The war of words between Bola Tinubu, national leader of the All Progressives Congress, and Tom Ikimi, erstwhile power broker within the party hierarchy, over the latter’s controversial letter of resignation from the party is far from abating
On April 10, 2014, Tom Ikimi, former foreign affairs minister and erstwhile chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, joined the club of septuagenarians as he clocked 70 years. At the deferred grand celebration of this milestone on April 25, Bola Tinubu, ex-governor of Lagos State and the acclaimed leader and soul of the main opposition party in the country, coordinated the cutting of the gigantic cake. Ikimi basked in the euphoria of the camaraderie and show of immense solidarity by prominent members of his APC political family who made the celebration tick. But things have changed so fast that Ikimi, popularly called the Oduma (lion) of Igueben, is now estranged from the APC family following his withdrawal of his membership of the party on August 27.
As it is with politicians, the former national vice chairman, South-south zone, once so revered, has suddenly become a villain. Since his caustic letter to the leadership of the APC detailing his frustrations, which culminated in his resignation from the party, it has been war of words between him and Tinubu, whom he accused of turning the party into his personal fiefdom. Though Ikimi had cast the first stone, Tinubu responded with equal venom, and the reactions have not stopped.
Ikimi’s grievances against his former party which drove him into the warm embrace of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, included the manner he was prevented from becoming national chairman of the party. In his letter to John Odigie-Oyegun, the new national chairman, he accused the party leaders of mismanagement and “grave injustice that has been perpetrated against me through an unprecedented level of conspiracy and bad faith.” He specifically accused Tinubu of reckless and arrogant self-aggrandisement and bizarre struggle to seize control of the party. Ikimi regretted that the image of the APC as a Tinubu party has severely damaged the party. He was also angered by non-recognition of his pivotal role in founding APC. During the March 7, 2014 national summit to officially unveil the party, no credit was given by the leadership of the party to his immense contributions and sacrifices but for the intervention of Ali Modu Sheriff.
However, in a swift reaction through his media aide, Tinubu said regarding his bid for the chairmanship of the party that “it was clear to practically everyone who had the interest of the party at heart that we simply could not have a man of Tom Ikimi’s antecedents as chair of the party,” adding that as chairman of the NRC, “Tom Ikimi not only connived with the then military regime to annul the elections, terminate the democratic process and sell off his party, he became Abacha’s foreign minister, convincing the world that heinous state murders like the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa were just acts.” Tinubu said with Ikimi as APC chairman, “the party would have to sleep with both eyes open lest its chairman sold off the party before daybreak.”
Also denying selling out Ribadu during the 2011 general election, Tinubu argued that common sense should dictate that if ever such a deal was reached, “we would have had to inform our members in all the states.” Wondering how this could have been done secretly, the APC leader was at a loss as to how it could have been possible to tell hundreds of thousands of people not to vote for your own party without becoming public knowledge. Only Osun State out of the APC-controlled states voted overwhelmingly for Ribadu. Tinubu said Ikimi’s dumping of the party purportedly on account of the loss of the chairmanship was “a mere subterfuge,” stressing that he was never sincerely committed to the party but “was always playing out a PDP script. He only wanted the chairmanship of the party as a bargaining chip for negotiation with his benefactors.”
The trading of words and insults continued last Tuesday as Ikimi also responded to Tinubu’s tirade. The forum was a rousing reception in his honour as he made a triumphant and dramatic return to Edo State from Abuja where he had been since August 27 when he published his controversial reflections on the APC and abandoned the party. The PDP had organised a heroic welcome for him where he reacted to Tinubu’s allegations. Pointing out that he read the kind of response Tinubu tried to make, he said, “I think he lost it all. For one, I think he has a memory problem which derives from his excessive consumption of various things.”
On the allegation that he was not wanted in the APC because he would sell the APC to the PDP, he asked: “Did I need to spend 12 years to create a party in order to sell it? I created the party; I didn’t join the party. And he says I betrayed Abiola. First of all, if he has good memory, Abiola was in SDP (Social Democratic Party), not in NRC. NRC and I cannot betray someone who is in SDP. Number two; I stopped being chairman of NRC in 1992. Abiola’s election was in 1993. The national chairman was Dr. Hameed Kusamotu who was his own kinsman. How can I become the chairman to betray Abiola when I was not Kusamotu? And between Kusamotu and myself was Mrs. Okunnu; there were two other chairmen after me. Now, SDP man won an election. The first foreign minister was Babagana Kingibe who was his running mate. How could I have been the one to betray him? I did not join Abacha’s government until 1994… Tell Bola Tinubu to get his historical facts correct. I have nothing to do with that.”
