2015: Anxiety in APC over presidential ticket
From all indications, President Goodluck Jonathan may emerge the sole contender for the PDP presidential ticket in the 2015 election. In the rival APC, it is a different ball game altogether as a legion of aspirants are engaged in a titanic battle for the ticket, leading to intrigues and intricacies that have created anxiety over the presidential ticket.
Last week, the All Progressive Party (APC) conducted its ward congresses aimed at electing officials that would lead the opposition party at the ward level. Media reports had indicated that the exercises were either postponed or cancelled in some of the places due to alleged irregularities. It was in apparent reference to the 'flawed' APC ward congresses that President Goodluck Jonathan, during the South-East PDP rally at Enugu last Friday, said the PDP was more democratic because it would not cancel ward congresses across the states without considering the wish of its members. After the ward congresses, the APC is expected to move to the next level by conducting its local government and state congresses which are expected to climax into the zonal and national convention, where substantive national executives are expected to emerge.
But in spite of fact that the APC is yet to resolve issues to do its congresses, the scramble for the presidential ticket of the party seems to have begun in earnest, with all the major aspirants engaging in horse-trading and scheming to fly the party's presidential flag in next year's presidential election. What seems to have drawn public attention and debate is the touted Muslim-Muslim ticket in which former Head of State and chieftain of the APC, General Muhammadu Buhari, is said to be planning to pick former Lagos State Governor and national leader of the party, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, as his running mate.
Apart from Buhari, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Minister of Defence and Kano State Governor, Musa Rabiu Kwankwaso, Governors Rochas Okorocha of Imo and Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos among others are said to be having discussions with their political associates and supporters across the country as possible bearers of the APC presidential ticket in 2015 to slug it out with President Goodluck Jonathan who is likely to fly the ticket of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Interim National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, declined comments on who is likely to get the ticket, saying talking about the presidential ticket of the party now amounts to putting the cart before the horse. Speaking on the likelihood of getting a candidate for the party on consensus rather than presidential primaries, and which may go the way of General Buhari, the national publicity secretary of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) and chieftain of the APC, Osita Okechukwu said the speculation and reports of who the presidential candidate of the party would be will be a surprise if the formation of APC, in the first instance, is anything to go.
“The context emanates from the truism that the registration of APC on July 31, 2013, an outcome of the first consummation of merger of major political parties in the annals of our political history, has set the stage to propel our fledgling democracy to the zenith of liberal democracy. Naturally, pundits and minders of the PDP are speculating and making all manner of permutations on the ticket of the APC, especially when the party draws large followership from the two prominent electoral zones – North-West and South-West.
“There is no day, to the best of my knowledge, that the leadership of the APC met to pencil down any ticket, therefore, the report about General Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu ticket is mere permutation and speculation. The APC leadership is presently preoccupied with nursing the new baby; a task that is tremendous, for the new baby has many fathers. We cannot dismiss the truth that the duo are the pillars of our great party and Buhari can be dubbed the de facto candidate. However, we have a constitution which stipulates the modalities for the emergence of party executives, councillors, legislators, governors and presidential candidates. At present, consensus and direct primaries are adopted in electing party ward executives,” Okechukwu said.
He, however, said that Buhari remains a popular candidate due to his wide acceptability and respect among the leadership and followership of APC. He said: “On pairing with Asiwaju in the presidential ticket, given the toxic nature of the sensibilities surrounding religion, one can say that going by hindsight that what led to the failure of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) alliance prior to 2011 presidential election was the search for Christian pair. With a wider platform one does not see this as a problem now, when we search from South-East, South-West to South-South.”
Another chieftain of the party and former Deputy National Secretary of the defunct CPC, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, said Buhari stands out among those rumoured to be interested in the Presidential ticket of the APC due to the huge followership he enjoys especially in the northern states of the country.
“Remember that General Buhari scored 12 million votes in the 2011 presidential election despite the fact that the election was massively rigged in favour of President Jonathan. I cannot see any other candidate being speculated as capable of holding the North in order to face the PDP. So if the APC makes the mistake of fielding a candidate that will not strike a chord with the huge voting population and the very political conscious masses in the North, then it would be a fundamental mistake that will surely lead to the crushing defeat for the APC in the election by PDP. This is not the time to experiment with political nonentities and untested hands in the presidential race.
“Despite all the negative campaign of lies being peddled by PDP against General Buhari, he is the last man standing. His nomination will surely destabilize and disorient the PDP and President Jonathan. All the APC need do is to pick a good running mate for Buhari. The running mates that can possibly enhance the aspiration of the APC include Governors Raji Fashola, Adams Oshiomhole, Rotimi Amaechi and Rochas Okorocha. I cannot see the magic that will make the PDP win in the South-West. The PDP will not win the North-West, North-East and North-Central. The PDP may win minimally in the South-East and South-South, but not enough to satisfy the requirement to win a presidential race as stipulated in the Constitution,” Okoi said.
