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2023 Election: Anxiety as ‘consensus crisis’ rocks APC, PDP ahead 2023

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Adamu Abuh and Ameh Ochojila (Abuja)Guardian Nigeria
16 April 2022   |   4:31 am
There is considerable anxiety among leaders of the two leading political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), about the disagreement over how their presidential candidates for the 2023 general election should emerge.

Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP

• Proposal Breeds Suspicion Of Hidden Agenda In PDP
• Arrangement Makes Parties Cohesive, United —Etiebet
• It Undemocratic, Moniedafe, Aliyu, Others Insist
• Lawyers Divided Over Inclusion In Electoral Act

There is considerable anxiety among leaders of the two leading political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), about the disagreement over how their presidential candidates for the 2023 general election should emerge.

Indeed, there are fears that the two political parties may be enmeshed in fresh crises in the coming weeks over the issue.

While some chieftains of both APC and PDP have been rooting for the selection of the presidential candidates through consensus based on the agreement of a few leaders, which is allowed by the Electoral Act, a host of others see the option as undemocratic and another way of imposing the choice of a few members on others and therefore oppose it.

Although many of the stakeholders are particularly concerned about how the presidential candidate of their parties would emerge, the issue has also been raising dust in some states where attempts by the outgoing governors to determine their successors by consensus have so far failed to get the endorsement of key stakeholders.

This is particularly the case in Akwa Ibom and Ebonyi states. In Akwa Ibom, PDP stalwarts are yet to buy into Governor Emmanuel Udom’s choice of Pastor Umoh Eno as his preferred successor. This was even as efforts by Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State to broker a consensus agreement among governorship aspirants in the state chapter of the APC suffered setback within the week as the Izzi clan of Ebonyi North failed to shortlist two aspirants as demanded by the governor.

The situation in Ebonyi is akin to what is playing out among PDP presidential aspirants, where the zoning crisis has been obstructing attempts by some presidential aspirants in the party to forge a consensus arrangement to facilitate the emergence of the presidential candidate.

Accordingly, serious suspicion and misgivings have set in among the leading presidential aspirants and have put proponents of consensus arrangement on the defensive.

Indication to this effect emerged as prominent leaders of the party from the southern part of the country have expressed doubts about the real motives of the supporters of consensus.

Former President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; Governors Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Bala Mohammed (Bauchi) and a former banker, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen, had last month initiated talks about the consensus arrangement in PDP and have been moving round the country to woo members of the party to support the idea.

Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi told the facilitators of the consensus arrangement during their visit to Enugu State within the week that without adhering to the principles of equity, fairness and justice, the consensus arrangement would be a woeful failure. Similarly, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State has vehemently kicked against the consensus arrangement.

Wike, who spoke during his recent visit to Cross River State to seek the support of party faithful for his presidential ambition, said: “Some people are moving for consensus. I’m not part of that. If you want to run an election, come and run an election. When they came to me, I told them ‘I’m not a party to this one’. What I don’t like in my life is deceiving people. What I will not do, I will not do. What I will do, I will do.

“If you can’t run again, say it out. Don’t hide under what you call consensus and come to me. Get on and run for the election; to be President of Nigeria is not by ‘dash’, you will sweat it out.”

Sources close to the national leadership of the party told The Guardian that the fact that all the three aspirants who initiated the consensus talks were from the northern part of the country was a key source of suspicion and rancour.

It was also learnt that the crisis has been made worse by the discovery that those at the forefront of the consensus talks were among the proponents of the option of throwing the contest for the party’s ticket open to all zones. The Iyorchia Ayu-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP was said to be very cautious about involving itself in the consensus discussions.

The new Electoral Act stipulates that for any consensus arrangement to be valid, all aspirants must agree to it.

And in a bid to save the idea from an early and timely death, Saraki, who doubles as the leader of the talks, had to embark on serious defensive work against the notion that the move is essentially an attempt to impose a northern candidate.

“When we started about three weeks ago, most of the aspirants we had then were mainly in the North. We were talking to the aspirants across the country. Now, because more people have come out in the South, we are all going to meet. All the aspirants are going to meet. We are talking about Nigeria. We are not talking about the northern aspirants or southern aspirants,” he stressed.

