There has been a lot of political alignment and realignment in the run up to the 2019 general elections. At the bottom of these rekindled political alliances and falling outs lies political interest of the parties involved. In the report KEHINDE OSASONA examines the increasing bad blood between the acclaimed leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and his erstwhile political ally and Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Abubakar Atiku.
Many political analysts had predicted, long before now, that the political friendship and affair between the acclaimed leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, would diminish with time because it was not founded on clear cut political ideology.
True to these predictions, the two men not only belong to different political parties but advance different political ideologies and stance on national issues.
Tinubu and a crop of other progressives had supported Atiku to clinch the presidential ticket of the defunct Action Congress (AC), when former President Olusegun Obasanjo reportedly frustrated him out of the PDP and fielded the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as presidential candidate of the party.
His move from the PDP to the AC turned out to be first in a series of back and forth movement in his quest to realise his long-time ambition of being Nigeria’s president.
The battle line between Atiku and Tinubu may have been drawn when the former vice president quit the APC, which he was part of the founding members and reportedly a major financier, in the twilight of 2017, citing arbitrariness and unconstitutionality as reasons for his exit.
Atiku’s has since consolidated his place in the PDP, which he was also one of the founding members, with his emergence as the party’s presidential candidate in the 2019 general elections.
However, his defection and eventual clinching of the presidential ticket of the largest opposition party against the incumbent and candidate of the APC, President Muhammadu Buhari, did not go down well with his former allies, including Tinubu.
Atiku’s first salvo
In the thick of on-going campaigns, Atiku boasted that were it not for his relationship with Tinubu he would have alongside other PDP stalwarts taken over governance of Lagos state during the 2003 general elections.
Atiku made the statement during his visit to the PDP secretariat to solicit delegates’ support ahead of the party’s presidential primaries.
Atiku was quoted as having said: “In 2003 election, I got the backing of my boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to deliver the six South-west states to PDP which I did with the exception of Lagos.”
Atiku, who apologised to members of the PDP in the state, urged them to give him another chance to correct the mistake of 2013 so that the state’s resources would cease to be in the hand of one man.
“When we came to power in 1999, the entire South-west was being controlled by the AD and when we were approaching 2003 elections, I told my boss (Obasanjo), ‘give me the authority to take over the South-west’ and he gave me that authority and I took over all the states with the exception of Lagos.
“This is because Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and I come a long way, from SDP, PMM, PDM to SDP, and I felt I should leave Lagos for him. I could easily have taken over Lagos,” he said.
Reacting to Atiku outburst recently, Asiwaju Tinubu said that he was determined to frustrate and take his pound of flesh from the former vice-president for the role he played in withholding Lagos state council’s allocation during the President Obasanjo’s administration.
He said: “Atiku was vice president of this country when the local government allocation for Lagos state was seized. When we led a protest to Atiku then, he said, “go away! Go and comply!
“Without those allocations, you cannot bring development. When we said we needed power to power Lagos, the industrial base in our region, they said no. They were taking away N250 million from our allocation every month for being innovative and creative.
“Everywhere we turn, they rejected us and punished us. But we never gave up. Today, we are in that progressive development championed and led by President Buhari. Thank you for not looking back. Thank you for visiting and encouraging him.”
The Supreme Court, following the suit instituted by the Lagos state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, had overruled the federal government by declaring that the Obasanjo-led administration had no constitutional power to withhold local council’s funds or tamper with the federation account.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammadu Uwais, who gave the lead judgement, however, over-ruled the creation of new local councils by the Lagos State House of Assembly without consequential legislation by the National Assembly.
“There is still one more step or hurdle to be taken or crossed by the National Assembly for the plaintiff (Lagos State) to actualise the creation of the new local councils,” the court ruled.
It, consequently, ordered the disbursement of funds to the constitutionally recognised 20 local councils of Lagos state.
Differing stance on restructuring
Similarly, the two politicians have taken their rivalry to the restructuring dialogue. As keynote speaker at an annual dinner of the King’s College Old Boys’ Association, recently, Tinubu described Nigeria as a nation that had not sufficiently defined its governance, stating that restructuring will bring much needed balance to the country.
“We are like the bewildered couple who has got their marriage licence after a lavish wedding; yet neither of them really understands the meaning of marriage or their roles as husband and wife in it.
“Legally, they are married but functionally, their union is a crippled one. This couple will be at loggerheads until somehow they forge an agreement on what type of home they want and what are their respective duties in making that home come into existence.
“It is a rather curious lapse that a nation with such diversity as ours has not taken the time to give our legal marriage its proper functional underpinning. In other words, we all lined up to call ourselves Nigerians without gathering to discuss what it meant.
“Constitutionally, we are a federation of 36 states. However, the vestiges of past military rule continue to haunt the democratic road we hew. We function like a unitary state in many ways. We cannot become a better Nigeria with an undue concentration of power at the federal level. Competition for federal office will be too intense, akin to a winner-take-all duel,” he said.
Taking a different posture Atiku while delivering a lecture on ‘Restructuring Nigeria’ at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu state, last year, said that the fastest way to achieve restructuring is to reduce the power and roles of the federal government and to “return some items on the concurrent list to the states”.
He said, “The epidemic of federal take-over of state and voluntary organisations, schools and hospitals which began in the 1970s must be reversed.
“Some of what my ideas of restructuring involve requires constitutional amendment; some do not. Take education and roads for instance. The federal government can immediately start the process of transferring federal roads to the state governments along with the resources it expends on them.
“The federal government does not need a constitutional amendment to start that process. The same goes for education and health care. We do not need a constitutional amendment to transfer federal universities and colleges as well as hospitals to the states where they are located.
“The country can be restructured in six months; all you have to do is return the items on the concurrent list to the states. It means devolving more powers to the federating units with the accompanying resources. It means greater control by the federating units of the resources in their areas.”
Who blinks first?
In the word of an Abuja- based political analyst, Wande Akinbo, the political rivalry and ego fight being exhibited by many of our political players in the country may truncate our fledgling democracy.
“With the way things are going, the political field has been turned to an arena where personal political scores are settled and if care is not taken it will take toll on our political transition and truncate it,” he said.
As the general elections fast approach the question of who blinks first between Atiku and Tinubu would be answered at the polls. What is known, however, is that the rivalry is not likely to end at the polls, whichever side carries the day, given the bad blood and level of political intolerance the country is being plunged into by political actors in the quest to meet their various political interests.