They were like David and Jonathan — but their friends and associates may have to brace up to save the day so that they do not end up as Cain and Abel.
On Tuesday, Bola Tinubu, national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), disbanded all political groups within the party in Lagos state “to bring about discipline”.
Two weeks ago, Rauf Aregbesola, his age-long political associate and protege, had revamped the Mandate Group — Tinubu’s core support group — and appointed his protege, Abdullahi Enilolobo, as the new chairman.
Tinubu’s right-hand man, James Odunmbaku, was elevated to the position of “apex leader”, a rank considered to be meaningless in the scheme of things.
Why would Tinubu dissolve a group led by his “fierce loyalist”?
Did Aregbesola inform Tinubu before reorganising the Mandate Group?
Why did Tinubu not inform Aregbesola that he was about to dissolve the group?
More curiously, why didn’t Aregbesola know that the group had been dissolved by the time he issued a rebuttal to TheCable’s story on Tuesday?
Although all APC groups were dissolved, what other group currently exists apart from the one relaunched by Aregbesola?
These questions offer a deep insight into the emerging cracks in the relationship between a mentor and his protege — one widely regarded as the Yoruba leader and other who sees himself as the deputy Yoruba leader.
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMIES
On May 25, 2020, Aregbesola, commissioner of works from 1999-2007 when Tinubu was governor of Lagos, marked his 63rd birthday with a virtual colloquium.
Aregbesola unusually called Tinubu “my brother and my partner” on air, in place of the usual “my leader and my mentor” — and this did not escape the attention of some of Tinubu’s loyalists, some of whom questioned the minister on his “new direction”.
He reportedly told them he was talking about “partner in the struggle for democracy in Nigeria”.
Also, an unlikely speaker at the birthday event was Nasir el-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna state who does not see eye-to-eye with Tinubu, the political leader of Aregbesola.
“I want to congratulate my brother, Ogbeni (Aregbesola), on his birthday. You know I’m your man any day. I’m not Asiwaju’s man and you are Asiwaju’s man, but I am your man any day. Asiwaju and I have differences but you and I have no differences,” el-Rufai said.
The Kaduna governor has in the past spoken about how to end godfatherism in Lagos — an apparent snide at Tinubu, who has controlled the state’s politics since 1999.
But el-Rufai is not the only “opponent” of Tinubu that Aregbesola has been getting comfortable with in recent times.
He took a private jet ride with Ibikunle Amosun, former governor of Ogun state, from Lagos to Abuja and this sent tongues wagging.
Amosun, for those who may not know, is one of the biggest opponents of Tinubu in the south-west, and Aregbesola used to be one of the arrowheads in the bid to neutralise the senator in Yoruba politics.
Tinubu was unaware of the jet ride, and this, according to insiders, further shook his confidence in his protege as things were already piling up in bits.
REVAMPING THE MANDATE GROUP
Enilolobo was recently picked as chairman of the Mandate Group and Aregbesola the grand patron — but Tinubu has now dissolved the group
A day after Aregbesola’s birthday, he played host to key members of the Mandate Group at his GRA Ikeja residence — without Tinubu’s say-so.
Enilolobo, a die-hard loyalist of Aregbesola from Alimosho local government area, took over the leadership.
At the meeting were some highly placed loyalists and supporters of Tinubu, many of whom later told the APC national leader that they did not understand the undercurrents.
Insiders told TheCable that Solomon Adeola, senator for Lagos west, and Tayo Ayinde, chief of staff to Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of Lagos state, said they thought the meeting was sanctioned by Tinubu.
Sikiru “Pepper” Osinowo, senator for Lagos east, was also at the meeting, but he is said to be angry that he was asked to vacate his office at the Lagos state house of assembly complex.
He had been using since 2003 as a member, but he is now a senator.
Peeved that he was asked to vacate the office for a new member, Osinowo has been complaining to party leaders that he was badly treated by Mudashiru Obasa, the Lagos speaker.
Osinowo attended the Mandate Group meeting — reportedly to make a point.
He has been accused of waging a media war against Obasa, who himself openly alleged that “a former governor living in GRA Ikeja” was part of the plot against him.
