Wednesday , March 22 2023


By Moses E. Ochonu


Tinubu’s strategy from the very beginning was wrong. Perhaps it was a product of his arrogant entitlement ideology of emi lokan (it’s my turn).


He wrote off the Southeast and South-south and put all his proverbial eggs in the northern basket. He went all in, gambling that the north would deliver for him and that, combined with the southwestern vote, that would give him the presidency.


It was always a risky electoral strategy. Firstly, it overly relies on the support of APC governors and other APC stakeholders in the north. It overestimates the political capital of the APC governors and stakeholders in the region, given Buhari/APC’s woeful performance and its discrediting effect on everyone associated with the party.


Perhaps BAT’s thinking was that the APC northern political elite would rig the poll for him. That, unfortunately for him, has been made quite difficult by the advent of BVAS and electronic vote transmission.


The Osun ruling from yesterday is a further disincentive for rigging since any serious discrepancy between declared votes and the number of BVAS-accredited voters will render a victory invalid. Politicians may be less inclined to rig considering yesterday’s judgment that hinged on over-voting.


Secondly, BAT’s strategy overly relied on hitching himself to Buhari. That strategy was flawed last year and is even more flawed today. It overestimates the extent to which Buhari still holds sway over the Northern masses.


Conversely, it underestimates or even ignores the anger and opposition towards Buhari and APC at the Northern political grassroots, a resentment borne out of the catastrophic failure of Buhari in the North in particular. The resulting disappointment runs deep.


This is 2023, not 2015. I often shake my head when I read Southwestern political analysts and pundits, including Tinubu’s people, talk about Buhari’s cult-like following in the north. Even in January 2023, I still hear and read that outdated claim. It was true in 2015. It is now pure fiction. I guess it speaks to the deeper, endemic problem of blissful Southern ignorance of Northern Nigeria, and vice versa.


Not only is that narrative of Buhari’s cult-like following not true today, but the northern masses have in fact turned decisively against Buhari/APC. The so-called cult-like adulation of 2015 has transformed into an implacable angst against Buhari/APC. Tinubu is using the political reality, language, and rhetoric of 2015 to campaign in 2022/23. His strategists have completely missed the recent radical shift in the political mood of the northern electorate.


And so, Tinubu and his strategists continue to believe that pandering to Buhari, professing love for him, and drawing ever closer to him would translate to votes in the north. That wrong prognosis is what is informing their strategy.


The interesting thing is that Tinubu, in his Ogun state rally speech, seemed to have inadvertently thrown off the yoke of his inexplicable loyalty to Buhari, a bromance or pretended political bromance that is now an electoral liability in the region that holds the key to his victory–the north.


When he blamed Buhari and the cabal for sabotaging his campaign, he was finally finding his own voice and separating himself from his burdensome and increasingly costly embrace of Buhari.


Even if this was not what he intended, strategically, it was a good thing for him. It would enable him to ditch his counterproductive over-reliance on Buhari and the APC northern elite and give him a rhetorical platform to appeal directly to northern voters by demonstrating to them that he is his own man, is not beholden to Buhari and APC, their tormentors in the last seven years, and that were he to win, he would move in a different direction.


Did Tinubu stay the course in this new independent path that could help him? No. Instead he and his aides have, for 48 hours straight, been kissing and making up with Buhari. They’ve been mollifying Buhari. They’re backtracking and restating Tinubu’s admiration for Buhari and his commitment to their friendship.


More egregiously, they’ve been repeating Tinubu’s ill-advised and losing rhetoric that he would continue with Buhari’s achievements and policies if elected.


His Ogun State speech gave him a golden opportunity to finally break away from the losing message of wanting to continue from where Buhari stops, but instead of sticking with the newly minted anti-Buhari rhetoric, he and his handlers went right back to the failing messaging of wanting to be Buhari 2.0.


They continue to gamble foolishly on Buhari’s eroded political goodwill in the north and the largely impotent support of northern APC political leaders while neglecting the critical task of appealing to and changing the minds of an increasingly anti-APC northern electorate.


Even if Buhari was still popular in the north, Buhari’s refusal to directly boost Tinubu or campaign for him in the north should have taught Tinubu a lesson: that kissing up to Buhari is a losing strategy even in the north. In 2023.


Some may argue that Tinubu has no choice but to cling to Buhari and that, given his gaffes, cognitive decline, and health challenges, this is his only remaining card to play even if it’s fraught with risk and is proving detrimental.


I don’t agree. If unfavorable electoral dynamics and political events compel you to gamble, the most reasonable gamble is to separate yourself from a failed president and hope that it helps you with an electorate disillusioned with that president.


Tinubu’s unraveling did not start with Naja’atu Muhammad’s resignation from his Presidential Campaign Council and subsequent anti-Tinubu media blitz. Nor did it start, as he alleged in his Ogun rally speech, with fuel queues or Naira redesign. These are just opportunistic and fortuitous pile-ons. As they say, when it rains, it pours.


Tinubu’s wahala [in the north] started when he tried but failed to recite the Fatiha, the foundational, opening Surah of the Qur’an, in the Kaduna northwest zonal campaign rally.


That calamitous outing in a zone where politics and religion are entwined is hard to recover from. The error amplified and gave credence to rumors and innuendos already rife in Arewa subterranean grassroots and social media outposts about the legitimacy of Tinubu’s Muslim identity and devotion.


It was an unforced error, really, a self-inflicted injury. Tinubu did not need to recite the Fatiha. Nor was he expected to. He was just trying to do too much, to use the language of our Gen Z interlocutors.


He was trying to overcompensate and pander to Muslim northerners who, because of his neglect of the Southeast and South-south, hold the key to his success or failure in the election.


The damage done by that misstep was already compounding before Naja’atu, Naira wahala, and fuel scarcity happened to him, a perfect storm of adversity at the worst possible time in the campaign.


As things stand, Tinubu’s chances of winning have been greatly diminished and his support in the Northwest and even the Northeast has cratered. He has a narrow window of time to turn things around. Not impossible but very difficult. He came back from the dead, metaphorically speaking, to win the primary with the help of Northern Governors and his bullion vans. Can he pull off a similar spectacular recovery?


  • Ochonu is a Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, USA.



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