2015: Battle Of Titans For APC Ticket

In this report, LEKE BAIYEWU highlights the challenges with choosing the 2015 presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress

Fielding the most suitable and eligible candidate by any political party in any election is critical. In a political clime like Nigeria, where parties are believed give more priority to gaining power than good governance delivery, fielding a winning candidate is a big deal.

The coming year — 2015 — is another season of elections. President Goodluck Jonathan’s first term ends in May and the next occupant of the presidential seat is expected to have emerged not less than three months to the expiration of the current tenure.

A party like the opposition all Progressives Congress, which is bent on unseating Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party, is having a former Head of State, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) and a former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar as presidential aspirants.

Beside Abubakar and Buhari, there is also the Kano State Governor, Ibrahim Kwankwaso, who has declared his interest in the APC’s ticket. He is another political force to reckon with, especially in the North.

One easy decision the APC has taken, according to analysts, is that the party reportedly zoned its presidential slot to the North even though it opened the door to aspirants from other parts of the country.

This, the analysts said, would win the hearts of the apostles of Jonathan’s alleged ‘one-term pact’ with leaders of the region, who want a return of power to the North in 2015.

The PDP has settled for Jonathan, from Bayelsa in the South-South, after member of its National Working Committee, National Executive Council, National Working Committee and the PDP Governors’ Forum, among other blocs, have unanimously endorsed him. Consequently, the party had ruled out its presidential primary election.

Unlike the PDP, the APC has insisted on conducting primary, which is scheduled to hold on December 2.

Political pundits have, however, said having Buhari, Abubakar and Kwankwaso contesting the ticket of the same party, is a big challenge to their host party, owing to their political clout. In fact, there is a projection in some quarters that the making and breaking of the APC lies on how it handles the issue.

The three most prominent APC presidential aspirants have strong profiles politically.

Buhari, 72, is a Fulani-Muslim from Katsina State. He became Nigeria’s military Head of State on December 31, 1983 after coup d’etat that unseated civilian President Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983. He left the position on August 27, 1985 after another coup. He has been active in politics since democracy returned in 1999.

Observers of his political career have described him as a ‘veteran presidential contestant’ for he had contested in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 presidential elections. If he wins the APC primary, 2015 will be his fourth.

In 2003, he ran on the platform of the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party against Olusegun Obasanjo and lost to the PDP candidate. He ran again on the platform of the ANPP, with Umaru Yar’Adua of the PDP as his biggest challenger and who he lost to. He left the ANPP in 2010 for the Congress for Progressive Change, where he contested against President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 and lost.

The CPC and the ANPP had in 2013 merged with other political parties to form the APC, on which platform Buhari now wants to contest in 2015.

For Abubakar, it is similar story. The retired Deputy Director of Customs and Excise, who is almost 68, is also a Fulani from Adamawa State.

In 1991, Abubakar won the governorship primary of the Social Democratic Party in the defunct Gongola State – the state that was later broken into what is today known as Adamawa and Taraba states. He was later disqualified from the contest by the government.

Again in 1992, Atiku in the SDP’s presidential primary and later stepped down for MKO Abiola, the winner – with an unwritten agreement that Abiola would pick Atiku as his running mate. Abiola, however, picked Babagana Kingibe, the runner-up, as his running mate.

In 1998, Abubakar contested and won the governorship election in Adamawa State on the platform of the PDP. He was, however, chosen by Obasanjo, as his running mate – an election they won in 1999. He was the vice-president of the country from 1999 to 2007.

Abubakar was the presidential candidate of the Action Congress (later Action Congress of Nigeria, which became part of today’s APC) in the 2007 election, on which platform he contested against Yar’Adua and Buhari. He came third in the election – after Yar’Adua, the winner and Buhari, the first runner up – with approximately 2.6 million or 7 per cent of total votes. In protest, Abubakar rejected the election results, described it as Nigeria’s “worst election ever” and called for its cancellation.

Again in 2011, after returning to the PDP, he contested against President Jonathan and Sarah Jubril for the party’s presidential ticket and Jonathan won.

Abubakar was part of the breakaway faction of the PDP known as the New PDP. Majority of the aggrieved PDP members, including him, later joined the APC prior to its registration by the Independent National Electoral Commission as a political party.

Kwankwaso is not a political neophyte either. The 58-year-old is from Kano State, also in the North.

