Tinubu, Kalu, Umahi as early birds for APC presidential ticket
The waiting game in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) over the 2023 presidency has ended as some of those aspiring to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari have started making public their intention to vie for the highest office in the land. FELIX NWANERI reports
There is no doubt that Nigeria’s political landscape has before now been agog with permutations for the 2023 general election, especially as to which zone and even individual, who will occupy the coveted seat of president but most of those touted to be interested in the position disclaimed such ambition.
Among those, who have prominently featured on the list of would-be presidential aspirants within the APC fold include the National Leader of the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el- Rufai, Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi and Kebbi State governor Atiku Bagudu.
Others are Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu; Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi; Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello; Borno State governor, Babagana Zulum and Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, among others.
Campaign posters linked to these APC chieftains have continued to flood some cities across the country as well as the various social media platforms but denial being part of politics, almost all them issued media statements disassociating themselves from the campaign posters.
Though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had announced February 18, 2023 as the date for the next presidential election, the surfacing of such campaign materials contravene Section 99 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, which states that “campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day.”
The first of such posters surfaced on the streets as well as the internet few months after the 2019 presidential election but analysts, who reviewed build-ups to previous presidential polls noted that there was nothing wrong with individuals with presidential ambitions testing the political waters as well as gauging the mood of the people through such kites.
They, however, said that given the peculiarity of the race to Nigeria’s presidency, early birds, particularly those without deep pockets are likely to run out of steam before the main contest begins. It was against this backdrop that the mind game by some APC presidential hopefuls raised concerns among party stakeholders at a time. The worries were over the seriousness or otherwise of the aspiration of these party chieftains linked to the race for President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor.
However, some chieftains of the APC adduced then that the unresolved issues of zoning, not only within the ruling party but the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the main reason for the haze over the build-up to the 2023 presidential election. On paper, power is expected to shift to the southern part of the country given the zoning arrangement between the North and South, which took effect in 1999.
However, there are indications that zoning or power shift is likely to be discarded this time if emerging developments in the polity are anything to go by. Perhaps, the zoning debate, explains why the two leading political parties have refrained from declaring which of the country’s political divides will get their respective tickets for the 2023 preidency as well as the waiting-game played by the various presidential hopefuls before now.
While it was earlier believed that the PDP will zone its presidential ticket to the North since the last president produced by the party is from the South, for the APC, which has no formal zoning arrangement, the belief was that the leadership of the party will give the South the 2023 presidential ticket given that the North would have spent eight years in power through President Buhari by 2023.
But politics is a game of the possible in which nothing is foreclosed, most analysts believe that the chances of the South getting the presidential tickets of any of the two major parties hangs in the balance.
Reasons for this are not farfetched. The North, for instance, seems not disposed to relinquish power after Buhari as some political leaders from the region are canvassing the need for their area to hold on to power, at least, for another four years, so that the region will be at par with the South.
The present democratic dispensation would be 23 years in May and the power rotation arrangement, though not constitutional, has seen the South had the presidency for 13 years through Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (South-West, 1999-2007) and Goodluck Jonathan (South-South, 2010-2015), while the North would have been in power for 11 years by the time Buhari completes his second term in 2023 (2015-2023) as Umaru Yaar’Adua, who succeeded Obasanjo in 2007, passed on barely three years in office.
The plot by the North started like a joke immediately after Buhari was reelected for a second term in 2019, but later gained the support of most northern political elites, who made a case for the abandonment of the zoning arrangement, not only for the Office of President, but for other political offices as currently obtainable in the country.
But most political leaders in the South have maintained that jettisoning of rotational presidency at this point in Nigeria’s history will not be in the interest of the country.
According to them, Nigeria’s unity is presently under threat over rising insecurity, so abolishing zoning might lead to crisis, which may aggravate the issues on ground.
While the waiting game over individuals interested in the APC presidential ticket lasted, many discerning political minds noted at that it was just a matter of time before the picture becomes clear.
