by Dr Ugo Egbujo
A few days before the APC primaries in June 2022, Asiwaju Tinubu lost his cool. The rumours that president Buhari would anoint a preferred candidate to represent the party had thickened and pressure had been applied on Tinubu to step down. So before his kinsmen in Abeokuta, Tinubu literally declared war. Reminding his audience of the messianic role he played in changing Buhari’s fortunes, he vowed to upstage his opponents and take what belonged to him. Many thought he had ruined his chance.
After what seemed a rascally outburst many thought Tinubu’s tenuous hopes had perished. The presidency responded by deriding Tinubu and reminding him that President Buhari wasn’t a political leper who Tinubu healed at the pool of Bethesda.The chairman of the APC addressed a press conference to rebuke Tinubu’s recklessness and threaten sanctions. Some miffed northern politicians said Tinubu had burnt his bridges to the vote-rich northern political fields. But the president, who was caricatured, didn’t utter a word. And that allowed Tinubu wiggle room to say that he was misunderstood and misinterpreted.
The presidential primaries have come and gone. The uncertainties that were heightened by the outburst at Abeokuta had dissipated quickly. The Emilokan declaration rather than hurt perhaps scared away presidential resistance against Tinubu and thus improved his chances. Some said Tinubu was lucky a man like Buhari who didn’t pay attention to insults and ridicule and didn’t seek petty vengeance was president.
After what seemed a stutter, Tinubu’s campaign has found fluency. After what seemed a frosty beginning, Tinubu and Buhari warmed up to many joint campaign appearances. But just when all doubts were being laid to rest, Tinubu visited Abeokuta. There he declared that the cash and fuel scarcity was the handiwork of rogue elements in the corridors of power bent on sabotaging his effort to win the race. Another outburst in Abeokuta. Again Tinubu vowed to defeat his enemies no matter how powerful they might be.
Despite the new outburst, the president continued his round across the nation, campaigning for Tinubu. But regardless of the chumminess they exhibit on the screen, something seemed amiss. The president is the oil minister. He is responsible for fuel saturation or lack of it. The president approved the currency redesign programme and the powers to alter deadlines and relieve cash scarcity. However, the president seemed bent on seeing through this new currency programme to the chagrin of Tinubu. The testy situation was bound to degenerate.
The president believes politicians have warehoused the old currency notes to buy elections. The failure of the CBN to irrigate the system with new currency notes has caused an overheating of the polity. The president wants the public to bear the pain for the gain of free and fair polls devoid of the debilitating cash and carry cancer.
The Tinubu camp is enraged. They believe the president is being manipulated by persons against Tinubu’s candidacy to endorse policies that will frustrate and alienate the electorate and foreclose Tinubu’s defeat at the polls. Some governors loyal to Tinubu have hurriedly cobbled together a case and run to the supreme court. Their idea is to use the supreme court to stave off the currency swap deadline while attributing responsibility for the policy and hardship to the opposition who have seized control of the president’s mind. The Tinubu camp believes that the cash crunch, which is inimical to the chances of the ruling party’s candidate, is a deliberate ploy hatched by its political enemies to favour its political opponents.
Before Buhari came into the open to announce an extension of the deadline for the old two hundred naira notes and to declare that the 5 224000521" crossorigin="anonymous"> 00 and 1000 notes had ceased to be legal tenders, the Tinubu camp had celebrated a victory. Having managed to get the Supreme court to issue a restraining order on the enforcement of any deadlines, and having managed to slow down the hearing process, it had seemed the president would accede and relax.
But President Buhari feels strongly about corruption. He perhaps also feels the supreme court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the case. So while the federal government’s objection to the supreme court’s assumption of jurisdiction is before the justices for consideration, the president feels free to disregard the injunction. What the president didn’t say is that the supreme court is abusing its powers by seeking to curtail the powers of the executive indirectly by dragging its feet while hearing a disjointed case that should have been filed at a federal high court against the CBN. He didn’t say it but he implied it and it must have informed his casual disregard for the court in his address to the nation.
Buhari had barely completed his address to his confused and cash-starved compatriots when the governor of Kaduna rushed to a radio state to counter the president. In somewhat an unprecedented effrontery Gov El Rufai summoned the people of Kaduna to disregard the order of the president because the president had been brainwashed by his advisers to foist hardship on poor people, to dishonour the supreme court, to put the political process in jeopardy. This is a concise summary of El Rufais riposte. El Rufai didn’t call the president a simpleton, but he implied it. The degree of gullibility he ascribed to Buhari while ostensibly seeking to protect Buhari’s innocence belongs to a simpleton. El Rufai encouraged to the people of Kaduna to defy constituted federal authorities. He threatened to sanction any institution that opted to obey the president. El Rufai understands the weight of gross insubordination. Many have said that El Rufai’s action borders on treason. But El Rufai claims his actions conform with the law which must be the last pronouncements of the supreme court on any matter before it. While the legality of El Rufai’s actions is debatable, his insistence that those controlling Buhari were intent on frustrating the elections and establishing an interim govt led by a retired general is particularly troubling.
Tinubu is a veteran politician. In this race, he is the front-runner. The last time he let his tongue loose on the president, it proved a masterstroke. Perhaps we are witnessing another. All the governors sympathetic to Tinubu are now professing love for the masses, worried about the electoral consequences of the cash crunch. The governors of the ruling party aren’t just dissociating themselves from the policy of the ruling government, they are insinuating that their government is actively working against the electoral interests of their party. Some of them have said that their government is working to truncate democracy. Tinubu, the master strategist sparked this internal rebellion in Abeokuta. Time will tell if it’s another masterstroke.