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Ayade joins presidential race, to withdraw if Jonathan declares

By Terhemba Daka, Adamu Abuh, John Akubo (Abuja), Seye Olumide and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
27 April 2022   |   3:57 am
First, it started like rumour weeks back, when news filtered in that former President Goodluck Jonathan was considering a return to Aso Rock. The rumour mill went agog as his posters...

[files] Governor Ayade. Photo: IREPORTNEWS

PDP leaders decline to comment on Jonathan’s rumoured defection to APC
• Don’t ignore calls to contest, you’re APC’s trump card, group charges Jonathan
• Tambuwal meets Buhari, shuns newsmen after the visit
• Buhari hosts APC leadership to break Ramadan fast
• Tinubu absent, in S’Arabia for spiritual consultation
• Bello pays N100m, to pick APC’s presidential form today
• I may withdraw from the race if the presidency is not zoned to Southeast, says Orji Kalu

First, it started like rumour weeks back, when news filtered in that former President Goodluck Jonathan was considering a return to Aso Rock. The rumour mill went agog as his posters began appearing in some cities across the country and later assumed a life of its own at the weekend when some youths staged a protest at his Abuja office, urging him to run and he told them to ‘watch out.

But yesterday, the yet-to-be-declared ambition of the former president got a huge boost when Governor Benedict Ayade of Cross River State pledged to support Jonathan if the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) presents him as the party’s flagbearer for the 2023 election.

Ayade stated this while briefing State House correspondents after he met behind closed doors with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. He announced that he had secured the President’s nod to hold consultations over his own presidential ambition.

Ayade said he has respect for the former president, adding that if it is the decision of the APC to field Jonathan, he will drop his ambition to support him.

“I have great respect for former President Jonathan. So, I have no challenges whatsoever. I believe that the party leadership will decide the appropriate candidate that will take our party to victory and so if you heard me well, I am just part of the family, absolutely loyal to the President, seeking to run for president and I’m running.

“At any point, the political leadership of my party feels that ex-President Jonathan is the appropriate candidate that will take us to victory, I will turn my support for him. I am never ever going to fight the establishment, the institution, the aristocracy, the spiritual vortex in which God has placed a leader in the country. I will never question the powers of the leader of the country.

“I have never played the politics of antagonism or fights. If you know how I became governor, I became governor by offering to support whoever the governor wants. By a stroke of luck, I became the candidate. By the same token, I am only here to support the President’s candidate and by a stroke of luck, he said, you too go there and join the race and let me see,” Ayade said.

The governor explained that he was at the Presidential Villa to seek direction from President Buhari on how to align in the run-up to the 2023 poll, noting that he would do whatever the President directs.

He pointed out that he did not tell President Buhari that he wanted to join the presidential race as he observed that it was not decent to tell an officeholder that one was interested in taking over his office.

He, however, said, the President expressed delight that he did not speak of his desire to succeed him in office but gave him the go-ahead to hold consultations on the matter while he (Buhari) watches him.

Ayade went on to spell out his programme of action for the country if he becomes the president next year, stressing that his administration would concentrate on three key areas, security, employment, and economy.

JONATHAN, who was elected President in the 2011 election lost to President Buhari in 2015 and literally turned his back against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the past seven and a half years. He has avoided all gatherings of the party, including the 2017 national elective convention, 2018 Presidential convention and the 2021 national convention that brought the current National Working Committee (NWC) members to power, among others.

With his campaign posters pasted in designated places in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Jonathan is reportedly on the verge of joining APC after he was credited with an interest in the Office of the President, should President Buhari endorse him.

While the rumoured defection of Jonathan from PDP to APC is yet to abate, some leaders of the main opposition party, yesterday, reacted to the development.

The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, said the party will not react to speculations on whether the former President will defect or not.

“We are not going to say anything for now. As far as we know, the former President has not defected. He has not said he would defect. Until he defects, the PDP won’t react because we don’t treat rumours or insinuations. We deal with facts,” he said.

Former governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, said political choices are freely made as people at one time or the other go right or left. “It is his (Jonathan’s) life,” Makarfi said.

Former Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, said it was impossible for him to confirm or deny the possibility of Jonathan’s imminent defection to APC because in his words, “I am not in his mind.”

A political group, Southern Frontiers, yesterday, called on Jonathan not to ignore the calls to throw his hat into the ring in the 2023 presidential election on the platform of the APC. At the end of its emergency meeting held in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, the group said Jonathan remained the only joker and masterstroke for APC to retain power.

In a seven-page communiqué signed by its secretary, Mr Bamitale Kolawole, and made available to journalists, it said: “He is the only person among the aspirants so far who has the wherewithal to rescue the country from the mess it is currently enmeshed.

“At this defining moment, we don’t want a fresher who will start to experiment with Nigeria like a guinea pig. We want someone with cognate experience to hit the ground running and put Nigeria back in its rightful position as a true giant of Africa,” the group said.

