Confidants of the President Muhammadu Buhari are currently waiting for him to reveal his preferred aspirant among the presidential hopefuls in the ruling All Progressives Congress.
This, according to findings, explains why the confidants, comprising serving ministers, close aides and his kitchen cabinet, could not make any open commitment to any of the aspirants as they are waiting to hear from the President the direction he would want them to go.
At the moment, the top contenders for the presidency in the APC are the National Leader of the party and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo; Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and the Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi. A former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, has also voiced his intention to join the presidential race.
Tinubu and Umahi have openly declared their intention to contest the coveted seat after their separate meetings with the President, while Bello said he would formally declare after the party’s national convention scheduled for February 26. For the vice-president, he has neither declared interest nor said a word on the matter, even though groups loyal to him have been clamouring for his candidacy.
At different fora where the vice-president was present, the latest being the Sardauna Memorial Foundation lecture in Kano, influential Nigerians like traditional rulers, governors and former governors had touted him as suitable for the presidency in 2023, without him denouncing the proposal.
Others rumoured to also have presidential ambition in the APC but have yet to declare include the Governor of Ekiti State and Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi; and the Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi.
A reliable source in the presidency said the ministers and other top government officials believed to be close to the President were watching from close range and waiting to hear from the President the direction that he would want them to follow.
The source said, “You know the President is a man of few words. You could also see the way he answered when asked who his preferred candidate was during his recent television interview.
“Definitely, there is no president or even governor who will not be interested in who his party would pick as his likely successor. He may not have a hand in who the opposition political parties would pick as their presidential candidate, but the President will definitely have a say in who his political party would pick.”
Buhari had said during his interview with Channels Television on January 5, 2022 that the name of his preferred candidate was a secret because the person might be eliminated if he mentioned it. When asked if he was interested in who eventually succeeds him, he responded, “No. Let him come, whoever it is.”
Asked further if he had any favourite in his party, he said, “I wouldn’t (name him) because he may be eliminated if I mention it, I better keep it as a secret.”
Meanwhile, a governor, who didn’t want to be named, said the President, being a retired army general, would always keep his plans to himself and would not want to speak now so that people do not accuse him of favouritism.
He said, “When former President Olusegun Obasanjo, also a retired army general, was completing his second tenure, many politicians, including governors, were going round the country, claiming endorsement of the President. Obasanjo did not say anything.
“He remained silent until a day or so before the PDP convention at Abuja when he called the leaders of the party and other stakeholders. It was there he introduced the late Governor Umaru Yar’Adua to them as the preferred candidate. Those who presented themselves as the preferred candidates had no option but to toe the party and the President’s line.
“That scenario is likely going to play out here. Buhari that we know would not stop anyone. He would not openly say anything. But we would know where he belongs before the party’s presidential primaries. Signs of what to come may start emanating from the proposed February 26, 2022 national convention of our party.”
However, there are strong insinuations that if the vice-president declares his interest in the race, he and Tinubu might be the topmost contenders in the APC. Consequently, the President could have difficulty in choosing between the two of them.
Sources in the Presidential Villa noted that the President had been impressed with Osinbajo’s loyalty and capacity over the years while he (Buhari) also knows that Tinubu played a significant role in the merger that produced the APC and his emergence as the candidate of the party and he might expect a reciprocation of his support.
“If you read Chief Bisi Akande’s My Participations, you would see the huge role Tinubu played in Buhari’s emergence and everyone knows that. So, the President might have some difficulty making a choice, which is one of the reasons he can’t openly reveal his preferred candidate now,” one of the sources said.
Why ministers shunned Tinubu in London
Meanwhile, facts have emerged on why serving ministers were not among the numerous politicians and party loyalists who visited Tinubu while he was recuperating in London following his recent ailment.
The President visited Tinubu in August 2021 and some governors and lawmakers also visited him thereafter but none of the ministers did.
A minister said “Go and check the list. ministers and other top Federal Government functionaries didn’t visit him in London. Tinubu has his nominees in the Federal Executive Council, but they could not go because they also know the workings of the government and they had to understand the mind of their boss.”
Tinubu had in a statement by his Media Office described the President’s visit as “friendly and a welcome one”, adding that, “By this gesture, Mr President has again demonstrated his personal thoughtfulness and humility; defying the erroneous commentaries peddled by his critics.”
Among those who visited Tinubu were the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu; his Ekiti State counterpart, Kayode Fayemi as well as Kano State Governor, Umar Ganduje, who was accompanied by his wife Hafsat; their son, Umar Ganduje; three lawmakers as well four other members of the Ganduje family.
Others who visited Tinubu in London included the House of Representatives Speaker, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila; ex-governor of Ogun State and current Senator representing Ogun Central, Ibikunle Amosun; former Governor of Borno State and senator representing Borno Central, Kashim Shettima; and the member representing Gubio, Kaga and Magumeri Federal Constituency of Borno State, Usman Zanna.
Investigations showed that the presidential aspirations of Tinubu and Osinbajo might have polarised the ministers as to who they would support.
“There are some ministers in the government that were believed to have been made by Asiwaju but are no longer loyal to him. If you check, you can identify them. They are there and that is politics,” the source said.
Nobody can stop Tinubu’s train, say supporters
Nonetheless, supporters of Tinubu are upbeat that the aspiration of their principal is getting enough attention and winning converts.
