South South battles for presidential ticket

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By Chinelo Obogo

With less than 61 days left for political parties to present their presidential candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the pressure on which geo political zone will produce the presidency has intensified.

In the timetable by the electoral umpire, candidates must emerge on or before June 3, 2022. This week, the National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, warned that INEC would disqualify any political party that fails to adhere strictly to regulations and guidelines for the conduct of primaries for the 2023 general elections. He said should any party fail to comply with the provisions regulating the conduct of any of its primaries, its candidates shall be excluded in the election for the particular position.

“So far, two out of the 14 activities in the timetable and schedule of activities have been successfully accomplished. The Notice of Election was published on Feb. 28, while nomination forms have been made available on the commission’s website since March 1 for political parties to download and issue to their candidates. The next activity is the conduct of primaries by political parties in line with the dictates of Section 84 of the Electoral Act for which the Timetable and Schedule of Activities provides a period of 61 days (April 4 to June 3),” he said.

With the warning issued by INEC, political parties have from now to June 3 to present presidential candidates. For the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the committee set up to deliberate on zoning announced on Tuesday that the contest would be thrown open to all zones. This is coming on the heels of the warning by Ohanaeze Ndigbo, that it will not support any political party that fails to zone the presidency to the South East and the Middle Belt Forum, telling Daily Sun that it would campaign against any party that gives a Northerner its presidential ticket.

So far, former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, former Senate President, Pius Anyim and Chief Executive Officer of Neimeth Pharmaceuticals, Sam Ohuabunwa are the three aspirants from the South East that have declared their intention to contest for the presidency on the platform of the PDP. While in the North, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Sokoto Governor, Aminu Tambuwal and Bauchi Governor, Bala Mohammed, have all declared their intention to contest. 

For the South South, Rivers Governor, Nyesom Wike and Governor Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom have declared their intention to contest, while Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State who met with former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Tuesday, said he has not ruled out the possibility of contesting.

Why PDP threw presidential ticket open

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It is no more news that the main opposition party has thrown its door for the presidential ticket wide open. With the development, the possibility of zoning the ticket to the South has been ruled out ahead of the party’s primaries. The situation limits the chances of the South succeeding President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023. According to insiders in the party, the strategy is geared toward ensuring that the opposition party upstages the APC in next year’s general elections.

Speaking on why the PDP chose to throw the contest open, a former spokesperson for the Atiku Campaign Organisation in the 2019 presidential election, Umar Sani, said: “What is happening is that each side is looking for how to be the president of Nigeria because it is only a good party with good chances that attracts such type of argument as to where the presidency should come to. If you go to other parties that are not very strong, no one is angling for where the presidency should go. But because the PDP is very strong and the APC has given us the opportunity by their poor performance, now everybody believes that with any good candidate, the PDP can win the election in 2023.

“So, the point is that people are agitating that it should come to their side. The South East is saying that they have never had it before and they have been very loyal to the PDP, while the South South is also claiming that they only had it once through Goodluck Jonathan. The North is arguing that the PDP didn’t give them enough chance and they only had the presidency under Yar’Adua for about two years before the North fizzled out. The committee has now thrown the contest open and everybody can go and no one would be left behind. If the committee and the NEC had said that it should go to the South, then there would have been a committee that would be set up to persuade the Northern candidates to step down and if they refuse to step down, because it is within the principles, the delegates would be sensitised that the thing has been zoned to the South, so they should vote for only Southern candidates.”

APC to pick candidate from South

Unlike the PDP, the resolution of the All Progressives Congress (APC) after President Muhammadu Buhari met with governors was that political offices will be swapped between the North and the South. Therefore, as it stands in the APC, the presidential ticket will go to the South but whether it is the South West, South East or South South, is yet to be determined.

With the exception of Governor Yahaya Bello who has ramped up his campaign, most of the APC members who have declared their intention to contest are all from the South.  Among those who have publicly declared are former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, Senator Rochas Okorocha.

