WALE ELEGBEDE reports on the recent show of support for the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, by some serving and former speakers of state Houses of Assembly in the South-West and the politics that trailed his endorsement as the zones’s likely presidential candidate
Since Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu bestrode the Nigerian political space like a colossus in 1999, he has never been in short supply of dedicated foot soldiers, who are loyal to any of his course, either declared or assumed.
Blessed with an uncanny ability to identify political as well as electoral assets, Tinubu, is one man, who has demonstrated over time that it costs a leader nothing but the political will to advance the fortunes of his people.
Just after the 2019 election where Tinubu was one of the master strategists that ensured the return of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), to power, expectations were already at fever pitch for the former Lagos State governor to make a run for the country’s top job given the head start his formidable political network, propensity for deal-making and substantial personal wealth afford him over many other contenders.
Regardless, the general perception is that Tinubu will run in 2023 but as strategist, he chose not to announce his intentions yet. Those familiar with his style of politics averred that the concealment may be a new strategy to dot the I’s and cross the T’s in his party and the government.
Since 2007 that he left as governor of Lagos State, Tinubu has not held any official position in government, but his influence national politics has grown in leaps and bounds.
Already, his foot soldiers have commenced intense campaign for his yet to be announced ambition and the southwest, where he hails from, appears to be the focal point of the sensitization. Late last year, a group led by Senator Dayo Adeyeye, South West Agenda For Asiwaju Tinubu 2023 (SWAGA 23), was launched in Ibadan.
Even though the group said it was ‘championing a common front for the Yoruba’, not a few people are of the view that it was formed primarily to consummate the presidential ambition of Tinubu.
Just last week, some sitting speakers and former speakers of Houses of Assembly from the South-West geopolitical zone converged on Ibadan to drum up support for the Tinubu 2023 presidential ambition.
The meeting, which was organised by the BAT Foundation, concluded that they all need to collectively project Tinubu ahead of 2023.
Speaking at the meeting, Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, said there was need for the body of Speakers and former Speakers to begin the move aimed at projecting the political and humanitarian sides of Tinubu ahead of 2023.
His words: “He (Tinubu) has made a lot of people and brought up a lot of leaders politically. So, some of us agreed that outside politics, there should be something that is more humanitarian.
That is why we came up with the idea of BAT Foundation.” The Speaker said the foundation is primarily created to touch lives, adding in the same vein that the BAT movement is aimed at supporting Tinubu politically. While clarifying that Tinubu is not involved in the mobilisation, he noted that the motivation was that each of the attendees at the meeting had personal and beneficial relationships with the political leader.
“When you have a benefactor who is well known for his benevolence, it is a duty that you must act on his behalf in a way you feel you can compensate such a man for what he is still doing.
So, we are here to interact in respect of what you all believe is around the corner and that is the 2023 ticket to galvanise support in the south-west,” Obasa said adding that there are plans to replicate the movement in all states in the zone.
He said talks were also ongoing with leaders from the north-central and a meeting would soon hold in Abuja for further discussions. Contributing, Titi Oseni, who was the only woman at the meeting, described Tinubu as a generous man. She recalled how Tinubu supported her when she aspired to contest an election for the Senate.
On his part, former Ogun Speaker, Bashorun Muyiwa Oladipo, said in politics, no level of support is disregarded. He also noted that currently across the country, it is difficult to see anyone who can match Tinubu politically. Also speaking, a former speaker of the Lagos Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, urged for more support for Tinubu and argued in favour of zoning.
According to him, the country is not ripe for to jettison power shifts. A top official of the BAT movement and former ambassador, Aliyu Saulawa, said it was only just to support Tinubu the way the leader assisted to make the election of President Muhammadu Buhari successful in 2015 and 2019.
Among those who were at the meeting include the Speaker of Ogun State Assembly, Olawale Oluomo.
Other former speakers present at the meeting include Adeyemi Ikuforiji (Lagos), Suraju Adekunbi (Ogun), Muyiwa Oladipo (Ogun), Asimiyu Alarape (Oyo), Mojeed Alabi (Osun), Victor Olabimtan (Ondo), Kenneth Olawale (Ondo) and Kola Adefemi (Ekiti).
The list further had Taofiq Abdulsalam (Ondo), Oluwasegunota Bolarinwa (Ondo), Patrick Ajigbolamu (Ekiti), Adejare Bello (Osun), Jokotola Pelumi (Lagos), Gunju Ojo (Oyo), Titi Oseni (Ogun), Simeon Olufemi Popoola (Ondo Deputy Speaker) and Wale Afolabi.
However, in less than 24-hours after the Ibadan meeting, a statement jointly signed by Olabimtan, Bolarinwa, Agbomuserin, Taofeeq, Olawale, Ajigbolamu and Adefemi (Ekiti) and made available to journalists, while confirming their attendance at the meeting, disclosed that there was no form of endorsement for the aspiration of the former Lagos State governor.
They also stressed that no communique was issued to that effect. The former speakers said the meeting was at the instance of on.
Oseni, the Coordinator of the South-West forum of the Conference of Former Speakers of Houses of Assembly of Nigeria, which is under the national chairman of Governor Simon Lalong.
According to them, the speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Obasa, was present at the meeting to solicit the support of the ex-speakers, as automatic national delegates, for the aspiration of his mentor, Tinubu.
They said when the issue was discussed; they spoke in unison during the meeting and maintained that they would rather wait for the directives of the leaders of their respective states who in this case are Governor Akeredolu of Ondo State and Governor Fayemi of Ekiti State.
They added that they told the gathering that all candidates from the zone, including Tinubu had legitimate right to aspire to lead the country. The statement read in part: “As much as the issue of national politics is concerned, we are of the opinion that every eligible aspirant deserves equal right and opportunity.
As members of the All-Progressives Congress (APC), we are not against the aspiration of any member of the party from the South-West Region. Every state in the South- West, be it Lagos, Ondo or Ekiti is qualified to produce a candidate and whoever that the leadership of the party supports, we will support.
“It is a well-known fact that our governors are the leaders of our party in every state, and we will never do anything that is contrary to their interest. If Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is interested in running for the 2023 presidency and Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State is also gunning for the position, they are both qualified to run.
However, none of them has openly declared interest or intention to do so. Therefore, the issue of drumming support for any particular “aspirant” as being circulated is out of place and we are not a party to that.
“These positions were said to have been canvassed at the meeting by members from Ondo and Ekiti States, and now re-echoed in a joint press statement issued by the aforementioned ex-speakers.
We hereby dissociate ourselves from such endorsement when the purported gladiator has not informed the Conference of his interest to run for the exalted position in the country. We are party men, and will support the interest of all our leaders wherever they go.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a former member of Lagos APC executive, said regardless of the denial by some few former lawmakers, the whole idea is to have a common front for Tinubu in the South-West as charity begins at home.”
He noted that Tinubu will only come out to indicate his interest if he is sure of getting the APC presidential ticket and that is why many of his supporters are already on the field to ensure a soft-landing for him.