After secret talks: Buhari takes steps to end feud with Tinubu
Tunde Odesola, Toluwani Eniola and Tobi Aworinde
The prolonged cold war between President Muhammadu Buhari and his erstwhile close political associate and South-West political strongman, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, may soon come to an end.
Reliable sources within the party told SUNDAY PUNCH during the week that the two sides began planning to bury the hatchet during a recent meeting that President Buhari held with some of Tinubu’s loyalists in Aso Rock.
The President had met with the trio of Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, former Osun governor, Chief Bisi Akande, and Senator Olusola Adeyeye last week Sunday. The sources also said both parties agreed that the President needed to take some confidence-boosting measures to restore Tinubu’s faith in him.
The two men reportedly fell out following what Tinubu and his loyalists saw as attempts to diminish his contributions to President Buhari’s victory at the 2015 poll and erode his political capital in his South-West base. Some supporters of the former governor had also complained that the President rejected Tinubu’s ministerial nominees, and worked against the ex-Lagos governor’s candidates in the Kogi elections and Ondo governorship primary, among other ills.
A reliable source who was privy to the events that culminated in the meeting said its seeds were planted during President Buhari’s three-day state visit to Germany. Prior to that time, Buhari and Tinubu had not had any private communication in a while. But the source said the President contacted Akande, who is one of Tinubu’s closest associates and a former Interim Chairman of the APC, asking him to see him in Aso Rock.
The President’s call reportedly came barely 48 hours after the controversial interview the President’s wife, Aisha, granted the British Broadcasting Corporation. In the interview which went viral, the president’s wife accused her husband of neglecting those who helped him to power in 2015. Mrs. Buhari also threatened not to support her husband in 2019 if the President did not change tack.
Sources said although both men’s relationship began to sour almost as soon as Buhari won the election, it deteriorated when Professor John Paden, in his book titled ‘Muhammadu Buhari: Challenges of Leadership,’ claimed that Tinubu was against the emergence of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as Vice President. Both Buhari and Tinubu were present at the book launch.
Insiders say this did not go down well with Tinubu and his men, as the All Progressives Congress national leader’s camp saw it as yet another attempt by the President and his men to reduce his contributions to the emergence of the APC government and also rewrite history.
Shortly after, Tinubu in a scathing open letter asked the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, to step down, after alleging that the chairman doctored results of the Ondo State APC governorship primary. Odigie-Oyegun, a former Edo State governor, who had been cautious in his initial response to Tinubu’s letter, paid a visit to Buhari in Aso Rock and thereafter launched an attack on Tinubu, describing his letter as ‘reckless.’
Seeing that he was fast losing at the centre, the APC chieftain, popularly known as the Jagaban (of Borgu), started reaching out to his political foes in the South-West in order to consolidate his influence in the region. With several meetings held, Tinubu’s most vocal critics such as Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Sir Olanihun Ajayi, among others, began to drum up support for him publicly.
A source in the presidency told our correspondent that Akande, who cut short his trip abroad to see the President, did not mince words during the meeting.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Akande told Buhari that despite the roles Tinubu and the South-West played in making him President, he had relegated the APC national leader and the region.
The source said, “Baba Akande told the President that they were not happy with him. He told Buhari that apart from not giving Tinubu sufficient consideration during the ministerial appointments, everything that played out in the Kogi and Ondo elections showed that the President was supporting Asiwaju’s enemies.
“Baba also said Paden’s book was a major slight and that they believed the President was aware of the content of the book before it went public. He further said some of the people around Buhari were hell-bent on ensuring that the President and Tinubu became enemies because of what they would gain from the crisis.”
The source stated that Buhari countered that he was unhappy with the acrimony in the ruling party and that he had tried to be fair to all parties. But Akande was said to have disagreed with the President in his response, and cited further examples.
SUNDAY PUNCH further gathered that Akande told the President to take practical steps to show that he was not fighting Tinubu and the South-West. While listing their demands, Akande and others told him that they needed to see more representation of those that helped him to power during the next cabinet reshuffle.
There have been reports that a cabinet change is imminent.
Akande, who travelled abroad after the meeting with Buhari, could not be reached for comments, but a top APC member close to him confirmed details of the meeting, saying, “They want Buhari to accept Tinubu’s list when he makes changes in his cabinet. They specifically told him that they are only in support of one of the South-West ministers in his cabinet. They also asked him to get the party leadership to hold the National Executive Council meetings regularly while also facilitating the constitution of the party’s board of trustees.”
A source close to the South-West leadership of the party disclosed to one of our correspondents that Akande and Aregbesola had met at the former’s residence in Ila-Orangun two Wednesdays ago before meeting the President.
Akande had been honoured by the Catholic Diocese in Otan-Ayegbaju, Osun State, where a school was inaugurated in his name. The late mother of a former Governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who hailed from Otan-Ayegbaju, was also honoured by the church, which inaugurated a multipurpose hall in her honour.
APC leaders, members and supporters, including Aregbesola, who thronged the venue of the ceremony, accompanied Akande to Ila-Orangun as a mark of respect.
It was gathered that Aregbesola and Akande held a meeting at Akande’s residence, where they discussed the face-off between Buhari and Tinubu.
The source said, “We were at Otan-Ayegbaji together. We later accompanied Baba Akande to Ila-Orangun after the Otan-Ayegbaju ceremony. When we got to Ila-Orangun, both the governor and Baba Akande went inside for a very long time. I’m sure that was where the decision to intervene in the matter was taken.
“When they met Buhari, they complained about the marginalisation of Tinubu’s men. At the meeting, Aregbesola said they (Tinubu loyalists) were not out to fight Buhari, but that the President should consider the Tinubu group in terms of appointments.
“Buhari told them that he was not out to undermine Tinubu’s group and that things would change in the coming days.”
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said he was not aware of what transpired during the meeting between the President and the APC chieftains.
He said, “I am not aware of what was discussed with the President in the said meeting. As a matter of fact, it is not the nature of the President to disclose what people discuss with him in confidence during meetings.”