PT State of the Race: ‘Reluctant’ Lawan, governors’ double-dealings as presidential contest enters home stretch

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Some presidential aspirants may step aside this week as the races for nomination as candidates for the 2023 presidential election enter the home stretch.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) will hold their national conventions to nominate their candidates in Abuja on May 29 and 30 respectively.

The PDP has 15 aspirants left in the race after disqualifying two of the 17 that purchased its expression of interest and nomination forms.

Most of them, especially former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Senate President Bukola Saraki, and Governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers, Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto, Bala Mohammed of Bauchi and Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom, spent last week flying across the country to meet their party’s delegates.

The southern candidates in the party seem to have taken in their strides, the party’s decision to throw the primary open.

In the APC, the field is more crowded. Speaking on Channels Television on Wednesday, the party’s spokesperson, Felix Morka, said 28 aspirants picked the nomination forms but three did not return them, thus forfeiting the N100 million each of them paid for the forms.

According to him, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige; Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele; and the Minister of Petroleum for State, Timipreye Sylva, did not return their forms.

“For some of them, it’s a bit iffy. What I have this time, we have 28 who purchased form and at the last count, we have 25 who made submission.

“But three of them did not. They are Senator Chris Ngige, Godwin Emefiele and then we have Timipre Sylva,” he said.

But there is a bit of confusion in those remarks. It is also known that the President of African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwunmi Adesina, has also excused himself from the race after a group picked the forms in his name, while former President Goodluck Jonathan has not clarified his own position.

After the forms were picked for him, by a group that described itself as a coalition of ‘almajiri’ and cattle herders groups, his spokesperson, Ikechukwu Eze, distanced the former president from the incident, only for Mr Jonathan to sneak into a night meeting with APC chairman Abdullahi Adamu in Abuja before jetting off to Dakar, Senegal. Reports said Mr Jonathan was asking for certain guarantees from Mr Adamu, having been referred to the APC chairman by President Muhammadu Buhari.

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

Mr Jonathan returned from Senegal penultimate Saturday and has neither formally defected from the PDP to the APC nor firmly ruled out his interest in the party’s primary.

To add to the confusion, in the only public appearance Mr Jonathan has made since returning to Nigeria, he received Benue Governor Samuel Ortom on a visit to his home in Abuja. The media aide of the governor, Nathaniel Ikyur, said the governor had visited to invite Mr Jonathan to the PDP national convention, a hint that the PDP still considers Mr Jonathan its member.

Has the former president abandoned the forms bought in his name or are the intrigues surrounding him in the APC continuing?

If Mr Jonathan keeps his distance from the race, and Mr Adesina has truly withdrawn, then the APC has 23 contestants still in it. This issue will be put to rest after the party screens the aspirants, beginning from Tuesday.

Whatever the number now, it would have significantly reduced by the eve of the primary next Sunday, as strategic alliances by the aspirants begin to manifest.

South West Consensus Candidate

Speaking in Osogbo, Osun State, when he met APC delegates on Friday in the course of his campaign, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, said the South-west may soon agree on a consensus candidate among the aspirants from the zone. The other aspirants are former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu, former Ogun governor Ibikunle Amosun, Ekiti governor Kayode Fayemi, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole and Christian cleric Tunde Bakare.

“I believe strongly in the wisdom of Yoruba elders and leaders, and consultations are always ongoing. I believe that very soon we will resolve whatever differences exist and we will reach an agreement on the way forward,” Mr Osinbajo said on Friday.

A meeting of APC leaders and aspirants from the region in early May in Lagos had opened the discussions on the plan.

South-east aspirants in the PDP had earlier held a similar discussion, while a move by four northern aspirants in the party to produce a consensus northern candidate hit the rocks after Messrs Saraki and Mohammed were named as the interim candidates.

But the final alliances that may begin to emerge this week will cut across regions, observers predicted last week. There are speculations that Mr Abubakar of the PDP is already working behind the scene with his running mate in 2019, Peter Obi. However, other sources said Mr Abubakar is talking with some governors who have indicated an interest in replacing Mr Obi if the former vice president wins the ticket again.

Minor parties

At least seven of the minor parties will be nominating presidential candidates too, with seven aspirants paying N25 million each to pursue the ticket of the African Democratic Congress (ADC). One of the aspirants is Kingsley Moghalu, a former deputy governor of the CBN who ran in 2019 as the candidate of the Young Peoples Party (YPP).

Lawan the reluctant candidate

The talks in the APC since the beginning of this campaign have been on whether President Buhari would anoint a candidate. On Thursday, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, who was the last to join the presidential race about two weeks ago, brought a new dimension to the speculations when he claimed that he was a reluctant candidate.

