On Wednesday evening, I heard ex-governor of Enugu State Chimaroke Nnamani toss a question at Saminu Turaki, his erstwhile colleague from Jigawa, “Why did Okonkwo kill Ikemefuna? Let me see if you can still remember.”
Both men and other surviving members of the “Class of 1999” governors were at the Council Chambers of the Aso Rock Villa at the behest of President Bola Tinubu.
A ghost from their past, this room had hosted them two decades prior with then-president Olusegun Obasanjo. Yet, Wednesday’s meeting marked a heartening reunion with one of their own, the second among them to become president since the late Umaru Yar’Adua.
It was like a homecoming, with everyone slipping into familiar roles, scattering into their old cliques, bantering and reminiscing their time as governors. Some, like Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye, adopted a more pensive pose. Eyes glued to a piece of paper, scribbling down what seemed like points they would like to discuss with the President.
With my jotter and pen in hand, I weaved through the room, counting heads for my report. As I retraced my steps, I could still hear Nnamani prodding Turaki with the same question from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
Chuckling, he said, “Why did Okonkwo kill the boy? I have something for you if you get it right.” Despite Nnamani’s reward, memory wasn’t serving Turaki well that day.
Turaki, a figure from my boyhood, was here. Sighting him transported me back to my secondary school days in Jigawa State. His anticipated visit to our school one Monday threw the college into sanitation mode. Throughout the preceding weekend, we swept hectares of land with our brooms, trimmed the grass and painted stones green and white. Our form masters even handed us pencil flags to greet his convoy. “You must barb your hair and look neat,” they cautioned us as though the governor had eagle eyes to notice.
On the D-day, however, the principal announced, “Ze gwamna is no longer bisiting us. You can all go to your classes.” What would’ve been a lesson-free day turned into a nightmare because I hadn’t done my math assignment from the previous Friday. Thanks to Turaki, I got 15 strokes of the cane that day.
If he struggled to recall why Okonkwo killed Ikemefuna, why bother asking about his cancelled visit two decades ago? So, the past took a backseat while I greeted him warmly.
At 04.25pm, the President strode into the chamber with excitement in his steps. His eyes lit up at the sight of Chief Lucky Igbinedion, a former Edo State Governor. “Lucky! Lucky! It’s so good to see you,” he said with warm familiarity. Just as he sank into his seat for a nostalgic reunion, the call for the national anthem got him on his feet again. You could see an expression, “Must we do this?” crossing his face.
The private nature of the meeting left so much unknown. But the sheer excitement captured in the photo ops told a deeper story about what happened inside.
Since his inauguration six weeks ago, Tinubu’s guest list has been growing, riddled with unexpected names. Faces long absent from the Villa—opposition party members and retired politicians—have resurfaced, underscoring a shift in political dynamics.
Case in point. A week before the ’99 reunion, Tinubu hosted PDP heavyweight Ayim Pius Ayim, and former Publicity Secretary Olisah Metuh, who had distanced himself from partisan politics eight months prior. Metuh said he wanted to contribute to nation-building “without the hindrance of partisanship.”
Ayim is four months into his suspension from the PDP over alleged anti-party activities. Former Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, who also met Tinubu a week earlier, was suspended from the PDP for the same reason.
Members of the G-5: former Governors Nyesome Wike (Rivers), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu) and Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) and Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo—all aggrieved members of the PDP—also met the President last month.
Amid suspended PDP members and disgruntled governors, Tinubu has been courting those who feel alienated within their political families. He also met the New Nigerian Peoples Party presidential candidate, Rabiu Kwankwaso, who displayed his strongmanship in Kano at the February election by beating the APC black and blue. Not to forget Taiwo Oyedele, the fierce critic-turned Tinubu’s tax reform chief. Talk about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer!
Through decades of politicking, the President has grown a knack for playing the charming host to the outcasts, troublemakers and rebels within the opposition. His strategy appears clear: pick off the low-hanging fruits and widen the base.
Call it savvy politics or a dinner party, but there’s something to learn about stirring the pot while the opposition is busy having a food fight. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Why watch them slowly tear each other apart when you can hand them sharper knives to speed it up?”