Congratulations are in order to Governor Nasir El-Rufai for achieving one of the rarest feats in Nigerian politics; the successful defeat of political godfathers at the recent elections. He deserves our commendation for this because the political landscape in Nigeria is littered with those who dared the godfathers and have regretted their actions.
He disclosed this monumental political development at the occasion of a talk he gave at the Bridge Club in Lagos where he was invited as speaker. In an answer to a question by Muiz Banire former Legal Secretary of the All Progressive Congress Party (APC) about the pervasive issue of political godfathers in Nigerian politics and how to curb it, El-Rufai said “We must begin now to reach out directly to the voters. In Lagos about 6 million registered to vote but only about a million came to vote. If you are able to reach about 2 million of those voters directly then you would have secured their support and be in a position to do without the godfathers. That is how I defeated four persons in Kaduna who all along have been considered as the political godfathers in the state”(sic)
El-Rufai’s statement might have been less significant were it not for the fact that it was made in Lagos. With some reason many see it as a dig at Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the national leader of the APC who is regarded as the preeminent political figure not only in Lagos and the southwest but in the APC itself. A clear indication of Tinubus political influence especially in Lagos was in the effort he led in denying the outgoing governor of Lagos state Akinwunmi Ambode the ticket to return for a second term in office. He had led the Lagos APC machinery in supporting a challenger Babajide Sanwo-Olu to defeat the outgoing governor at the party gubernatorial primaries by a wide margin and also at the governorship elections against the Peoples Democratic Party) PDP) candidate Jimi Agbaje.
But was El-Rufais admonitions be seen as just merely a political template to Lagos-based politicians and others at large in the APC on how they could collectively throw off what they consider as the suffocating political control of Lagos, southwest and the APC by Tinubu? Or are there underlying issues in the words of El-Rufai which offer more insight in relation to the on-going convulsions within the APC?
In an earlier article on this page titled “Will the APC Survive’’ , I had posed this question in relation to the expected headwinds APC faces as the party navigates towards the next circle of elections in 2023. The main source of these headwinds has to do with who succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023 and whether the APC will zone the presidential ticket to the south in 2023.
Not leaving anything to chance, Tinubu who is clearly interested in how this pans out has been making moves to extend his control over the party positions by seeking to put his men in strategic positions. Thus he is mentioned as the man behind the current manoeuvres to install the leadership of the National Assembly which the APC controls as the majority party. He is also said to be pushing for his loyalists to be appointed into the new cabinet being worked on by President Buhari as he prepares his second term.
As expected Tinubu’s moves are being watched closely by some well-placed figures within the party and the government who are not amused. In the course of researching for this article, I spoke with one of them who pleaded anonymity for now but promised to make himself known subsequently to Nigerians and his words were “We are very much aware of every move he is making. We are monitoring his activities in trying to plant his loyalists at the next National Assembly and other things. We know the endgame is either for him to succeed President Buhari in 2023 or to put his stooge there. But as he plans so also we are planning. We are just managing him for now so as not upset the apple cart. But the truth is that ultimately we cannot reject a man like Atikuto become President in 2019 and then chose Tinubu in 2023. What is the difference between them”?
It is within this context that we can better understand El-RufaisLagos statement. It is clear that El-Rufai is at once a stalking horse for the Tinubu-must-be-stopped brigade within the APC and very likely also that he intends to run for the presidency in 2023. In this regard, both Lagos the venue where El-Rufai made his statement on political godfathers and Muiz Banire who posed the question at the meeting with El-Rufai are too conveniently auspicious to be just happenstance. Indeed the venue where El-Rufai made his statement in Ikoyi Lagos was just but a few streets away from Tinubus palatial residence down the road in Bourdillon Street in the sameIkoyi, Lagos vicinity. Everybody knows that Lagos is the solar plexus of Tinubu’s political empire and Banirea former commissioner in Lagos state during the Babatunde Fashola administration is one of those Lagos politicians who have publicly broken ranks with Tinubu. It bears reminding also that political relations between Fashola and a growing number of political figures in the southwest are not so sanguine.
All we can make from this is that El-Rufai has fired the first salvo in the brewing civil war in the APC which is about to enter its bare-knuckled stage with the gladiators taking positions. It is anyone’s guess whether the party can eventually ride the coming storms that will result from this slugfest.
But while acknowledging El-Rufai’s chest beating on his successful defeat of political godfathers, we should also not forget that the political trajectory of El-Rufai owes a lot to the role of political godfathers. He was first plucked out of relative obscurity by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to become Director-General of the Bureau for Public Enterprises. From there the same Atiku Abubakar catapaulted him to become Minister of Federal Capital Territory under the Obasanjo administration. And of course when he switched sides to become a political godson of President Buhari he made the governorship of Kaduna state in 2019 which many believed he would not have been but for the political influence of Buhari.
And El-Rufai himself has played god fatherly roles too. In the run up to the last elections in Kaduna, he ensured that only politicians loyal to him made the cut in the party primaries and in the subsequent elections.
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