Asiwaju and National Assembly leadership crisis By Mohammed Haruna

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Chief Bisi Akande, former governor of Osun  State and interim national chairman of the now ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), is hardly your typical politician, who is easily given to demagoguery. As anyone familiar with the key role he played in how the APC evolved into the eventual nemesis of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – the self-styled biggest party in Africa, which misruled us for the past 16 years – would testify, the elderly chief was a great voice of wisdom for restrain and the politics of give and take, all the way back to the genesis of the party before 2011.

Late last month, however, the chief gave in to the strong temptation to be your typical politician when he issued a statement in which he described the raging National Assembly leadership crisis, which has divided the APC right down the middle, as a conspiracy of the North against the Yoruba.

“Most Northern elite, the Nigerian oil subsidy barons and other business cartels who never liked Buhari’s anti-corruption political stance,” the chief said in his statement, “are quickly backing up the rebellion against the APC with strong support…A large section of the Southwest sees the rebellion as a conspiracy of the North against the Yoruba.” With due respect to the highly-esteemed chief, nothing could be further from the truth.

The frustration behind the chief’s statement is understandable. The political sleight of hand Dr. Bukola Saraki, incidentally himself a Yoruba, used to become Senate President on June 9, whereby 51 senators of APC out of 69 were denied their right to choose their leader, is a cause for great anger, especially given the gratuitous concession of the deputy Senate presidency to the PDP. Saraki is, of course from the North, even if a Yoruba minority in the region. But it should be obvious to even a political illiterate that the man did it for himself, not for the region; in making his bid, he neither sought for nor obtained anyone’s mandate.

As with Saraki so also it is with Honourable Yakubu Dogara as Speaker, even though there is a difference in his circumstance; in his own case, no members were deprived of their right to vote even though, like Saraki, he submitted himself for election and emerged victorious in defiance of his party’s wish.

Akande’s opposition to Saraki and Dogara clearly derives from the great anger of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu at the apparently successful defiance of the party by Saraki and Dogara. Without doubt, the Asiwaju is today the most pre-eminent Yoruba politician since the beginning of the current Republic in 1999, bar possibly President Olusegun Obasanjo.

And just like the failure of General Muhammadu Buhari to seal the deal for an alliance as leader of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) with Tinubu as leader of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) back in 2011 doomed his presidential bid to failure that year, their handshake last year was probably, more than any other factor, responsible for the general’s success this time around. So Tinubu is entitled more than most top shots of APC to call its shots.

This status, however, does not entitle him to think, as many believe he does, that he is the conscience of the party any more than other chieftains are entitled. In other words, his insistence on party supremacy in the choice of the National Assembly’s APC leadership, though seemingly in the interest of party discipline and cohesion, is hardly as selfless as he and his acolytes would like the world to believe. Tinubu, many believe with good reason, has insisted on party supremacy only because it serves his interest of having Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, former minority leader and his crony, as the Speaker, instead of Dogara.

In principle, party supremacy is necessary for discipline and cohesion. However, any party which insists on handing down orders from above all the time in the name of party supremacy without first gauging the true feelings of its rank and file, as is clearly the case in the current APC crisis, only courts precisely the indiscipline and chaos it seeks to avoid by invoking the mantra of party supremacy.

As for Tinubu’s entitlement to call APC’s shots, surely he must be aware that there are widespread concerns even among some of his acolytes that, having singlehandedly nominated both the interim and the elected party chairmen and the vice-president, he has called more than enough of the party’s shots even as arguably its greatest architect. That this concern is not exclusively Northern can be seen from a full page news item in The Nation of June 14 as reported by one of its managing editors and ace investigative reporter, Yusuf Alli.

The story, entitled: “How oil barons, others hijacked Senate, House elections”, spoke about how an anti-Tinubu cabal met at various times in Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abeokuta, Abuja and Ilishan to plan how to “decimate APC national leader, Asiwaju Tinubu.” The plotters, according to the story, included four serving governors and seven ex-governors, two of each from Asiwaju’s South-west backyard.

The story also claimed an “influential emir” was also involved. The emir, according to the story, had unsuccessfully pleaded with Asiwaju to intercede with President Buhari in the cases of some oil barons who have been fearful of the president’s commitment to investigate the oil subsidy scam. The story did not identify the oil barons but chances are they came from all sections of the country.

What all this means is that the crisis of the National Assembly leadership election is not, as Chief Akande claims, any Northern conspiracy against the Yoruba.  Neither Saraki nor Dogara, it bears repeating, sought for or obtained the region’s mandate to do what they did. And, to the extent that there is any conspiracy to clip Asiwaju’s wings, most likely the co-conspirators come not from one section of the country alone but from all over.

Besides, it is instructive that much of the public gloating about Asiwaju’s current predicament has come, not from the North, but from his own backyard. Predictably leading the gloating is Chief Bode George, the Lagos-born PDP chieftain who has blamed Tinubu for his jailing years back on corruption charges as chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority. Asiwaju’s political influence, George said with apparent glee, first in THE PUNCH (June 10) “is coming to sunset” and then added in the July 6th edition of the same newspaper that Tinubu and his group “have now been given political circumcision.”

Quick on his heels was Dr. Frederick Fasehun, co-founder of the militant Oodu’a Peoples Congress. Fasehun said in a two-page advert in The Guardian of July 5 that the National Assembly leadership crisis had nothing to do with the Yoruba but instead was “the demystification of Goliath.” As such, he said, Akande’s call on the Yoruba to see it as a slight on their nationhood “should be ignored.”

Not left behind was the voluble Mr. Femi Olukayode (formerly Fani-Kayode), spokesman for ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign organisation, who, among other nasty things, said on his official Facebook page on July 9 that the crisis was “the destruction and demystification of Bola Tinubu and his Yoruba loyalists by his erstwhile northern allies in the APC.”

The Asiwaju should not bother himself about all those gloating over his predicament. In politics, no one, not even the most sagacious politician, can win all the time. He may have lost the battle for the leadership of the National Assembly, but winning the war of stemming the rot of 16 years of PDP’s misrule is far more important. And this war can still be won in spite of the new National Assembly leadership, should it constitute itself into an obstacle against Buhari’s declared war on corruption and of restitution.

Therefore the Asiwaju, as a key APC chieftain, should never regret the key role he played in the emergence of his party as PDP’s nemesis simply because he has lost one, albeit an important, battle, among the many he has fought to bring hope of a new dawn to Nigeria.

AN EXPLANATION AND AN APOLOGY

The attentive reader of this column in Daily Trust last week would have noticed that a few things were wrong with it. First, the article had no title. Second, it did not reach any conclusion. Third, the readers’ responses to the previous column were not edited to remove the sometimes annoying shorthand language of mobile phone texts.

What happened was that I did not realise I had not saved my final draft before sending it out until I cross-checked my out box. To my great dismay, it turned out that what I’d sent was the original draft which fell short of the final copy by about 500 words and contained the errors I’d corrected.

By then it was well past my deadline. So I called the editors of The Nation and Daily Trust, and later texted the editors of my online publishers, Gamji and Newsdiaryonline, to drop the article. Whereas the editors at The Nation used their discretion and reproduced an old piece, those at Trust still went ahead to run it because they said they misunderstood my instruction.

I am sorry for the mix-up.

NATION