Obasa is a die-hard Tinubu loyalist. Guess who the former governor “living in GRA Ikeja” is?
FOR TINUBU OR FOR WHOM?
Aregbesola, who says he is working for the actualisation of Tinubu’s rumoured presidential ambition in 2023, was also planning to revamp the Justice Forum, a moribund group within the APC which was pivotal to the emergence of Tinubu as governor in 1999.
Part of the plans was to secure an office in Ikeja for preparatory activities towards the presidential election, TheCable was informed.
However, insiders told TheCable that Tinubu was not in the know of all these moves, thereby leading to suspicion that there may be more to the picture than is being painted.
Aregbesola is said to have been told by an Islamic cleric that he would be president of Nigeria, but it is unclear if the prediction was for 2023 or beyond — although he has openly denied nursing any presidential ambition.
Tinubu was no longer comfortable with the moves being made by Aregbesola and decided to stamp his feet.
Tuesday’s meeting of the Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC) was held at his behest, TheCable understands, and he spoke strongly against the revival of Mandate Group.
At the meeting held in Marina, Lagos, it was decided that all the groups be dissolved, and the anthem of the Mandate Group would be rendered only when Tinubu is seated.
The anthem was rendered at Aregbesola’s residence on May 26.
THE OSUN TENSION
Previously thought to be unbreakable, the relationship between Tinubu and Aregbesola has definitely not been sparkling in recent times.
Insiders are reluctant to admit, given what they see as Aregbesola’s “unquestionable loyalty” to Tinubu, but the minister of interior has been having a very cold war with Adegboyega Oyetola, his successor as governor.
Oyetola, who served as chief of staff to Aregbesola and is related to Tinubu, has been quietly complaining about Osun’s finances that he inherited.
Apart from the heavy debts and a burden of unpaid salaries, Oyetola was also not happy about Aregbesola’s tinkering with the administrative structure of the state which he believed made things cumbersome.
Oyetola has reversed many of such actions — notably the single school uniform, reclassification of the public school system and the abolition of single-sex schools which Aregbesola introduced in 2013.
Also, the state is now back to its constitutional name, Osun State, instead of the State of Osun that Aregbesola changed it to during his tenure.
Aregbesola has visited Oyetola only once since his inauguration in November 2018, TheCable learnt, and is said to be quietly working against the possibility of a second term for his successor.
The state of affairs has been described by insiders as creating “unease” between Tinubu and Aregbesola.
AREGBESOLA ON HIS KNEES
I remain loyal to Tinubu, says Aregbesola
On Tuesday, Aregbesola said TheCable’s report on a rift between him and Tinubu was “sponsored” and maintained that the relaunch of Mandate Group was to help his “political mentor”.
Describing TheCable as a “blog”, he said it was “impossible” for him to have a rift with Tinubu.
“Rift with Asiwaju Tinubu? Nothing can be more impossible! Nothing can be farther from the truth. I remain committed to my mentor,” Aregbesola said, adding that “the group our detractors claim has been banned is the most committed to the realization of Asiwaju’s ambition”.
Apparently, he was not even aware of the GAC communique which had announced the dissolution of the Mandate Group headed by him at the time he issued the statement.
His rebuttal even rebutted the dissolution despite a communique having been issued already to that effect.
He still said the group “is the most committed to the realization of Asiwaju’s ambition”.
An associate of Tinubu told TheCable that Aregbesola not only called Tinubu to reaffirm his loyalty, he mounted pressure on his “brother and partner” to issue a statement rebutting reports that there is a rift between them
APC’s Twitter boys were also put on standby to attack TheCable and describe the story as fake news.
After much pressure, including from Aregbesola’s family members, Tinubu issued a statement on Tuesday night denying the rift.
The statement was issued as a damage-control measure after Tinubu believed Aregbesola had already got “the message” with the dissolution of the Mandate Group.
“The irony is that if Asiwaju Tinubu decides not to run in 2023, Aregbesola would ordinarily be his natural pick for the job, so his recent behaviour has been baffling,” the Tinubu associate told TheCable.
“Most importantly, Aregbe has issued a strong denial and Asiwaju Tinubu will take him by his word going forward, but the groups Aregbe has been trying to revamp remain dissolved and this is final.”