2023: Appraising Southwest APC leaders’ meeting with presidential aspirants
Contrary to speculations that the last Friday’s meeting of presidential aspirants of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) from Southwest zone, convened by former Governors Segun Osoba and Bisi Akande, at the State House Marina Lagos State, did not achieve much, some adherents of the party said the gathering was a success.
They said one of the significant achievements of the meeting is that it was able to send a strong signal to every other zone across the country that the Yoruba political actors have the capacity to forge a common front and present a common agenda whenever their collective ‘interest looks threatened.’
Part of the successes, they allege was that those who were perceived to be enemies eventually agreed to meet, and they also joyously sat and exchanged banters after the meeting.
Erstwhile Interim National Chairman of the party (2014-2015), Chief Akande and ex-chairman Constitution Drafting Committee of the party, Aremo Osoba, were ‘compelled’ to call a meeting of all presidential aspirants from the zone following the campaign of calumny that crept into their consultations in recent time.
The meeting according to credible sources was to deliberate on critical factors likely to affect chances of the zone in producing President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor in 2023. The increasing number of aspirants from the region was getting worrisome.
At last count, out of the about 30 aspirants jostling to succeed President Buhari next year on APC platform, Southwest has not less than seven contestants, which include Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, National Leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, former governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, former Speaker House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina and Overseer, Citadel Global Community Church, Pastor Tunde Bakare.
The development was said to have puzzled both Akande and Osoba, such that several overtures suggested by the media for them to speak on the matter before the meeting finally took place last Friday were rejected.
Osoba and Akande are not the only one worried about the situation, other critical stakeholders in the region including some notable traditional rulers expressed concern about the negative impressions and the danger the development portend to the Yoruba, especially the perceived acrimony between Osinbajo and his former principal, Tinubu.
From a grapevine, The Guardian learnt that Akande and Osoba invested a lot of efforts in getting the aspirants together considering the malicious nature of campaigns, which supporters of the aspirants were hurling at one another since they started consultations to get the party’s nomination ticket.
It was learnt that while Akande was practically on Tinubu’s neck to honour the meeting, other attendees honoured the meeting at the instance of Chief Osoba.
The leadership role, which Osoba played during the party’s national convention held in Abuja, when he assembled all Southwest stakeholders to his Abuja apartment, before the convention encouraged most of the attendees to honour the invitation.
For those who could not attend the forum such as Bakare and Adesina, Chief Osoba said Bakare had a meeting with Mr. President that night and he sent an apology.
He also debunked the story that Amosun rebuffed the meeting, saying, “Some media reports that Amosun was absent were wrong. He attended the meeting and he also stayed to have dinner with us. Amosun, Daniel and myself had pleasantries during the dinner.” Osoba also said Bankole sent in an apology and gave a very convincing excuse he couldn’t come.
Amosun’s aide, Bola Adeyemi also debunked media reports that his principal did not attend the meeting. He said, “Senator Amosun was at the meeting, although he got there a bit late because he had an engagement in Abuja that very day. Immediately after he finished in Abuja he joined the next plane to Lagos for the meeting. I was forced to send a picture of the event to a reporter to confirm.”
For Adesina, president of AfDB, he couldn’t have been invited for the meeting because he was not in the picture to run until Saturday when some people picked nomination form on his behalf.
Specifically, to get Fayemi to attend the meeting was not as easy as the public perceived. It was learnt that the principal officers of Osinbajo and Fayemi were unable to confirm whether their bosses were attending the meeting before Friday. But surprisingly, they both attended.
Organisers said the meeting was to forge a common front among the aspirants before the presidential primary expected to hold May 30. The major objective was to ensure that under no circumstances will the South miss the opportunity to produce an APC candidate for next year’s election.
Some of those at the meeting were Osinbajo, Tinubu, Fayemi, Governor of Osun State, Gboyega Oyetola, his Ogun counterpart, Abiodun, Ondo governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, APC national secretary and former deputy governor of Osun State, Dr. Iyiola Omisore.
Also, the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, Lagos Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, Ogun former governor, Gbenga Daniel, former Governor of Ekiti State, Niyi Adebayo and others were in attendance.