Talks about adopting a consensus presidential candidate in APC have been generating concerns. The discussions began soon after the March 26, 2022 national convention of the party, which saw the emergence of majority of the party officials, including the national chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, by consensus.

The Chairman of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) and Governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, first mooted the idea.

Bagudu, who spoke shortly after the governors met behind closed doors with a leading presidential aspirant and former Governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had hinted that for presidential candidate, the party might toe the path it took in arriving at the choice of Adamu as the consensus chairmanship candidate in spite of the uproar it generated among party stalwarts.

“We always encourage our party to go for the best. Don’t forget that in the 2015 presidential election primary, President Buhari contested against several others and it was a beautiful contest. There is nothing wrong. Members of the party always want to see consensus if it is possible, but we are a democratic party.

“In our last convention, we had consensus in some of the offices and election in some others. There is always misrepresentation of consensus as if people are being snowballed into positions they would rather not take,” he said.

Bagudu’s posture has started gaining traction among chieftains of the party like former Minister of Petroleum, Chief Don Etiebet.

Etiebet, who chaired the defunct All Nigeria People Party (ANPP), contended that the use of consensus in the selection of the presidential candidate of the party would enhance cohesion and harmony in the party ahead of the 2023 poll.

He told The Guardian: “In the wisdom of the leaders of the APC and working on the amended constitution of the APC, we the leaders have seen the goodness in putting in those conditions that a candidate may be elected under consensus, can be elected under direct primaries and can be elected under direct primaries.

“So, all the three options are available and as you can immediately remember, the national convention of APC was held and most of the leaders, including the national chairman, were all elected by consensus. Consensus arrangement makes the party to be cohesive, united to talk with one voice, to have a common focus not to go out in the open to fight.

“In fact, if I may remind you, when I started the NCPN party, I was the one that brought about the consensus candidature and it was peacefully done. People went to their zones, their states, local governments and elected somebody and then came to the national convention to affirm.

“So, it is a very good arrangement. And I believe that we would be able to use that arrangement to bring out our presidential candidate.”

However, one of the chairmanship aspirants in the national convention of the party, Chief Sylvester Moniedafe, who was prevailed upon to step down for Adamu, has warned against the use of consensus to select the presidential candidate of the APC.

The Adamawa-born politician maintained that it would be in the best interest of the party for delegates to be allowed to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice during the party primaries.

Moniedafe said it behooved stakeholders of the party to replicate the successful conduct of the presidential primaries of the party in 2014 held in Lagos that led to the emergence of Buhari as the presidential candidate of the party.

“Consensus is definitely not democratic. Let people go out and vote. If you have a candidate in mind, campaign for him. Call the delegates, tell them to see his or her good sides; make your promises and let them vote.

“I will form a one-man riot squad to achieve the goal. We will insist there won’t be magomago. We all saw how President Buhari emerged in the Lagos primaries in 2014 in an open contest. That is the way to go and that is what should be done,” he said.

Speaking in the same vein, former National Treasurer of the party, Alhaji Adamu Fanda, kicked against picking the presidential flagbearer of the party through the consensus option.

In a chat with The Guardian in Abuja, he stressed the need to allow delegates to choose the candidate of their choice at the national convention of the party.

“For me, using consensus is too utopian; it is undemocratic. Yes, it’s in line with the party constitution, which says you can have consensus but I am talking about the practicability. How can you have a consensus in a presidential primary? Are you now saying that you are not going to sell forms? If you are going to sell forms, are you now saying that anybody who picks form would come and agree on a single candidate? You know it’s not practicable.

“I will say that the best advice would be that the constitution of the party has made adequate arrangement for delegates that are supposed to take part in the election of the flag bearer. That process should be followed to the letter. Let the members of the party decide in their own wisdom who they feel to be the candidate,” Fanda said.

On his part, the Co-convener of the APC Rebirth Group, Comrade Aliyu Audu, argued that the idea of relying on consensus arrangement to pick the presidential candidate of the party is at variance with the constitution of the party.

Aliyu made reference to Article 20 (3) (4) of the APC constitution, which stipulates the procedures for the nomination of candidates vying for elective seats to justify his position.

Like Aliyu, the APC Youth Development and Solidarity Forum (APC-YDSF) has warned against the selection of the presidential candidate of the party through a consensus arrangement.