He was elected to the House of Representatives in the aborted Third Republic, where he became the Deputy Speaker. He was a member of the Gen. Shehu Yar’adua-led ‘Peoples Front’ faction of the SDP and the Peoples Democratic Movement also led by Yar’adua. He represented Kano at the 1995 Constitutional Conference.

Kwankwaso is one of the founders of the PDP by virtue of his PDM membership, which was one the bodies that formed the ruling party. Today, the governor is being touted as the heir to the of Mallam Aminu Kano’s political dynasty.

He was the Governor of Kano, arguably the second populous state in the country after Lagos, between 1999 and 2003. He contested the 2003-to-2007 tenure and lost to Ibrahim Shekarau (now Minister of Education).

Kwankwaso was re-elected as governor of the state in 2011; his tenure ends in May 2015.

Beside Buhari, Abubakar and Kwankwaso, there is also Governor Adams Oshimhole of Edo State in the south-southern part of the country. Former Governor of Kwara State and Senator Representing Kwara-Central Senatorial District, Bukola Saraki, had stepped down from the race, saying the political outlook for 2015 is complicated.

Confirming the puzzling nature of the contest, the spokesperson of the APC in the South-East, Osita Okechukwu, a pro-Buhari, had said, “Many aspirants have expressed interest in the APC presidential ticket and all of them are qualified, so the party is considering whether to go for direct or indirect primary. But some of us are of the opinion that consensus may be better.

“But the likely challenge is that the person with a fat pocket may win the primary, considering the fact that he can just sit somewhere and control the situation of things.”

Okechukwu’s comment tallied with Buhari’s claim that his presidential campaign is the most underfunded in comparison with his fellow aspirants and in the history of elections in the Nigeria.

The retired general, while addressing members of the Buhari Support Group in Abuja on September 30, 2014, said, “Whatever we have been able to do, the credit belongs to you. We may be the most underfunded project in the history of this country, but by the grace of God and your support, we are the greatest crowd puller in the nation today; and the credit for all this goes to you for being there on the scene of the struggle.”

In a veiled reference to the imminent clash of the titans in the APC, Saraki, in a statement by his media aide, Bamikole Omisore, last Sunday, said, “I don’t think our party can afford too much internal rancour going into next year’s election. I, therefore, think some of us need to make the sacrifice and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem of the party.”

Earlier on October 6, the senator had claimed that, “Even in the early days of the PDP, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Alex Ekwueme had primaries and the party did not disintegrate. I can open up and tell you that I have had the opportunity to sit with Gen. Buhari, Alhaji Abubakar and Alhaji Kwankwaso. There are assurances from them that whichever way the primary goes, they will support whoever emerges as the candidate.”

In an attempt apparently aimed at mitigating the possible fallout of its proposed primary, the party is considering all options on the conduct of the primary, it was learnt.

While Buhari’s loyalists are said to be pushing for his adoption as consensus candidate, Abubakar’s supporters prefer the indirect primaries earlier agreed upon by the party.

Also, where the proposed consensus plan fails, Buhari’s supporters have insisted that the nomination of candidates “shall be through direct or indirect primary election,” as stipulated by the APC constitution.

On the other hand, supporters of Abubakar have pointed out that the direct or indirect primary system entailed voting by party members and should be adhered to.

For now, the party is still consulting on the best mode to adopt for its presidential primary.

The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Lai Mohammed, had dismissed the insinuation of having difficulty with resolving the issue of three strong candidates seeking the party’s presidential ticket but observers of developments in the party have a contrary view.

“The primary is yet to hold. We should leave them till when the time comes. As long as the process is transparent, the party will resolve the matter,” Mohammed had said.

Speaking to SUNDAY PUNCH, Abubakar’s media adviser, Garba Shehu, said those who believe that mismanagement of the primary could threaten the unity if the APC were right. He, however, said what the party needed was to urgently conduct the primary for the candidate to have enough time for campaign.

Shehu said, “The emergence of a candidate shouldn’t be a problem for any party that is nuanced in democratic norms. The feeling in our camp is that the earlier the better for the party. There is no primary that leaves no wounds and scars. There will be hurt feelings in the party that need to heal – to reconcile all members – and we need time to do that.”

He also noted that the PDP and the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria, a pro-Jonathan political group, had held massive campaigns for Jonathan, even when he had yet to declare interest in the election.

Copyright PUNCH.

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