Speaking during a meeting with some members of the Katsina State House of Assembly in Daura, the Katsina State capital, Mr Lawan said he had been drafted into the race, adding that it took relentless pressure from his friends and associates for him to accept to join the race.

“The fact that we came out last speaks volumes because I didn’t just wake up one morning and say I want to be President. It took a lot of time for those who believe in me to talk to me to also throw my hat in the ring. And after some time, I accepted.

“And that is to say that some people are not satisfied with those they are seeing and they think that we can do better. I have a great deal of respect for those who are running. The other aspirants.

“And I believe that I have my advantages and I am going to use my advantages by the Grace of God to not only emerge as the candidate of our party but also win the general elections,” he said.

Despite his claim, Mr Lawan seems not to be so sure of his chances in the presidential nomination race and is hedging his bet. The lawmaker has also purchased the senatorial nomination form. If those who pushed him into the race eventually do not get him the ticket, he would console himself by retaining a seat he has kept since 2007 when he crossed to the red chamber after two terms in the House of Representatives.

Muhammad Badaru
Muhammad Badaru

Battle of private jets

Unless you have or can hire a private jet, a national campaign today in Nigeria is not what you should contemplate. As the aspirants frantically seek the support of delegates across the country, they have wisely avoided the roads. Aside from the logistical nightmare, Nigerian roads are mostly bad and pose serious security challenges to the users.

Commercial flights may not be feasible too, especially when you need to do two states a day.

A report by Daily Trust revealed how nine state governors have squandered millions of naira to charter private jets to move around the country to advance their presidential ambitions.

The governors running for the presidential tickets of the APC and PDP are Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (Sokoto), Bala Mohammed (Bauchi), Emmanuel Udom (Akwa Ibom), Ben Ayade (Cross River), Dave Umahi (Ebonyi), Mohammed Badaru Abubakar (Jigawa) and Yahaya Bello (Kogi).

The air shuttle will intensify in the coming days, as the primaries approach.

Governors teasing aspirants with their delegates

Last week, statutory delegates in Kaduna State pledged their votes to the former governor of Lagos State, Mr Tinubu.

Their governor, Nasir Elrufai, had asked the delegates who they would give their votes at the convention, and in a unanimous voice, they pledged to give them all to Mr Tinubu, who is also the national leader of the party.

However, in the usual twist that has characterised the race, 48 hours after, Mr El-Rufai guided the same delegates to pledge their support to the former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.

Mr El-Rufai was instrumental in the switch. Shortly before posing the question to the delegates, he informed them of several instances the former governor of Rivers had helped him.

Governor Nasir El-Rufai
Governor Nasir El-Rufai

“Two days ago, you made a choice here, without listening to everyone. Now, you have heard Amaechi, you have seen what he has done, he also brought strong security team. He has Gen. Buratai in his camp, former CP, Suleiman, former Minister of Defence. You know what will happen to our security if he is in charge,” he said.

The same thing is happening with Governor Abubakar Badaru of Jigawa State. Mr Badaru, who is also a presidential aspirant, had vowed that he will not contest against Mr Amaechi.

“Some of you might begin to think that (Mr) Badaru is also a presidential aspirant, but I assure you that there is no contest between me and (Mr) Amaechi. This is because we belong to one father (President Muhammadu Buhari) and we respect our father and for sure, we will move in one direction.”

On Friday, Mr Badaru also made a similar pledge to Mr Tinubu. However, he said who he backs eventually will depend on the direction given by President Muhammadu Buhari, whom he admitted owing ultimate loyalty.

Relief as Buhari signs another amendment to Electoral Act 2022

President Buhari rescued statutory delegates from exclusion from the primaries on Saturday when he signed into law another amendment to the 2022 Electoral Act.

The Electoral Act had excluded National Assembly members and other officeholders from voting in the primaries.

Section 84 (8) of the Act stated: “A political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidate shall clearly outline in its constitution and rule the procedure for the democratic election of delegates to vote at the convention, congress or meeting.”

This means only elected delegates could have been eligible to vote at the convention, thereby disenfranchising thousands of party chieftains.

Last week, the National Assembly convened emergency sessions where they amended the Act to provide for statutory delegates to vote and be voted for in the primaries and conventions.

The statutory delegates include the President, Vice President, serving and former members of the National Assembly; serving and former governors and deputy governors; and members of the National Working Committee, state chairpersons and secretaries of political parties.

However, with a few days left before the primaries, politicians panicked and started putting pressure on the president to sign the amendment.

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