Party Primaries: Aspirants’ desperate move and the consensus option

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By Fred Itua, Abuja

With barely two weeks to the conduct of the primaries of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), presidential aspirants have upped their game.

From East to West, North to South, aspirants are crisscrossing every nook and cranny of the Federation, soliciting support from stakeholders, especially delegates.

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For many pundits and political commentators, this year’s presidential primaries of political parties, maybe a sharp departure from the usual norm. For them, it is also an interesting departure from over-reliance on political arrangements.

In the PDP, key aspirants like Nyesom Wike, Atiku Abubakar, Bala Mohammed, Aminu Tambuwal, Bukola Saraki, Peter Obi, among others, have visited almost all the states, selling their manifesto to delegates.

APC aspirants are not exempted. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Ogbonnaya Onu, Rotimi Amaechi, Yahaya Bello, David Umahi, Godswill Akpabio, among others, are in a last-minute push to woo delegates.

Since 1999, however, presidential hopefuls have not visited states to woo delegates like Nigerians are seeing now ahead of 2023. Beside Peter Odili, who tried, but failed in 2007, no other presidential aspirant has done that. The practice until now, was to wait for delegates to arrive at the state capital where primaries will be held.

The usual practice was that aspirants besieged hotels of the delegates and met the various state chapters and on the day of the primaries, it used to be a dollar-rain for delegates, as aspirants would usually outdo one another to get the ticket.

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With the new shift, pundits believe it signals something good for Nigeria. Augustine Ibhagosoria Eigbe, a development communication strategist, in a chat with Daily Sun, said it would usher in a new era.

He said: “It is a great idea for the presidential aspirants to travel to the different states across the country because it will avail them the opportunity to have closer political engagements with stakeholders on how they intend to take the country forward when voted for.

“It strengthens participatory democracy since the delegates are given a sense of belonging by giving them adequate time to understand the plans each aspirant has for their different states when voted for.”

A top PDP contender, Bukola Saraki, for instance, while wooing PDP delegates in Edo, unveiled how he intends to fix some of the country’s problems.

He told delegates: “We know there is a problem in this country. We know that the country needs to be rescued and fixed. We can’t just vote for any kind of leader. We don’t have the luxury of just voting anybody come 2023 because the situation we find ourselves in is severe.

“The country needs leaders that understand the issues. The PDP is the only party today that can give direction to this nation. We have a lot of aspirants at this time that want to be president of this country. Some are more qualified than others.”

For Vice President Yemi Osinbajo: “We should make a decision based on the future of our children… We can make progress; we can move on. All I ask you to do is what is in the best interest of Nigeria; vote in the interest of our children.”

“I promise to give every part of this country a sense of belonging as we did in the past. When we came to power in 1999, we experienced lack of unity and the first thing we did was to form a government of national unity which engendered the peace we needed for successful governance.

“I am going to tackle insecurity because once you tackle insecurity, there will be peace and when there is peace, you can now begin to implement economic reforms which will create jobs and bring about development.

“I am also going to tackle the issue of decentralisation or rather, devolution of powers to the state and the local governments,” said Atiku while addressing delegates in Oyo State

Peter Obi, another leading PDP aspirant noted, while addressing delegates in Kaduna State, said, “Nigeria and Nigerians today have been thrown into poverty than any other country in the world coupled with a high rate of unemployment which is largely due to leadership failure.

“Nigeria is only into consumption and sharing with no tangible investment into the future. We have all it takes to be a great country and that is why I am assuring you today that if I get elected as President, I will take Nigeria from a consuming country to a producing country.

“I will also provide natural security by pulling people out of poverty, secure local and state governments and provide the needed environment because if Nigeria is a producing country, we won’t be where we are now.

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“We are consuming our future in Nigeria, for every 1k borrowed, 90k is used to service it and Nigeria as of today is owing N58 trillion and that is the more reason we must go back to production, invest in youths to be productive.”

Yahaya Bello noted: “Right now, what we have ahead of us is a task of canvassing and consulting all party faithful, leaders, delegates and stalwarts, members and all Nigerians, at home and even in the diaspora to support us, so that we become the standard-bearer of this great party come May 30 and 31, 2022. And, by the special grace of God, I am confident I shall become victorious and the party shall become victorious.

“Yahaya Bello is coming on the table to restore hope for Nigerians, for the entire black Africans and for the entire black nations across the world. That is the hope that we are coming on board with. To unite, to secure and to put the country and our people on the path of progress and prosperity.”

Despite the desperate move, there are fears that the two major parties, may eventually settle for consensus candidates. Interestingly, the option is captured in the newly-signed Electoral Act.

Two pointers to the above moves, were clearly on display a fortnight ago, when Northern Elders’ Forum adopted former President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki and Governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed, as consensus candidates of the North.

Though the move was rejected and also unsettled many PDP presidential aspirants, stakeholders believe it is a pointer to the possibilities that lie ahead.

For the ruling PDP, party stakeholders believe that an open contest, will further weaken the party after the primaries. For them, a ‘gentleman’ consensus arrangement is the way to save the party, with barely two weeks to the exercise.

Board of Trustees chairman of PDP, Walid Jubril, in an interview, told newsmen of a possibility that the party may settle for a consensus arrangement.

“The NEC has made it known earlier that there will be no zoning and no consensus. But right now there is a loophole, therefore we need to review that earlier decision and come up with a consensus candidature.

“We have agreed to sit together to review that very seriously and come up with a suitable candidate to lead our party in the contest.

“We are not stopping any aspirant from contesting but we have to resolve to consensus. All the aspirants from the South east, South west and the North are working together to produce a consensus,” he said.

The headache for the ruling APC appears to be more problematic. President Muhammadu Buhari, in a media interview earlier in the year, hinted that he will pick his successor, but said he won’t reveal his identity.

Answering a question on his likely successor, Buhari said, “No, I will not tell you, because he may be eliminated if I mention his name.” But he added that it did not really matter who succeeded him, saying whoever wins the election will succeed him.

Again, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of APC, in its recent meeting, said the next presidential candidate of the party, will emerge through indirect primaries.

More so, South West leaders of APC, who recently met, failed to agree on a consensus arrangement; the region has the highest number of presidential aspirants running on the platform of APC. For instance, Ogun State alone has four aspirants, while Lagos has one, Ondo one and Ekiti one.

Despite the presence of bigwigs like Osinbajo; Bola Tinubu; and the Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi; Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Chief Niyi Adebayo; governors Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo, Dapo Abiodun of Ogun and Oyetola of Osun states.

Also present were Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola; the APC National Secretary, Otunba Iyiola Omisore; a former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel; a former Deputy Governor of Oyo State, Moses Adeyemo; and a former National Vice Chairman of the APC, South-West Zone, Chief Pius Akinyelure.

Like a pack of cards, the meeting crashed and no concrete resolution was taken.

But with the humongous number of delegates and a likelihood that an open contest will create more crises for the party, the resolution of NEC maybe ditched for a negotiated consensus arrangement.

For now, it’s more questions than answers in APC. The coming days will offer a clear picture on where the pendulum will shift to and how actors will settle for an option that will work for every aspirant.