By Mahmud Jega
WHEN I heard that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu had been appointed to head a team to achieve “reconciliation” within the fractious ruling All Progressives Congress [APC], I briefly wondered what was going on in the mind of President Muhammadu Buhari, who made the appointment. I also wondered what must have crossed the mind of Tinubu when he was informed of the curious appointment.
The Tinubu appointment reminded me of an episode that took place in 1974, a day the Watergate scandal in America reached a shattering climax. Permit me to tell the story at some length. Throughout 1974, cascading revelations from the Watergate scandal threatened to sweep away Richard Nixon from the US Presidency. Many senators from his own Republican party no longer stood by him in the moves to impeach him for high crimes and misdemeanour. Nixon, who was known to many Americans as Tricky Dick, had a secret strategy. He knew that Congress was likely to impeach him; all he needed was the support of 34 senators out of 100, just enough to prevent the Senate from convicting him with a two-thirds majority and removing him from office. Remember that the impeachment process in America is a two-step process while it is only one step here in Nigeria.
Helping Richard Nixon to actualise that strategy was Barry Goldwater, the arch-conservative Republican senator from Arizona. Goldwater was the Republican presidential candidate in 1964 and he lost to the Democratic candidate, President Lyndon Johnson, by the widest margin ever in an American presidential election up to that time. Goldwater had just enough senators in the bag until the White House was forced by the courts to release the tape recording of Nixon’s June 1972 meeting in the Oval Office with Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman. Citing executive privilege, Nixon had fought through the courts to prevent the tape’s release to the Watergate Special Prosecutor but lost at the Supreme Court. White House then released the tape but it turned out that eighteen and a half minutes had been erased. Nixon said the erasure was accidental but nearly everyone else believed that material evidence was destroyed which amounted to obstruction of justice, an impeachable offence.
A day after the tape was released, Nixon summoned Senator Goldwater and asked him if he still had enough loyal senators to prevent his removal from office. Goldwater said Nixon’s Senate supporters were now down to 12. Nixon was aghast and he asked who the latest defectors were. Goldwater cleared his throat and began listing the latest defectors. He said, “One, Senator Goldwater.” That is himself! President Nixon quickly stood up and said he did not want to hear anymore. He knew the game was up.
I think Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was somewhere in Chicago at the time of the Watergate scandal, so he might have heard this story. This could be the time for him to borrow a leaf from Goldwater by walking up to President Buhari and saying, “Mr. President, this assignment you gave me is very difficult. Too many top party members are very aggrieved.” Buhari is likely to ask who the aggrieved party leaders are. That is the moment for Tinubu to clear his throat and say, “The first and most aggrieved party leader is Bola Tinubu.”
From the beginning, State House was playing a clever game when it named Tinubu as head of the committee to reconcile APC members. Between Tinubu and the Presidency there is cognitive dissonance on this matter of political aggrieve-ness. As far as Buhari and his top men are concerned, Tinubu was well rewarded because he was allowed to nominate the Interim Party Chairman, the Vice President, the Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service [FIRS] and probably a few others. From Tinubu’s point of view, his role as the man who made the essential difference for Buhari to win the presidency after three unsuccessful attempts was totally unrewarded politically.
Without Tinubu, there would have no APC because he was the only one who could bring ACN into alliance with CPC. Without Tinubu, CPC and ANPP would never come into an alliance because both were Northern-based and were bitter rivals in several key states. In fact, Buhari initially resisted the inclusion of ANPP into APC. Tinubu gave CPC what it completely lacked, i.e. a major foothold in the South. Buhari might think that voter turnout in the South West in 2015 was quite low and what he got there did not amount to the 2million vote difference between Jonathan and himself at the polls. What Tinubu brought however was more than votes; he prevented PDP from padding up their votes in the South West, in addition to the huge morale booster of making Buhari a national candidate. As far as Tinubu is concerned, he should have been selected as Buhari’s running mate, the Muslim-Muslim blackmail potential notwithstanding, and he should at least have been allowed to pick ministers from the South West. In short, those sharply contrasting perspectives must be reconciled before Tinubu’s assignment of reconciling other party leaders can even begin.
The Tinubu assignment, if and when it begins, promises to be very wide indeed. Some Nigerian wag posted something on WhatsApp a few days ago, a very long list of APC leaders and factions in many states that need reconciliation. He however omitted something: Tinubu must first reconcile himself with many people before he gets very far. Among others, he must reconcile with party national chairman John Odigie-Oyegun, whom he publicly lambasted last year; with Senate President Bukola Saraki, who blames Tinubu for what he sees as his persecution within APC; with his former protégé the Power, Works and Housing Minister Babatunde Raji Fashola; with his former protégé the Solid Minerals Minister Kayode Fayemi and with Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, to mention only the biggest foes.
Only after that can Tinubu begin the assignment proper, which is addressing high-profile conflicts among APC members all over the country. Among the most pronounced is the conflict in Kano State between Governor Abdullahi Ganduje and his predecessor, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso. The slogan of both camps is “Kano ba sulhu” [that is, no reconciliation in Kano] so Tinubu may not know where to begin. In neighbouring Kaduna State, Tinubu needs to reconcile Governor Nasiru el-Rufa’i with Senators Shehu Sani and Suleiman Hunkuyi, Alhaji Isa Ashiru, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed and Alhaji Tijjani Ramalan; and with APC National Vice Chairman North West Inuwa Abdulkadir, whose house el-Rufa’i demolished. He must reconcile Senator Kabiru Marafa with Governor Yari of Zamfara and Bauchi State Governor Mohamed Abubakar with House Speaker Yakubu Dogara.