Prior to the submission of the list of those he wanted to be members of his cabinet to the National Assembly for screening, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu did not leave Nigerians in doubt about the qualities of the people he would use to drive his “Renewed Hope” mantra. The President had pledged to look beyond constituting a government of national unity and assemble a cabinet of national competence where people of genuine character and high pedigree in their chosen careers would bring their rich experiences and professionalism to bear on nation building.
However, the President did not lose sight of the importance of pulling ‘political warlords’ that control significant ‘political troops’ in the opposition parties to his administration while also rewarding members of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), for their hard work that resulted in his victory in the last presidential election.
Sources told The Guardian that prominent among members of opposition the president reached out to while forming his cabinet was the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and founder of Kwankwasiyya Movement, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. And the reason is not far-fetched.
Kwankwaso reaffirmed his political dexterity with the outcome of the last general election in Kano State. The landslide victory of NNPP against the ruling party, which had enormous state power and resources at their disposal, repositioned him as a politician that must be reckoned with. Kwankwaso defeated the APC presidential candidate in Kano, where the party had a sitting governor in the person of Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, who is now the National Chairman of the party. He equally humiliated a former vice president and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar; and also the Labour Party (LP) candidate, Mr. Peter Obi. Although Tinubu was able to secure 517,341 votes, which was above 25 per cent of votes cast in the state, Kwankwaso’s 997,279 votes validated his supremacy in Kano politics. Atiku and Obi came well behind with 131,716 and 28,513 votes respectively.
Before the presidential inauguration, Tinubu held a closed door meeting with Kwankwaso alongside other prominent members of the opposition in Paris, France. Although the outcome of the meeting was confidential, there were permutations that the meeting was part of strategic horse trading by Tinubu to woo Kwankwaso back to APC. Those familiar with the development disclosed that Kwankwaso had confirmed that Tinubu was seeking the possibility of convincing him to join his cabinet of national competence and then return to the APC. Another source also disclosed that the possibility of an amicable resolution of impasse between Kwankwaso and Ganduje was not left out of the discussion at the meeting.
While the dust raised by the Paris meeting had not settled, Tinubu invited Kwankwaso again to Aso Rock two weeks after his inauguration, perhaps to cement their new political romance and explore the possibility of Kwankwaso’s appointment as minister. It was after the meeting that Kwankwaso, for the first time, expressed willingness to join Tinubu’s cabinet with the caveat that the final decision would be made after due consultations. A reliable source told The Guardian that after the four-hour Aso Rock meeting, many people believed that Kwankwaso’s ministerial appointment had been sealed.
But the growing political rapprochement between Kwankwaso and Tinubu did not go down well with Ganduje; and he didn’t hide his disapproval of the moves. In a leaked telephone conversation with Alhaji Ibrahim Masari, who served as a placeholder running mate while Tinubu was still shopping for the authentic vice presidential candidate, Ganduje was heard lamenting being treated unfairly by Tinubu as shown by Kwankwaso’s invitation to France and the Presidential Villa.
In the conversation, Ganduje insisted that Tinubu’s invitation to Kwankwaso alone has rendered him irrelevant as leader of APC in Kano, adding that the president should have extended a similar invitation to him as well, “even if it will be a symbolic appearance”.
Ganduje said: “What could I have told him? Now he (Tinubu) is seeing Kwankwaso as an alternative to us? No problem. Is it because we are not in government, even when we lost the election because of him (Tinubu)? Even if he would see Kwankwaso, he ought to have called us too. Or don’t you understand, even if it is symbolically.”
Another APC stalwart in Kano, Abdulmajid Danbilki Kwamanda, an ardent supporter of former president Muhammadu Buhari, also kicked against Tinubu’s rapprochement with Kwankwaso and the idea of giving him an appointment in the government, warning that it could trigger internal crisis in APC.
Kwamanda insisted that any attempt by Tinubu to align with Kwankwaso would be considered as betrayal of the trust and commitment of APC supporters in Kano.
“We in the North-West Zone do not welcome Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso into APC. We do not accept the idea of Bola Tinubu giving him any appointment even as low as a messenger in our party. Should Tinubu ignore our outcry and appoint Kwankwaso, we are going to disrupt the entire APC in the North and withdraw our support for him. If we set the party on fire, not even Tinubu as a president can put out that fire.
“We are the North and the people are our people. We have invested all our efforts, integrity and dignity in the North to mobilise the people to vote for Tinubu. They refused to vote for a fellow northerner just for him to win in the region and he now comes and embraces our major opposition. We will not accept that. We assure Tinubu that we will turn our back on him if he decides to ignore our call. We don’t welcome Kwankwaso to our party and don’t give him any appointment. This is our message to all,” Kwamanda said.
He further advised Tinubu to steer clear of the antics of Kwankwaso, reminding him that, “the former Kano State governor is smart enough to lead the president and the party into disaster.”
“He had condemned voting for Tinubu in Kano and described the president as an enemy of the North. This is an unhealthy character. It will therefore be a mistake to welcome him to the party or give him any appointment in your government,” he advised.
The eventual submission of the ministerial nominees to the National Assembly with Kwankwaso’s name conspicuously missing left many tongues wagging and the Presidency has maintained a deafening silence on the issue since then. Meanwhile, the two nominees from Kano State, Abdullah Gwarzo and Dr. Maryam Bunkure, have been assigned portfolios. While Gwarzo is the Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development, Bunkure is the Minister of State for FCT.
