When I read that Bola Tinubu went to Borno State to commission some projects built by Governor Kashim Shettima, an alarm went off in my head.

Few weeks prior, at the inauguration of the new governor of Ondo State, Mr. Tinubu told SaharaTV that he might run for president. I thought it was a joke.

Then few days after, in another interview, he clarified that should he decide to run, he would definitely not run against President Buhari.

That last statement, of course, is immaterial. President Buhari will not be running for president again.

Looking at what happened in Nigeria in the last two years, people often get confused as to where to start searching for “the understanding of our confusion.”

After you acknowledge that President Jonathan failed woefully, there is confusion as to how we ended up with President Buhari. People assume that Nigerians woke up one day and decided to vote for Buhari. But that was not what happened.

What happened was that Bola Tinubu, working hand-in-hand with like-minded people in his political team decided that the only way they could wrestle power away from President Jonathan and the PDP was to use retired general Muhammadu Buhari.

They had Kwankwaso. They had Amaechi. They had Atiku. They had Fashola. They even had Tinubu himself. But they went for Buhari.

Buhari delivered the win but not the victory. Over time, as the cabal around Buhari squeezed out Tinubu and froze Tinubu's man, Osinbajo, in Buhari's government, Tinubu started planning his next move.

Before Buhari's recent illness, Tinubu was flirting with the idea of joining hands with Atiku to float a new party that would be an alternative to the APC. Depending on the calculations and permutations of 2019, Atiku and Tinubu would use the new party as a vehicle to attain their individual goals of becoming president.

The plan was that if Buhari were to run in 2019, Atiku, with the support of Tinubu would challenge Buhari. In such an arrangement, Tinubu could himself be Atiku's Vice Presidential choice or offer someone, the same way he offered, Osinbajo to Buhari.

What that would mean is that whoever wins, Tinubu would be well positioned in 2019 so that come 2023, the coast will be clear for him to run for president against whichever candidate emerges from the East.

Then came January 19 and Buhari left the country. And according to Junaid Muhammed, it effectively ended Buhari's presidency. His recent return changes nothing substantively in the conventional calculations.

The new reality required a re-scrambling of things. Whether Buhari's presidency ends on May 29, 2017 or May 29, 2019, it is ending. It greatly changes the 2019 permutations.

As expected from the unwritten rules of Nigerian politics, come 2019, the North will lay claim to the presidency as a quest to complete two terms. Which means that whether Buhari-Osinbajo perform a miracle or not, come 2019, APC will like to field a northern candidate.

If Osinbajo has the stomach, which I don't think he has, he can run a defiant campaign based on the record he has with Buhari. That depends on how much real change he could make in the next two years. Which on its own depends on whether he becomes a substantive president, an acting president or if he returns to being a quiet vice president.

If along the path to 2019, Osinbajo gets to become the substantive president, he will pick a vice president that the north approves. It will be a Vice President that can run for president in 2019. The two most likely candidates are Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna state and former EFCC’s chairman, Nuhu Ribadu.

If it comes to that, Bola Tinubu will covertly support Nuhu Ribadu. Ribadu is Tinubu’s good boy and an ally. An open support of Ribadu by Tinubu will mean death to the candidacy. Meanwhile, Osinbajo will not want el Rufai as his vice for obvious reasons.

Whatever fate befalls Osinbajo, Atiku will still make another effort to be president. In the absence of Buhari as a candidate, most likely 2019 will shape up as a battle between El-Rufai or Ribadu type versus Atiku.

By posing as a potential presidential candidate in the absence of Buhari, Tinubu performed a unique trick. He reduced the pressure on Osinbajo from those who felt threatened by his performance. Those who were afraid that he was positioning himself to run in 2019 and usurp the power sharing formula again(Jonathan’s style), suddenly had a new threat to contend with. In some quarters, Tinubu’s move signaled that Osinbajo would not jump into the fray.

There is no chance that Osinbajo will run for president against Tinubu – either in one party or as candidates from two different parties. In a very unlikely case of that happening, Tinubu’s recent move is essentially saying to Osinbajo, “don’t even think about it.”

While we cannot foreclose anything in politics, inside Bola Tinubu’s head, in the likely event that Buhari is not in a position to run in 2019, he is positioning himself to inherit the spoils of the political left.

Those Nigerians mad that President Jonathan was kicked out in 2015 are still busy trying to vindicate him and validate their opposition to Buhari’s presidency.  They are not doing anything to position their ideal candidate for 2019. Likewise, those who were fanatical about the candidacy of Buhari are still justifying his candidacy and deflecting his inadequacies. They also are not doing anything to position their ideal candidate for 2019.

With such a glaring vacuum, enters Bola Tinubu. Again.

With the Nigerian political class littered with a bunch of damaged political actors, there is a very good chance that the 2019 election will throw unto the arena dozens of such as the nation’s options. Whatever flaws, whatever dented legacies, whatever baggage they may carry, Nigerians may again be asked to choose one amongst them.

And inside Bola Tinubu’s head, he must be thinking that before you say Asiwaju, he will exchange his private jet for one of those on Aso Rock’s presidential fleets.

Now, that should make an alarm bell to go off in your head.

Rudolf Okonkwo

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