Asked about the alternative option for the party if General Buhari decides not to contest the party's ticket, he said: “I do not believe that General Buhari should not contest. However, if he decides not to contest there are alternatives: Fashola, Okorocha, Amaechi and Oshiomhole. These are good materials for the presidential seats.” Three senior party officials of the party who insisted on not being quoted said though majority of party members seem to favour Buhari to get the ticket, some loyalists of Atiku Abubakar have been contacting party leaders and other members to shore up support for the former Vice President. A senior party official who was a leading member of one of the defunct parties in the North said Atiku has personally opened 'channels of high level talks' with some of us to convince us of his wide acceptability across the country.
How the APC aspirants are being paired:
Buhari/Tinubu ticket: Although General Buhari is yet to make a categorical statement over his intention to contest the 2015 presidential ticket of the APC, many believe that he still has his eyes on the seat. His cordial political relationship with Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu has given rise to speculations that Buhari might be contemplating the former Lagos state governor as his running mate, a development that has raised controversy over the issue of having a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Should Buhari decide to shelve the idea of contesting, which many within the APC hierarchy are expecting him to, most analysts believe he would throw his weight behind Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State. But this seems very unlikely as the former Head of State is believed to be interested in running. But should he decide to run, many analysts say it would be a political suicide mission for him to adopt Tinubu (a Muslim from the south) as his running mate. A chieftain of the party who wouldn't want to be mentioned confided in Sunday Trust that Buhari is actually mooting the idea of having Tinubu as his running mate. “Those who are selling the idea are mostly supporters of Buhari and Tinubu”, said the source. Many believe that it would serve Buhari better if he jettisons his idea of picking Buhari to opt for either Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State or Rochas Okorocha of Imo state, both of whom are Christians from the South-South and South-East respectively.
Atiku: A formidable candidate, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is said to be making wide consultations across the geopolitical zones of the country in order to actualize his presidential ambition on the ticket of the APC. His perceived presidential ambition notwithstanding, Atiku's media aide, Garba Shehu, said his boss was not in any discussion with anybody concerning the presidential contest in the APC. “He (Atiku) believes you first of all have to build the party, without which there can't be a contest,” Shehu said.
Kwankwaso: Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Kano state is said not to be taking anything to chance should Buhari decide not to support him. Many see Kwankwaso as a strong contender for the APC presidential ticket, especially if he eventually gets the endorsement of General Buhari who has a wider support from the north. But analysts say the success or otherwise of his option would largely depend on his choice of a running mate.
Nuhu Ribadu: Former presidential candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Malam Nuhu Ribadu is also believed to be an aspirant for the presidential ticket of the APC opposed to a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Although he too has not officially declared his intention he is said to be making wide consultations which include the choice of a likely running mate.
Sam Nda-Isaiah: Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, founder of Leadership newspaper who is also jostling for the APC presidential ticket is a Christian from Niger State in North-Central Nigeria. If he secures the ticket, he would need to choose a vice presidential candidate from among the Muslims in the South.
For now the presidential aspirants appear to be engaged in a hide and seek over their interest in the APC presidential ticket as well as the choices of their running mates.
For instance, General Buhari is yet to either confirm nor deny his interest even though his foot soldiers are flying his kite. The same goes for Atiku Abubakar who in spite of his wide consultations from the zones is yet to either deny or confirm his interest.
Nuhu Ribadu also said in a previous interview with Sunday Trust that at the moment he is making consultations on how to build the party structures, saying that he is yet to make up his mind on contesting the APC presidential ticket.
In the final analysis, many believe that the cracks that are already visible on the wall of the opposition APC may get even deeper if the party fails to properly handle the issue of its presidential ticket. An analyst said: “PDP would certainly not sit down and watch the APC; it must continue to fight…” Others also say that having labelled the APC as an Islamic party or a sectional party, the adoption of a Muslim-Muslim ticket would only help in confirming that and providing the ruling party with the opportunity to out-campaign the rival party.
APC chieftain, Chief Fani-Kayode expressed the fears that a Muslim-Muslim candidate for 2015 would be the party's recipe for disaster. In his article titled: “A strange Dream for Muslim-Muslim ticket”, the former Aviation minister said it would be insensitive to Christians to field Muslim president and a vice president for the 2015 election, saying :“Our party must have both a Christian and a Muslim on the ticket if we want to be taken seriously in the Presidential election. I implore those that think otherwise to sit down and think this through properly.”
But in response, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and member APC, Nasir el-Rufai, insisted that the party's choice of presidential candidate would not be dictated by religion.
“APC will present an integrity-competence ticket not religion. Politics and governance are not to be mixed or dictated to by any religion,” Mr el-Rufai said. The APC will present to Nigerians the best persons with the integrity, capacity and competence to create jobs, fight corruption and rebuild our nation without discrimination”, el- Rufai said.