There were strong indications yesterday that the All Progressives Congress (APC) could shortlist nine aspirants to narrow the large field of contestants for the party’s flag in next year’s presidential election.
According to persons who should know, the nine aspirants considered front runners are the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Senate president, Ahmed Lawan; former Transportation minister, Rotimi Amaechi; Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, and Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi.
Others include Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello; former minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, and Senator Ibikunle Amosun.
Although none of the 23 candidates screened by the seven-member committee has been disqualified so far, giving each aspirant a chance for a shot at the top job, insiders told our correspondent that the committee’s recommendation would assist President Muhammadu Buhari to narrow the field to nine ahead of the primary on June 6.
One of our sources said, “The committee does not have what you may call clear terms of reference. But there is a broad set of rules for the assignment. Keep in mind that the President had indicated that he would like to work with the Progressive governors to choose his successor. The committee’s recommendation would help him have a clearer view, and possibly, narrow the field as well.”
The APC presidential screening committee is expected to submit its report 24 hours after the end of screening, which could mean as early as today, Thursday.
President Buhari is, however, unlikely to personally receive the report until his return from his official visit to Spain on Friday.
On the criteria for evaluation, our correspondent gathered from sources close to the presidency and the committee that apart from the basic constitutional requirements, other factors also came into play.
“Aspirants’ understanding and articulation of the problems facing the country; the extent of the leg work they have done travelling across the country and meeting people; any previous baggage they have; their positions on matters of national unity; and their contribution to the party, were also considered. The nine names tick the boxes,” our sources said.
All six geopolitical zones have aspirants, but the North West where Buhari is from is the least favoured, even as the committee is also expected to reflect zonal diversity in its recommendations.
Of the 23 presidential aspirants screened seven are from the South West; five from the South South; seven from the South East; one from the North East; two from the North West; and one from the North Central.
A common question for all aspirants at the screening was their disposition toward a “consensus candidate,” a subject Buhari hinted at on Tuesday.
Although virtually all the aspirants were said to have agreed to consider stepping down if they were given “convincing reasons” to do so, only Tinubu stood his ground, insisting that the only condition under which he would contemplate “consensus” is if he was the beneficiary.
It was gathered that as late as 10pm on Tuesday night when the committee was rounding up its work, the elephant in the room was former President Goodluck Jonathan.
“The former president was still expecting some form of guarantee, which obviously never came,” a source said.
Another source close to the committee however added that after the May 28 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primary that produced former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate, APC’s dilemma has been further compounded.
The source who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “On top of everything now, the real question we’re asking ourselves is: who can defeat Atiku? Who can win?”
Meanwhile there were indications yesterday that the presidency could be weighing the option of presenting Lawan as Buhari’s preferred candidate, a move that all Southern aspirants at the APC screening were said to have warned could lead to the collapse of the party.
“This question about what to do with Atiku is driving the party into desperation. But whatever happens it will be nothing short of a calamity if given the current divided state of the country APC goes forward with a Northern candidate. It may be politically expedient, but it is infinitely dangerous,” a presidency source said.
Earlier last week, presidency sources had hinted at the possibility of Ogbonnya Onu emerging as a dark horse to assuage the agitation in the South East and possibly repair Buhari’s damaged legacy of nepotism.
APC Stakeholders Kick Against Consensus Option
Meanwhile, stiff opposition has mounted against the consensus option following the hint by President Buhari of plans to choose his preferred successor.
Buhari had on Tuesday pleaded with APC governors to also give him the honour of allowing him pick his successor like they did in determining who succeeds them in their respective states.
The president was said to have told the governors that just as it happened in the days leading to the APC national that saw to the emergence of Abdullahi Adamu as the national chairman in March, he would once again like to provide leadership ahead of next Monday’s presidential primary.
But LEADERSHIP gathered yesterday that since the president made that pronouncement at a meeting with the APC governors, there had been discordant tunes among stakeholders of the party.
