By Tunde Joshua
Conspiracy theories and talk of dark horses are assailing the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of its primary poll to pick its presidential candidate for next year’s general elections.
Before the commencement of selling of nomination forms, there was an almost clear indication that the presidential candidate of the APC will emerge from the southern part of the country.
The outcome of the party’s national convention in which Senator Abdullahi Adamu, a northerner, emerged as National Chairman gave credence to the political calculation that APC’s presidential standard-bearer must definitely come from the South.
In line with this thinking, aspiring gladiators from the South started signifying intentions either by outright declaration or being projected by supporters. Among the notable early signifiers were; Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Dave Umahi, Rochas Okorocha, Yahaya Bello and Ben Ayade while names of personalities like Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Chris Ngige and Emeka Nwakuiba, started flying as possible contenders. Some of them pretended by initially denying their interest in the race but were later unveiled by groups or friends buying the N100 million nomination forms for them in what is now a norm in the polity.
As of the time of filing this story, about 27 voluntary or drafted aspirants are in the race for the APC presidential ticket, although some have reportedly withdrawn. Interestingly, they do not all come from different zones of the south alone as expected.
Aspirants from the northern part of the country are now in the race. As questions are being raised as to whether the APC has lost its conscience over rotational politics, its national chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, sealed the hope of agitators for a southern presidential candidate for the 2023 poll when he declared that the party has not zoned its presidency.
Adamu’s statement, no doubt, opened the floodgate of declarations and surprisingly, increase in number of northern aspirants interested in the race. Some party stakeholders in defence of the new development advanced reasons for the gate being be thrown open, saying it gives APC the latitude of selecting the best among those in the race.
This, however, raised a question as to whether APC leaders are tinkering with possibility of finding a consensus candidate ahead of its May 30th presidential primary election. Should the party be considering consensus arrangement?
This question has thrown up other concerns about who decides the ‘anointed candidate’ and by what consideration? P r e s i d e n t Muhammadu Buhari had at any given opportunity assured the party of his intention to ensure that APC has a transparent primary.
He said he has no preference among the aspirants while always urging them to up their game of consulting delegates that will vote at the primary. But with a few latest entrants into the race, suspicion is ripe that there may be a ‘dark horse’ capable of disrupting the old order.
The party is known for springing such surprises. Some have even spoken of “dark horses” being considered. The APC disappointed bookmakers with the emergence of Adamu as party consensus chairmanship candidate because of the mileage already achieved by former governor of Nasarawa State, Tanko Al- Makura and Senator Sani Musa among other frontline contenders for the position.
Buhari was alleged to have had his way. Should the party be looking towards Buhari’s direction for the choice of APC candidate, then there are some aspirants being seen as ‘anointed candidates.’
Names associated with Buhari and seen as dark horses include Ogbonnaya Onu, Ibikunle Amosun, Timipre Sylva, Godwin Emefiele, Ahmad Lawan, Goodluck Jonathan and Babagana Zulum who is yet to obtain nomination form. Both Emeka Nwajuiba and Onu are said to be old associates of Buhari in the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) but the duo to some extent does not have wide acceptability in the southeast zone which makes it difficult to canvass Igbo presidency through them.
Amosun is believed to be closer to Buhari than most top notchers of APC in the South West. It was believed that he might be a better option to Tinubu should the presidential pendulum swing to the South West. A dark horse from the South South is Sylva who is believed to be the president’s henchman from the geopolitical zone.
However, Buhari is said to be more comfortable with Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi who contributed immensely to the president’s campaign both in 2015 and 2019 as director-general. Two personalities from the North East that cannot be ignored are Senate President Lawan and Borno Governor Zulum.
It is obvious that APC is in search of a credible candidate whose acceptance cuts across and whose clout can withstand the popularity of a northern PDP candidate, possibly Atiku Abubakar. A party source said there is consideration of a North/South joint ticket with Zulum as the arrowhead and possibly Amaechi or Sylva or Nwajuiba or Onu as running mate.
The theory on the consideration of a northern anointed candidate may be in tune with the idea of elder statesman, Tanko Yakasai, who claimed that some cabals in the presidency with negative missions have been sponsoring some aspirants from the southern part of the country to declare for the 2023 presidency.
He added that some of the aspirants who have purchased the presidential form were sponsored by the cabals. Yakasai said “the north has always posited jokingly that they are “Cows” but the south is the “Grass” they eat”. Is the assertion not true? Is the south not behaving like grass now? When they were to wrest power from Jonathan, the north was so united that Jonathan didn’t survive their unity.
Look at the south now, they want to wrest power from the north and their disunity is second to none. It’s a pity!.” Lawan is believed to have built bridges of political relationships across geopolitical zones in his 23 years stay in the National Assembly; hence his being drafted into the race.
Many senators and members of the House of Representatives have enlisted their support for Lawan’s presidency, should the party eventually pick him.
The amendment by the Senate to section 84 (8) of the Electoral Act 2020 last week, it was learnt, might be part of the ploy by the APC to rally votes for the preferred candidate at the primaries.
The amendment was done to allow statutory delegates to participate in political parties’ congresses and conventions.