As predicted, the haze over the jostle for the ruling party’s flag for the presidential election made way for reality last week with declarations by Tinubu, Umahi and Kalu.
Tinubu: The Kingmaker wants to be king
The APC National Leader is one politician many have come to love or hate. Blessed with uncanny ability to identify political as well as electoral assets, there is no doubt that the former governor of Lagos State (1999-2007) played a major role in the emergence of Buhari as president in 2015.
Tinubu’s support for Buhari stemmed from APC’s national convention in Lagos, where he mobilised governors of the party then and other stakeholders to ensure that the former head of state was not muscled out by other presidential aspirants with huge financial war chests.
This explained why Buhari defeated four other aspirants – Atiku, Kwankwaso, Rochas Okorocha and the publisher of Leadership Newspapers, Sam Nda-Isaiah (no late), to clinch the APC ticket. Buhari polled 4,430 votes to beat Kwankwaso to the second position with 974 votes.
Shockingly, Atiku, who many had thought would give Buhari a good fight, was a distant third with 954 votes. Okorocha came fourth with 624 votes, while Nda-Isaiah had 10 votes. To further push the Buhari candidacy, Tinubu jettisoned his purported vice presidential ambition after consultations with party chieftains on the effect of a Muslim/Muslim ticket on APC’s chance at the poll.
That paved the way for the choice of a former Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as Buhari’s running mate but not without Tinubu’s endorsement.
To many, Tinubu was not only the reason for the inroad Buhari made into the South-West in the 2015 presidential poll but the support he enjoyed from the zone afterwards. It was against this backdrop that many were shocked, when the APC national leader reportedly declared in February 2017 that he would run for the presidency in 2019, even when it was clear that Buhari would run for a second term.
Tinubu, who then spoke during the inauguration of Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu as governor of Ondo State for his first term in office, said he will not rule out the possibility of running for the office of president, but emphasised that it will only happen if there is a vacancy in the presidency.
His words: “You see there is nothing wrong with such ambition. It depends on the timing and the environment and what political leadership dictates. I will not brush aside such an aspiration. It has been historical even that Buhari tried first, second, third, and fourth before he got it.”
Tinubu further said that there was no way he will reject an opportunity to serve the country. “How can I rule such a thing out, the opportunity to serve my country? But you only do that when there is a vacancy.”
Expectedly, meanings were read into his statement at that time. While some insinuated that he had already set machinery in motion to vie for the country’s top job in 2019, the former Lagos State governor came out to debunk the claim, saying he would rather support President Buhari.
He maintained that those who misconstrued his comment to mean that he would contest the 2019 presidential election were out to pitch him against President Buhari.
Despite his explanation, some analysts said Tinubu sold a dummy to test the political waters given his ability to read situations and know when to throw his hat to the ring.
According to them, with Buhari serving out his second term in 2023, the coast is clear for the man most of his admirers refer to as Jagaban to actualize his dream.
And it was shortly after Buhari’s inauguration for a second term in office that some groups sprung up, urging the former governor of Lagos State to run for the 2023 presidency. This was followed by pockets of endorsements from different quarters.
Some of the groups even went to the extent of printing campaign materials in Tinubu’s name to show how serious they are.
But Tinubu, in denouncing the groups, said he did not authorise such. Despite the disclaimer, Tinubu’s 2023 move gained momentum, when a political pressure group known as South-West Agenda for Asiwaju (SWAGA), emerged on the scene.
The group, led by a former Minister of State for Works, Senator Dayo Adeyeye, has as members, former members of the National Assembly including Senator Soji Akanbi (deputy chairman), Hon. Bosun Oladele (secretary), Hon. Oye Ojo (networker), Hon. Oloruntoba Oke (treasurer) and Hon. Rotimi Makinde. SWAGA said it was pushing for the candidacy of Tinubu for the 2023 presidential election because he has the political will and experience to turn the country’s fortune around.
