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OPINION: Tambuwal’s tortuous path to the Presidency

It is an open secret that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, has his eyes on the Presidency for 2015. It is also not a secret that he is not in good terms with President Goodluck Jonathan, who seemingly is interested in re-election in 2015. But the question is: Is Tambuwal managing his seeming presidential ambition well with his position as the number four man in the nation?

At the Vanguard Man of the Year Award held in Lagos on April 6, 2013, a former head of military junta, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, gave him the endorsement. Babangida had said of him: “When leaders like Tambuwal deliver on their electoral promise, we advise them to try something higher. For Tambuwal, your guess is as good as mine.”

Tambuwal was elected the Speaker of the 7th House of Representatives on June 6, 2011 against the wish of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, that the position should be zoned to the South-West in the spirit of national balancing. But with the South-West dominated by the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria, which did not want a top-ranking PDP person emerging from the geopolitical zone, the ACN threw its weight behind Tambuwal, in association with the opposition parties, the Congress for Progressive Change and the All Nigeria People’s Party, as well as some PDP members, thereby making Tambuwal win.

It was viewed by many as the triumph of the people’s will over the PDP’s wish.

In recent times, there have been rumours that Tambuwal has his eyes on the Presidency come 2015, and that even the opposition coalition-in-the-making, the All Progressives Congress, is rumoured to have him as a possible presidential candidate. Given that Tambuwal started his political career in the ANPP, then defected to the Democratic People’s Party before defecting to the PDP, it will not be surprising if he defects to the APC as its presidential candidate for the 2015 election. But as is usual with Nigerian politicians, he has not confirmed the rumour. He is watching to see the way the cat will jump. If by 2014 the coast gets clearer, he may sing the usual refrain: “My people have asked me to run for president.” As a legislator, he has the advantage of not resigning to contest another office. So, if the presidential ambition does not materialise, he can still re-contest as a legislator.

Recently, he has not only flirted with the opposition ACN and CPC, he has also shown by his actions that he is not in good terms with the President. On June 3, 2013, when Osun State, a state controlled by an ACN governor, launched the Opon Imo tablets, Tambuwal was present, and praised Governor Rauf Aregbesola for his performance in office. He was criticised by some members of his party for praising a governor of an opposing party. But Tambuwal rightly responded that he is the Speaker of the nation, and not that of the PDP. Also it is bad manners to condemn your host: It is better you reject his invitation than accept his invitation, eat his food and enjoy his hospitality, only to ridicule his performance. When the President, Senate President, Speaker, minister or governor is the guest of a state governor, he does not say that his host governor is a failure.

On June 22, 2013, Tambuwal was in Ekiti State, another ACN state, to take the title of the Bobagunwa of Ilawe.

However, on October I, 2012, Tambuwal was absent at the Independence Day celebration in Abuja. His spokesman said it was caused by a flight problem. At the Democracy Day celebration on May 29, 2013, he was once more absent. His spokesman, Mr. Imam Imam, explained his absence thus: “The Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, has chosen to relate with people from his constituencies and launched some projects executed by his state government, Sokoto State.”

On June 26, 2013, Tambuwal was again absent from the presidential dinner, which was attended by Jonathan and two African presidents, Mrs. Joyce Banda of Malawi and Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia. No reason was given for that absence.

With such actions, Tambuwal is worming his way into the hearts of the opposition and anti-Jonathan people. For those who see anyone against the President as a hero, Tambuwal is a man with a mind of his own, a man who does not lick the boots of another man, not even those of the President.

But, Tambuwal seems to be confusing his office with his person. He wears three caps: First as Aminu Tambuwal, an individual; second as a legislator representing Kabbe/Tambuwal Federal Constituency in Sokoto State; and third as Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Number Four position in the land. This position as the Speaker and the Number Four in Nigeria supersedes all other caps he wears. Any action he takes will not be seen as the action of an individual or a legislator, but that of the Number Four man of Nigeria. That is why he must be careful with what he says or does.

Being absent from a national event like the Independence Day or Democracy Day celebration was not good thinking. Being absent at the presidential dinner that had three presidents in attendance was not strategic too. Tambuwal was not invited as Aminu Tambuwal: he was invited as the Speaker, the Number Four man in Nigeria. There are 365 days in the year, any of which he can choose to visit his constituency, not on the Democracy Day, a day set aside as a national holiday. It does not matter whether some disagree with the choice of the day. The fact is that it is the Democracy Day of Nigeria, until and unless changed.

That is the day for him to interface with the people, whose Speaker he is. It is not the day to be parochial, attending to his constituency. It is to be noted that he flew from Abuja to Sokoto, not on his personal money or constituency’s money, but on the money of Nigeria. The aides he took to Sokoto were not provided by him or his constituency, but by the nation. The security that he took to Sokoto was not provided by his constituency but the nation.

There is no law that says that the Speaker must be in a chummy relationship with the President. There is no law that says the Speaker should not disagree with the President or even hate him, if he so chooses. But attending the Democracy Day event or the Independence Day celebration is not an endorsement of the President or a show of love for him. Being at such an event is just in line with his office as the Speaker. He would not be honouring the President: he would be honouring the people whose Speaker he is.

Even though opposing the President, a fellow party man, is not good party politics, yet Tambuwal has the right to disagree with him. But not attending the national events is not a good strategy. He should be able to separate the feelings of Tambuwal from the feelings of the Speaker. The Speakership is an office, not a person. Even when a legislator from an opposing party to the President occupies it, he should be able to differentiate between himself as the Speaker of the federation as well as himself as a person from an opposing party to the President.

In the same vein, Tambuwal should be able to differentiate between the office of the President and the personality of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. When he, as the Speaker, attends the event hosted by the President, he is not honouring Jonathan: he is honouring the office of the President as well as the office of the Speaker. When national or state events arise, he should attend as a national officer; and when it is time to disagree with the President on issues of policies or governance, he should do so. National offices should not be personalised. The office of the Speaker is not the same as the office of the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, which usually leads the people in protest against policies of the Federal Government.

While he may get popular with those who are anti-Jonathan, his attitude will readily repulse those who are pro-Jonathan. That is not a wonderful strategy. A politician with his eyes on the Presidency does not unnecessarily create enemies for himself on minor issues where he can strike a balance and get a wider fan base.


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