening and confirmation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s 43 ministerial nominees.

One noticeable outcome is the unmistakable presence of the AsiwajuNation, a band of politicians suspected to be fiercely loyal to the acclaimed National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu. With the likes of Babatunde Fashola, Adeleke Mamora, Rauf Aregbesola, Lai Mohammed, Sunday Dare and Tayo Alasoadura, critics are quick to conclude that the Lion of Bourdillion, Tinubu, made away with the lion share of the ministerial slots.

This forces a conversation around his speculated 2023 presidential ambition and the bold moves to position his ‘boys’ who would in turn pool the strings and activate all networks in the gamble for the prime seat in Aso Rock.

Who are these ‘boys,’ nay foot soldiers who may make things happen in favour of Tinubu ahead of 2023? Let’s take a close look.

Babatunde Fashola

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Fashola has been Tinubu’s associate for many years. His rise to power and fame are believed to have been quickened by Tinubu. He became governor of Lagos State in 2007, and once done with a two-term tenure, Fashola was appointed the Minister of Works, Power and Housing. He is known as a super-minister for having been in-charge of three ministries. Fashola has remained a faithful and reliable ally of Tinubu. Being reappointed a minister is widely seen as a reward for his loyalty to Tinubu.

Adeleke Mamora

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Mamora was a former Speaker of the Lagos House of Assembly when Tinubu was the governor of the state. Quiet and unassuming, he is well known as a Tinubu loyalist, and an inner member of his intelligentsia. He was elected as a Senator to represent Lagos East Senatorial District in 2007. Having him as a minister is seen as a boost to Tinubu’s highly perceived 2023 presidential ambition.

Rauf Aregbesola

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Aregbesola was Tinubu’s Commissioner for Works when he was the governor of Lagos State. Tinubu was not only instrumental to his superintending Osun State for eight years, it is also acknowledged that Asiwaju, as Tinubu is fondly called, perfected the emergence of a successor in the person of Adegboyega Oyetola.

Lai Mohammed

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Mohammed, from Kwara State, is also another Tinubu ally of many years. He was the Chief of Staff to Tinubu when he was the governor of Lagos State. Mohammed also worked closely with him as an opposition figure when APC was in its embryonic stages. His reappointment as a minister is not unconnected with Tinubu’s influence.

Sunday Dare

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Dare, a celebrated media practitioner, was once Tinubu’s Special Adviser on media. Until recently, he served as the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). His nomination, undoubtedly, was facilitated by Tinubu.

Omotayo Alasoadura

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Alasoadura is an active participant in the Ondo political firmament. He lost his bid to return to the Senate but his influence and tenuous hold on Ondo politics remain a subject of critical debate. Though touted as having the backing of Governor Olu Akeredolu, Alasoaduara is believed to enjoy heavy support from Tinubu who, many believe, pushed successfully for his nomination as a Minister.

Generally, however, stakeholders across the state believe that the choice of Alasoadura may have been used to cement peace in the state chapter of the APC which had long be at the mercy of power brokers in and outside the state.

Nigeria’s most visible godfather?

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In all fronts, Asiwaju appears to be Nigeria’s most visible political godfather. He does not just have his ‘men’ well spread at the cabinet level, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and the Speaker House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila are also acclaimed trusted allies.

Ahmad Lawan

In 2015, Tinubu positioned Lawan to become the President of the 8th Senate. However, it took the political maneuvering of the immediate past Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to outsmart Lawan and thus, thwart the plans and hopes of Tinubu to have his man as the Senate President. With Lawan’s emergence as President of Senate in 2019, Tinubu sure has a foothold in the upper legislative chamber.

Femi Gbajabiamila

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Gbajabiamila, just like Lawan, was Tinubu’s favoured candidate to become the Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2015. However, things took a different turn as Yakubu Dogara overtook him to become the Speaker. Gbajabiamila makes no pretensions about where his bread is buttered. Tinubu has always provided the arsenal for his many political wars, and in 2019 he helped Gbajabiamila to secure Speakership of the lower legislative house.

No doubt, Tinubu’s political tentacles are now well spread across both legislative chambers, creating the impression that he may have it all pocketed.

Eyes on the Presidency

Perceived as quite ambitious and smart, Tinubu’s first indirect aim at the Presidency was when he aspired to clinch the position of Buhari’s running mate at the 2015 presidential poll. His ambition was shot down because of concerns over a Muslim/Muslim ticket. In his place, Yemi Osinbajo, former Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Lagos State, was enthroned.

Osinbajo’s emergence was not without some controversies though, as squabbles arose over who may have practically influenced his rise to power, Was it Tinubu or President Muhammadu Buhari? That matter was never settled publicly.

However, Tinubu’s 2023 presidential ambition no longer appears a subject of quiet discourse. In many quarters, critics argue that the one popularly called the Lion of Bourdilllon is busy sharpening his strategies. The denials from his camp, they argue, is not completely unexpected.