“SWAGA is not advocating for Tinubu because he is going to champion Yoruba interest. We are rooting for him because post-2023 is critical to Nigeria and if not managed well, might plunge the nation into more crises.
“So, we believe that Tinubu is the right man for the job because he is experienced enough to ride the wave at this time that Nigeria is at crossroads with centrifugal forces trying to destabilize the country.
He believes in true federalism and has the political capacity to push that. We are clamouring for Asiwaju but he is not going there to serve Yoruba interests only. “He is going to serve the people of Nigeria. He has demonstrated this as the governor of Lagos State.
He has been fair to all groups. So, he is not going to be president of Yoruba people but of Nigeria, working for the interests of all Nigerians. What we need in this country to arrest the centrifugal forces is for leaders to be fair to all.
You just make sure that everyone is represented in key positions,” Adeyeye said. Reminded that his group may be on a wild goose chase because Tinubu has not indicated interest for the 2023 presidency at that time, Adeyeye said: “Honestly, I do not have any assurance from Asiwaju Tinubu that he is contesting but I can tell you that he will contest.
He will not back out from the presidential race because there are forces in politics that will not make it possible for him to back out. I am telling you that even though Asiwaju Tinubu has not given us any assurance, you can reasonably be sure that some of us in SWAGA, with our little experience will not be wasting our time if we don’t think that he will come out and do it.”
Tinubu confirmed Adeyeye’s assumption that he will not back out of the 2023 presidential race last week, when he told Nigerians that he has informed President Buhari of his intention to contest the election.
The APC national leader, who briefed State House correspondents after he met with Buhari at the Aso Villa in Abuja, 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 will I consult.
You will soon hear all you want to hear; it is a categorical declaration. You’ve gotten that truth from me that I have informed Mr. President of my ambition.”
The former governor of Lagos State stressed that he has the confidence, vision, and capacity to build on the foundation laid by Buhari to turn around the fortunes of the country.
He added that the President is a democrat and therefore, has not asked him to stop the pursuit of his ambition which for him is life-long.
Umahi: Believes in his towering credentials
The Ebonyi State governor shocked most political analysts in November 20202, when he dumped the PDP through which he was elected governor of the south eastern state for two terms for the APC but he stated then that he joined the ruling party to protest the injustice the main opposition party meted to the South-East.
According to him, the people of South-East have remained faithful to PDP and voted for its candidates in the present dispensation, but have not been treated fairly by the party.
While many, particularly chieftains of the PDP claimed then that Umahi’s move to the APC was informed by his 2023 presidential ambition, the Ebonyi State governor declared that he was not driven by selfish interests but because the South-East needed to protest against marginalization by the PDP.
However, it didn’t take long after Umahi joined the ruling party that a set of campaign posters, which showed that he would be pairing Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State for the 2023 presidential poll, surfaced.
The Ebonyi State governor, however, dissociated himself from such arrangement. He insisted that such bears the imprint of detractors and political desperados, who thrive on gossips, rumours, and have resorted in producing a smokescreen in their attempt to drag his name to the mud.
The Ebonyi State governor, who then maintained that he has towering credentials that will make him visible in any contest, said he has not made public any intention to contest for any position in 2023.
He added that 2023 is too far to start politicking at that time. However, with the clock ticking fast towards 2023, Umahi, last week Tuesday, declared his interest to run for the presidency on the platform of the APC. The governor spoke on his ambition after a meeting with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa.
The governor, who was responding to a question on whether his discussion with the President on politics had to do with his presidential political ambition, said he informed the President just like Tinubu, who disclosed his interest a day earlier at the State House.
He added that the President advised him to consult widely. His words: “Well, generally, yes and no. We discussed politics as the growth of our party, APC, in Nigeria, and South-East. And, of course, you know, the interest of South East, for the seat of presidency in 2023.
And, of course, 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 zones to Southern part of Nigeria, I believe that with what I have put in place in the past six years plus, I will be running for presidency on the platform of the APC.
