An ‘Atiku’ of Faith, By Omotayo Suleiman

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The venue for the APC Special Convention
The venue for the APC Special Convention

In the urgency of this moment, a key strategic question for APC, if it must dispassionately identify its most potent electoral path to decisively vanquishing a resurgent PDP, is whether on a pan-Nigerian basis, Ahmad Lawan or anyone else has Tinubu’s nationwide name recognition, his well-connected and nationally deployed political machine, his performance pedigree, his war chest and his battle tested campaign management acumen.

All Progressives Congress (APC) national chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu’s shock announcement of Senate President Ahmad Lawan as the preferred choice of President Muhammadu Buhari as presidential consensus candidate brings the ruling party to a final moment of reckoning. With Northern governors, key stakeholders in the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC and other candidates taking exception, it will take President Buhari all the leadership genius he can muster to resolve this in a way that augurs well for the party in 2023. This article is arguing from the stand point that reason, collegial wisdom and a pragmatic interrogation of the issues will ultimately prevail in the APC selection process.

This is war. And this is not just referring to the titanic clash of last-minute tactics and intrigues across the jostling egos of the 23 listed aspirants. The fierce battle is for the very soul of Nigeria. Should APC get this wrong, it will not only set the party on an irreversible course of self-inflicted implosion, it will have drastic consequences on the corporate health of an already deeply wounded Nigeria and on the fragile hope that President Muhammadu Buhari and other leaders have worked so hard in the past few days to build among the party faithful.

Somehow, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the question of what epoch-making decision will be made about him momentarily, by Muhammadu Buhari – his most definitive political partner to date, by his party, and by an intrigue weary Nigeria at large, has become the defining imperative of the moment.

Profoundly strategic implications await, any which way stakeholders sway. We will attempt a clinical navigation of the pertinent tensions here.

On a real time basis, sleep starved leaders who have been auspiciously placed by fate in the highly access- restricted situation room are monitoring the unfolding dynamics through the tense prisms of shrewdly peering bifocals. What will be monumentally tragic is if this compact but sacred bench of destiny shapers perfunctorily casualises matters of momentous national significance, choosing to be reflexively driven by petty politicking, rather than mustering the resilience, statesmanship, dispassion, empathy and unyielding patriotism that an historic moment like this calls for.

For all the rancorous debating and frenetic diplomacy, key APC leaders, those on whose shoulders God has placed the burden to help shape the destiny, not only of the party but of the nation, must know that the key leadership call at this point is for a disciplined decision anchored on a tripod of strategic clarity, integrity of purpose and lion-hearted patriotism. To those leaders directly, therefore, this opinion piece will largely speak and seek to curate in very graphic relief, the dire environmental contexts that must shape APC’s stark choices at this presidential primary convention.

Take Owo, Ondo State. The gory sight of innocent worshippers gruesomely murdered, blood splattered all over the ancient pews of that sacred hall, the body count being just one small part of several such mushrooming slaughter slabs in motion. Check the news update on your phone as your convoy drives into this raucous convention ground. Chances are that another bandit has just kidnapped someone, or a family somewhere in the country. Maybe, some hooded goons have just beheaded a whole village in the South-East. The sorry state of the nation should further strengthen the resolve of every patriotic leader in this convention to fight for the future of Nigeria.

Power brokers, delegates and their handlers; everyone! The kind of petty, self-focused scheming that has brought our nation to utter ruin in the past six decades will not be tenable here. This is war. Nigeria is at war! Forget Father Kukah. This is family talk. So, help me God. I am not just a Buhari fan. I am a dyed in the wool, forever sold, never and forever again to look back Buharist. So help me God. And in case that whole epithet sounds so nebulous that even you, party stalwart, don’t know what that really means anymore, it goes way beyond perishable emotional or sentimental attachment to an aging General. It goes beyond politically correct adulation of a beleaguered president, whereby insincere courtiers seek to whip 23 democratically elected governors into line, in favour of a phantom anointed candidate.

