The choice of the presidential flag bearer of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, is heading for a photo finish. It is going down to the wire, and the fate of the 22 aspirants still in the race will certainly be decided by the ballot.
The 2, 322 delegates, three each from the 774 local government areas of Nigeria who will vote, are presently going through a rigorous accreditation at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.
The frontliners have been wooing the delegates with various offers. One clever aspirant from the South, TELL reliably gathered, offered a staggered payment to some delegates. He paid ₦100, 000 cash on Monday June 6; promised to pay ₦1million each on Tuesday, June 7; and ₦10 million each if he wins.
The delegates were not impressed. They said the offer was dead on arrival and they were only sure of the ₦100, 000 cash.
Two aspirants running neck to neck from Southwest, have offered money and accommodation to delegates. As it is, the delegates are accepting all offers from the aspirants but still undecided about who they will finally vote for.
All attempts to pick the party’s flag bearer through consensus like they picked their national chairman recently, have hit the rocks.
First, the caucus of 13 Northern governors zoned the ticket to the South. Second, the chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, announced unilaterally that Ahmad Lawan, president of the Senate, had been endorsed as the party’s consensus candidate.
Hell was let loose. The other members of the National Working Committee, NWC, denied their taking any such decision. They said Adamu was on his own.
Similarly, the presidency weighed in and denied Adamu too. Garba Shehu, special assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, said President Muhammadu Buhari had not endorsed any aspriant as candidate.
The Northern Governors hurriedly met the President at the State House to confirm Adamu’s announcement. Buhari reaffirmed that he had not endorsed any aspriant. They confirmed to him that they suggest that power should rotate back to the South, the North having held it for eight years.
The President reaffairmed his stance that there would be no imposition and that the candidate should emerge through a competitive process.
Another caucus of the party hurriedly pruned the aspirants down to five, all from the South, from 22; Ken Nnamani, a former president of the Senate, having withdrawn. The five aspiriants are: Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Chibuike Amaechi, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Dave Umahi and Kayode Fayemi.
There was an unconfirmed claim that the five had been further pruned down to three: Tinubu, Osinbajo and Amaechi.
Some delegates informed the magazine that they were likely going to vote to elect one of the three.
The screening committee had earlier pruned down the 23 aspirants down to 13, with emphasis on the younger aspirants. But the NWC did not accept the recommendation as it did not favour the Chairman’s preferred aspirant.
Tinubu had warned that any process that did not allow him to contest fairly will not be acceptable. His campaign organisation said Adamu’s unilateral declaration was illegal.
A statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, quoted the President as telling vthe governors: “You were elected as I was. Have a clear mind as I have. God gave us the chance; we have no reason to complain.
“We must be ready to take pain as we take the joy. Allow the delegates to decide. The Party must participate, nobody will appoint anybody.”
The Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, Governor Simon Bako Lalong, and Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu of the Progressive Governors Forum, said they had come to affirm the position of the Northern Governors that the party’s candidate in the presidential election should come from the southern part of the country.
They apologised to the President for the leakage of their signed memorandum which was not in support of any particular candidate and gave assurances to the President on their readiness to accept his leadership on the matter.
“We had a meeting this afternoon with the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, our dear President Buhari, and this meeting is also in line with part of the consultations that Mr. President had”, Lalong briefed the State House Press.
“Of course, Mr. President had a meeting with us governors and series of people, but at the APC Northern Governors’ Forum, we sat down, we reviewed a lot of things in this country and we discussed at length about the unity of this country, about the need for progress and the need for inclusiveness, and also the need for accommodation.
“We sat down in the last few days, and 13 out of 14 governors agreed. We took a decision to go and advise Mr. President. While we were on our way to advise Mr. President, I think part of the discussions that we had leaked out to the press.
“Well, we still went ahead and we told Mr. President. Mr. President, being a democrat, said no, he must listen to us; he would listen to us. And so, Mr. President granted the opportunity today.
“Our mission today is to reaffirm our position on that statement. We also apologised to him that that statement was made by all of us, and we reaffirm the position; but we apologised that the statement leaked before even our consultations with him.
“However, it is now in the message, not the messenger. So, Mr. President was very happy. He took our position; and out of that discussion, Mr. President, as a believer in democratic process, believes that any candidate must emerge through a transparent process and he emphasised that.
“Mr. President told us that for this election, for now, he has no anointed candidate and therefore directed that the Progressive Governors Forum meet with the National Working Committee of the party to agree and proffer further solutions and recommendations for his own succession.
“I am sure this may be the last of consultations. So, we have directed that after this, our chairman of Progressive Governors’ Forum should also summon a meeting for five o’clock today, and after that meeting, we’ll make again further suggestions to Mr. President.
“For emphasis, those of you who read it, I have a copy of what we wrote, which was already out in the press, and I said we wrote it, and we stand by it; that in the interest of unity, in the interest of peace, our recommendation is that the next President should come from the south.
“I told you that the President believes in democratic process; but even during democratic process, there are consultations, that consensus, is also part of democratic process. Even our constitution provides for that; it says consensus and then election, either direct or indirect.
“So, what we’re doing is part of the build-up towards the election. What we’re also saying is recommendation as we think that will bring out a very peaceful process.”
Nasir el-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, confirmed on behalf of other governors, “We met before coming to meet with Mr. President. We met, all of us, including the governor of Kogi State. As you can see, he’s not the only aspirant; the governor of Jigawa State is also an aspirant and he’s here with us and we met. But the Governor of Kogi State chose to excuse himself from meeting with Mr. President because he believes that he does not agree with our position.
“There are 14 APC governors out of the 19 Northern states. Thirteen of us are on one page on this subject and we all came to see the President, but the governor of Kogi State excused himself and it is within his democratic rights to excuse himself.
“But 12 out of 14 is a super majority. Thirteen out of 14 is an even bigger super majority, and the 13 of us met with the President today. What our leader have communicated to you is a summary of the discussions with Mr. President.”
On Bello, he further explained: “Look, I have said this in this hall over and over. I don’t know why people assume that when you have 100 people, everyone must agree before a decision can be taken. That is a case of analysis paralysis.
“When the majority, or even a super majority, like 12 out of 14, takes a decision, everyone is bound. There is no time that everyone will agree to an issue. It’s part of human nature. But what is the majority view of Northern governors? We represent the majority; indeed a supermajority.”
Corroborating El’Rufia, Governor Lalong added, “Also, in any case, please to the question. His name is not on our list, we didn’t write his name. So even without writing his name, it shows that he was not part of it.”
Atiku Bagudu, the Chairman of Progressive Governors Forum and governor of Kebbi State, further explained, “Well, look, with 22 governors, APC with a president that has delivered on democratic dividend across the breadth of this country, has everything going for it. What is the political brinksmanship that we need to bring so that every component of Nigeria will feel important? Like I said, there are candidates of Northern extraction and we are not ignoring their capacity or their interest.
“But we felt that if political expediency can encourage a step that will bring more peace, and resonate with everyone across Nigeria, we are bold enough to see it. Remember, the main opposition party, PDP, they even have zoning in their constitution. But when it comes to selection of candidate, they ignored sections of Nigeria that are saying it’s our turn.
“Our party, we don’t even have zoning in our Constitution, but because of knowing our President, how magnanimous he is, how equitable he is, that’s why we felt comfortable to make a recommendation to him that even though we don’t have zoning, Mr. President, can we consider this?”
The intrigues are far from over. The Lawan group is seeing a stalemate almong the five leading Southern candidates and this might swing the victory to the Senate President who was the last entrant to the race.