The change in the electoral act would allow them, in addition to delegates elected by various political parties, to vote during congresses and conventions to elect candidates for various offices. Statutory delegates include councillors, local government chairmen and their deputies, political party chairmen in all the 774 LGAs, state and federal lawmakers, governors and their deputies, president and vice president, political parties’ National Working Committee members, state party chairmen and secretaries.
The decision to amend that part was reached on Tuesday by the lawmakers after the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege sponsored the move. Speaking after the bill was passed, Lawan said the “unintended clause” had to be amended before the commencement of party primaries.
According to Lawan, the House of Representatives led by Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila will also sign the bill before transmitting it to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.
Lawan added that the electoral act was amended to ensure that no one is denied his rights during political parties’ activities.
The Electoral Act which was assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari in February 2022, prevents statutory delegates from taking part in party primaries. APC aspirants restrategize as Jonathan, Emefiele quit race As at closure of returning of duly completed expression of interest and nomination forms of APC last Friday, 25 aspirants stood to be counted to be in the May 30 and 31 presidential primary race.
Names conspicuously missing on the form submission list are, former President Jonathan and CBN Governor Emefiele. Forms were bought for the duo by different interested persons that wanted them to run, but while Jonathan denied knowledge of the identity of the cattle breeders and nomadic communities, Emefiele thanked rice farmers for their good intention.
While Jonathan left Nigerians in suspense till the end of forms submission as to his intention or otherwise, Emefiele’s bid was never in doubt, having taken legal steps to forestall his disqualification by both APC and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Jonathan’s rumoured ambition petered away into thin air but Emefiele’s aspiration slumped to heavy pressure from the opposition and other Nigerians leveraging on the provisions of the law on partisanship.
Before the new twist to the APC presidential race, some of the aspirants were apprehensive of the proposed drafting of Jonathan, thinking or believing that he was likely the ‘anointed’ candidate. Rumours were spread of an unwritten pact between Buhari and Jonathan as the driving force while others hinged it on presumed scheming by the north to take a short cut back to power after a purported fouryear single term by the former PDP president.
The Trumpet gathered that a new order of alignment and re alignment of forces across regions and zones commenced over the weekend ahead of the presidential primaries of the APC.
Those who submitted forms included Osinbajo, Tinubu, Onu, Lawan, Akinwumi Adesina, Amaechi, Godswill Akpabio, Amosun, Okorocha,Tunde Bakare, Ayade, Umahi, Kayode Fayemi and Nwajiuba. Others are Ken Nnamani, Yahaya Bello, Abubakar Badaru, Ahmad Yerima, Ajayi Borroffice, Uju Kennedy, Nicholas Felix Nwagbo, Dimeji Bankole, Sylva, Ikeobasi Mokelu and Tein Jack – Rich.
A close source in the party hinted that this new development buoyed the confidence the aspirants have in Buhari’s pledge not to favour any aspirant but to join hand with party leadership in ensuring a transparent primary.
The source said the Tinubu’s campaign which has not done much of consultations in the South South because of the rumoured interest of Aso Rock in either Jonathan or Emefiele, is now ready to traverse the states of the region namely, Bayelsa, Rivers, Edo, Delta, Cross River and Akwa Ibom in the next one week ahead of the primary.
Aside his South West base, Tinubu’s campaign train has toured northern zones of West, Central and East. With Jonathan and Emefiele out of the way, it is believed that most of Tinubu’s allies in the South South can now boldly identify and campaign for him. Likewise, one of the surprise entrants in the race, Lawan may now enjoy the full and open support of his admirers from the South South and other zones.
The Trumpet learnt that lists of ministerial, ambassadorial and board appointments as well as principal officers of a new 10th Senate have already been drawn by Lawan and his loyalists with the expectation that they will work towards his emergence first at the APC primary and later at the election proper. Former Governor of Abia State and current Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu, is an unrepentant campaigner for Lawan’s presidency.
He insisted power must be ceded to either the South East or North East, where Lawan comes from. Kalu in a recent comment said “Lawan is from the North East and has similar sympathy with the South East that is yet to produce a president.” The Chief Whip also said nine APC presidential aspirants are set to step down for the Senate President ahead of the primary.
The Trumpet further learnt that Kalu is clandestinely paving the way for his emergence as Senate President in the next dispensation should Lawan win the presidential election.
However, an aide to a PDP senator from the South West said these are just political permutations as “none of these politicians knows their fate until after the primaries as some of them who bought forms for higher positions already have plan B to fall back on should they fail to realize their ambitions.”
He said: “will you be surprised to later learn that a few of these presidential aspirants collected another form to run for other positions should their presidential ambitions fail?” He specifically said both Lawan and Senate Deputy Leader Ajayi Borroffice collected senatorial forms to return to the Senate if they fail.
Likewise, an unconfirmed source said Governor Bello also obtained forms to contest the Kogi Central senatorial district election. Niger Delta Affairs minister, Godswill Akpabio, also was said to have collected senatorial forms to return to regain the position he lost in 2019 following his defection from PDP to APC.
Also mentioned is Transportation minister Amaechi who was said to have bought and submitted a senatorial form.