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There are very strong indications that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has presidential ambition. Even though he has not openly declared, many of his supporters are already campaigning vigorously for him and he is yet to refute reports that he will soon declare his interest in the presidency.

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Like Osinbajo, Minister of Transport, Chibuike Amaechi is also said to be nursing presidential ambition and reliable sources from his camp say he may declare his interest this Saturday during the thanksgiving programme being organised by the Rivers State chapter of the APC at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan is one of the prominent persons believed to have the backing of some forces within the APC to get the ticket. It is an established fact that the former President is technically out of the PDP, as he has not been seen in any of the party’s major events.

A reliable source within the PDP told Daily Sun the party has accepted the fact that Jonathan is no more committed to the party and is being wooed by the APC to run for a second term on its ticket. The former president reportedly said he would contest on the APC platform on the condition that he would emerge as the consensus candidate, a condition that many believe will not go down well with other aspirants like Tinubu.

CBN Governor

One of those whose rumoured presidential ambition has caused a lot of controversy is the Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefelie. Of late, the media has been awash with different support groups calling for him to join the presidential race on the platform of the APC, but Emefelie is yet to publicly respond to such calls. Even though many have raised questions on the propriety of the CBN governor going for the number one seat, there are obvious signs that he is simply waiting for the right time to declare his ambition.

Recently, photos of many branded campaign vehicles circulated on social media which caused backlash with many calling for him to immediately resign his position. But Emefiele Support Group (ESG) during a news conference in Abuja on Sunday, said all Emefiele’s support groups were running on voluntary donations and self-raised funds to promote the call for him to run for president.

The group’s Director of Communications, Ms. Benigna Ejimba, said that no money from Emefiele or the CBN is part of the funds so far spent on the branded campaign materials and vehicles.

“It is ordinary citizens like us that are contributing these funds in form of our widow’s mite to ensure yet again that Nigeria gets it right and keeps away politicians whose only interest is the treasury of the country. For clarification, we are proud and bold to say that all Emefiele support groups run on voluntary contributions from eminent members of the various support groups who are desirous of a better nation for us all.

“Please note that these young and determined Nigerians cannot and will not be blackmailed into abandoning our commitment to a people’s agenda to convince Dr. Emefiele to step out to continue to consolidate and expand President Buhari’s legacies. This is a task we are committed to and have resolved to give our all, including our financial resources, to ensure that this is done,” she said.

Another group, the Emefiele Solidarity Vanguard (ESV)  vowed last week to continue with the campaign for Emefiele until he accepts or rejects to contest the 2023 presidential election. The National Coordinator of the group, Daniel Enyi, said many Nigerians constituted themselves into various support groups for the CBN Governor in a clamour for him to contest the 2023 presidential election and that the groups had gone ahead to print campaign materials of all sorts to persuade Emefiele to ‘listen to the voice of reason.’

Last month, various groups of youths from across the country were at the venue of the APC convention in Abuja holding up placards demanding that Emefiele, should declare his ambition to contest the 2023 presidential election without further delay.

Reacting to the calls for him to contest, Emefelie in a series of tweet on his official Twitter account, maintained that his focus at this point in time is to formulate a robust monetary policy and fight inflation which is now a global problem. He listed other areas of focus to include development finance and supporting farmers and manufacturers in the bank’s self-sufficiency and import substitution as well as raising N15 trillion for Infrastructure Corporation of Nigeria (InfraCo) infrastructure finance.

He said: “My focus at this time is a robust monetary policy and fighting inflation which is now a global problem, building a strong financial system in an increasingly uncertain global economy. Development finance and supporting farmers and manufacturers in our self-sufficiency and import substitution drive, raising N15 trillion for InfraCo infrastructure finance, building a world class international financial centre in Lagos, as we support the Muhammadu Buhari administration to finish strong.’’

Whatever be the case, one thing that is certain is that the South South in the PDP and APC is emerging as a powerful force and battleground for the 2023 presidential election and by June 3, the picture of which zone will produce the President will become clearer.

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