“So, I told him and of course, he believes that whoever wants to run for president of this country must have to consult widely, go to all the leaders and that we must do everything to remove ethnicity and religion in our politics so that this country can grow.”
On his chance to emerge as the APC presidential candidate with the likes of Tinubu in the contest, Umahi said: “The Bible that I swore with, a section of in 1 Samuel says that by strength shall no man prevail, and power and might belongs to God. He chooses whomever he wills and he will do that in 2023. I am not in contest with anybody. I am in contest with myself.”
Kalu: Convinced that he is the best man for the job
Kalu is a man of many parts and whose rise to national and international limelight was quite meteoric, making him one of the most visible businessmen, politician and philanthropist in present day Nigeria. A thoroughbred man in commerce, industry and administration, he became Chairman of Borno Water Board at a tender age of 25.
He also served as Chairman of Imo State Marketing and Supply Agency, and Chairman of Cooperative and Commerce Bank Limited in 1987 at the age of 27, making him the youngest person till date to assume such an elevated position in Nigeria.
As member of the House of Representatives between 1992 and 1993, he moved the famous Dual-Citizenship Rights Bill. He was elected the governor in 1999 and his achievements astounded even his most vitriolic critics.
The then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, during a visit to state described his as “Action Governor.” In 2007, Kalu contested for president on the platform of the Progressive Peoples Party (PPA), which he founded, but came third. However, the party went ahead to win the governorship position in two out of the five states (Abia and Imo) in the South-East.
The former Abia State governor is presently the Chief Whip of the Senate is expected to leverage on his goodwill, which cuts across all sections of Nigeria if he throws his hat to ring for the 2023 presidency.
Even former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida spoke of this, when he said in a recent documentary that it will not be a bad idea to give someone like Kalu a chance in 2023.
“If we can have bright people like Orji Kalu, who will be interested in running the country, why not,” Babangida said. Perhaps, it was against the backdrop of Babangida’s proposition that a group in the northern part of Nigeria under the auspices of Arewa Youths for Orji Uzor Kalu equally expressed support for the Chief Whip of the Senate to become the next president of the country.
The group described Kalu as the best presidential material for the 2023 general election and urged the APC to commence a process of adopting him as the sole candidate of the party. “Kalu’s managerial skill, experience and national appeal put him in the best position to rule Nigeria in 2023.
This may sound odd in the eyes of Nigerians especially those nursing the intention to run for the number one seat in the land.
Be that as it may, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu’s acceptability demonstrates the settled resolve of the youths in the 19 northern states to support him to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Kalu is a results-oriented leader with a proven track record that can sustain and consolidate the gains recorded by the current administration. Kalu is the best bet for the APC in 2023.
He is a presidential material with experience in the private sector; executive and legislative arms of government. “It is imperative to state that, with Nigerians pushing for a president of South-East extraction, the stakeholders in APC need not look any further because the dutiful and detribalised Orji Uzor Kalu is the right candidate for the party.
His influence cuts across all the six geopolitical zones in the country. He was the Chairman of the Borno Water Board at the age of 25; Chairman of multinational companies and a former governor of Abia State.
“We are totally convinced that what Nigeria needs right now is a courageous and vibrant leader who is capable of managing a complex nation like Nigeria. That resourceful manager is Kalu,” the group said.
Apparently responding to the call by the Northern youth group and similar calls for him to declare his 2023 presidential ambition, Kalu told Nigerians last week that he would do so if the APC zones its ticket to the South. He added that he has takes what it takes to match anyone who indicates interest from the region, including Tinubu.
His words: “I do not see Tinubu’s aspiration having any effect on the president of Nigeria coming from the Igbo area. Because we are talking based on what Nigeria should be; we are talking based on what people should believe. Obasanjo was president for eight years.