Some major stakeholders and big wigs of the governing APC are kicking against the plan by the president to pick a preferred candidate to succeed him in 2023.
To this effect, national vice chairman (North West) of the APC, Salihu Lukman yesterday warned Buhari against single-handedly picking his successor, saying it would be democratically risky and very costly to allow the president do so.
The former director general of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) urged the president to be conscious of his legacies and avoid falling into the trap of unilaterally picking his successor.
In an open letter to the president, the member of the APC national working committee (NWC) urged President Buhari not to duplicate what he termed the anti-democratic credentials of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who foisted his successor, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and even went to the extent of rigging the general election to ensure his emergence as president.
In the letter titled, “Succession and 2023 APC Presidential Candidate: Open Letter to President Muhammadu Buhari,” Lukman said ordinarily, it wouldn’t have been a problem since both party members and leaders will always trust the president’s judgment.
He however said, “The big worry is whether loyal party leaders and members should just reduce themselves to being ordinary observers when very sensitive issues with very high potential to diminish and damage Your Excellency’s revered status in the country is being considered”.
He added that it was important to caution APC to keep faith with basic tenets of democracy as its major campaign message to Nigerians for the 2023 elections.
Similarly, some stakeholders of the APC under the auspices of APC National Stakeholders also called on President Buhari and the leadership of the party to allow a level playing field for all the presidential aspirants of the party.
The stakeholders warned that anything short of free and fair presidential primaries would spell doom for the party at the 2023 general election.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday in Abuja, convener of the group, Engr Aliyu Audu, said the best legacy Buhari can leave for the APC and Nigeria as a country is the legacy of a deeply entrenched democratic process where Nigerians can freely choose who represents them at whatever level in free, fair, credible and transparent processes.
The group wondered why President Buhari who emerged flagbearer of the party through a free, fair and credibly contested democratic process in 2015 and also won re-election through the same process in 2019, is being tempted to breach the tenets of democracy.
Buhari Tips Osinbajo As Party’s Flag Bearer
Meanwhile, there were indications yesterday that President Buhari may have settled for his deputy, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as his preferred choice to succeed him in 2023.
It was gathered that before leaving the country for Spain, the president tipped Osinbajo as his successor who will clinch the APC presidential ticket at the presidential primary billed to hold from Monday June 6 to Tuesday June 7, 2022.
President Buhari had on Tuesday appealed to APC governors at a meeting in Aso Rock to allow him choose his successor the way they picked theirs in their respective states, saying they should focus on the changing dynamics of the nation’s environment, the expectations of its citizens and the global community.
A dependable presidency source told some journalists in Abuja last night that a team made up of influential South West leaders has been constituted to consult with former APC national leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, with a view to convincing the former Lagos State governor to accept Prof Osinbajo as a consensus candidate.
The presidential aide said that the lobbying group would in the next couple of days meet former national chairman of the APC, Chief Bisi Akande, to help appeal to Tinubu to support Osinbajo.
The source who did not want his name in print said, “In what is poised to go down in the history as the defining moment of the APC’s presidential primaries slated for next week, President Muhammadu Buhari’s speech, when he met with the progressive governors on Tuesday provided the clearest signal that his preferred choice, as successor, is his Vice, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. He also told some of his close aides of his choice before departing for Spain.”
The top presidency official hinted that at the meeting with APC governors on Tuesday, Buhari’s careful and strategic highlight of the point of choosing a successor capable of driving his visions was a deliberate and consequential announcement of his preference for a candidate with the understanding and who will continue with his programmes and policies.
This, the source noted, stems from the president’s vision of a country designed to engender economic progress.
He continued: “This will not at the expense of citizens at the lowest rung who often bear the brunt of the crony capitalism responsible for Nigeria’s inequalities and disparities.
“All things considered, only one aspirant has campaigned on a similar theme and is best primed to deliver on President Buhari’s clear desire for continuity, and he is Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.”