A Buharist’s reason for investing around deeply ingrained connection to the values and virtues that a certain Mai Gaskiya propagated so steadfastly and with such stoic resilience in many decades of globally applauded public life: Integrity, piety, modesty, unyielding incorruptibility and an enduring fixation with the human condition that made a war tested General weep for his nation on national TV.

So, back to APC’s environmental headaches as it heads into the 2023 polls. An unprecedented explosion of heinous crimes is only the nightmare backdrop to unprecedented youth unemployment. Restive, deeply frustrated and disillusioned masses of youth further fueling a conundrum of crime, drugs and virulent social discontent.

Here is the core strategic question on the issue of the acceptability of Osinbajo versus Tinubu in a predominantly Muslim Northern Nigeria. To win in 2023, APC cannot be coy about the stark choices it faces. Leaders need to think very deeply about this: Exactly how will APC divine a winning electoral map around a top ranking pentecostal Pastor Osinbajo in a polity which has Northern Nigeria’s numerical invincibility as a core strategic determinant?

Take the economy. Barely literate voters will not understand the fine points of rationalisation around the net derogatory effects of COVID-19 on the GDP. They only know their own pain. A barely surviving middle class is reeling under a volatile forex regime that has seen the naira exchange rate jump from about N200 to $1 in 2015, to N600 naira to $1, and still climbing! And the nation’s real sector is, as we speak, only a severely anemic shadow of the kind of robust and vibrant industry that we know President Muhammadu Buhari dreamt about, prayed for and valiantly sought to birth into reality, to no avail. Voters don’t know the fine points of policy. Only empirically livable evidence of last mile impact. Why are these openly verifiable indices of a government’s performance so dismal for a team that am sure worked assiduously for far better outcomes? The deep and complex interplay of peculiarly Nigerian dynamics, rooted in an incredibly intricate admixture of complicated variables, are at the very heart of perennially incremental outcomes, across governments, across parties, across decades, even as the velocity of decomposition increases in maniacal proportion and successive leaders have to endure villainy and ignominy, one or two terms after they were carried shoulders high into the seat of power. We will discuss the underlying disruptions behind the intransigence of Nigeria’s dysfunctions another day.

But with unprecedented pain in the land, the core strategic tension that must define leaders’ decision-making in this convention therefore is: Who has that FORMIDABLE combination of requisite ELECTORAL value to help bring APC back from very certain defeat?

No, there is not nearly enough genius in Bola Ahmed Tinubu or in anyone else for that matter, as to be cast as some out of this planet’s solution merchants. But subjected to stone cold analysis, devoid of sentiments, Tinubu is by far APC’s most potent weapon against a resurgent PDP.

It will be a disaster for APC to pick Ahmad Lawan or anyone else on their eminent list of contenders over Tinubu, although that may not be obvious in the euphoric moment of a ruling party’s national convention. But when looked at, with all dispassion and from a holistic, all encompassing, cross-cutting and integrative prism of analysis and electoral pathfinding, this enigmatic, sometimes annoyingly ambitious man, brings to the table, and by far, the most lethal combination to trounce the globally infamous PDP.

Let’s break it all down. Of core strategic significance, there is the delicate ethno-religious balancing that will, willy-nilly, shape APC’s electoral fortune in 2023. Dynamics that probably instigated the Lawan exigency. 13 Northern governors and Mr President, have already taken a crucially strategic step, when, in concert, they spoke out forcefully in favour of shifting the presidency to the South in 2023. While there are possibly adducible reasons to consider a Northern Muslim candidate, there is hardly anyone on the APC radar currently known to be seeking the ticket from the North, who has anything remotely close to the political heft of Atiku Abubakar, even as the menace of the Kwankwasiya, now finding some structure in the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), is also bound to further negatively impact the aggregate Northern harvest for APC, even when a non-politically rooted Lawan is the presidential nominee.