PRESIDENT Buhari yesterday met with the Sokoto State governor and one of the frontrunners of the opposition PDP for the presidential ticket, Aminu Tambuwal, at the State House, Abuja.

Tambuwal’s meeting with Buhari comes days after he abandoned the Saraki-led consensus drive among four aspirants to the Office of the President in the PDP. He turned down overtures by newsmen to speak on the reason for his visit to the State House.

A delegation of Northern elders led by Prof. Ango Abdullahi, under the directive of former Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida, had chosen former Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, as its consensus candidates.

Tambuwal immediately distanced himself from the committee and its activities, saying he would, regardless of the decision, proceed full throttle, with his campaign to clinch PDP’s presidential ticket.

The President yesterday invited the APC National Chairman, Senator Abdullah Adamu, to a breaking of the Ramadan fast, Iftar, at the Banquet Hall of the State House. The invitation, at the instance of President Buhari and signed by the Chief of Staff, Prof Ibrahim Gambari, directed Senator Adamu and other members of the APC leadership to join the President during the Ramadan breaking fast scheduled for 6:30 pm yesterday.

Other members invited to the meeting include former Lagos State governor and Presidential aspirant, Bola Tinubu; former APC National chairmen, Dr John Oyegun and Adams Oshiomhole; former Adamawa State governor, Murtala Nyako; former Ogun State governor, Olusegun Osoba; first interim chairman of the APC, Bisi Akande; former Borno State governor, Ali Modu-Sheriff; former Zamfara State governor, Ahmed Yerima; former Sokoto State governor, Aliyu Wamako; former Edo State governor, Oserheimen Osunbor; former Yobe State governor, Bukar Ibrahim, among others.

The First Lady, Aisha Buhari, last Saturday hosted all presidential aspirants from various political parties to Iftar at the same venue.

However, news filtered in that Tinubu, one of those expected at the dinner last night, is currently on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. The APC national leader and presidential aspirant were spotted alongside some party chieftains, including Nuhu Ribadu, pioneer chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Mecca to perform this year’s lesser Hajj (Umrah).

Tinubu left Nigeria at midnight on Monday and arrived Medina early Tuesday morning. According to sources close to Tinubu, he will return to Nigeria by the weekend to continue his nationwide consultation for his presidential ambition.

MEANWHILE, one of the leading presidential aspirants under the ruling APC, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, will pick the party’s expression of interest and nomination forms for the 2023 presidential election, valued for N100 million, today.

In a statement, yesterday, Yemi Kolapo, director, media and publicity for Yahaya Bello Presidential Campaign Organisation, disclosed that the governor paid the required sum for the purchase of the forms, making him the first to officially seal his aspiration to the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2023 in the party.

“With the payment for the forms, Bello’s teeming supporters should rest assured that he will be on the ballot in the 2023 presidential race. We are highly encouraged by the number of APC governors, leaders and stakeholders who have demonstrated their strong support for the candidacy of our principal. We reiterate that he is not known for betrayal. He is always very loyal to his own and his priorities have always been Nigeria,” Kolapo said.

He further disclosed that the last few months have witnessed persistent calls by different youth, women and professional groups across Nigeria on the Kogi governor to contest.

HOWEVER, the Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Kalu, has said he may withdraw from contesting to be president if major political parties don’t zone their tickets to the Southeast. Kalu, in a statement he issued yesterday in Abuja, said that it was his desire and intention to run for the presidency.

He said: “I am committed to this pursuit, but I can’t make an official declaration in this regard without the full support of other regions. Everywhere in the world, politics is situational and that of Nigeria is exceptionally situational.

“The situation in Nigeria is that without the support of other regions, it would amount to a shadow chase for a Southeasterner to be president. This is the reason I have been on the frontline of the call that the two major political parties, APC and PDP should zone their presidential tickets to the Southeast as they did for the Southwest in 1999.

“In the absence of this zoning, I shall return to the Senate and stay away from the presidential contest.”

He said the North was more advantageous to win elections in the democratic setting. “I am even shocked with the number of aspirants coming from the Southwest and the South-South. It is embarrassing that these aspirants (APC and PDP) have no single respect and concern for the Southeast.

“I had thought they would think about the Southeast; I thought they would support us. The amount of money being spent by these aspirants is alarming and they have forgotten that money alone cannot buy the presidency.

“It has become a joke to an ordinary Nigerian who hears Southern commentators and aspirants rooting for a Southern president on the premise of fairness, equity and justice.”

He further said that if there was anything like “fairness, equity and justice”, it should be the entire South pushing for a president of Southeast extraction.

According to him, anything less than that is “hypocritical, unjustifiable and inordinate.” Some persons, he said, are even claiming God’s anointed choice in 2023. “Unfortunately, it is not all prayers that God answers; at least not inordinate ones.”

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