Osinbajo is doing eight years as vice president and no Igbo man since independence has been a democratically elected president. So, it is always good to think of what is reasonable and what will be more sellable.
“I’m the most prepared presidential candidate in Nigeria. I’m capable health wise, I am capable as a person, I am capable in my pocket. I am capable to face anybody. But the party is supreme. I will only wait for APC as a party.
For me, contesting for president is not the issue. The issue is who is going to lead the country into an economic miracle, into a turnaround. I am not against Tinubu. If it is zoned to his area and the party said he should go. Well, the party is supreme. I am only waiting for the party.”
On what his presidency will offer Nigerians, the Senate Chief Whip, declared that the security of lives and property as well as growing a robust economy would be his priorities if he becomes the standard bearer of the APC and wins the 2023 presidential election.
He said: “My first priority will be to give the Nigerian people a secured country. From the edge of the Sahara Desert in the North to the Atlantic Ocean in the South, I’ll like to provide security and give Nigerians the freedom to go to anywhere they want to go because everybody needs freedom. “Secondly, is to restore the confidence of the Nigerian people in their country.
The youth need the confidence; the elderly people need the confidence; the men and women need the confidence to go to anywhere they want to go in the world. They should be able to go anywhere and say: I’m proudly Nigerian. We have not lost confidence in where we are coming from.”
Kalu also said that should he become president, the Nigerian economy will undergo major reforms particularly in the power sector. According to him, he will pursue a policy of recommercialisation of electricity to make it available and affordable to the populace.
Kalu also said that he will assemble a formidable economic team that will come up with policies to ensure that industrialists, bankers, traders, students and all other segments of the population have a feel of a well-managed economy.
Against the backdrop of the declarations so far, mostly by the APC chieftains of Southern Nigeria extraction, the question many have asked is: Can Tinubu, Kalu, Umahi and other southern aspirants sustain the steam as the race for the presidential ticket of the ruling party is likely to have entrants from the North? Another question begging for answer(s) is:
How will the aspirants react should the North come up with a plan B; foisting a preferred presidential candidate of southern extraction on the ruling party if the region’s bid to retain power beyond 2023 fails.? Issues have also been raised over the forthcoming national convention of the ruling party, which may alter the calculations.
The convention will elect a successor to the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led National Caretaker Committee of the party.
The plot of a preferred candidate by some northern APC chieftains is aimed at ensuring that whoever emerges as the next president protects the interest of the North post-2023 given reports that some northern political leaders are looking at pockets of personalities of southern extraction as possible presidential candidates, who, the North will in turn extract commitments from to ensure protection of the region’s interest after Buhari.
Already penciled down by some northern APC leaders, according to sources are two ministers in the Buhari cabinet of southern extraction. This is against the belief in some political quarters that the APC presidential ticket would be ceded to the South-West, with Tinubu as the main contender.
The sources, particularly, noted that the game plan by the North is fast gaining currency within the APC fold and that the ruling party will throw the contest for its presidential ticket open.
Asked whether voters in North will not prefer to support the PDP if the opposition opts for a northern presidential candidate, the source maintained that most northern electorate will still go with the APC in 2023 even if the PDP fields a candidate from their region as according to him, what matters most to the people of the region at the moment is a president who will stabilize the country.
“Insecurity is further accentuating poverty in the North and that explains why some people and groups in the region are calling on Buhari to resign as president.
All the region is in interested at the moment is stability. But when it comes to making choices, I don’t think the North is going to make a shift from the APC.
“The people of the region would be guided by interest, when taking decision on who becomes the next president. And it will interest you to know that North is more ready for progressive politics ahead of 2023.
So, the consensus of most people in the region is that Nigeria needs a president, who will ensure security and development.” he said.
While there is nothing wrong with any of the trio, who have so for shown interest in the APC presidential ticket to use the “early declaration” to feel the peoples’ pulse concerning their respective ambitions, it expected the political development will afford Nigerians the opportunity to critically assess those aspiring to lead them after the