It may have been Bola Tinubu's 10th Colloquium and birthday, but this event was simply a launch of Buhari for 2019.
You could hear it in the speeches. You could see it in the body languages. You could feel it in the Eko Convention Center atmosphere.
From the moment Buhari stepped into the ambience of the Eko Hotel in Lagos--a little after 11am, to when Governor Ambode took to the stage to deliver his welcome address, to when plenty of time was devoted to showcasing the social investment programs and achievements of the Buhari administration, to when Buhari called Asiwaju his friend;
To when Osinbajo took on the PDP for saying corruption shouldn’t be harped on, to when Tinubu the celebrant ended the show with his own speech, to when Tinubu called Osinbajo his “co-conspirator”, you could tell that this was all a Launchpad for Buhari/Osinbajo 2019.
They should print the campaign posters already.
Soon after Buhari walked in, I asked a top aide of his on the sidelines to tell me when the president was going to formally declare he would be running in 2019. Would he run at all?
“He’s running. He’ll declare soon after May 29, Democracy Day”, this aide disclosed, before warning me not to quote him.
When Vice President Yemi Osinbajo took to the lectern to deliver his own speech, all doubts were erased.
“From all I've seen in government in the past few years, the corruption of the previous five years is what destroyed the Nigerian economy. Every time we talk, we as a party and your government must show the difference between us and the party and government that impoverished our nation”, Osinbajo said in that unmistakable preacher’s cadence.
And then he took the gloves off, with the PDP in his crosshairs. He was punching left, right, center and everywhere. You could immediately sense that he will be the man who engages local folks on the campaign trail when all of this becomes formal.
“They say we shouldn’t talk about corruption. We must talk about corruption. There is no country in the world that allows its resources to be plundered like it was done (by the PDP) that won’t have a problem…"
And then Osinbajo delved into Yoruba folklore to exhume a proverb.
The PDP’s stance on corruption, he says, is akin to the Yoruba proverb that translates thus: “The Frog says when discussion gets to the issue of tail, we should skip it.
“We shall talk about corruption. And when you tackle corruption like we are doing, corruption always fights back and you can see that on the social media…”
And then he went into the now familiar tale of how Jonathan allegedly withdrew N150billion and $289million from the nation's treasury, just days before the 2015 general election.
“We have chosen to stand with the people. We are going in the right direction. Our country is getting better and better every day”, Osinbajo said to applause from the audience.
If that wasn’t a campaign speech straight from the stomp ground, I don’t know what is.
When it was Buhari’s turn to speak, he said something along these lines: “After the Vice President’s speech, I don’t know what you people want me to say again”, to raucous laughter from the audience.
And then the president went on to enumerate how his administration has been “investing in people.”
And then came Tinubu aka the Jagaban Borgu.
“They say we shouldn’t talk about corruption”, Tinubu said, referring to the PDP. “What should we talk about?
“Forget the PDP. They won’t come back!”, Tinubu declared to applause from the room.
“They lie, they falsify, they change figures, they make fake promises. Don’t take their apology. They wasted our resources. The difference between us and the PDP is like night and day”, Tinubu said, a tad irritated.
He was enjoying himself out there, so much he ditched his prepared remarks because he was so impressed with what had been showcased on the big screens as the achievements of the Buhari administration.
This was his turf. Politics is Tinubu’s turf. He loves it here.
And then he promised Buhari he was going to work with him again. He didn’t say on what or when, but everyone in the room knew he was talking about the re-election battle ahead of the nation.
“Thank you for tolerating me”, Tinubu told his wife, Oluremi, who had been smiling and showing enormous politeness the entire evening. “As if you have any choice”, he added to more laughter.
The 10th Bola Ahmed Tinubu Colloquium was attended by all the political heavyweights you can think of in the land: APC Governors, Ministers, former Governors and Ministers, Lawmakers, everyone. This was a roll call of the crème-de-la-crème of the nation’s political scene.
The fact that Buhari had to fly to Lagos to honour Tinubu—the godfather of Southwest politics--on his 66th birthday, should tell you all you need to know, really. Buhari was here to touch base with his Southwest troops led by General Tinubu.
It may be March of 2018, but Spring of 2019 can’t come soon enough for all the politicians who showed up at Tinubu’s Colloquium. They have this all figured out.
And they are ready to battle the PDP again for the throne.