The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has declared the APC’s candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu, as the winner of the 26th November 2016 gubernatorial election in Ondo State. Akeredolu won the polls – with a total of 244, 842 votes from 18 local government areas – handily defeating Eyitayo Jegede of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and Olusola Oke of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) (Sahara Reporters, 27.11.2016). Akeredolu, a lawyer by profession, will take over from outgoing Governor Olusegun Mimiko who has served two terms as governor of Ondo State.

Akeredolu polled extremely well in 14 of the 18 local government areas of the State, including the Akure South local government from which the PDP candidate Jegede hails (Punch Newspapers, 27.11.2016). In the days leading up to the vote, Governor Mimiko quickly became aware that his candidate, Eyitayo Jegede, was headed for defeat and so he cut a last-minute deal with the APC. According to Sahara Reporters (26.11.2016), it was agreed that the incoming administration would not probe the outgoing governor's management of the State over the last eight years.

Interestingly, the election also sparked a fierce internal war between two factions of the APC, one loyal to President Buhari, the other to APC National Chairman and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu. The APC Chairman’s preferred candidate, Segun Abrahams, lost to Akeredolu (Buhari’s candidate) in the party primaries, which was viewed as a sign by many that the political godfather’s status and influence with the party was waning. It is believed that Tinubu is behind the revival of the AD party and was secretly supporting Oke's candidacy as a testing ground for his latest political venture. Oke had recently defected from the APC to run on the newly revived platform. Tinubu and his allies – including his national newspaper, The Nation – ran an ill-disguised campaign against Akeredolu in Ondo; yet, it ultimately proved to be ineffective.

Following Akeredolu’s successful election bid, Buhari now has two important allies in the south-west: the other is Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun, who was a close confidant of Buhari when he led the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP). Notably, it is also believed that Amosun is one of the figures who pushed for Kemi Adeosun (from Ogun) to be appointed Finance Minster in Buhari’s 11th November 2015 cabinet. Buhari’s political control has also been boosted by the 12th November election of Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki, as well as Yahaya Bello’s appointment as Kogi State Governor following the 21 November 2015 election. Both politicians obtained their positions without the aid of Tinubu and his support.

It is predicted that Tinubu's opponents in the APC will seek to capitalise on their victory in Ondo as a platform from which to launch a power grab in the neighbouring States of Ekiti and Osun. Consequently, the mid-2018 gubernatorial elections will be a serious test of Tinubu's power in the party, which will be illustrated by his ability to influence the choice of candidates. Those opposed to Tinubu include: National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun; Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu; Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN); Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai; and, Governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun.

In the wake of the election, Tinubu congratulated Akeredolu on his victory, attributing the APC’s latest electoral success to President Buhari's leadership. He also called on all party members frustrated by the governorship primaries to reconcile their differences. Notably, the former governor and his key supporters were conspicuously absent during Akeredolu’s campaign rallies, fuelling allegations of a potential party split (Premium Times, 27.11.2016).

Widely viewed as the most significant political force in Nigeria’s southwest – and one of the nation’s most powerful state and federal level godfathers – Tinubu has witnessed an erosion of his influence over the past year. His preferred ministerial candidates were overlooked by President Buhari in the selection of his cabinet and, combined with this latest political affront (i.e. the failure of his candidate to win the APC primaries), highlights an increasing divide within the ruling party. Shadow Governance predicted in November 2015 that Buhari may seek to stem Tinubu’s influence over federal-level politics, and it appears that a year later this is exactly what is happening.

Tinubu effectively has two options: reconcile with the APC and accept that he has been out-manoeuvred, or, fight back against the full force of the federal government. As the APC’s internal divide continues to grow, it is possible that Tinubu might split from the party and run for president – either personally, or via a proxy. Yet, doing so may leave him open to a targeted investigation into his property empire by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Due to the considerable political and economic resources he has amassed throughout his 24-year political career, Tinubu is a significant political threat and is believed to have been pivotal in the APC’s ousting of the PDP from the Presidency in March 2015. Consequently, having Tinubu as an enemy ahead of the 2019 elections would be a dangerous scenario, particularly for Buhari who’s approval rating has taken a steep dive in recent months.

A wily and seasoned politician, Tinubu has ostensibly opted for the less confrontational approach – at least for now. By congratulating Akeredolu on his victory, it appears that the godfather is seeking to assuage tensions and may be biding his time until a more suitable moment to retaliate presents itself.