Explaining further why Buhari considers Osinbajo as a worthy successor, the presidency source further said, “Unlike other aspirants, Osinbajo has been resolute in the defence of the administration’s policies and projects, while articulating the President’s vision, having played a lead role in its execution with the management of key initiatives central to the administration’s strategic imperatives.
“By urging careful attention to changing dynamics and the expectations of citizens and the global community, President Buhari was inexorably calling for the selection of a baggage-free candidate, capable of engaging and successfully navigating the country’s changing dynamics.
“Who has impressed the international community as Prof. Osinbajo has done on numerous occasions? He has represented the President and the country.”
The source further said in Buhari’s estimation, Osinbajo has “received admiration and respect for his capacity, character, eloquence, rigour, and commitment to service.
“The emergence of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as PDP’s presidential candidate has all but affirmed the party’s neglect of the widespread call for an equitable shift of power to the Southern region, and has provided its chief opponent, the APC, with a tremendous opportunity to contrast the party on the important front and rally to a convincing win at the polls, when INEC declares the contest open.
“To take full advantage of this opportunity, President Muhammadu Buhari is convinced that Prof Yemi Osinbajo whose stewardship has caused excitement in the North and South, possesses the right mix of competence and social profile, including ethnicity and religion, to satisfy Nigeria’s sensitive power sharing arrangement and help the APC, unlike the PDP which shed its image as a party committed only to power entrenchment in the North’’, he added.
S’East Leaders Back Lawan For Presidential Ticket
Chieftains and stakeholders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the South East geopolitical zone have implored President Muhammadu Buhari and other party leaders to endorse Senate President Ahmad Lawan as presidential candidate of the governing party.
The Igbo APC leaders under the auspices of APC South-east Front noted that it would be fair and just for the APC to settle for Lawan as its presidential flag bearer because he also hails from the same geopolitical zone of the country like the presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar.
The party leaders who made demand at an emergency meeting in Abuja are from the five states of the South East zone.
In a communiqué issued at the end of their meeting and signed by Chief Sam Nkire and twenty four other APC chieftains, the South East leaders said the APC is left with no option than to take a cue from the opposition PDP, which picked its flag bearer, Atiku, from the North East geopolitical zone.
The communiqué reads in part: “After an extensive analysis of the political developments in Nigeria today with a view to the outcome of the PDP Primary election a few days ago, the mood of the nation and of course the expectation of our people that power would shift to the Southern part of Nigeria in 2023 where even our South West and South South brothers would have had the conscience to cede the contest of the Nigeria’s President to the South East considering the enormous sacrifices the South East had made in support of both zones who took a shot at the presidency at different times since 1999.
“It has become apparent that PDP has once again laid ambush for our party the All Progressives Congress (APC) by choosing its candidate from the North East instead of the South East. We believe that this is compelling and still within the confines of equity and fairness considering the fact that neither North East nor South Eastern parts of the country had produced a president in the history of our country.
“With this power convolution in mind, we the people of the Southeast do hereby call on our amiable President Muhamadu Buhari (GCFR), our great party the All Progressives Congress (APC), all delegates to the presidential primary election to consider and choose Senator Dr. Ahmed Lawan as the candidate of our party for the 2023 Presidential Election, being that the PDP has chosen it’s Presidential candidate from the North East Zone.
“It is our belief that our great party, the APC, will consider the sacrifices which the South East has continued to make towards the development of our Party and the nation in the future. While we continue to consult and mobilize support, we urge our southeast brothers to demonstrate confidence as this is the quickest route to the primary office of the nation.”
Other signatories to the communiqué are Comrade A.C Ude, Barr. Bath Ugwuoke, Barr. K.C Ugboaja, Lolo Queen N Nwankwo, Chief Nduka Onyekwere A, Hon Tony Alum, Barr. Chijioke Ikpo, Hon Victor Nwankwo, Hon Timothy Chukwuma and Chief Chris Chukwuka, among others.