*Pencils down possible running mates
*Presidential aide alleges plot to cause rift between Buhari and Osinbajo, says president remains in charge
*Lai Mohammed: I spoke to Buhari Saturday, his condition not critical
The National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Bola Tinubu, has been holding a series of meetings and consultations for his bid for the presidency in 2019, THISDAY has reliably learnt.
According to sources close to the former Lagos State governor, he is also putting together a team, preparatory for the race and has developed an elaborative strategic plan to make a bold bid for the coveted office.
In so doing, Tinubu, sources confirmed, has abandoned his initial plan of aligning with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to build a mega party to take on the APC in 2019.
Instead, Tinubu, the sources volunteered, has decided to remain in the APC, a party that he played a pivotal role setting up in 2013 and leading it to a historic victory in the 2015 elections.
Tinubu had hinted of his interest to contest for the presidency in Akure last Friday when he told reporters during the inauguration of the new governor of Ondo State, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), that he could run for the office in 2019.
“There is nothing wrong with such ambition,” he said, adding: “It depends on the timing, the environment and what the political leadership dictates. I will not brush aside such an aspiration.”
Following his brushes with the leadership of the APC and his perceived marginalisation in the Muhammadu Buhari administration, he was said to have opted for building a huge alliance, using the PDP and some other parties to form a new mega party that would serve as a counterweight to the ruling APC and wrest power from it in 2019.
But Tinubu, according to sources, has had a change of mind and has decided not to leave a house he helped to build for others.
Although Buhari’s absence and concerns over his health, which may rule him out of the contest in 2019, may have played a role in Tinubu’s decision to contest for the presidency on the platform of the APC, sources informed THISDAY that the former Lagos governor’s mind is made up to make a go for the presidency.
According to a source in the know, “Asiwaju would actually prefer that the president recovers and returns hale and hearty, but he does not seek a second term.
“But even if Buhari decides to seek a second term, Asiwaju’s mind is made up, as he will contest for the post in the APC under any circumstances.
“He is tired of being a kingmaker and has decided that he will contest under any prevailing circumstances.”
In this regard, the source said Tinubu remains on course to build a strong counter force within the APC, first in South-west, by stepping up his efforts to reconcile with all his erstwhile political associates, including former Governors Segun Osoba and Gbenga Daniel, as well as other political leaders like Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose.
His goal, according to THISDAY sources, is that a reinvigorated alliance in the South-west would help him checkmate his estranged younger associates, including former Governors Kayode Fayemi and Babatunde Fashola, as well as Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, who he believes are being used to clip his political influence in the region.
With the South-west tidied up, the presidential aspirant is said to be consulting widely in the North, reaching out to the region’s political heavyweights and sourcing for alliances that will strengthen his hand in building a strong base in that part of the country.
Already, Tinubu’s team has pencilled down three names as possible running mates, a source close to the APC leader disclosed.
They are Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State due to name recognition and political considerations; Senator Abu Ibrahim who represents Buhari’s Katsina South Senatorial District, to placate the president’s people and power bloc; and possibly the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammad Sanusi II, his well-known political associate and an expert on economic reforms that could prove very useful to a Tinubu presidency.
However, as Buhari’s absence opens the field for contenders for the presidency on the platform of the APC, his aide responsible for political affairs, Babafemi Ojudu, has raised the alarm over an alleged plot by those in the opposition to cause a division between Buhari and his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.
He also dismissed as baseless the claim by some clerics in Katsina that Buhari was poisoned and cautioned journalists to be careful of what they pick from the social media.
He said: “The way I will react to that is that those of you in the media should be careful what you pick from the social media now, it is becoming a factory for fake news in the Nigeria.
“A lot of things you see on the social media can never be true. I saw that, I read it and I assessed it using the prism of these factors – those indices we use to analyse stories in the media and found out that it cannot be true.
“For example, they said someone stashed N77 trillion somewhere, imagine that. What is the total value of Nigeria’s economy that they decided to use the N77 trillion as the reason for some people to poison him (Buhari), so that they can inherit the money?
“I mean we have a president that nobody in this country can question his integrity. As a young officer, a middle officer, a senior officer and as a head of state, till now, nobody has been able to tarnish his image or come up with anything.
“For me, this is not even worth responding to. As soon as I read it, I dismissed it because it is so ridiculous.
“Again it is the handiwork of our enemies, the problem is that fake news has almost become global and universal, and other countries are experiencing it.
“Those who want to destabilise the country, they come up with all kinds of stupid stories, some kind of unimaginable stories so we should just discountenance those things.”
While warning mischief makers not to cause divisions within the presidency, he insisted that most of the achievements attributed to Osinbajo were programmes already initiated by Buhari.
He cited the acting president’s visits to the oil producing states to consult with stakeholders, saying that the idea was Buhari’s.
He described those making the comparison between the president and his deputy as mischief makers.
He said: “Those people do not wish this country well. They are always promoting a crisis. Persons who will not allow the people to benefit from this democracy are the ones promoting these kind of divisive tendencies.”
When asked to elaborate on the comparison of the performance of Osinbajo with that of Buhari, which has the social media agog, he said: “I think it is thoughtless. I also see it as a ploy by the opposition to cause an unnecessary division.
“It is joint ticket, the president and the vice-president were elected based on the manifesto of the party and since they were sworn in, they have been committed to implementing that manifesto.
“The same people who said we never had an economic team, no policy, nothing, are the ones saying this. It is now the policies we are implementing are maturing and they are seeing the result? So it is not a question of one person being better than the other person.”
According to him, there was nothing that has been done since the vice-president started acting that was not already in the works before Buhari’s vacation in London.
“A good example is the Niger Delta initiative: the president called the vice-president and said I am giving you the mandate, go into the Niger Delta meet with everyone who is a stakeholder, all the communities, talk to the militants and make sure you solve this problem for the benefit of Nigerians.
“And the president had said unless and until we resolve this problem, we would not get out of the recession. So the VP took up the mandate and went to the Niger Delta. In effect, it is the initiative of Mr. President not that of the vice-president,” he added.
Ojudu also revealed that Osinbajo consults with Buhari almost everyday, especially when major decisions are to be taken, adding that Buhari remains the president.
He said: “He (Buhari) is in charge but, like I said earlier on, this is a joint ticket and the president of Nigeria remains the president of Nigeria. He (Osinbajo) is acting because it is one and the same.
“Buhari is more experienced, he has been in the game longer than the vice-president and if there are major issues that he needs to take a decision on, he could call on him and say sir, ‘what do you think about this we are about to take decision on it, do you have an opinion’. So that does not mean he (Osinbajo) is not in charge.”
Ojudu restated that he had seen some publications aimed at causing divisions within the presidency.
“Some people who have been condemning everybody in the past, I see them on Twitter and on Facebook and generally on social media. Some people are trying to promote divisions and we are not going to allow that.
“This president and vice-president work together and in tandem and I know they both have confidence in this nation,” he added.