The growing number of presidential aspirants in the All Progressives Congress has become a point of debate among politicians, political observers and other stakeholders, CHUKWUDI AKASIKE writes

There is no doubting the fact that the 2023 presidential race is gathering momentum and Nigerians are getting set to elect another leader. Before the beginning of this year, most of those currently in the race were quiet and undecided about their aspirations. Most political pundits found it difficult to ascertain when the bigwigs in the party would signify their intent. As far as the declaration for the presidency in the party was concerned, it was near silence everywhere till the end of 2021. But the debate at political gatherings last year was essentially on power shift.

It was the former governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who broke the ice in January and declared his intention to run for the presidency when he visited the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja. The Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, followed suit, and in a similar fashion, visited Buhari to inform the President of his intention to run for the coveted number one position in the country.

It did not take long for others like a former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Kalu; ex-governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha; Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State; and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to declare their interest in the presidency on the platform of the APC. The latest to join the fray is the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo.

There is no doubt that more bigwigs from the ruling party may still declare for the presidency in the days and weeks to come and ahead of the June 3 deadline fixed by the Independent National Electoral Commission for the names of all presidential, governorship, National Assembly and House of Assembly candidates to be submitted. So far, the APC can boast of seven big shots gunning for the position of the President.

Tinubu had in what looked like an informal declaration and a big push towards accomplishing his ambition, said, “I have informed the President of my intention, but I’ve not informed Nigerians yet. I am still consulting and I have no problem consulting, and I have not set a parameter of limitation to the extent of how many people I will consult. You will soon hear all you want to hear; it is a categorical declaration. You’ve got that truth from me that I have informed Mr President of my ambition.”

Speaking on his bid, the Ebonyi State governor explained that he was undeterred by Tinubu’s ambition, saying the contest was not about might. Umahi, who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party to the APC in November 2020, said he had discussed the issue with Buhari, who asked him to go and seek the people’s support.

“I told Mr President that without prejudice to whatever will be the decision of the party, which we shall abide by, that if the party throws the ticket open or zone it to the southern part of Nigeria, that I believe that with what I have put in place in the past six years plus, that I will be running for the presidency on the platform of the APC,” Umahi, who was reported to have since begun consultation despite a court ruling that temporarily threatened his position as the Ebonyi State governor, said.

Okorocha made his intention known in a letter read at the plenary by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan. In the letter, the former Imo State governor stated, “As you are aware, the Independent National Electoral Commission has announced the timetable for the conduct of the 2023 general elections, including that of the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“With elections drawing nearer as the days go by, our citizens are concerned about the quality of persons to run the affairs of our nation, one who can address some of their major concerns, which include a detribalised Nigerian who can unite our country; a leader with a compassionate heart, who will care for the poor, the downtrodden and the masses of our country; and a visionary leader, who can create wealth for our teeming populace, thereby addressing the issues of poverty, insecurity and youth restiveness. It is as a result of these concerns that I wish to hold a world press conference on my intention to run for the office of the President of our dear nation.”

In his declaration, Osinbajo revealed that he had visited practically all the local government areas in the country and was aware of the yearnings of Nigerians.

“I believe that the very reason that the Almighty God gave me these experiences, these insights and these opportunities is that they must be put to the use of our great country and its great people. Which is why today, with the utmost humility, I’m formally declaring my intention to run for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the platform of our great party, the All Progressives Congress,” the Vice-President said.

Another aspirant, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, however, insists that he is not intimidated by the growing number of party bigwigs joining the presidential race and not deterred by a consensus arrangement as he stands a chance to emerge as the party’s standard bearer irrespective of the primary process deployed. Bello, who said this at a media briefing in Abuja organised by the Yahaya Bello Presidential Campaign Organisation, stated, “I am not intimidated by their pedigree, profile, experience and exposure and what they’ve done in the past. Now, when you compare that to what someone is doing at the moment, I think they are the ones that should be intimidated right now.

“It is not about what you have achieved in the past. It’s going to be what you are doing now and what you can do for this nation from 2023. The governor has also garnered some experience. He has been a chief executive of his state for the past six, or seven years. So, we are very confident that he’s going to do a great job for Nigeria.”

But the growing number of those gunning for the presidency in the ruling party, some observers said, was not a problem as Nigerians would select the best from the aspirants.

One of them, a chieftain of the APC, Chief Tony Okocha, maintained that the more people in the party declared for the presidency of the country, the better for it.

Okocha, who is a former Chief of Staff at the Rivers State Government House during the administration of Amaechi, said, “The growing number of presidential aspirants in the APC is good for democracy. The people will have their choice to make. Let those who have interest come out and aspire; let’s have their manifestos and track records, and see how far they can better the lot of the country. I recall that in 2014, the primary of the APC that threw up the current President had five aspirants, including Rochas Okorocha, Sam Nda-Isaiah and others. It should be the more, the merrier. That is the beauty of democracy.”

