Perhaps in a bid to avoid a repeat of the 2015 last-minute disappointment, National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu, has reportedly relocated to Abuja to personally monitor shifting political developments regarding the election of the next leadership of the National Assembly, Saturday Tribune has learnt.
Calls to the mobile phone of his media aide, Tunde Rahman, rang out and as of press time, he was yet to either return the calls or reply the SMS sent him.
Tinubu is backing Senator Ahmed Lawan for Senate presidency and Femi Gbajabiamila for the speakership of the House of Representatives, the same candidates he could not carry over the finishing line four years ago.
While Lawan is seen more as President Muhammadu Buhari’s anointed candidate for the job, Gbajabiamila, from Surulere Federal Constituency in Lagos, is an anointed of Tinubu, though Lawan, too, was propped up by the leading party chieftain in 2015, after dropping his initial candidate, former Benue State governor, Senator George Akume.
In 2015, Tinubu reportedly failed to show his hand deep in the contest early enough in order not to be seen as being dictatorial, preferring to line behind the then newly-elected president, Buhari.
Gbajabiamila and Lawan were pretty much doing their campaigning then using the party machinery with Tinubu using the president’s influence to rally support for them.
The duo also got involved in horse-trading with opposition leaders.
Saturday Tribune was privy then to Gbajabiamila’s meeting with a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governor from the South at a hotel in a posh area of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), weeks to the parliamentary contest he lost to the outgoing Speaker, Yakubu Dogara.
With the stakes believed to be higher this time, Tinubu is reportedly handling the expected high-wire horse-trading trailing the emergence of the duo again as the preferred candidates of the party, considering the internal opposition to their candidature.
While Lawan is reportedly having it easier, selling his candidacy to stakeholders outside of his party, the unmistaken emblem of the Lagos “godfather” on Gbajabiamila’s candidacy is said to be making things difficult somewhat for the four-term lawmaker.
“Gbaja, on his own, isn’t a problem, though people have been talking about his elitist attitude. But anything with Tinubu’s hand on it, many within the party, do not just want to hear it, especially our people from the other side (North) and oga (Tinubu) doesn’t always know when to back down. There is a popular joke in Abuja now, especially at the party secretariat. If you say you are broke, they will ask, is Asiwaju not in town and that if he is in town, you can’t be broke because all you need to do is go and tell him some lies that he wants to hear about his candidates or 2023 and you will come back with ….(mentions denomination),” a source who was once chummy with the leader, disclosed.
Tinubu is reportedly handling the reaching-out because his rumoured presidential ambition is said to be closely tied to the success of getting Gbajabiamila and Lawan enthroned, particularly the former as the head of the legislative institution with more youthful, exuberant and impressionable politicians.
For allies of Gbajabiamila and those who would play ball from the opposition to get him to the political Promised Land, Saturday Tribune learnt that their loyalty is going to be sustained for some future assignment.
The implication of having a need for them, according to insiders, is that such tested and trusted allies would have four years of comfort under the Gbajabiamila leadership.
The said bait of not using and dumping them, considering future engagement and partnership, is reportedly working more for the Tinubu camp since any form of betrayal from their end would mean losing massive support for the future aspiration which is bigger and of higher political value than what is being sought now.
It was also learnt that lawmakers from the opposition, especially those not too close to Dogara, may find comfort in Tinubu’s arm and possibly break ranks with their party in the event of the party directing its congressmen and women, to, again, work against Tinubu’s interest.
Gbajabiamila recently boasted that he already had the number to sail smoothly in the speakership contest but some opponents are saying it will be too early to declare victory.
While President Buhari has characteristically not been too loud about his support for Lawan, it was learnt that not saying anything regarding Gbajabiamila’s emergence at the dinner where the Lagos politician was presented has made the journey more tortuous for Tinubu’s camp.
The relocation to Abuja to oversee things directly is also said to be connected with the rumoured power play that could see “one go for one.”
With both Lawan and Gbajabiamila being projected as Tinubu’s anointed, there is the likelihood of the party leader being told at the zero hour to pick one and leave the other position for other tendencies in the party.
His camp is said to be working assiduously to avoid a situation of having to make such a tough call.
His allies in the South-West are also coming in and out of Abuja to confer with him but one ally that would be expected to be by his side at this crucial moment, former Osun State governor, Rauf Aregbesola, is reportedly missing in the Abuja action.
Aregbesola spearheaded the defunct Tinubu’s Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) parliamentary mutiny of 2011 which enthroned the current Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, as the Speaker of the House of Representatives against then-PDP’s choice, Mulikat Adeola-Akande.
The PDP paid Tinubu back in the same coin in 2015, helping the APC to install Dogara in place of the party’s pick, Gbajabiamila.
Saturday Tribune learnt that Aregbesola is staying back in Lagos fixing the next cabinet of the incoming administration of Babajide Sanwoolu at Tinubu’s behest.
Seen as Tinubu’s closest ally, Aregbesola’s influence has been looming large on Lagos politics since his tenure ended in Osun State.
Saturday Tribune can confirm that names of likely picks for commissioners and special aides have been submitted by party leaders from local governments in the state and the man touching the final list up, in concert with the “Big Boss” in Abuja, is reportedly not the incoming governor but the former governor of Osun State.
Both the incoming governor and his deputy, Femi Hamzat, are said to be having minimal say in the composition of those who will work with them, though they reportedly made nominations.
With many of those expected to be nominated by Sanwoolu and Hamzat left out of the current list, disappointment is said to be setting in for many who worked tirelessly for the party’s victory.
“We are just here; we don’t know our fate yet. They have shared the thing (available positions) among themselves. The hawks are the ones in charge here,” a committed party man lamented to Saturday Tribune.
Meanwhile, the recent involvement of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) with the administrative leadership of the National Assembly is said to be part of the game plan to ensure a desired ending to the contest for Senate and House of Representatives’ top jobs.
Clerks of both chambers reportedly played a major role in swinging things in certain directions in 2015 and with the fear that the outgoing Senate President and Speaker may swing the process again using the top officials to keep the party’s anointed out of the seats again, the anti-graft commission is reportedly being involved to “sound a note of warning.”
Operatives of the commission swarmed collation centres in Lagos, Abuja and many other states during the final declaration of results of the 2019 general elections.
The official explanation was to prevent financial inducement of the electoral officers.
The voting procedure for the new NASS leadership has been a major dispute among contending factions with the majority favouring secret balloting, the type that rubbed the ruling party’s face in the mud four years back.
There is palpable fear in the ruling party that another secret balloting could produce a similar result.
The current probe of the assembly’s administrative leadership by the EFCC is said to be a ploy to have an unfettered access to the books and information that could help prevent another humiliating loss.
If things are not going the desired way with the voting procedure, it was learnt, the probe could become a major tool in beating everybody into line.