BY AUGUSTINE AVWODE
Until about ten days ago, many party loyalists of the ruling All Progressives Congress would probably have sworn that President Muhammadu Buhari was not interested in the party’s success in the February 25, 2023, presidential election. And this is notwithstanding whatever assurances he had given in the past. That thinking has now collapsed like a pack of cards with the President matching words with action in recent days to ensure that his party retains power come May 29.
Unveiling the APC Presidential Campaign Council and the Action Plan of the APC Presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, in October 2022, President Buhari’s words bolstered confidence in all and sundry that were seated in the Banquet Hall of the State House. The president assured all that he would be at the forefront of electing the former Lagos State governor as his successor.
He argued that electing Tinubu would consolidate the achievements of his administration because the presidential candidate has the capacity, vision, leadership acumen and track record to do more.
He stated that, “It would be disastrous to allow a situation that will lead to the reversal of the progress our country has made. Let me add that I joyfully accept the position of chairman of the campaign council we are unveiling today.
“Our candidate, Bola Tinubu, is too well known for his capacity and can-do spirit. He stands tall in his track records as a democrat, a champion of the rule of law, a man at home in every part of our country, and a truly visionary leader. All you need to do is think of Lagos in 1999 and 2022.
“I, therefore, want to assure all party members and supporters of our government that I will be at the forefront of this campaign. This election is even more important than the election of 2015 that brought us into power. The cost of losing the gains our country has made is much more than the need to stop the hemorrhage that led to our coming together nearly nine years ago.
“I want to charge every member to put in all their efforts during the next four and half months of the campaign to ensure we record a resounding victory in all our elections nationwide. The future of this country is safer in our hands,” he said.
Buhari, who thereafter reeled out his achievements to the admiration of the guests, described Tinubu as “the Jagaban, my friend, partner and brother,” at the event. He urged the guests and party faithful everywhere to be mindful of the importance of building a strong and purposeful political party, recounting that the project of pulling “Nigeria back from the precipice in 2015 was made possible by putting together a formidable party peopled by many who have made a vow to work for a Nigeria we all can be proud of.”
However, the next two months after that momentous event turned out to be very harrowing and agonizing for those who had taken President Buhari’s words literally to lead the campaign for the party to retain the coveted number one seat in Aso Villa, Abuja.
They probably remembered the days of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007 when he was everywhere with the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, campaigning for him to take over from him.
With nothing of the sort, and given the president’s famed ‘body language,’ tongues started wagging and the rumour mill simply went into overdrive.
Within the APC, there were loud grumblings that the party’s presidential candidate, Tinubu, had not received the kind of support expected from the Buhari Presidency.
Yet other chieftains of the party expressed cautious optimism arguing that the Presidency may not be too keen to display elaborate open support for the APC presidential candidate. Some predicted their position on logistics and the arrangements on the ground.
The development degenerated into public political discourse about the ‘president’s stance’ when in an interview with newsmen in London, Buhari reportedly declared that Nigerians were free to vote for whoever they like from whichever political party and nobody would be allowed to mobilise resources and thugs to intimidate people in any constituency.
But then, the President also made it clear that “We’re going to win the election.”
He was confident that “Tinubu, the presidential candidate, a very well-known politician in the country, was a two-term governor in Lagos State, the most resourceful state and the most visited state. So, I think the party was lucky to get him to be the candidate.”
Expectedly, politicians, even those in the opposition, political analysts and other social commentators feasted on the development.
“Mercifully, all the anxiety has evaporated. The APC seems unassailable ahead of others just now. Buhari is in the thick of the campaigns. The chances are not only brighter; the confidence within the camp of the ruling party is simply infectious right now. And this is to the eternal chagrin of the opposition whose camps are still miserably fractured”
From the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, Daniel Bwala, a spokesperson for the Atiku Abubakar presidential campaign council, while reviewing the outing of his party in Katsina, the home state of President Buhari, declared that the love shown to the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku, in the Northern parts of the country is an indication that he has inherited President Muhammadu Buhari’s 12 million voters. The ruling APC had claimed all along that with Buhari not contesting in 2023, his fabled 12 million voters in the North will give their votes to the party’s presidential candidate, Tinubu.
Bwala mocked the claim in a post on his official Twitter handle, saying the APC will be shocked by the outcome of the 2023 presidential election.
He wrote, “Anyone following the Katsina rally? Nigeria sai Atiku/Okowa. Let me state here that Atiku has legally inherited the 12 million voters of Buhari. If their eyes are not clear now, they would be by February 2023. Atiku is coming in 2023.″
In the same vein, the vice presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, declared in an even more daring manner that Buhari does not care if the presidential standard bearer of the APC, Tinubu, wins the 2023 election or not.
Speaking about the chances of his party at the 2023 general election on national television, he quoted what the President reportedly said in London about Nigerians voting their choice.
Baba-Ahmed said the president had told Nigerians to go and vote for the candidate of their choice, adding that he had also said the only legacy he could leave is a credible election.
“This is a heartbreak for APC. Who made Buhari, after almighty Allah? Tinubu. All his failed attempts and Tinubu came and added his three million (votes) and made him president. Who is going to unmake Tinubu after all his political successes? Buhari. This is because Buhari has finished his eight years…he doesn’t need anything.