The Head of Media, Tinubu Support Group, Tosin Adeyanju, told our correspondent that the former governor was not bothered by the assumptions of some people, insisting that no one could stop what he called the “Tinubu train” anymore.
He said, “The reception for the Tinubu project all over the country has been overwhelming. Everywhere we go, we get massive support for the desire of our principal to become the next President of the country.
“On Monday, about 2,500 support groups met at the International Conference Centre, Abuja where eminent Nigerians spoke on the project. The members of the group came from all the 36 states and the FCT to identify with the project. The reception was massive. Every Nigerian has positive things to gain from the Tinubu presidency.
“Among those in attendance were a former Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima; a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, and the Speaker of Kano State House of Assembly (Hamisu Chidari). So, we are moving.”
On the submission by a former Governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu, that Osinbajo remained the best presidential candidate for the APC, Adeyanju said, “Aliyu is not a member of the ruling party; he belongs to the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party. His intention is to deceive Nigerians and foist an unpopular candidate on the APC so that the PDP would be able to overrun us.
“We are not taking him seriously and we will appeal to the former governor to either mind his business or defect to the APC in order to have a say in who becomes the candidate of the APC in the forthcoming presidential election or party primary. For now, he should take his advice to the PDP where he belongs.”
Asked whether the Tinubu camp was threatened by Osinbajo even though he had yet to declare, Adeyanju said, “We don’t want to respond to what I can refer to as beer parlour gist. Until the vice-president openly declares his interest, we won’t talk about him. We are not aware of his intention yet.”
On whether the project is also receiving attention and support from the ministers and those in government, Adeyanju said it would be wrong for the Support Group to disclose those supporting them in government.
He added, “We cannot openly disclose those backing us or those supporting us in government. All we can say is that Asiwaju’s project is a national project that is gaining momentum all over the country. He has donated N50m to the Niger State Government in its fight against insecurity. Forget any other person who is claiming to have any national support like Tinubu.”
Buhari’s influence will determine who wins between Osinbajo, Tinubu – VP’s support group
Meanwhile, the Osinbajo for President Support Group has said Buhari’s body language or influence will determine who wins the APC presidential ticket. The group also affirmed that the vice-president would contest the election.
Though the group said the vice-president had yet to speak on his aspiration, it said its members had sampled the opinion of Nigerians across party lines and that they were rooting for him to succeed the president in 2023.
The Convener and National Coordinator of the group, Ben Akinbobola, who spoke with Sunday PUNCH, said it was wrong for people to advise the vice-president not to join the presidential race because Tinubu already showed interest.
Akinbobola said, “Osinbajo is an adult, who became a professor of law before the age of 40. He is an intellectual and I think it is absolutely wrong for someone to think such a man should wait on a fellow human being to direct him.
“Is it possible for a governor to win an election without the cooperation of others? Is it also possible for him to become the commissioner in all the ministries in his state and chair all the boards in the state?
“Definitely, there must be division of labour and people who contribute to elections will be compensated and given positions.
“The late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, is credited with so many successes in the Western Region. Do you know he was not the originator of free education that made him popular within and outside Nigeria? That programme was said to have been an idea of one of his lieutenants. I also think it is ungodly to tie one’s success to someone when we all know that Osinbajo is not a poor man and not a dullard.”
Asked if the vice-president had told the members of the group that he would be running, Akinbobola said no, “but we had contact and all I can say is that Osinbajo is running for the position of the president in 2023.”
On who would win between Tinubu and Osinbajo, he said, “It depends on the APC and the position to be taken by the President. His influence is very important in the battle ahead. When we know where the President is going, then we can conveniently say who is winning. But as for our principal, he has been tested and can be trusted.”
He also said he was sure there “are many ministers and governors rooting for Osinbajo. When the time comes, you will know them.”
Amaechi waiting for the right time to declare
The Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, who is a former governor of Rivers State, is said to be waiting for the right time before declaring his intention to contest for the APC ticket.
Our correspondent gathered that some influential northerners close to the President believe Amaechi equally played an important role in the formation of the APC and the emergence of Buhari as President in 2015.
One of the sources privy to the matter said, “You know without the pivotal role he (Amaechi) played as the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and one of the seven governors that formed the new PDP, five of which eventually defected to the APC, there might be no APC.”
The source added, “For the President to have trusted him with his campaign as the director-general twice means a lot. Don’t also forget that he is holding a ministry whose projects are very important to the Buhari regime. It is undoubtedly a reflection of the President’s confidence in him.”
Sources said the minister was gauging the mood of the President and other power brokers to decide whether or not to throw his hat into the ring.
There are also speculations that Amaechi, who will be turbaned as Dan Amanar Daura at the Emir’s Palace in Katsina State on February 5, 2022, may use the occasion to test his popularity among the northern oligarchy.
The title, which literally means “the trusted one,” is said to be an endorsement of his closeness to the President and appreciation of his loyalty to him (Buhari) since 1998.
“The gathering at the Emir’s Palace will be a litmus test for his popularity and a kind of endorsement for his yet-to-be announced presidential ambition. The title itself is an indication that the Daura Emirate is grateful to him for some of numerous projects his ministry has sited in Katsina State,” a northern source said.