It is no doubt that former governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has remained a kingmaker in the politics of the South West geo-political zone since he led the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to take over the entire South West in a political redrawing of the region in 2011.
Through the inspirational powers of Tinubu, the ACN toppled the PDP leadership and dominance in Ogun, Osun, Ekiti and Oyo states. Tinubu was instrumental to the choice of the candidates that were fielded by the party that won in the 2011 governorship election in the states.
The former governor also exercised his powers as the leader of the ACN faction leading to the mega merger that brought in the ruling APC. In the merger, the ACN, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and factions of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Democratic Peoples’ Party (DPP) fused to form a bigger APC which wrested power from the then ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) after 16 years of dominating at the centre.
From the merger, Tinubu who emerged as the National Leader of the APC fought all other candidates to ensure that his preferred candidate, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun emerged as the National Chairman of the party during the party’s national convention, a situation which forced many aggrieved members of the merger to return to the PDP.
The former governor also held sway when he fought the likes of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Kano State Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso and Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha to ensure that his choice, the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, emerged as the party’s presidential candidate at the keenly-contested primaries during the party’s convention in Lagos in 2014.
But signals from the recent APC primary election in Ondo State, ahead of the November governorship election in the state has raised doubts over the continued dominance of the “Lion of Bourdilion” as he is popularly called in South West politics.
With reports that the APC leadership was desperate to curtail the domineering powers of the former governor at both the party and the South West region, Tinubu’s preferred candidate was beaten at the election, a situation which has raised concerns over his continued dominance in the zone.
The APC national leader had allegedly supported one of the aspirants, Dr Emmanuel Abraham, who was defeated by the party’s governorship candidate in 2012 and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN).
The defeat has being attributed to several reasons: one is total connivance of majority of the aspirants to thwart the former governor’s plans of imposing a candidate on the Ondo APC.
The plot, it was gathered, started before the commencement of the sale of expression of interest forms by the APC National Working Committee (NWC) when the party’s national leadership decided to send a delegation to Tinubu, begging him not to publicly endorse a particular aspirant until after the sale of forms. To this, the APC national leader agreed and kept his silence on his support for Abraham until the party completed the sale of forms to 25 aspirants.
The APC attributed the high turnout of aspirants for the Ondo governorship primaries to its appeal to Tinubu to refrain from endorsing any particular candidate until after the sale of forms.
“If Tinubu had anointed or endorsed any aspirant, the party wouldn’t have made as much money as it did.
“You know what happened in Ondo in 2012 when Tinubu endorsed Akeredolu on the platform of the defunct ACN and in 2013 when he endorsed the Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi as the governorship candidate of ACN in Ekiti State. We believe that everybody should be given the opportunity to vie for any position he or she desires and the will of the people must prevail.
“Also, Nigerians and party members know the role he played in the emergence of President Buhari as the APC presidential flag bearer and that he singlehandedly picked the vice presidential candidate for the party,” an APC NWC member said.
After the sale of the forms and when there were strong indications that Tinubu would replicate his feat in 2012 in Ondo, some of the aspirants raised an alarm, alleging his unseen hands in the plot to force Abraham on the party as its choice for the election.
Dr Tunji Abayomi, a human rights lawyer and one of the aspirants was the whistle-blower of the alleged endorsement of the Abraham by Tinubu. In a petition to the APC NWC, he threatened to take legal actions to stop the conduct of the primaries if the NWC failed to halt Tinubu’s ambition.
The move brought the first round of crisis in the Ondo APC, leading to the alleged removal of the chairman, Chief Isaac Kekemeke by a group led by supporters of the aggrieved aspirants, in a desperate bid to stop the alleged plot of Tinubu.
The APC national leadership then commenced a move to reconcile the parties when it summoned all the aspirants at one time and the State Working Committee (SWC) at another time, all aimed at finding a solution to the crisis.
The peace meetings with the two contending forces to the leadership of the SWC failed to reach an agreement leading to the suspension of the primaries twice by the NWC.
