By Rotimi Fasan
MEMBERS of the Presidential Campaign Council of the All Progressives Congress and, indeed, all other supporters of that party’s presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, must have heaved a sigh of relief to have the President and leader of the APC, Muhammadu Buhari, finally join them again on the campaign trail this week.
It’s the first time the President will be doing this since the party flagged off its presidential campaign in Jos, Plateau State, several weeks ago. A lot was made of the president’s attendance at that event then, but no sooner was this done than President Buhari had gone silent, even though he continued to meet Tinubu informally. Prior to the kickoff of the campaign, the president had restricted the number of serving party members that could join the campaign.
He had, for example, stated unequivocally that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was also a significant Tinubu ally, should be barred from campaigning. Did Osinbajo, an astute speaker who would at any time be an asset on any campaign trail, request this? It was not too long before the beginning of the presidential campaign that Osinbajo and his allies mounted a spirited bid for the presidential candidacy of the party, which Tinubu eventually won.
He thereafter had to undergo a surgical procedure that took him out of circulation for a short while. But the more obvious thing is that Yemi Osinbajo was noticeably silent and appeared to keep to himself after what turned out to be bitter presidential primaries, during which he was vilified and painted in the colour of Judas Iscariot.
The Vice President, who is a decent human being in every way, one who would not be caught returning tit-for-tat, remained outwardly unruffled throughout this process of trial by fire, during which his loyalty was “tested,” to use the words of Raji Fashola, another Tinubu ally and protégé, who was subjected to similar circumstances as Osinbajo. Not a word of anger passed through Osinbajo’s lips against Tinubu or any of his lieutenants.
It might, therefore, be asking too much to expect the VP to join the Tinubu campaign so soon after his bruising experience. He needed to recalibrate psychologically. Could this be the reason Buhari cut him a break by providing a soft landing that effectively shielded him from the fangs of Tinubu’s supporters, who could still read his absence from his former boss’s campaign as yet another evidence of his betrayal?
Did he seek the President’s intervention, or is it that the typically unemotional Buhari this time had the emotional intelligence to see that Osinbajo needed a break both for the foregoing reasons and the fatigue that came with his own campaign to be the APC’s presidential candidate?
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that Yemi Osinbajo, like Buhari, had to be excluded, both men for official reasons. If one could overlook the case of Osinbajo for some of the reasons highlighted earlier, the same thing can’t be said for Buhari. He is the party’s leader, for one. Above all, he is an incumbent president whose intervention should go a long way toward smoothing the path of their party’s presidential flag bearer to Aso Rock Villa.
To hear his surrogates come up with the excuse that he has to attend to his official duties sounds rather lame. He doesn’t have to abandon his official responsibilities to support the re-election bid of his party. There is a way to do this without infringing on his presidential duties.It should be a matter of concern to members of the APC, as it indeed has been, if he suddenly finds himself hobbled by the demands of office to the extent he can afford to ignore the electoral chances of his party. It doesn’t portray him as a good party man, much less a good leader. If anything, it lends credence to the impression that he is selfish politically and that his much-touted impartiality comes into play only where his personal interest is not at stake.
The question to ask is: how was Buhari able to accomplish his task as president when he campaigned for re-election in 2019? Did he have to abandon his presidential assignment to do that? Didn’t his supporters, including serving ministers, join the campaign?
While no one expects him to make the campaign a do-or-die affair, as Obasanjo promised in 2007, or to carry his party’s flag bearer on his back, as Obasanjo did for Umaru Yar’Adu, it is his obligation as a party man to support his party’s candidate, unless he has very compelling reasons to do so, as Obasanjo did for Atiku in 2007 which is not saying that Obasanjo was right then.
But a leader cannot enjoy the support of his party members, as well as Tinubu’s personal support, and then sit back and preach neutrality when it comes time to support the candidate of their party, who just happens to be Tinubu, who played a huge role in Buhari’s own rise to power.
Whatever the charges against Bola Tinubu today, he is partly culpable on account of some of the things he had to do to ensure the electoral success of Buhari and others in his own party as well as in other parties. It’s partly in this sense that his claim that it’s his turn to be president has to be viewed, whatever else his opponents find objectionable about his candidacy.
For Buhari to speak in the somewhat distant and indifferent tone he sometimes uses about not wanting to influence the outcome of the elections in favour of anyone, which some imply to mean his party’s presidential candidate, is to overstate his claim of impartiality. He doesn’t have to misuse his powers as president just because he has to campaign for his party’s candidate at an election. He can give his support without misusing his presidential powers. To do otherwise or to fail to support his party’s flag bearer in order to avoid being perceived as partial is politically naive.
For a president like him, who appears to have a sizable grassroots following, this would not only be a disservice to his party; it would be the type of thing that many have come to regard as incompetent. As the current president, he has far more political clout to give his party than anyone else. The anomaly of his party’s flag bearer looking for and bickering over the endorsement of a former president and an ex-stalwart of a rival party, Olusegun Obasanjo, wouldn’t have arisen at all.
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