Addressing pressmen after the meeting, Akande said that the South West presidential aspirants of the party, governors and other leaders are united ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Akande urged the stakeholders to desist from abusing one another but to adopt decorum in their address to the public. According to him, “The South west APC leaders are united and will work to ensure that the 2023 presidency comes to the region rather than go elsewhere.
“We are united as we will ensure that the presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will come to the Southwest. We had a fruitful discussion. We also resolved that everybody should maintain absolute decorum because we are united.”
Although the meeting was held behind closed doors, Osoba said those reporting that consensus was discussed during the meeting were only playing to the gallery.
According to him, “in the first instance, consensus was never part of the discussion. Someone mentioned it but he was told categorically that since the party is yet to close sales of nomination form, we do not know how many more will obtain the form.
“Secondly, we cannot talk of consensus when the party is yet to screen the aspirants. Assuming we had a consensus and picked someone, if the party eventually screened the person out, where do we start? I wonder where some journalists get their reports?”
But beyond the explanation, having sensed the danger and how the issue of consensus might have polarised the region, Osoba and Akande tactically shelved it. This is equally buttressed following an initial statement issued by a legal practitioner and one of the loyalists of the Vice President, Mr Kayode Ajulo, who raised the alarm that the leaders wanted to bring up the idea of a consensus in favour of Tinubu.
It was even insinuated before the meeting that Akande, who was regarded as Tinubu’s bosom partner in the politics of Southwest, had a soft spot for the national leader considering Tinubu’s massive investment in the forming of APC and how President Buhari emerged as the party’s presidential candidate in 2015.
But for Osoba, some pundits alleged he is tilting towards Osinbajo because of the Ogun connection. Both conveners of the meeting realised the danger behind the speculations, which was the reason they did not discuss anything near ‘consensus’ to avoid scuttling the meeting on its first outing.
But besides the issue of consensus, which was tactically avoided, the position of Governor Akeredolu, who has been at the forefront of agitation that the presidency must return to the South was unanimously supported, particular on the basis that Yoruba invested more than enough in APC’s victory in 2015 and 2019, than for the ticket to now go elsewhere next year.
An inside source said participants at the meeting agreed to the fact that the North is actually playing some manipulative game to retain power beyond 2023 if Southwest failed to put its house in order and work as a team.
Akeredolu was said to have maintained the position that whether the South gets itself together or not, should not be a justification for the north to retain power after President Buhari.
It was also gathered that the likely consequences should the country not get next year’s general elections right was also on the table. This further strengthened the need for the region to forge a common front with the caveat that every aspirant has a right to contest.
Fashola was quoted to have simply passed a joke that he, being a delegate, all the presidential aspirants must be ready to do the ‘needful’ to him if they actually want his vote
For Omisore, who currently holds a strategic position in the National Working Committee (NWC), he was urged to remain vigilant henceforth and to also have at the back of his mind the interest of Southwest in whatever is going on in the Committee and elsewhere.
The low point of the meeting was said to be the case of Aregbesola, who had issues with Tinubu regarding Oyetola and other matters in Osun APC. The former governor is said to be uncomfortable with Omisore and the fact he suffered some backlash in his Alimosho base in Lagos, when he had the faceoff with Tinubu. But those matters were regarded as discussions for other days.
A source told The Guardian that Aregbasola deliberately came to the venue in the same vehicle with Osinbajo, which was a clear message to other aspirants where he (Aregbesola) belongs.
When he also entered the venue, the Minister bluntly refused to sit by Omisore where his seat was positioned. He was said to be shouting that his opinion must be respected, as he preferred not to sit near the national secretary of APC.
He eventually dragged his seat elsewhere. Not only that, Aregbesola was alleged to have withdrawn his warmth towards Tinubu, an action that was not lost on those who expected more from him.
Osoba, however, said the meeting is going to be a continuous one and if need be, other personalities that needed to join would be invited to subsequent ones.
According to him, “No one that needed to be in that meeting was left out. Even Oyo State, which does not have a sitting governor of APC, we invited a former Deputy governor of the state.”
The former Ogun State governor said “the Yoruba found itself in this present precarious political situation because we have not been holding stakeholders meetings, this meeting will speak a lot about our stance irrespective of the position of naysayers.”