Led by Mr. Tobias Ogbeh, members of the group, at a rally in Abuja, admonished the Adamu-led National Working Committee (NWC) to ensure the emergence of a popular presidential candidate at the forthcoming primaries of the party.

The group warned that the emergence of an unpopular candidate would have severe consequences on the electoral fortunes of the APC in 2023.

“As concerned party members, we must come to terms with the issues at stake should an unpopular candidate emerge as the presidential candidate to fly the party’s flag at the presidential election.

“This rally is, therefore, calling on the party under the dynamic leadership of Adamu to, without sentiment, ensure that the most popular candidate emerges as the presidential candidate of the party as the international community and other concerned stakeholders are keenly watching to see what will become of the APC.”

“We must also warn that there would be unpleasant consequences electorally should the party deny the best candidate its flag under the guise of zoning or consensus that fails to meet the yearnings of the masses in 2023.

“Some persons are already parading themselves as the chosen candidates of the national chairman and the NWC and, to this end, have arrogated to themselves powers that defeat common sense.

“They have, in like manner, elected to ignore critical stakeholders of the party to the chagrin of all well-meaning members of our great APC. While we may wish to ignore the activities of these individuals, we are, however, constrained to alert the leadership of our party to this ignoble trend that is capable of rubbishing the gains recorded in the party in recent times.

“The APC as a party does not need such unhealthy and undemocratic displays by some party members. This is unacceptable, and we demand the leadership of our great party to issue strong caution and reprimand those individuals.

“While some aspirants have only made their declaration on the pages of newspapers, others who believe in the power of democracy have continued to galvanise stakeholders and have received popular endorsements from all segments of the party,” Ogbeh said.

He added: “This is indeed the beauty of democracy, hence the need for the leadership of our party to step in and assure the teeming members of the APC that they are not in bed with these undesirable elements that aim to take undue advantage of their closeness with the national chairman to impose their whims and caprices on the party.

“It is our considered opinion that it will be foolhardy for anyone to think that manipulating the party’s presidential primaries will be the way out for their candidates.

“We are assured that the APC as a party is bigger than individuals, and the leadership of our party is well-positioned to avail all aspirants a level playing ground if we desire to present a strong and sellable presidential candidate in the 2023 general elections to emerge victoriously.”

An Abuja-based lawyer, Sylvanus Maliki described the concept of consensus as anti-democratic and capable of eroding political competition to bring out the best.

He said consensus would further reduce the power of the majority to choose their leaders. According to him, it should not have been included in the Electoral Act as amended.

“Consensus shall draw the democratic gains recorded so far backward. It shall encourage a situation of unnecessary lobbying of a few where the highest bidder shall carry the day,” Maliki argued.

Another lawyer, a former chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association, Nasarawa State and an ex-lawmaker, James Ochojila, who argued that the inclusion of consensus as an option in party primaries might bring in the needed stability, however, said its inclusion in the electoral laws was a set back to the growth of internal democracy within the political parties.

He further argued that the contestation, which is one of the essential ingredients of political activities, is what consensus tends to suppress.

“Democracy, on a whole, can only be deepened where diverse opinions and views are allowed to be expressed through contestation which direct or indirect primaries tend to promote,” he said.

Godwin Ogboji, another Abuja-based legal practitioner, said the consensus candidacy is democratic as it is still the majority that will agree that instead of all the candidates going to the polls, a chosen candidate acceptable to the majority should go alone. This he said would avert rancor and build confidence. It is democratic hence approved by the Electoral Act.

Ephraims Akamihe, also an Abuja-based lawyer, said the inclusion of consensus candidacy in the Electoral Act is not undemocratic, as some people would want us to believe. To him, it cannot also be said that the choice of a candidate by consensus implies the choice of a minority.

He argued that for a consensus candidate to be chosen, the majority must have agreed to it in line with the party’s constitution. According to him, there are good reasons for using consensus, including reduction of unnecessary expenses by candidates at the primaries

“It is also used to address issues of marginalisation and inequity to ensure that members of the party have a sense of belonging to the party because adopting majority votes at times breads injustice and may make it difficult for members from some sections of the country not to be able to ascend to the highest position of authority in the party nor even contest for certain positions. It was to defuse this fear that even made them to include in the Constitution the provisions for quota system and federal character, “ Akamihe further argued.