On the possibility of picking a consensus presidential candidate, he added, “That can only apply in internal arrangements for party positions. This is where you talk about zoning positions in the party, like we just did at our national convention. When it has to do with positions that will involve other political parties and people who are not even politicians, it becomes impossible for anybody to talk about consensus. This is because you don’t also know the wishes of the people.

“So, allow everybody the opportunity to go to the poll and let the best candidate win. Then the people will be free enough to say they prefer a certain person for obvious reasons. Consensus will not work in an inter-party arrangement such as governor and president. Don’t also forget that even INEC seems to preclude the issue of consensus because in the new Electoral Act, for you to even strike a consensus, all the aspirants will write formal letters agreeing to it. If they don’t all agree, then there will be an election.”

Speaking on the crowded presidential race in the ruling party, the Chancellor, International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, Jackson Omenazu, said he, like many other Nigerians, would not be carried away by the growing number of presidential aspirants in the APC, adding that some of them had nothing to offer Nigerians.

He stated, “There is more political awareness among Nigerians and the APC is the party in power. Many believe that there is an opportunity for them to fly the flag of the party. I also know that some of them, who have declared interest to run for the presidency, are unserious politicians to some extent. Many of them, who have declared, have no pedigree to ask for votes from Nigerians.

“Some of them have been tested as governors and they performed woefully. Some of them have been senators and they were unable to give account of themselves. Some of them think we have short memories and that we are superlative buffoons. As of today, the APC has only two serious candidates – Rotimi Amaechi and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. If you can remember, when President Buhari was not around, he (Osinbajo) showed some capacity. So, it is not wrong to think that if given the opportunity, the Vice-President can show capacity.

“Without dismissing the growing number of aspirants, let them go to the field and test their popularity and level of acceptance. Umahi has also proved to some extent some level of leadership capacity based on his performance in Ebonyi State. But there are some of them that I will ask what they are going to do at the presidency because they have nothing to offer.

“My advice to the leaders of the party is that they should not be overwhelmed by the number of people declaring for the presidency. They should focus on bringing the APC back to its original footing. They should ensure that a candidate that can reinvent the party is supported to get the ticket, win the general elections and save Nigeria, because Nigerians are really getting disenchanted.”

Adding his voice to the issue, an APC chieftain and former National Vice-Chairman, South-South, of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, Asukewe Iko-Awaji, expressed excitement at the increasing number of presidential aspirants in the ruling party. According to him, the more presidential aspirants in the APC, the more advantage the party will enjoy.

He stated, “I don’t think there will be any issue that will overwhelm the leadership of the party in managing the growing number of presidential aspirants in the APC. First of all, a party has the right to go for consensus, and where it cannot manage consensus, the people will vote. We tested it at the convention. In most of the positions where the people did not accept consensus, there was voting. Even President Buhari himself emerged through voting. So, the more aspirants that come out to contest for the position of the President, the stronger the party will become.”

He, however, noted that a tough battle should be expected in the ruling political party, especially if the leadership shunned consensus.

Iko-Awaji said, “Yes, we are expecting a tough battle. If the leadership of the party cannot manage consensus, there must be voting, and that gives the people the right to select who their candidate will be. Of course, I don’t believe in this issue of consensus; I believe that the people should choose who their leader should be.

“We also expect more people to declare for presidency on the platform of the APC in the next few days. There was a delay in declaration because of the party’s national convention. So, in the next few days, expect more people to come out. The crowd in the race is not an issue.”

For the Coordinator of the APC Rebirth, a pressure group in the ruling party, Alhaji Alyu Audu, the increasing number of aspirants should not be a problem as it’s within their rights to join the race.

He added, “You know how politics is traditionally played; you cannot be declaring for the presidency if you don’t think you have a base and if you don’t think you have some sort of followers that you go with. The growing number of presidential aspirants is an opportunity for members of the party to be engaged in one campaign organisation or the other. The only concern that we have as a group is when all of these are considered and the right thing is not done by the party or the leadership of the party. Nobody should be allowed to feel disenfranchised.

“You know politicians, this may probably just be a ploy to get recognised and be called out for negotiation, especially those who feel they may not be favoured by the coming dispensation if they don’t make themselves known. Politicians have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves.”

On the possibility of embracing consensus to choose a presidential candidate, he said, “Consensus will not only jeopardise the games of the multiple aspirants, it will equally set our party and democracy back by miles. If you look at the rate of activities around the party secretariat right now, it’s nothing compared to what you would have expected if the convention had gone the way it should. The primary is less than six weeks and you expect that the party secretariat should be bubbling with activities and with people, but it’s not so.

“That’s because people are still trying to deal with the fallout of the convention. A lot of people are discouraged; a lot of people are weakened by the outcome. People are watching, but the show must go on. This is politics; it is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. So, people will keep moving and keep pushing. Our prayer is that consensus should not come in this one. If they decide to do direct or indirect primary, so be it, because we know how things are; we witnessed what we called consensus at the convention.”

Copyright PUNCH.

All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.

Contact: [email protected]

Source: APC’s crowded presidential race – Punch Newspapers

Please Share