BY SEGUN AYOBOLU
ISSUES IN APC PRIMARIES
In his address to governors of the All Progressives Congress (APC) before his departure to Spain on a state visit, President Muhammadu Buhari stressed the need for him to give stronger leadership to the party at this time to help enhance party cohesion as well as strengthen the APC’s chances of winning not just the next presidential elections but a majority of state governorships as well as national and state legislative seats. To achieve this, he reportedly solicited the support of the governors in allowing him to choose the party’s next presidential flag bearer just as incumbent first term governors have been given the opportunity of contesting for a second term in office and those in their second term to influence those who succeed them in the interest of continuity. It is instructive that the President sought the cooperation of governors and promised to consult all stakeholders in the unfolding process. This implies that he is not necessarily demanding that he unilaterally determine the choice of the party’s presidential candidate as it has been widely interpreted.
For one, the stakes in the contest for the party’s presidential ticket and the country’s presidency are much higher than those in the bid either for party executive positions at national or state levels or even for governorship tickets at state level. There is thus likely to be open or subtle resistance to perceived imposition at this level. For the choice of the presidential candidate to be credible and thus acceptable to the losers so that the party can face the election as a cohesive whole, the process must be seen to be open and transparent. At least 23 persons have fulfilled the party’s conditions for picking its nomination and expression of interest forms, paid the humongous stipulated fees and some of these have been crisis-crossing the country aggressively wooing delegates who will vote in what is believed will be free, fair and credible primaries. The game has already started; trying to change the rules midstream will prove costly and combustible.
While it is true that incumbent governors have considerable influence in determining either their emergence as candidates for re-election for a second term or favored aspirants who will succeed governors in their last tenure, this cannot be done arbitrarily or in violation of stipulated party and constitutional regulations. The APC is supposed to have learnt this lesson the hard way when it lost some states to the opposition in the past through judicial pronouncements that it had violated its own constitutionally stipulated processes for picking candidates. It cannot afford to gamble with the presidency.
I am unaware of any state either in the APC or PDP where governorship candidates emerged without primaries no matter how contrived the latter may be perceived to be. Trying to foist a consensus presidential candidate on the APC and avoiding interested aspirants testing their electoral strength and acceptability in intra -party primaries will be counter-productive especially as the PDP has set the example of conducting open and competitive primaries.
Yes, the PDP primaries had its own challenges and shortcomings. But at least no attempt was made to shut any aspirant out or contrive the emergence of a candidate without competition. The point has been made that the PDP primaries was excessively monetized with a surfeit of dollars expended on delegates by aspirants with huge war chests. But has the ongoing APC process not also been unduly monetized with the nomination and expression of interest fees for various offices demanded by the party far in excess of that of the PDP? The central and unhealthy role of money in the country’s political and electoral processes is a function of the pervasive poverty in the country as well as the errancy of the political elite and will gradually decline as the democratic culture is strengthened and the political consciousness of the people develops.
Others contend that the PDP violated its own canon of zoning which demands that its presidential candidate comes from the South rather than the North which has been in control of the presidency since 2015 with the expectation that power will shift to the South after Buhari’s tenure in 2023. But the greater burden in this respect lies with the APC. The party will have to justify why its next presidential candidate should come from the north immediately after the tenure of a northern President who has spent eight years in power on its platform. It will be easy for the PDP to rationalize that the last occupant of the office on its platform was from the South. In any case, the PDP did not screen out any candidate for ridiculous reasons or preclude aspirants from any region from participating in its primaries.
It is instructive that governor Nyesom Wike, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s closest challenger, has claimed that he was betrayed by governors from the South. An analysis of the outcome of the results indicate that a good number of delegates from the South actually voted for Atiku rather than Wike. But the important thing is that the PDP primaries were openly and transparently conducted and no aspirant unjustly excluded setting a standard for the APC to emulate.
Some tendencies within the APC contend that with the emergence of Atiku as the PDP presidential candidate, the party’s flag bearer must also be picked from the North in order to prevent the PDP’s monopoly of votes in the region. Others insist that the APC must respect the principle of zoning as the choice of an astute presidential candidate from the South with national acceptance and network can triumph over Atiku at the polls. Supporters of some of the aspirants promote their choice as the best to fly the party’s flag in terms of competence, track record and ability to effectively tackle the country’s challenges. Arguments can be made either for against these propositions. The critical thing is to allow the elected delegates to make a final choice for the party in free, fair and transparent primaries conducted in accordance with stipulated rules and regulations.
President Buhari no doubt has the right to have a preferred aspirant in mind to emerge as the party’s flag bearer and succeed him in office if he wins the general elections. Such a person will certainly enjoy whatever advantages the President’s incumbency confers. However, what, from all indications, critical party stakeholders and majority of members will oppose is the imposition of a presidential candidate under any disguise. Any aspirant must subject himself to the decision of delegates in a competitive contest. Unfortunately, this is exactly what a powerful clique in the party is obviously trying to avoid by all means. Thus, the inexplicable delays in the commencement of the process of nominating a presidential flag bearer that ultimately led to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shifting the deadline for the conduct of primaries and submission of candidates obviously to the benefit of the APC.
The air has been thick with rumors and speculations of subterranean plots by a clique to exclude some aspirants who it is believed will be difficult to defeat in primaries as well as manipulate the process to facilitate the emergence of a preordained candidate. That would be gravely injurious not only to the cohesion and continued existence of the party but its electoral fortunes in 2023. In taking an undisguised dig at the party’s frontline presidential aspirant, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, an unrelenting advocate of open, competitive primaries, some have claimed on social media that he has equally imposed candidates to emerge as governors of Lagos State since his exit from office in 2007. This is verifiably untrue.
Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) emerged as Tinubu’s successor in 2007 after an intense struggle within the defunct Action Congress (AC) for the party’s ticket; a contest that involved a number of persons in Tinubu’s Cabinet wishing to step into his shoes. Fashola had the upper hand because he enjoyed the backing of the two major tendencies within the party at the time, Justice Forum and Mandate Group. While Fashola was unopposed within the party in his quest for a second term, Mr Akinwumi Ambode emerged as the APC governorship candidate in 2015 after an intensely contested party primaries in which Dr Obafemi Hamzat and Mr Supo Sasore (SAN) among others put up a strong showing. In 2019, the incumbent governor, Mr Jide Sanwo-Olu, emerged as APC candidate in direct primaries in which all party members participated and then governor Ambode was a contestant.
Incidentally, Tinubu is probably the only aspirant who has intensified his wooing of party delegates in the run up to the primaries scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. Within the week, he was in Cross River, Oyo and Ogun states canvassing support for his aspiration. In Cross River and Oyo, Tinubu spoke of his competence, credibility and track record of performance as making him suitable to offer effective leadership to the country after Buhari. However, in Ogun, he went down memory lane and dwelt at length on his pivotal roles in the formation of the APC, the emergence of Buhari as the party’s candidate in 2015 and Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s nomination as Vice Presidential candidate, the party’s electoral victories in 2015 and 2019 as well as the emergence of Dapo Abiodun as governor of the state in the face of stiff opposition.
If he spoke in anger, it is understandable against the background of what is perceived as efforts by a tiny minority to thwart his aspiration, not through a competitive process, but by underhand maneuvers to prevent a level playing ground for all aspirants. After all, he is human. It is difficult to fault the contention that Tinubu aptly fits the bill of a true party man and one capable of winning an emphatic electoral victory for the party; attributes which President Buhari spelt out as being critical in choosing the party’s presidential flag bearer. But ultimately, it is for the party delegates to decide and they should be seen to have been given the opportunity to do so freely and fairly.