On the allegation that he was working for a particular aspirant, Kekemeke said: “I have said repeatedly that I do not prefer any of the aspirants but I don’t have the power to deny or stop anyone from exercising his or her constitutional and political right to prefer any aspirants.
“All I know is that I don’t have any preference because I am forbidden from doing so as the chairman of the party in the state. I want to say that those claiming that I support any candidate are only in the rhyme of their imagination. I want to assure them that my preferred aspirant would be the person who garnered votes from the delegates,” he said.
Amidst fears that the party could lose the governorship election under the endorsement crisis, the APC-NWC invited all the governorship aspirants to Abuja. Addressing the aspirants, Odigie-Oyegun insisted that Tinubu, just like any other party stakeholder, was free to adopt any aspirant of his choice.
Odigie-Oyegun however warned that individual endorsement or support cannot be taken as the party’s position.
“We have all accepted that there is nothing wrong in any member of the party endorsing any of the aspirants. We have also accepted that there will be no attempt on the party to impose any aspirant on the party and on the electorates. So, we have a distinction between endorsement and imposition. I want to state in clear terms to all the aspirants that the party at the national level has no preferred aspirant.
“By the same token, the state branch of the party must not also be seen to be attempting to impose a particular aspirant on the electorates because they have that trust to treat all aspirants as equal.
“As far as we are concerned in this party, our objective is to ensure that the next governor of Ondo will come from among you. So, everything we are going to talk about will be how to ensure that is the real person that emerges in our primaries. We will ensure that whatever obstacles that are beginning to rear their heads among you and in the political environment in Akure and the state generally are removed,” Odigie-Oyegun said and promised that the party will release the authentic list of delegates to all the aspirants before the election. The primaries were conducted by a committee headed by Jigawa State Governor, Abubakar Badaru, amidst juju scare at the entrance of the party’s secretariat in Akure.
The primary election which was conducted amidst controversy on September 3 saw the defeat of Tinubu’s preferred choice, Abraham by Akeredolu who polled 669 votes as against Abraham’s 635.
With allegations of rigging by both the Presidency and the APC-NWC, aggrieved aspirants went back to their trenches, seeking the cancellation of the election. The national leadership of the APC was accused of conniving with the Presidency to cut Tinubu to size.
One of the aspirants, Akinwale Akingbade v alleged that the NWC issued them with a list of delegates which was entirely different from the one that voted at the election.
Akingbade, who did not however appeal against the result of the primaries, regretted that the APC decided to deceive the aspirants by releasing fake delegates’ list, adding that the high level of rigging at the exercise was orchestrated by the APC-NWC.
Another aspirant who wished to remain anonymous accused the APC national headquarters of midwifing the rigging. The aspirant who said that he would not appeal against the result echoed the allegations of Akingbade when he alleged that the APC-NWC released a list of delegates to the aspirants which was different from the one given to the committee.
“I have just decided to be silent and watch events for now for two reasons: I am from Owo and the winner of the primary is assumed to be my kinsman. Some people will feel that an Owo man won the primaries and I am complaining. I know people that were not delegates that voted from one of the wards in my local government area. Some people have also mentioned names of people from so many wards that were never in the delegates list that was given to us,” he alleged.
The APC National Organising Secretary, Osita Izunaso, declined from making comments on the official position of the party, saying that it was still very early to do so since some aspirants had approached the appeal committee.
He said: “Nobody can react now. There is an appeal panel and no party official would make statement on the primaries without the appeal concluding its work. Anything l say may jeopardise the work of the committee. Let the appeal panel finish its work then we can talk.”
The Chairman of the APC Election Petitions Committee, Helen Bendega, confirmed that over three petitions had been received from the aggrieved aspirants and promised that the committee would discharge its duties dispassionately.
With the loss, the first shocker to the Tinubu camp in South West politics, concerns have been raised over the future of former governor’s political empire ahead of the 2019 general elections.