Gwarzo, a long time ally of president and governorship candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Kano in 2011, was personally picked by the president to reward his loyalty. On the other hand, Bunkure, who was picked to replace Maryam Shettima (Shetty) whose removal came a few hours to the screening, is a close friend of Ganduje’s daughter and served as Commissioner for Higher Education during Ganduje’s administration for four years.
It was gathered that the president jettisoned the idea of appointing Kwankwaso into his cabinet because he believes there is no sense in empowering the opposition, who would eventually use the resources to fight back. Besides, it was gathered that the president was equally discouraged by the demolition of public property constructed by the Ganduje administration by the new NNPP government in Kano.
The Director of Publicity at APC national headquarters, Bala Ibrahim, had last weekend stated that the persistent attack on Ganduje’s legacies in Kano may have cost Kwankwaso a position in Tinubu’s cabinet.
Ibrahim said: “Kwankwaso is a force to reckon with in the politics of Kano. But the way and manner his Kwankwasiyya Movement goes about conducting itself has made the support for Kwankwaso to wane gradually. This is because of the brigandage the movement is bringing into the politics of Kano, and by extension, Nigeria.
“The president must have felt the pulse of the public and weighed the relevance and implementation of his policies, particularly his effort to win the hearts of the Kano people. There is no way you will dismiss the political maturity, sagacity and experience of Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje when it comes to the way he plays politics in Kano. If you weigh the two on a good calibrated scale, the political weight of Ganduje is by far higher than that of Kwankwaso.
“I believe the President must have listened to people who will give him honest and sincere advice, people who read the political temperature of the state very well, not those who are misguided by the hullabaloo of commotion caused by the brigandage of the Kwankwasiyya Movement. It is in that direction I think the President took the decision not to treat Ganduje lightly.”
However, the Chairman of NNPP in Kano, Dr. Hashim Suleiman Dongurawa, refuted the claims, saying there wasn’t an official statement from the Presidency where Kwankwaso was promised a ministerial appointment. Although he acknowledged that Tinubu and Kwankwaso held a series of meetings towards forming a government of national unity, he insisted that Kwankwaso must not necessarily be a member of Tinubu’s cabinet before rendering his support.
Dongurawa said: “There was no occasion where Kwankwaso had solicited to be appointed as minister in Tinubu’s government just as no official statement was released through APC promising Kwankwaso any political appointment. What actually brought about the speculation was the meeting that Kwankwaso had with Tinubu on the issue of unity and Tinubu’s willingness to incorporate competent hands irrespective of political affiliation.
“Quite alright, Kwankwaso was ready to support Tinubu not because of any political gain but for the unity, development and growth of our dear nation. Don’t forget that Kwankwaso is a former governor, former minister, former senator and former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, with requisite competence and wealth of experience.
“He’s also a man of repute and a political leader who understands the dynamics of the political economy of this country. He understands very well the system of national unity and competence and is full of capacity to contribute his quota to national development. You are talking of ministerial appointments in the face of a man who has contested the presidential election but lost gallantly.
“Let me also remind you that Kwankwaso and Tinubu are long time friends. They were both class of 1999 governors. They had a common interest when they formed APC in 2014. He contested APC presidential primary in 2014 alongside President Buhari and even won the senatorial seat of Kano Central under APC in 2015.
“So, Kwankwaso and Tinubu are close friends right from the formation of the party. If Kwankwaso today come out to support Tinubu’s government, people should not be worried about that. It is not until Kwankwaso is offered a ministerial appointment that he would support Tinubu and for those insinuating such, it is quite unfortunate that I cannot help them out of their ignorance.”
Meanwhile, a reliable in Kwankwanso’s camp stated that he communicated his rejection of a ministerial appointment to Tinubu as a strategy to secure his political dynasty.
According to the source, Kwankwaso was clever enough to quickly withdraw, realising the political calculation of Tinubu to tactically gag his influence in Kano politics. The source also maintained that rejecting the ministerial appointment alone has altered Tinubu’s early scheming for 2027 elections.
“For anyone to have thought President Tinubu would ever think of withdrawing Kwankwaso’s ministerial appointment means either the person is being a mischief maker or totally ignorant of the entire game. How would Tinubu reject Kwankwaso because of Ganduje when the same Tinubu ignored Ganduje and still went ahead to invite Kwankwaso to France? You should first ask yourself who is looking for who and at what cost.
“The crux of the matter is that Kwankwaso at the late hours expressed his kind rejection of the appointment for obvious reasons. Kwankwaso understands the need to be extra careful with Tinubu who knows and understands political mathematics so well. Whether you like it or not, Kwankwaso has built a strong political landscape in the most populous state in the country. He’s a political force you must reckon with as far as northern politics is concerned today.
“Kwankwaso realised that coming to join Tinubu’s cabinet is simply surrendering your empire to a bigger emperor. He realised that such an offer is a potential threat to his political dynasty and so, he quickly watched his back. Another basic reason Kwankwaso turned down the ministerial offer was the emergence of Ganduje as APC national chairman. We also realised that he cannot work for Tinubu without fully surrendering to instructions from Ganduje,” the source said.