Over the past few weeks, by design, supposed friends Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party and Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress have turned their presidential campaigns against each other. This may come as a bit of a surprise to political observers, because ordinarily the two, who had been drinking and dining closely and possibly sharing nights in each other’s homes and rooms holding political meetings, would have to exercise restraint in not selling, since political campaigns, are now almost about the trade in insults, including in climates considered decent. But the two even throw in a kitchen sink, and things could get ugly and dramatic in the days to come.
Undoubtedly, both see the other person as the real competition, although Asiwaju admitted in his tirade against Atiku for engaging in tribal politics, that three of them, adding Labour’s Peter Obi, to the first rank, are in the race to succeed Buhari as President. Obviously, Atiku and Tinubu didn’t initially see Obi as a big enough threat, due to the tiny nature of his platform; his party, his support base and all. The conventional wisdom is that a party with the potential to win national elections must have some semblance of a national structure, the base of support, must be inclusive, contain all shades of humanity, and have big donors, whether they whether in power or out. of this one.
In all of this, Obi seems to be struggling, though things seem brighter than months ago when he basically existed on Twitter. Now his name is among the common people for a voting mention, although he is not rated too highly in the areas of depth, originality of ideas, and ability to communicate. Among the top three, he is still the David, facing two Goliaths of Nigerian politics, but the religious factor is starting to play well for him in the churches, in the South West. When prayer points are raised for Nigeria and the 2023 elections, in some services I have attended in recent weeks, the oblique allusion to him, even when his name is not directly mentioned, as the one that God should choose for church and country, is beyond question. And you can’t miss the forceful amen that always follows the plea that it’s a Kingdom child’s turn, a code phrase for a Christian, as President of Nigeria next year.
Surely, Atiku and Tinubu don’t miss this development, considering the two are desperate and throw everything at the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, when everyone seems to come out of the starting block at the same time and there’s no Buhari, the mini -god of the North on the ballot, although questionable records claimed he lost the 2019 poll to Atiku, despite his Northern-led populism.
Atiku and Tinubu are also masters of electoral calibration. They work on the nuances bit by bit, though they still sometimes miss out, like the failed Osun mission for Tinubu, despite holding back think tanks for years working on their various political projects. This is why both are generally celebrated as political tacticians. Even out of season, they keep their teams. I remember Alhaji Garba Shehu, before becoming Buhari’s spokesman (obviously given by Atiku after he joined Buhari in chasing Jonathan), was a fixture in Atiku’s media office in Jabi, Abuja, for years .
One particular day when visiting for work the place was like a feast and I was told it was always that way. We can even say that Asiwaju is deeper, in the commitment of his team. I know there is a team of lawyers, senior lawyers to be precise, who are constantly strategizing for him. With a snap of his fingers, he can bring them to justice for his political missions. Thus, Atiku and Tinubu are committed enough to know that the Obi phenomenon is not a textbook political case. Unless they’re really going after him with sickening facts, attacking the Labor candidate on certain grounds, in particular adoration of youth and connection to Christianity, would backfire spectacularly, especially Tinubu who cast Christian support in the South, ignoring the probables belonging to the faith, from the North, who were lined up for him, to make a choice of running mate.
By choosing a northern Muslim, whether Kanuri or Fulani, Tinubu was simply playing for the northern vote, perhaps with the cold calculation that southern Christians, particularly those in the south-west, (since the southern East and South-South, mostly Catholic, will opt for Obi overwhelmingly), had never cared and still would not care this time about the representation of their faith in Aso Rock. Shettima’s selection backlash has obviously caught his strategies off guard and as he attempts to correct the deep feeling that goes against his common ticket among Christians at his southwestern base, especially in trying to promote the obviously inconsequential president of Lagos CAN to national ecumenical relevance, Tinubu appeared to have correctly read his chances as another candidate from the North, hence the decision to go after his friend and business partner for decades, poking fun at her regular parade in Dubai. And when Atiku made his lame identity politics blunder, Tinubu and his team quickly jumped on it, to create more openings for the ex-Lagos governor in the space he contests with the ex-VP , while appearing as an iconoclastic nationalist. Since the first salvo, there has been no pass between them.
Tinubu can play pan-Nigerianism all he wants, but it’s clear he’s been nominated as a presidential candidate by the North, thanks to the 14 APC governors who have nodded to a southerner to replace Buhari on the party list. Even Kogi’s renegade Yahaya Bello ended up joining the backing vocals. And representatives of the North in the South-for-president assured that it was their choice that emerged, after alarmism that Osinbajo would “buy out” the country if elected president, made Tinubu the favorite for the consideration of the North, despite doubts about his supposed arrogance. . There’s also the not-too-silent report of strong monetary incentives. All in all, it all ended well for North, landing the two strongest candidates, on paper, for the presidential contest.
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Tinubu, of course, expects the North to elect him, with votes from the South West, as a counterbalance, as happened for Buhari in 2015, against Jonathan, a Christian minority from the South. Of course, the dynamic is different now. North, still hungry for political power at the zenith, has another illustrious “son”, perhaps not an MVP like Buhari in the contest and while any northerner will do for his people, against a southerner, Atiku is not certainly not just any northerner. Like Buhari, he is a patron of Myetti Allah and definitely pro-North, but without Buhari’s exaggeration.
So, Tinubu directs this one against a homeboy who is also a local hero. A senatorial candidate on the APC platform told me that most of them from the North support Atiku and if he wins a narrow vote in the senate, they will run off! Surely, Asiwaju has every reason to beat Atiku beyond recognition for the North to substitute the ex-VP for him. And it really would take Atiku appearing ineligible to the North and the rest of Nigeria for the Lagos strongman not to finish third, behind Atiku and Obi, in any order. And because Tinubu and North know neither of them would show loyalty to any political deal now, the line of trust is going to be thin, in the next three months or so.