Further, while Ahmad Lawan is a fine gentleman with demonstrable intellectual capacity, any perception of the imposition of a Northern candidate will severely injure APC’s acceptability in the South-West, significantly robbing the party of its new-found electoral dominance in the highly politically aware states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Osun and Kwara. Wholesale reversal of APC’s gains in the South-West in 2023 will thus nullify whatever gains the party might have hoped for in the North by giving its presidential ticket to the core North, after two terms of President Buhari. Notably, a culturally cohesive Yoruba nation will be painfully reminded of the “betrayal” of their son. No matter the fact that there were varying levels of strategic contributions by a large constellation of supporters, the dominant narrative in the South-West, never contested by President Buhari himself in all of the past seven years, is that Tinubu’s considerably well-resourced political machine played a key role in midwifing Buhari’s sudden breakthrough in the South-West in 2014.

Further, and despite lingering ambivalence around Tinubu’s brand leadership, all the peoples of the South-West, organically linked to the economic robustness of Lagos through subsisting migrant dynamics, have a very strong sense of the kind of mega-city transformation that Tinubu’s leadership and that of his successive mentees have engendered. A spirited effort at cloning the model across other states within the Yoruba enclave has only strengthened his persona as the leader of that whole culturally homogenous entity, a subliminal relief for a people who sorely miss Obafemi Awolowo and MKO Abiola’s leadership and political gravitas. It does not matter what intra-South-West balkanisation or dilution of the Tinubu franchise may seem evident, when push comes to shove, especially if he is seen as having been deliberately short-changed, this might not at all augur well for APC.

Indeed, it is clinical truth that Buhari and Tinubu, working tenaciously through the pangs of birthing the synergy, ignited a critically missing revolution in North-South collaboration, starting from 2013. That this essentially geo-strategic revolution is still too young to yield breakthrough electoral strength for APC in the South-East and South-South is graphically manifest in the fact that Rotimi Amaechi, an eminently capable man as well, has failed to exert electoral dominance in Rivers State and the South-South generally, even as the South-East’s contribution to APC’s electoral strength remains pathetically below an actionable threshold. The lingering Igbo question remains a core strategic tension that must be resolved in favour of a perennially disenfranchised Igbo nation, but to meaningfully plot an Igbo presidency is not a sprint to be hurriedly conceived on the eve of a presidential primary.

Importantly, were Lawan not sacrosanct, and God forbid that someone should insist that he is, we need to pay close attention to tensions around the acceptability of Tinubu versus Osinbajo in both the South-West and the North in the specific context of 2023. While Osinbajo and Tinubu may have some level of electoral parity in the South-West due to the comfort that any of them as president represents gain for the South-West, there are certain glaring electoral dynamics in the North that places Tinubu heads and shoulders above a Pastor Osinbajo across the Islamic strongholds of the North, where primordial factors like tribe, tongue and religion outweigh other critical parameters at the ward level

Here is the core strategic question on the issue of the acceptability of Osinbajo versus Tinubu in a predominantly Muslim Northern Nigeria. To win in 2023, APC cannot be coy about the stark choices it faces. Leaders need to think very deeply about this: Exactly how will APC divine a winning electoral map around a top ranking pentecostal Pastor Osinbajo in a polity which has Northern Nigeria’s numerical invincibility as a core strategic determinant? And when that whole sprawling and monolithic geography is preponderantly Muslim in a polity in voters, and APC’s formidable opponent is a core Northerner and Muslim, precisely what is that magical messaging that will unleash millions of North-East, North-West and North-Central voters on the polling booths in frenzied adulation of a certain Pastor Osinbajo? Politically emancipated Northern leaders and delegates may give the ticket to a very convivial Pastor Osinbajo, but how in the world does that translate to the critical mass APC would need in Northern Nigeria to contain a barrelling Alhaji Atiku Abubakar monster army? We should be cautioned. Osinbajo has been a Christian preacher for decades. Nobody seems to be wary that by now, a desperate Atiku machine would have done exhaustive digging of all of Osinbajo’s recoded sermons and tongue speaking sessions over very many years, years in which a non-politically focused Pastor Osinbajo may have inadvertently made remarks, uttered words, like all innocent pastors do, but which in the context of evolving inter-faith dynamics can and will become highly combustible material in the hands of mischievous opponents.

Ahmad Lawan himself has an historic opportunity to save Nigeria from certain crisis, the end of which no one may be able to predict right now. He can stand gallantly and reject a strange automatic ticket that from all dispassionate electoral calculations, is far from likely to see him become president in 2023.