Not done yet, Ikimi retorted, “And when you come and talk about Abacha, Abacha, Abacha, who did not work for Abacha? Who was that woman who was carrying market women to demonstrate on behalf of Abacha? You people should go and find out who it was. So, let us be very careful how we are pointing fingers at other people. Now, I created the PTF. I was adviser; I created PTF. Somebody ran PTF. Who ran the PTF? When the time comes, find out where he is now. Today, they are building a lot of projects in Lagos. Which is the contractor doing them – the contractor who used to work with Abacha. So, let us be very careful how we talk about Abacha, Abacha, Abacha.”
On his next political destination, Ikimi did not, however, leave anyone in doubt where he is pitching his tent – the PDP. Noting that there are two dominant parties in Nigeria – the APC and PDP – he said “the time has come for people now to decide where they will belong; whether they will be with the APC, or the PDP. For me, I think the time has come for me to gravitate to one of those parties where I have my friends.”
In his resignation letter, the former diplomat had stated that he needed to be, at this time of his life, “where I have friends who share a common vision with me and where my freedom, respect, honour and dignity would be guaranteed.” But speaking last Tuesday, Ikimi said, “As at now, the leadership at the highest level of the PDP visited me in Abuja and invited me to come back to PDP where I was before. I considered their invitation very, very favourably. I have now come back home for my final consultations and this final consultation will not be for too long. I will meet with my people here in Edo State and in my local government and a decision will emerge.”
For the benefit of those who wondered how he and Anenih could work together, he said, “Let me make this clear. There had been so much talk between your leader, Chief Anenih, and myself. Chief Anenih is several years older than me. I am an elder now; he is even a super-elder. I respect him because he’s super-elder. I have had long discussions with him and I am satisfied that I should make peace with my own kinsman and brother. So, all that talk should be put to rest. I have no time for that anymore… Therefore, let me assure you that what is in the future for Edo State is bigger than what we are seeing so far. We want to take our state to the mainstream; we want to take our region, South-south, into the mainstream and henceforth, I will work with all these leaders, some of whom together we were in the AC, ACN and APC. If we could come here in 2006 as nothing and uprooted a sitting government, I believe that now, we have learnt the ropes; we know how to work and the future will be very bright.”
Giving credit to the federal government for all it has done at Igueben, he said, “They were not done through the powers of state government. I am now back with the federal government.” The question on the minds of political observers is what does this mending of political fence between Anenih and Ikimi portend for the politics of Edo State? Before now, it was generally believed that there was no way the duo could come together given the bitter rivalry between them. The PDP has always defeated Ikimi in his local government, even in his ward, thus portraying him as a political leader without following and electoral value.
Isaiah Osifo, former chief of staff and doctor of political science from the University of Hull, United Kingdom, however posited that “a man who has attained that height, former national chairman of a political party that had about 15 governors in this country; who was nominated as the national vice chairman of APC, and who has participated actively in national politics, cannot be described as a political leader without follow[ing] because politics is about so many things, not just material or physical presence of people. There is also the psychological effect of his level of participation. He’s a national political figure. The role he has played in the formation of the AC, the ACN, and the creation and certification of the APC, is significant. So, for somebody of that calibre to withdraw his membership of a party, there will certainly be some element of disintegration within the APC in Nigeria. There must be a vacuum, a big hole, left behind in the party. So, it is not correct that he has no follow[ing].”
On the reconciliation with Anenih, Osifo noted that a political conflict between them was inevitable since they belonged to different political parties, though they are from the same senatorial district. At the time Ikimi was chairman of NRC, Anenih was the chairman of the defunct SDP. According to him, “Now coming to the same political party, they just have to sit down and talk so that PDP as a national party should be supported to be successful at home and at the national level. It is a boost for the party in Edo State as well as at the centre.” And with APC unwilling to leave anything to chance, it promises to be a fierce battle for Edo State in 2015 and beyond.
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