Presidential hopefuls in the All Progressives Congress have commenced a subtle campaign for the party’s most prized ticket,Sunday PUNCH has authoritatively learnt.
Even as this jockeying gathers steam, the party hierarchy is weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each of them while it’s considering president/vice-presidential pairing options.
Sources in the party told our correspondent that the battle for the presidential ticket intensified following the recent release of the 2015 general elections timetable by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
While the party has said it is leaving all positions open to members from all the country’s geopolitical zones, the latest political manoeuvrings within the party indicate that the APC presidential candidate may emerge from the North while the vice-presidential candidate may come from the South-West.
SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that politicians who hoped to clinch the party’s tickets had begun to lobby and reach out to various interests in the party. Prominent among such aspirants are a former military Head of State, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.); former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar; Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso; and Publisher of Leadership newspaper, Sam Nda-Isaiah.
Our correspondent also learnt that some interest groups are also pushing the presidential candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria in 2011, Nuhu Ribadu, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, to contest.
Those that have been linked with the vice-presidential race in the party are Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola; Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi; Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi; Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole; Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha; a former Governor of Lagos State and a national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
Buhari is known to have a large number of supporters and a cult following among the northern Muslim population.
He got about 12 million votes in the 2011 presidential election. However, he has been unable to enjoy similar popularity among northern Christians and the generality of voters in the South-West, South-East and South-South.
A senior APC party man, who is privy to all the current permutations in the party, told our correspondent, on condition of anonymity, that Buhari might be difficult to sell to party members. The party, he said, would only consider a Buhari candidature if he had a Christian running mate.
“Christians in the North won’t vote for Buhari and you can also add regions where he is not very popular, like the South. A Christian deputy may solve this problem but it may still not get APC the votes of northern Christians which are a significant number.
“Other northern power brokers that have huge followership are not particularly keen on a Buhari candidature. These are some of the challenges confronting the party.”
Although Buhari has not said he will contest in the election, there has been speculations that he might. Speaking on Friday, Buhari’s spokesman, Rotimi Fashakin, confirmed to our correspondent that the former Head of State had no intention of dropping his presidential ambition.
He said, “The presidential desire of the amiable general is still on course. Nothing has changed it. We have always told all who cared to listen that at this time of our country’s evolution, where looting and plundering of the nation’s resources by Peoples Democratic Party has reached a crescendo under this administration, a Buhari administration is imperative in this country.”
Fashakin added that Buhari remained the only Nigerian that could beat Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election.
“Buhari got 12 million votes in an election that was supervised by Jonathan’s administration. We know he got more than that because we investigated and we found out about the Excel spreadsheet deduction that was done in Kano and Katsina.
“It is instructive that even though the election was manipulated and Buhari vied on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change, which was formed barely 10 months before the 2011 election, the INEC still declared that he got 12 million votes,” he said.
Analysts say what Abubakar has in his favour is the huge campaign war chest that is said to be at his disposal. Currently, he is widely seen as one of the richest members of the APC. However, Abubakar, who joined the party barely two weeks ago, is widely viewed as incapable of delivering the number of Northern votes Buhari could deliver. Although Abubakar had told SUNDAY PUNCH, last week, that he did not join APC because of his ambition to be President, party sources said he was interested in the race.
“Atiku does not hide his ambition of being president but that may be tough for him to actualise on the platform of the APC. He has the resources but we doubt if he can deliver the number of votes the APC needs in the North. Don’t forget that should President Goodluck Jonathan contest in 2015, he will get South-South votes totally, so we need someone that can deliver all the votes in the North,” said the top official of the party.
Kwankwaso is a known Buhari loyalist and has many followers in Kano, one of the most populous states in the country. SUNDAY PUNCH learnt that Kwankwaso may emerge as a dark horse going by the permutations in the APC. Those in the know say Kano governor could be adopted by the party’s power brokers if Buhari drops his ambition to contest.
“Many in APC believe that Kwankwaso is a better sell than Buhari, especially to northern Christians and southerners. He is getting more popular and he is not resented in the South. He may not be as popular as Buhari and Atiku but if these two men support him, together with a strong deputy who is a Christian, they will make a good combination,” the source said.
Nda-Isaiah is a Christian from Niger State and reportedly has the support of the stupendously rich former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd.), and some other bigwigs in the North. Danjuma’s reported support for Nda-Isaiah is a big boost because Danjuma, a very successful businessman, is very rich. Nda-Isaiah is also seen as an aspirant who may win considerable number of votes in the Middle-Belt region. Already he is moving around different parts of the country and holding meetings with groups to actualise his ambition.
Though famous due to his role as the pioneer Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the last election showed that Ribadu may not be able to bring sufficient votes to the table.
The very reliable source said, “He won’t get sufficient votes in the North. He is even more popular in the South than in the North. The alternative will be to make him a vice-presidental candidate but that won’t be possible as the presidential ticket would most likely go to the North. Ribadu may contest for the governorship election in Adamawa State.”
For Tambuwal, though he is still a member of the PDP, barring last-minute changes, he is expected to defect to the APC before 2015.
However, just like Ribadu, the Speaker of the House of Representatives is not seen as a candidate that can attract the votes that Buhari will in the North.
“Tambuwal is more popular in the South than in the North, what APC needs is a candidate that will bring all northern votes. His delay in joining the APC is another issue. Other hopefuls who are working hard for the party would have gone far ahead of him in their lobbying,” the senior APC member stated.
Apart from the contenders that have indicated interest in the race, the party is also said to be considering a former PDP chairman, Audu Ogbeh, and popular Borno politician, Kashim Ibrahim-Imam, who contested the Borno governorship poll twice as the candidate of the PDP.
SUNDAY PUNCH further gathered that of all the prospects for the vice-presidential slot, Fayemi is seen as a favourite because he is the only Christian among the prospects from the South-West.
Party leaders are also said to be reluctant to support a Buhari/Tinubu ticket or Kwankwaso/Fashola ticket because both Tinubu and Fashola are Muslims just like Buhari and Kwankwaso.
Amaechi and Oshiomhole, it was also learnt, were currently not highly considered because they come from the South-South geopolitical zone, the political stronghold of President Goodluck Jonathan, who is expected to be the PDP candidate in February 14, 2015 presidential election.
However, the source added that Fashola could stand a better chance of being the vice-presidential candidate if Nda-Isaiah got the presidential ticket.
However, the Interim National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Lai Mohammed, told our correspondent that he was not aware that any member of the party had indicated interest to contest the presidential election.
“I’m not aware (of anybody indicating interest). How is the interest being indicated? Are they writing letters of intention to the party? Are they taking nomination forms? The party has not even done its convention, let alone setting the guidelines for primaries,” Mohammed said.
When asked if he was aware of the extent of lobbying that was going on the aspirants position themselves to clinch the party’s presidential ticket, Mohammed simply said, “Nobody has come to lobby me yet.”
The party official however said Mohammed was reluctant to share details about the lobbying going on among the hopefuls.
“Almost all those interested are holding meetings with interest groups, party members and even in their constituencies and they are not hiding it,” he said.
Going by the INEC timetable, which states that parties are expected to start their primary elections on October 2, all aspirants would have to declare their intention to contest within the next seven months.