Even as key policy flip-flops, insecurity and economic stress prostrate embattled Nigerians, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu may already be scheming to retain power four years ahead of the umpire’s whistle in 2027, writes Louis Achi
Twenty-four hours before the Supreme Court affirmed President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s electoral victory on October 26, he approved the appointment of 10 new National Electoral Commissioners, RECs, top-heavy with his loyalists, on October 25. These were not mere coincidences.
At least two of the newly appointed RECs may be card-carrying members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the president’s party, according to a reputable national online medium. Two other nominees are also found to be long-term allies of prominent politicians serving in the Tinubu administration.
The nominees are Etekamba Umoren (Akwa Ibom State), Isah Ehimeakne (Edo), Oluwatoyin Babalola (Ekiti), Abubakar Ma’aji (Gombe), Shehu Wahab (Kwara), Bunmi Omoseyindemi (Lagos) and Aminu Idris (Nasarawa). Others are Mohammed Yelwa (Niger), Anugbum Onuoha (Rivers), Isma’ila Moyi and (Zamfara).
“Etekamba Umoren, the first name on the list of President Tinubu’s newly-appointed RECs, is an APC member, Senate President Godswill Akpabio’s ally and protégé, and was the subject of a petition for allegedly joining Akpabio in withdrawing N22bn from Akwa Ibom State government’s account and diverting it to “sundry personal use and unjustifiable expenditures,” investigative journalist Fiyaso Soyombo alleged in a recent tweeter-X post.
Umoren served as the Chief of Staff at the Akwa Ibom State Government House when Akpabio governed the state between 2007 and 2014. Akpabio also nominated him to serve as the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) under his successor, Udom Emmanuel, then an ally of Akpabio.
He was only relieved off his job in 2018 following fallout between Messrs Akpabio and Emmanuel, which also led to the removal of other key allies in the state executive council.
It could be recalled that in August 2018, during a welcome rally for Akpabio in Uyo, Umoren and other sacked members of Governor Emmanuel’s state executive council embraced the All Progressives Congress (APC). Umoren accepted a broom, an emblem of the APC, from Akpabio on stage and chanted APC through the speakers.
Soyombo, founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, further observes that “If you’ve followed Bola Tinubu’s long-term strategising for a while, you’ll know he is already plotting to extend his chokehold on Nigeria by obliterating the possibility of anyone else winning the 2027 presidential election. He has started positioning his people in INEC.”
The nifty journalist further notes that, “Appointing Umoren as INEC’s REC in Akwa Ibom for an initial five years, asking him to oversee elections in a state he helped loot, a state where he was Permanent Secretary in the Government House, Chief of Staff to the governor and latterly Secretary to the State Government, and where he helped APC win votes, surely isn’t accidental.”
To ensure the neutrality of the electoral umpire, extant Nigerian law forbids the appointment of members of political parties as resident electoral commissioners, individuals who coordinate INEC activities in different states. However, this requirement apparently holds sway only in theory.
Besides Umoren, at least three of the RECs nominated by Tinubu are known to have ties to him, his allies, the APC or politicians in his government. They are Messrs Shaka, Omoseyindemi and Onuoha.
A cursory review of the trio’s digital and non-digital footprints indicate a bias far before during and after the 2023 general elections that showed their leaning towards Tinubu, his allies and his party, the APC.
For instance, the Lagos REC-nominee Bunmi Omoseyindemi had enjoyed a cosy political patronage from Tinubu and his allies since 2001. He was appointed chairman of the Lagos State Traditional Medicine Board in 2001 when Tinubu governed the state, a position he held until 2015.
In 2016, he was appointed an electoral commissioner in the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC) by the then-governor Akinwunmi Ambode who was also an ally of Tinubu at the time.
Another REC nominee, Onuoha is an ally of a top official of the Tinubu administration. He has been close to the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike. Onuoha was a Special Adviser on Lands and Surveys to Wike until 2019 when he was crowned a traditional leader in Rumuepirikom, Obio/Akpor Local Government area in the state, the same community Wike hails from.
However, before he was appointed as a Special Adviser to Wike, he had in 2007, served as the Commissioner, Legal and Political Parties Monitoring at the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC). He was one of the nine-member RSIEC Electoral Commissioners sworn in by the then Governor Rotimi Amaechi, in 2007. They were led by the late Nimi Briggs, an emeritus professor.
What’s more? The senate that will confirm or reject Umoren and the other nine RECs is chaired by Umoren’s mentor and principal Akpabio who is also Tinubu’s protege. Has the backdoor manipulation of voter choices in 2027 kicked off, four years ahead of schedule? Big question.
These early maneuvers by Tinubu have not gone unnoticed by several observers. In a tweet-X post, Olasupo Jakes notes: “I don’t know why the main opposition parties are keeping mute on this Tinubu’s newly appointed INEC REC throughout the states. If they have any seriousness in them, the battle starts now! Draw the public attention to this Tinubu’s shenanigans. Don’t wait until when the 2027 election is rigged, and they tell you to go to court. Let’s start resetting everything right now.”
There is little question that Tinubu simply exercised the powers granted him by Section 154 (1) of the Nigerian constitution and Section 6 of the Electoral Act (2022). Of course, it’s highly unlikely that the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party and Labour Party have gone to sleep so early. Processing the ‘shocking’ ultimate outcome of their challenge of the highly contested Tinubu’s presidential victory and imperative re-strategizing may explain the apparent quietude on parties’ fronts currently.
Significantly, President Tinubu is perceived to revel in strategic ambiguity. According to organizational communication expert Eric Eisenberg, strategic ambiguity enables an executive, individual or organisation to express itself – its mission and goals – in a way that allows “the freedom to alter operations which have become maladaptive over time.”
It helps operatives understand the need to find balance between being highly specific or overly vague in what they stand for and how they want to be perceived. Several early key policy flip-flops in the current administration speak to these ambiguities.
Regularly feted as an astute politician, Tinubu certainly knows the difference between being ambiguous and being strategic about his ambiguity. His comical Bala-Blu and other ‘gaffs’ before, during and after the presidential primary apparently fooled both friends and foes. By nimbly guiding or forcing the crucial Northern pressure group to fundamentally birth the Tinubu presidential candidacy drew deserved plaudits from important stakeholders.
Adroitly navigating the landmine and dilemma of choosing a Muslim running mate and ignoring the nation’s combustible ethno-religious configuration speaks to a level of audacity or nifty gambling.
It could be recalled that through his tenacity and uncommon focus in guiding the reversal of electoral impunity across a wide swath of South-western Nigeria, during the Olusegun Obasanjo political blitzkrieg, Tinubu reaffirmed the enduring fact that indeed jutice is the first condition of democracy.
But the debate of the integrity of the 2023 general elections, particularly the presidential poll, subsists despite the Supreme Court judgement. The bitterness, extreme conteststation and a shocking sense of electoral injustice persists. This suggests that the Tinubu of the Obasanjo presidential era and the Tinubu of today are democratic horses of different colours.
As Tinubu cagily surveys the field, buying over fence-sitters, enticing the opposition and putting potential challengers on his secret hit-list ahead of the 2027 political battle, for groaning Nigerians, it may just be morning yet on creation day.