Shortly after the 2015 general elections, the All Progressives Congress (APC), as part of moves to assume the ruling-party status, began to give direction as to its preference for the choice of leaders for the 8th National Assembly. The party's choices: Ahmad Lawan as the senate president and Femi Gbajabiamila as speaker of the House of Representatives.
Those choices were roundly rejected in both chambers of the Assembly with Bukola Saraki emerging the Senate President and Yakubu Dogara the Speaker. Of course, the melodrama that attended the emergence of the two personalities is not lost in the nation's democratic history.
The accusations and counter-accusations of disloyalty that rang through APC and the almost unhealthy relationship that ensued between the National Assembly leadership on one hand, and the party hierarchy and the presidency on the other, snowballing into a distasteful executive-legislature feud for most part of the political cycle is also well-recorded.
Over the weekend, the national leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, had cause to debunk as "untrue" insinuations making the rounds that his eyes were trained on the presidency come 2023. That reaction had been 'forced out' of his camp following talks that his open support for certain candidates angling for the leadership of the 9th National Assembly was part of a grand orchestration in the actualisation of his big picture in 2023 - the bid to become president.
Ahead of the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly, indeed, in a repeat of choices, the leadership of the ruling party has endorsed Ahmad Lawan for the senate presidency and Femi Gbajabiamila as speaker of the House of Representatives. And again, there are dissents. Former senate leader, Ali Ndume and former governor of Gombe State, Danjuma Goje are not just in the fray, as it was in 2015, they have challenged the party's position and defied all entreaties to drop their ambition.
From the ensuing noise trailing the choice of leaders for the National Assembly, however, came fresh concerns as to what really buoys Tinubu's interest in its leadership. And the allegation is that rather than his interest being purely altruistic, it is borne out of a self-serving ambition.
Observers say the national leader may be out to plant his allies in key positions in the National Assembly as a way of strengthening his presidential ambition. They allege that though Tinubu failed in his bid in 2015, the chain of events that led to the exit of former APC chairman, John Oyegun and the enthronement of Adams Oshiomhole in his place, were all part of subterranean moves to stage a come-back and actualise his presidential ambition.
The former governor of Lagos state, however, has come out to describe such thoughts as baseless, adding that his mind, heart and efforts were focused on making the APC and President Buhari achieve the "shared vision of a flourishing economy and a prosperous people."
His statement further read, "We have monitored, with rising incredulity, the rash of news stories claiming Asiwaju Tinubu is manipulating the APC nomination process for the National Assembly leadership.
"The stories claim this supposed manipulation is the first salvo in Asiwaju's effort to position himself for a presidential run during the 2023 election cycle. Not only are these reports utterly false, based as they are in the fertile imaginations of those persons by whom they are being peddled, they are injurious to President Buhari's historic quest to reform Nigeria. It is for this latter reason that we find cause to speak out where otherwise we would have continued to watch on in silent amusement."
But how founded are these concerns? How widespread are the concerns? And do the concerns thrive only in the minds of opposition members, non-progressives or perceived political enemies?
Speaking under anonymity, a member of President Muhammadu Buhari's presidential campaign council in the last elections told The Guardian that, indeed, the concerns were not only real, they had dominated high-level discussions in the presidency in recent times.
"The concerns were raised when the issue of who takes over from President Buhari was raised," the source claimed. "We do know he has that ambition but we just couldn't come to terms with someone like him succeeding Baba. The prayer was just that when the time comes, he would be magnanimous enough to shelve his ambition. We hope he wouldn't follow it through or some persons would be able to prevail on him to drop it in the overall interest of the country."
A prominent former governor of one of the Southwest states also confirmed to The Guardian that Tinubu was actually working out the ambition already. But he expressed the opinion that it would fail.
He said, "Many people here in the South are not disposed to the idea. Even the last time I went up North, a group of northern elders urged me to gather people and dissuade Tinubu from the idea. 'Go and tell him to stop that ambition; we would not support him.' Those were the exact words they used."
Reacting, elder statesman, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, in an echo of the view of the presidential campaign council member, said President Buhari was never going to hand-over to Tinubu but was only deceiving him.
Adebanjo said, "The Yoruba people must know that what Tinubu is doing is selling them out and we will not be a party to it. After helping Buhari to get into government, ask him if he knows how Buhari formed the government. Does he know how Babatunde Fashola became a minister? Does he know how Kayode Fayemi became a minister? Buhari does not like Tinubu again; he is just deceiving him. And Tinubu knows that is what is going on."
Tinubu's presidential ambition is also unsettling the Lagos chapter of APC as well as the Southwest zone in particular. The development has compelled some stakeholders in the region to caution the former governor of Lagos to either tame his ambition or jeopadise the interest of the zone in producing the president in 2023.
Although, the national leader has denied nursing ambition for the presidency in 2019, saying his support for Senator Lawan and Gbajabiamila is in the interest of national growth, The Guardian has, however, gathered that Tinubu has set up a team that is currently working in agreement with some of his northern allies ahead of the project.
While making the disclosure on the telephone yesterday, a former lawmaker in Lagos, who did not want his name mentioned, said, "We are aware that Tinubu is working in collaboration with some northerners. But to the best of our knowledge, those people are just collecting his money but will betray him in the end."
Spokesman of Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said the Southwest is not interested in the presidential ambition of individual as of now but the restructuring of the country.
According to him, "There is nothing wrong in anybody willing to vie for any office but as far as the Yoruba nation is concerned, restructuring that would return the country to true federalism is the ultimate and it would not settle for anything less."
Wondering what Tinubu's ambition would translate to for the Southwest, the Afenifere spokesman said, "Erstwhile Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan from Southwest and South-South held office for eight and six years respectively. What did it amount to for their zones? Even the North that has produced more presidents than other zones in the country is today the most backward. It is glaring that the present system cannot move the country forward and we need to change it."
However, former Minster of Works and member of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Adeseye Ogunlewe, said if Tinubu articulates his mission and puts it in proper perspective to indicate his willingness and readiness to restructure Nigeria to true federalism "I will support him. The fact is, Nigeria cannot continue to run the way it is where poverty and crime are prevalent. One thing I respect in the former governor of Lagos State is that he listens unlike what we have presently."
Ogunlewe urged Tinubu's critics to listen to him first whether he has an agenda to restructure the country or not before deciding whether to support him or not.
To former Kaduna state governor, Balarabe Musa, however, it is sickening that Nigerians could be discussing the idea of someone from the southwest nursing the ambition, should the presidency rotate to the south.
He said, "What I do not understand is why any Nigerian who thinks of justice and sense of belonging for every part of Nigeria, talk of the presidency coming in particular to the southwest or the north when the southeast had never had the chance of producing the president. It makes no sense. We should be talking about finding the right person from the southeast for the office."
For him, if the idea of zoning is actually to foster national unity, then the southeast, which had never produced a president, should be the region to produce the next president in 2023 when the presidency does rotate down south again.