In the end, the noises have been loud enough to attract serious attention from a growing community of political watchers. Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, a well-known elder statesman in the North was the first to lend credence to the festering rumours of Tinubu’s ambition.

He said, “There may be unwritten understanding that when President Muhammadu Buhari finishes, the Vice-President (Osinbajo) will likely be the next presidential candidate of the APC. If it’s not Osinbajo, then somebody from there, probably Tinubu will likely emerge as the candidate of the APC.”

More was to come. Towards the end of July 2019, a big presidential poster which showed Tinubu as President and the Governor of Kano State, Umar Ganduje, as his Vice President, emerged in Lagos. That served to deepen the rumours.

His ‘boys’ helped clear the doubts on March 28, 2019, when, during the 11th colloquium to mark Tinubu’s 67th birthday, in Abuja, his associates went to great length to celebrate his outstanding qualities, with very subtle persuasions inviting him to consider taking on the higher responsibility of managing the country.

Rumours of Tinubu throwing his hat in the ring have met with strong political resentments. Nay sayers have emerged with a strong resolve that Tinubu should be put in check. Who are these traducers?

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One person who has been fingered as a threat to Tinubu’s highly speculated presidential ambition is the Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-Rufai. The outspoken governor, on May 4, 2019, did the unexpected when he took an indirect swipe at Tinubu in Lagos by teaching the audience how godfatherism can be wiped out in the State.

“Godfatherism. This is Lagos. Let me tell you something Sir; you know, Kaduna State used to be like that. There were three or four politicians in Kaduna that you could not become anything unless you had them on your side,” he said.

Tinubu is, undoubtedly, the most powerful political godfather in Lagos. El-Rufai literally twisted the lion’s tail right at his backyard and the backlash was loud enough to cause a commotion. Tinubu’s loyalists were quick to dismiss it as provocative and insulting.

There are speculations that El-Rufai may not be acting alone but in cahoots with the presidency. Keen observers believe that the game plan is to pair El-Rufai and the Governor of Ekiti, Kayode Fayemi, ahead of 2023. Reno Omokri, a sworn enemy of the Buhari administration and former aide to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, alleged that the presidency was closely working with El-Rufai to openly insult Tinubu. However, whether El-Rufai is fighting a direct battle or a proxy war still remains a matter of conjecture.

Southwest Consensus Group

The Southwest Consensus Group (SCG), on its part, called on President Buhari and the North to be wary of the expansionist agenda of Tinubu. Long before the National Assembly leadership issues were resolved, they had counseled the President over Tinubu’s alleged 2023 ambition’. “We want Mr President to be careful of the expansionist agenda of a man who wants to take the nation within his grip by installing Speaker and Senate President,” it’s chairman, Adekunle Adedoyin, said.

Ohanaeze Ndigbo

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The Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohaneze Ndigbo on June 28, 2019, warned that Tinubu contesting for President in 2023 will only rubbish his political career. The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the organization, Chuks Ibegbu, disclosed this in an interview in Umuahia, Abia State capital. He advised Tinubu to “shelve any ambition he is nursing for 2023 presidential election,” adding that “running a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), to assist poor Nigerians will be better.”

Adamu Kuta

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A former member of the House of Representatives and Chieftain of the APC, Adamu Kuta, on May 22, 2019, said Tinubu was not the kind of President Nigeria needs in 2023. “I like Tinubu as a person and he has contributed immensely to the success of our party, but honestly he is not the kind of President Nigeria needs in 2023,” he said.

Yakubu Dogara

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While some have come out directly to denounce Tinubu’s alleged ambition, others have gone conspiratorial, accusing him of ‘pretentious loyalty.’ They argue that Tinubu’s seeming drive is propelled by his goal to occupy the presidency. Responding to Tinubu, the former Speaker House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, once said of Asiwaju: “When the history of Buhari’s administration is written by those who know the truth of what really transpired in the last four years, Asiwaju’s pretentious loyalty to President Buhari will then be exposed.”

Chaos ahead?

There is no denying that the scramble for Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power, is alive and well. While the calendar may not support the frenzy being experienced, it is clear that the pushing and shoving are all in a bid to have a head start.

The President, by declaring that he was not interested in grooming anybody as his replacement, may have unintentionally encouraged a scramble. The AsiwajuNation, as they have come to address themselves, appear determined to lead in the notice-me race.

Not even the denials from Tinubu’s camp are providing succour to inquisitive media men. In a statement by his spokesperson, Tunde Rahman, the APC National Leader had described as “unsolicited and unwarranted,” the promotional items being branded with his names.”

It added, “We have seen pictures of face caps, T-shirts, shirts and even leaflets with Bola Tinubu 2023 embossed on them purportedly by a faceless group which christened itself ‘Asiwaju Reloaded Ambassadors’ Nigeria’. Neither the group nor its souvenirs are known to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.”

Should anyone fall for Tinubu’s denial games?

By John Chukwu...

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