“It is not about how well Nigeria was run or how bad Nigeria was run. They have finished with Nigeria, they have finished with everybody. Tinubu can go, he means nothing to Buhari.”
But National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka, rallied to douse the tension both in the APC and outside it that had been generated by the president’s initial passive stance and absence at the campaign grounds. He told newsmen who asked questions to that effect that “Our campaigns are proceeding according to plans. We had envisaged that this is going to be one of the longest campaign periods and arranged that the President will join us towards the last lap.
“Remember, too, that the President still has other responsibilities to the country and that he has assured that governance must not suffer due to engagements in campaigns. We still have two months and he has promised that he will support our campaigns. So, we want Nigerians to look out for more vigorous campaigns early next year, before the elections,” he had said in December 2022.
But then the Presidency also found it expedient to “dispel expressed concerns in certain quarters that the President has not featured in campaigns since the national launch in Jos, Plateau State.”
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said President Muhammadu Buhari was committed to supporting Tinubu for the presidential election but will not allow political campaigns to affect the “functions and duties of the President.”
Shehu insisted that President Buhari had assured the APC and its candidates in the elections that he is ready at all times to campaign for the presidential candidate and all party candidates with “full energy and conviction.”
He added that while the president “remains committed to party politics, the functions and duties of the President will equally be upheld at all times.”
While the campaigns have been ongoing and in full swing, President Buhari attended several official functions within and outside the country.
Shehu, referencing that summit, quoted the President as saying he was ready to campaign for the party.
Aside from Shehu, the Secretary of Logistics and Support Services, APC Campaign Council, Abdulrazak Namdas, also rose stoutly to the defence of the president. He noted that the President has given the Council all the support needed to succeed ahead of the election.
Speaking, Namdas, who is also a member of the House of Representatives, representing Mayo Belwa, Jada, Ganye, Tongo, Federal Constituency of Adamawa State, said that the President has never hidden his support for the candidacy of Tinubu.
“To be fair to the President, he has given us all the support we need to succeed and you must also understand that governance must continue, otherwise, our political opponents may use it to also campaign against us. People will look at it as if the President is being insensitive to the issues of governance. Even during the regime of former President Obasanjo, he did not attend all the campaign rallies of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua
“There is no doubt that the President has a cult followership at the grassroots, now, if you have that kind of cult followership, the supporters will naturally transfer such support to whosoever the President has anointed to become President after him. You will also recall that when some Northern elders came out to declare their support for Peter Obi, President Buhari came out openly to remind them that Bola Tinubu has been a strong supporter of the north.”
He added that “There are 22 Governors working for the APC at the grassroots levels and they run the party machinery and they are on the ground. The Governors are in charge and are working to ensure victory for the party in the 2023 elections.”
Mercifully, all the anxiety has now evaporated. The APC seems unassailable ahead of others just now. Buhari is in the thick of the campaigns. The chances are not only brighter; the confidence within the camp of the ruling party is simply infectious right now. And this is to the eternal chagrin of the opposition whose camps are still miserably fractured.
Early in the month, the APCPCC disclosed in a revised timetable signed by its spokesman, Festus Keyamo, that Buhari had indicated his readiness to be physically present in the tour of 10 states yet to be visited by the APC standard bearer, Tinubu.
Keyamo emphasized that the President, “out of his very busy schedule, had earlier attended the flag-off of the Presidential Campaign in Jos on the 15th of November, 2022. This was also after graciously accepting to be the Chairman of the Presidential Campaign Council of the ruling party.”
Some of the states that Buhari is expected to be present in include Adamawa (January 9), Yobe (January 10), which had already taken place. But then beginning today, he would join them in Sokoto (January 16), Kwara (January 17), Ogun (January 25) and Cross Rivers January 30).
The others include Nasarawa (February 4), Katsina (February 6), and Imo (February 14) as well as the grand finale slated for Lagos state on February 18.
Keyamo went on to thank Buhari, “the leader of our great party, for his sterling and inspirational leadership at this time and for galvanising our teeming members and supporters across the country. We urge our party faithful and supporters to turn out en masse, as usual, in the forthcoming campaign rallies. The zero hour is nigh; our spirits must be high; we must not relent in this collective march to our victory that is divinely ordained,” the statement added.
Speaking to The Point in Lagos at the weekend, political scientist and a chieftain of the APC in Lagos, Moyo Jaji, described the recent development as “very heartwarming and very laudable.”
He added that its significance is to be found in the fact that it shows unity in the party.
“It shows that everything is now okay within the family fold of the APC at the top. Mark my words, at the top. And I want to believe that Buhari has not been very effective as was expected of him in this regard because of the position he is occupying now as the father of the nation. But we are now left with a little more than a month to go for the election. So, we should not be surprised that he is coming out now with full force. I may be right and I may be wrong.”
He was sure that Buhari’s presence will greatly improve the fortunes of Tinubu, because “all those who doubted Buhari’s support for Tinubu before will now see that he is really for him. They will now be convinced. Take it or leave it, Buhari has performed wonderfully well, and his cult hero status in the North has not diminished a bit. And thanks to the likes of Governor Wike who has revealed the good things the president did which some of them hitherto kept in the dark and did not want to reveal them. So, I believe that it portends something positive for the party,” Jaji stated.
With Buhari’s participation in the last lap of the campaigns for the APC, it is believed that the coast is clear for the party to return to power at the centre come May 29, 2023.