Set that against the fact that Alhaji Tinubu is a widely known quantity at the retail level of Northern Nigeria. Not only by dint of a rigorously orchestrated value chain of political bridge-building but also by the sheer fact of his resonance as a high profile member of the pan-Nigerian Muslim Ummah. When earlier this year, Honourable Abdulmumin Jibrin organised thousands of Islamic clerics to a special prayer for Tinubu, his traducers didn’t seem to have noticed the devastating power of such optics. If cosmopolitan Tinubu does not exactly wear his Islamic faith as a badge, video clips and posters of him at Tawaf, at Umrah, at very many Iftars and Eid gatherings, over very many years, would resonate far more among his Northern Muslim brethren. And let’s not be deceived, even if Tinubu’s resonance with the Northern Muslim faithful need be strengthened with an equally Northern and Muslim running mate, his electoral equity as APC candidate will not diminish one bit. A hugely cosmopolitan, highly diversified and religiously harmonious South-West cannot be expected to lose passion one bit, for their native son to gain Aso Rock just because his VP pick bears a name that sounds like mine.

The South-West, about the most critical electoral target for APC outside of the North, is a highly emancipated region when it comes to Muslim-Christian relations. In every family, Christians and Muslims mix freely. Virtually everyone has a Muslim cousin, and a Christian nephew. In 2014/2015, and due to targeted media blackmail over very many years that stridently cast General Buhari as a religious bigot and a pariah in Christendom, candidate Buhari had a peculiar image challenge due to ceaseless false characterisation by his political enemies. Tinubu has no such albatross in 2023.

Altogether therefore, and ranged against all the dynamics and the critical mix of variables, there is a clear ecosystem of assets in Tinubu’s favour that makes him by far (repeat, by far) APC’s most lethal and formidable electoral resource.

If APC will be clear-eyed, and will focus on empowering ferocious electability fire power, the core influencers must be leaders enough, patriotic enough and humble enough to refuse to be distracted at this point.

Forged in the fiery furnace of often fiercely scorching political warfare, the Tinubu mystique, like an extra- terrestrial ogre to which mere earthlings have no answer, has remained stubbornly dominant, with deeply-rooted tentacles across critical electoral strongholds. Even as his essentially human flaws are ceaselessly weapons for PDP’s Atiku in 2023.

Through it all, and for a man whose traducers insisted was only a walking corpse, whose final ignominious expiration was said to be only awaiting the pressing of the stop button on an invisible life support machine, Tinubu has maintained a frenetic and gruelling schedule of cross-country primary election campaign travels.

Even as cited by his traducers, Tinubu is at once accountable, since 1999, for some of the nation’s most applauded advances in economic management, fiscal re-engineering, governance architecture and urban renewal. A man who grew the internally-generated revenue (IGR) of one state from a modest value to a trillion naira denominated value and brought increasing prosperity to a mega cosmopolis like Lagos, cannot but have the kind of nationwide brand equity that he enjoys. When push comes to shove in 2023, and when the main opponent is a certain Atiku Abubakar, the transformative properties of the Tinubu appeal will carry the day.

In the urgency of this moment, a key strategic question for APC, if it must dispassionately identify its most potent electoral path to decisively vanquishing a resurgent PDP, is whether on a pan-Nigerian basis, Ahmad Lawan or anyone else has Tinubu’s nationwide name recognition, his well-connected and nationally deployed political machine, his performance pedigree, his war chest and his battle tested campaign management acumen. Crucially, the sense of equity, justice and balance that will reside in a Muslim Tinubu winning the ticket in place of a Northern Muslim Lawan succeeding a Northern Muslim Buhari should assuage feelings, priming APC for victory in 2023.

Ahmad Lawan himself has an historic opportunity to save Nigeria from certain crisis, the end of which no one may be able to predict right now. He can stand gallantly and reject a strange automatic ticket that from all dispassionate electoral calculations, is far from likely to see him become president in 2023.

Omotayo Suleiman wrote from suleiman.tayo@gmail.com


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