There are strong indications that the All Progressives Congress may field a northern candidate that can compete with the Peoples Democratic Party if the opposition party picks its presidential standard-bearer from the North in 2023.
The PUNCH gathered on Monday that although the APC was interested in zoning its presidential ticket to the South, the outcome of the PDP’s presidential primary scheduled for May 28 and May 29 would determine its final decision.
It was also learnt that the chieftains of the party in the North had started shopping for a strong presidential candidate from the region if the PDP’s candidate is picked from the North.
The speculation that a northern candidate emerging at the presidential primary of the APC on May 30 have continued to rise due to the possibility of the opposition PDP to present a northern candidate.
Currently, the majority of the APC presidential aspirants including its national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo; the Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi; the Ebonyi State Governor, Dr Dave Umahi and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, are from the South except a few like the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, who hails from the North-Central.
The APC’s National Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, had in an interview with State House correspondents on Friday, said the party had yet to zone its presidential ticket.
But a member of the party’s National Working Committee, who confided in one of our correspondents, said, “The presidential ticket can go anywhere. In fact, we will get a strong northern candidate that can defeat the PDP if it zones its presidency to the North.”
Efforts to reach the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka, were unsuccessful as he failed to answer the calls made to his phone.
But in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria on Monday, a founding member of the APC, Mr Osita Okechukwu, confirmed the possibility of a northerner emerging at the party’s presidential primary.
He said the party was fine-tuning its strategies on the 12 million vote bank of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
The APC had in 2015 claimed that Buhari had strong support base in the core North, where 12 million voters, which the party referred to as the President’s 12 million vote bank, would always vote for him.
It added that the 12 million voters consistently supported him in 2007 and 2011. According to the party, the President won in 2015 with additional support from the South-West.
On Monday, Okechukwu said the APC had been watching with studied interest “the desperation of the PDP to prey on President Muhammadu Buhari’s 12 million vote bank.”
According to him, as a political party, the APC has to fine-tune its strategies for the general elections.
Okechukwu said that although it was doubtful that any politician in the PDP could sweep Buhari’s 12 million votes away, the PDP’s desperation to break into Buhari’s 12 million Vote Bank explained APC’s indecision.
He stated, “Although one is not holding the brief of our distinguished national Chairman, Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, one’s little understanding is that the leadership of our great party is watching closely the desperation and antics of our elder sister political party, the PDP.
“They want to capture power by all means, indeed using Machiavellian tactics. We all know that PDP is famished, thirsty and desperate to win the Presidency in 2023. They loathe the loss of their slogan, ‘Share the Money’, through their absence from power at the centre for seven going to eight years.”
Presidential ticket: APC adopting cat and mouse game with PDP, says VON DG
Explaining why the PDP should be blamed if the South failed to get the presidency, Okechukwu said it was unconscionable and despicable that the opposition party should breach the zoning convention, which helped in no small measure to unite and harmonise the country.
The “PDP,” he said, “is aware that President Buhari will not be on the ballot in 2023, therefore, for them there is a void to fill. They must have reasoned that the Buhari’s Vote Bank would be up for grabs if they go north.
“The PDP’s calculation is a desperate one, and selfish to the extent that they breached their own constitution and their age-long die-hard supporters in the South, especially the South-East.
“As a corollary, the APC seems to have adopted the cat and mouse game, because if the PDP adopts the terra firma or doctrine of realpolitik, which places electoral victory above their constitution, the moral high ground and ethics of their members and supporters in the South; the APC wants to do the pragmatic thing. That is going back to the drawing board.”
Okechukwu also explained why the ruling party was shifting away from implementing the party’s earlier zoning format of swapping offices between north and south, as declared by Governor Nasir El-Rufai before the March 26 National Convention.
He stated, “If at the end of the day the zoning fails, we should blame the PDP’s desperation, because we have been advocating a repeat of the chiefs Obasanjo/Falae; Yar’Adua/Buhari and Buhari/Atiku models of 1999, 2007 and 2019.”
“To be frank, my take on the matter is that the swap option is still open, because some of us from the South are still arguing that we have dormant votes, especially Igbo votes which will augment APC members’ votes from the North,” he added.
On his part, a former Governor of Benue State and current Minister of Special Duties, George Akume, on Monday said the APC would arrive at a zoning arrangement that would be acceptable to all party stakeholders.
Akume disclosed this to State House Correspondents shortly after he joined at least 100 guests on Sallah homage to the President at the New State House Banquet Hall.
Presidential ambition: God will show us the way, says Lawan
There were reports on Monday that the President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, and some northerners would join the presidential race.
But Lawan, in an interview with State House Correspondents, said the reports were speculative.
According to him, such political ambitions remain secondary as they can only thrive when the country and the economy are stable.
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He stated, “If we stabilise our economy, we stabilise our country, then people can contest, but for now everything is speculative and I believe that God, in His infinite mercy, will show us the way.”
Claim on Buhari’s 12 million vote bank insulting – PDP spokesman
In its reaction on the VON director-general claim, the PDP spokesman, Debo Ologunagba, in an interview with The PUNCH, said it was insulting to say Buhari had 12 million vote bank.
He said, “That’s the impunity with which they deal with Nigerians. It means even when they (Nigerians) are being killed, they will continue to vote in that manner because they are a bank, just like sperm bank where you go to if you need a baby.
“So among the 12 million voters, nobody has died? It is consistent with the mindset of the APC and Buhari that people can be a dot in a circle just like he described the whole of South-East Nigeria which is very critical to this country.
“It is nauseating to describe people as vote bank. Many of those people have died due to the rudderlessness of this country. Do they mean that none of those people has been killed by terrorists who were imported by APC in 2019 for elections?
“Are you telling me that those people don’t deserve the leadership of a president who should be sympathetic and have empathy on the people that are suffering? You see, this is the madness we encounter under this government which doesn’t see citizens as anything but a product that can be purchased and dumped at will.
“Human beings are now vote bank? Can you believe that? If a person voted in a particular way the last time, can’t he or she vote differently this time around? What he’s saying is that those people are his cows and that their votes are with him. That’s it, because he has a cow mentality.”
The Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Dare Ariyo-Atoye, reminded the ruling party that the votes gotten by one candidate could not be transferred to another.
He said, “I think it’s important that the people of Nigeria are not taken for granted by the ruling and failed All Progressives Congress. Let it be on record that President Buhari doesn’t have 12 million votes for himself nor the APC. It is true that there are still some Nigerians, especially in Katsina and a few other states, who are still painfully loyal to the President. But without a popular candidate who can win election on his own and possibly benefit from the vast structure of the APC in different states of the federation, the APC may lose the forthcoming election because the party has performed poorly and has failed to give Nigerians a good representation.”
On his part, the National Coordinator, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, reminded the APC that many who voted for the President had openly regretted the action.
He said, “Human beings are not machines. Some of those voters might have died or travelled out of the country. To a lot of people, the 12 million is an illusion, it is fake. Let’s even assume that it is real, it is not possible that the APC will get such again.”
The Executive Director of the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, Okechukwu Nwanguma, told The PUNCH during a telephone interview on Monday that in a free and fair electoral environment, Buhari would not likely get 100 votes from his own village
However, the Executive Director, Journalists for Democratic Rights, Mr Adewale Adeoye, explained to The PUNCH that there was a possibility that millions would still vote for the APC due to a lack of viable party alternative.
You can’t kill zoning, Afenifere, Ohanaeze tell northern elders
Meanwhile, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum has warned political parties and stakeholders in the political circle not to tinker with the issue of zoning and power rotation offices especially for the Presidency in the 2023 elections.
The organisation warned that doing so would further threaten the unity of Nigeria.
The SMBLF which comprises Ohanaeze, Afenifere, Pan Niger Delta Forum and the Middle Belt Forum, said the recent comment by the APC national chairman that the party had not decided on the zoning of the Presidency, with about 30 days to the Presidential primaries, “amounts to outright dishonesty and chicanery.”
While calling on northerners to “stop their trickery”, because “enough is enough!”, the SMBLF said, “We cannot have a northerner President for eight years and then welcome another Northern President for another eight years or more. That is unacceptable to us.”
The organisation therefore, strongly cautioned “all our governors, former governors and top politicians not to accept the Vice Presidency nomination from any Northern presidential candidate.”
The SMBLF was particularly reacting to a recent statement credited to the chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, that zoning was “dead and buried.”
The organisation described as “rather unfortunate and absurd that Ango Abdullahi and his Northern Elders Forum would make such twaddle.”
The SMBLF said, “Are they now ready to dissolve the country? What has happened that zoning, which has been a sine qua non in the nation’s political progression has now become a ‘dead and buried’ issue, in the irrational contemplations of Ango Abdullahi and his co-travelers? Could it be due to the incapacity, insipidity and disastrous performance of the Buhari administration or the narcissistic desire to perpetuate Hausa/Fulani hegemony?”
APC will violate its zoning principles by denying southern candidates ticket—Analyst
A public analyst, Victor Giwa, said the APC would be violating its constitution and zoning principle if it gives its presidential ticket to a northern candidate.
The lawyer and activist argued that the party has the responsibility to be fair and equitable in the primary by giving its ticket to a southern presidential candidate.
Giwa stated, “If the APC decides to give its ticket to a northern candidate, it has violated the principle of fairness and equity; two, it has violated its principle of zoning and three, it has shown to Nigerians that it is a party that does not keep to its own constitution and it does not have political conscience.
‘’Nigerians will also determine, in the final analysis, that they do not want a party which does not respect those principles and which does not have political conscience.’’