Barring any last minute change, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) will announce its presidential candidate for the 2023 general polls on June 1, 2022.
This is in line with the new timetable for the 2023 general elections released recently by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), mandating all political parties to complete the conduct of their primaries not later than June 3.
The APC National Executive Committee (NEC) had on April 20, at its meeting held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja, approved May 30, 31 and June 1, 2022 for the party’s presidential primary election.
Sequel to the development, aspirants vying for various offices have sprung up and bought the forms.
The party had pegged its expression of interest and nomination forms for presidency at N100million, governorship, N50million, senatorial, N20million and N10million for House of Representatives aspirants.
But despite the high cost of the forms, aspirants could not be scared away as they trooped in daily to buy.
Surprisingly, the number of presidential aspirants keeps swelling since the commencement of the exercise by the top echelon of the party, to the extent that the party had extended the deadline for the sale of forms, which was initially slated from May 6 to 10 and later shifted to May 12.
At a time, nearly 30 people expressed intention to take over from President Buhari.
Pundits say the entry of party bigwigs into the presidential ring has never been witnessed as it is happening now since 1999.
Prior to the 2015 general elections, only Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd); former governor of Kano State, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; former governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and the late publisher of the LEADERSHIP newspapers, Sam Nda-Isaiah, contested the party’s ticket at the primary held in 2004. In 2019, the party had fewer contenders.
The aspirants this time around
Those in the race for the APC presidential ticket are the national leader of the party and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; former President Goodluck Jonathan; Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba; Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio; a former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole; Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello; former governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun; Ekiti State governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi; Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Godwin Emefiele and former governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha.
Others are Senate President Ahmad Lawan; Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi; Jigawa State governor, Abubakar Badaru; Pastor Tunde Bakare; Cross River State governor, Ben Ayade; former Senate president, Ken Nnamani; Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu; Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige; former governor of Zamfara State, Sani Yarima, former Minister of Information, Ikeobasi Mokelu and a female aspirant, Uju Ohanenye.
However, many Nigerians are wondering the motivation behind the large number of aspirants eying the single seat.
Reasons behind mad rush
Stakeholders and party chieftains in the polity have listed different reasons behind the massive entry by aspirants into the APC presidential race.
Dr Kayode Fayemi, who is one of the presidential aspirants, had said that many bigwigs in the party were in the race because they were inheritors of a country of destiny and desired to work for the peace, unity and security of the nation.
Speaking when he received members of the National Prosperity Movement from the North East and North West at his campaign office in Abuja, Fayemi said the APC would be a key factor and actor in the elections.
“And that is as it should be, given that we are the ruling party at the centre and are responsible for governing 22 states in the federation. Easily, we are the most national of parties. We also remain the most sought-after political association in the land,” he said.
Tinubu also said the increasing number of aspirants seeking the presidential ticket was good for democracy.
He said the rising number of aspirants would put all the contenders on their toes, and dismissed fears that having many contenders could trigger a post-primary crisis in the party.
Beyond the surface
But a former presidential candidate, Chief Martins Onovo, told our reporter in a telephone interview that the massive rush for APC presidential forms despite the huge cost was because President Buhari was indifferent.
He said, “Some of them have been misled by the countenance of Mr President. They interpreted that to be support, even though the president has been telling all of them the same story.”
Onovo also asked the anti-graft agencies in the country to go after the presidential aspirants who paid N100million for forms.
He said, “I invite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other anti-graft agencies to investigate APC aspirants who spent N100m just to get their expression of interest and nomination forms because it is encouraging corruption.”
A chieftain of the party and former presidential candidate, Chief Chekwas Okorie, also said, “The reasons, to the best of my knowledge, may be drawn from two angles. One is the fact that the INEC as an electoral body has given people more confidence that the election would be free and fair.
“Political parties, especially the major ones, have equally given the aspirants the confidence that they will not sit down in one corner and name a candidate; so everybody will have a fair chance.”
A former member of the House of Representatives and 2023 governorship aspirant in Rivers State, Bernard Mikko said, “Many presidential aspirants are springing up because they have seen a democratic process. They feel the APC is more open than the opposition party, which is being controlled by one person.”
But a chieftain of the party, Chief Jackson Lekan Ojo, said many of the aspirants were “investing for the future.”
“What they are trying to do is negotiation for ministerial and other appointments in the future.
“If you look at it, some aspirants are buying forms but they know who they are going to support. In a few days’ time, some of them will be stepping down for others, and there will be proper negotiations,” he said.
A source who does not want to be named said some APC bigwigs who have a moral burden or baggage are in the race as part of their strategies to get cover from the party.
Similarly, multiple sources told Daily Trust Saturday that some joined the race and paid the N100m fee as a way of funding the party indirectly and not necessarily to win the ticket.
A credible source in one of the security agencies said they were aware of what is happening.
“We know the antics of most of the politicians. They are falling over themselves to evade arrest because some of them have corruption allegations. They want to remain in power all the time.
“And you know how Nigerians behave; the moment we go after them, there will be uproar, including from the international community that we want to truncate democracy and we are restricting the political space,” he said.
Some political pundits and party chieftains said that electing someone with a moral burden as the party’s presidential candidate or president in 2023 to succeed President Buhari would have serious implications on the country.
Some of the stakeholders who spoke with our reporter said the act would spell doom for the country, and urged the electorate to vote wisely.
A source who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “If you vote any of them who have not resolved his case with the EFCC or Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), it will be a catastrophic failure.
“But beyond that, no member of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) should aspire to be president because they have failed catastrophically.
“If you claim you have excellent ideas but could not actualise it, being a member of the Executive Council with all the opportunities to get it done, please forget it. This FEC is clearly the worst in the history of Nigeria.”
Another chieftain of the party said, “I think they are coming to fool Nigerians again. Most of them are saying they will continue from where Buhari would stop. That is to say we should be expecting more killings and high prices of foodstuff in the market. So, to me, none of them has the moral justification to contest for the presidency of this country.”
But a former national chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Chief Peter Ameh, told Daily Trust Saturday that inasmuch as some of the aspirants have a moral burden, they equally have the constitutional right to contest because they are presumed innocent until proven otherwise in court.
Another source said many of the aspirants would drop their ambition in the coming days and collapse their structures in favour of some of the formidable aspirants.
“This is not going to be the first time when some of the contenders would endorse others. In return, such aspirants would be paid back the monies they paid for the forms and all the logistics they incurred.
“Above all, they are sure of serious patronage if the aspirant they supported emerge victorious because they would be given appointments or the opportunity to nominate others for ministerial and board membership. They would also be patronised with contracts,” he said.
Some aspirants in tight corner
Daily Trust Saturday reports that some of the aspirants who are appointees of the government are currently in a tight corner over President Buhari’s directive that they should resign and face their campaigns.
The impression they had before was that they would maintain their portfolios while campaigning for elective offices.
And in the event they fail, they would seamlessly continue holding forte in the offices under their control.
However, the recent directive by the president has unsettled some of them.
Already, the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio and Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, announced their resignation on Wednesday.
But some of the ministers are in a tight corner as their chances of securing the party’s apex ticket are uncertain.
They include Emefiele, Amaechi and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who is contesting for the Kebbi governorship ticket, among others.
Buhari had directed that they should vacate their offices not later than May 16, 2022.