As President Muhammadu Buhari departed Abuja for Abidjan Tuesday, ahead of the 5th European Union-African Union (EU-AU) Summit, accompanied by the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in what political observers described as a new rapprochement as the 2019 general election conversations pick up.
Also on the entourage of the president are two state governors — Alhaji Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar (Bauchi) and Mr. Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom).
This came as some eminent Nigerians Tuesday floated a new political movement, which they said would serve as an intervention force for “regime/constitutional change’’ to rescue the citizenry from those they described as “political predators.’’
Buhari is expected to participate in working sessions and meet with African heads of state and their European Union (EU) counterparts during the summit.
The president’s decision to get Tinubu to accompany him on the trip, an insider told THISDAY, “fits into the thinking of the president’s political strategists on the urgent need to pacify all aggrieved leaders of the ruling party’’, especially with the recent exit of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar from the APC.
At the recent National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, APC leaders protested to the president, saying they had been marginalised in the APC-led federal government, especially in federal government’s appointments.
Buhari was said to have promised to make more appointments to pacify the party leaders and reach out to others who may have felt offended by his action or inaction.
Until recently, Tinubu was an unfamiliar visitor in the State House as he was not even part of the party delegation led to the Presidential Villa by APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, to welcome the president back to the country from his 50-day medical vacation in August.
But in the last one month, Tinubu had visited the Villa thrice, a development which had not been the trend since 2015.
Until last month, Tinubu’s only notable visit to the Villa occurred shortly after the advent of Buhari as Nigeria’s president along with former interim National Chairman of APC, Chief Bisi Akande, ahead of the composition of his cabinet in 2015.
However, ahead of the national caucus meeting of APC last month, Buhari had invited Tinubu to the Villa for a closed-door meeting which lasted for about an hour.
After the meeting, he told journalists that insinuation of a rift between him and Buhari was fake news. He later returned to the Villa later that night for the caucus meeting.
Again, Tinubu was in the Villa on November 16, when he served as the keynote speaker at the launch of a book on the mid-term scorecard of the Buhari administration authored by his media advisers, Mr. Femi Adesina, Mr. Garba Shehu and Mr. Laolu Akande.
Much earlier, the former governor who was deeply traumatised by the move by his party hierarchy to allegedly short-change his candidate, Chief Segun Abraham, at the 2016 governorship primary election in Ondo State, had more or less led a solitary life since 2015.
The volume of the trauma resulted in his call for the resignation of Oyegun as the party’s national chairman at the time for allegedly deploying the party’s strong backing for the emergence of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu as the party’s candidate and his eventual election.
Also on the president’s entourage were the Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama, the Minister of Youths and Sports Solomon Dalung and his Interior Minister counterpart, Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau (rtd.); National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Munguno (rtd); and Senior Special Assistant on Diaspora Affairs, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa.
The president, who was said to have arrived Abidjan at 6.16 pm Nigerian time Tuesday, was received at the Felix Houphet Boigny Airport by the Ivoirian President, Mr. Alassane Ouattara.
According to information, one Miss Emmanuella Ejim presented a bouquet of flowers to the president as an expression that he was welcome to Abidjan.
The presentation was followed by a cultural display by Ivorian drummers after which he proceeded to the Nigerian Ambassador’s residence.
He also met with the Nigerian community in Abidjan later Tuesday.
Buhari is scheduled to participate in working sessions during the summit on the theme: “Investing in the Youth for a Sustainable Development.”
On the margins of the summit, he is billed to meet with a number of African heads of state and their European Union (EU) counterparts.
Buhari is also prepared to maximise the opportunity of the summit to express Nigeria’s preparedness to work with African and European countries to address the myriad of challenges confronting both continents including peace and security.
The president is also scheduled to be hosted to an official luncheon by the government of Cote d’Ivoire along with other visiting heads of state and government and other delegations.
It was learnt Tuesday night that 83 heads of state representing 54 African countries and 28 European countries are gracing the summit.
Tuesday in Abuja some eminent Nigerians vowed to mobilise Nigerians for “regime/constitutional change’’ to rescue the citizenry from those they described as political predators.
Those behind the movement include former a governor of Cross River State, Mr Donald Duke; renowned political economist, Prof. Pat Utomi; former President, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN); and Dr. Abdul-Jhalil Tafawa Balewa, son of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s first Prime Minister.
Others are a former Vice-President, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, Mr. Isa Aremu; university don, Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim; Alhaji Rabiu Ishaku Rabiu and Dr. Elena Okengwu among others.
Addressing a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday after its meeting, the group expressed disenchantment with the trend of political activities and poor level of governance in the country.
The group said it had a pan-Nigerian mission and vowed to mobilise Nigerians towards effecting the real change desired by the citizenry.
The former President of NBA, Agbakoba, who delivered what could be described as the keynote address, said the group was concerned about the trend politics and governance had taken in Nigeria. He observed that over the last 18 years of democracy, the political parties had become somewhat alienated from the people.
The lawyer and human rights activist also expressed dismay at the series of scandals trending in the polity, saying these were indications that the nation was headed in the wrong direction unless a deliberate move was made to arrest the situation.
According to him, “We are concerned that they have taken Nigerians for granted; we are concerned that as we move closer to 2019, all the monies that should have been used to build up Nigeria will go down the drain in the name of politics.
“We are concerned about the so many scandals trailing this government such as the current Mainagate and the fight between the Department of State Security (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). We are concerned that if we keep sitting back in our homes and offices nothing will change and 2019 will be Armageddon.”
Agbakoba added that the group had, therefore, resolved to assemble a group of patriotic Nigerians to work towards the change the people had always desired over the years.
He said: “It is now clear that the 2014 confab was meant to serve President Jonathan’s political interest. The difference between what we are doing today and what IBB did in his confab, what Abacha did in his confab what OBJ did in his own confab and what President Jonathan did in his own confab is that they had their own political agenda.
“So, if we start by saying that Nigeria is a failing or failed state we have about 180 million people who do not take part in political discourse. If we can get this political movement and get these people to make a political choice that will be the difference.”
Okuniyi, who also addressed the media, said the group had been designed to attract leaders of thought and the conscience of the nation. He announced the setting up of a steering committee headed by Agbakoba to find immediate solutions to the problems of the country.
Other members of the committee include: Dr. Balewa, Prof. Utomi, Duke, Rabiu, Aremu, Hajiya Ramatu Musa, Senator Abubakar Gada and Khariat Animasaun among others.
Okuniyi, the convener of the meeting, explained that “the meeting deliberated on the Nigerian problem which they have come to realise is more political than economic. We decided it is better for us to find a collective solution to the problem and that we should initiate a national political movement-We are to merge with all other (similar) formations that will find this solution.”
Omololu Ogunmade and Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja