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Anxiety hits APC over regional consensus, delegates’ stalemate

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Adamu Abuh, Kanayo Umeh, Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja) and Nnamdi Akpa (Abakaliki)
23 May 2022   |   4:30 am
As political parties enter the decision week where delegates will determine flag bearers for the 2023 general elections, some presidential aspirants – in both the All Progressives Congress...

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• Southeast APC aspirants agree on regional consensus pick • Ohanaeze woos APC, PDP delegates to vote Igbo aspirant
• Bankole canvasses ‘modified consensus’ for APC • Zulum: Buhari sole determinant of APC presidential candidate
• Ganduje assures Lawan of ‘full cooperation’ over presidential bid • Anxiety as APC shifts screening for presidential aspirants
• Extending primaries’ deadline will have dire consequences, INEC warns
• PDP links Buhari’s delay in signing amendment Bill to alleged tenure elongation plot

As political parties enter the decision week where delegates will determine flag bearers for the 2023 general elections, some presidential aspirants – in both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – are set to stand down, considering the last minute political tinkering.

The PDP and APC will hold their national conventions to nominate their presidential candidates in Abuja on May 29 and 30 respectively. The PDP has 15 aspirants left in the race after disqualifying two of the 17 that purchased its expression of interest and nomination forms, while the APC is set to screen 24 aspirants.

Days after Vice President Yemi Osinbajo hinted during an interaction with Osun State APC delegates that Southwest leaders and elders would soon reach a consensus on producing a presidential aspirant for the zone, APC presidential aspirants of Igbo origin, yesterday, rose from a meeting with a resolution to support anyone among them that clinches the party’s ticket as a consensus aspirant.

The aspirants, including Senator Rochas Okorocha, Senator Ken Nnamani, former Minister of Education (state), Emeka Nwajiuba; former Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu and Mrs. Uju Ken-Ohanenye, met behind closed door at the Maitama home of Okorocha.

Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, joined the meeting virtually, after he had to cut short his visit to Abuja to get relevant documents for his screening in Abakaliki. The meeting was chaired by Onu.

In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting and read by Nnamani, the aspirants agreed to align with the decision of the party, which they said, would do the right thing and heed the clamour for power shift to the Southeast.

In the communiqué jointly signed by the aspirants, they commended APC leadership and the Southeast people “for commitment to the unity of Nigeria and the inclusion of all parts of Nigeria in the governance architecture of the country.

“That we commend all Nigerians, who are committed to the Nigerian project by the whole hearted support for the aspiration of the Southeast to produce the next Nigerian president in 2023; that in furtherance of these commitment, all aspirants here commit to align with any of the Southeast aspirant that is accepted by and chosen by other Nigerians to fly the APC flag.”

Igbo apex cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, also yesterday, urged delegates from APC and PDP to put Nigeria’s unity first by voting Igbo presidential aspirant during their forthcoming national delegates conference.

In a statement in Abakaliki, the Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, insisted that only the Nigerian president of Igbo stock in 2023 from the seven Igbo speaking states, including Anioma in Delta and Ikwerre in Rivers, will be acceptable.

He maintained that the emergence of another Northern presidency after President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023, will spell doom and may reinforce secessionist campaign for Biafra’s restoration.

“We ought to have learned from the use of Boko Haram as a political spear for seizing power in 2015. Never in the history of our country has a particular region produced a presidential candidate and National Chairman at the same time, it will be absolute insanity for PDP National Chair, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu and APC’s Senator Abdullahi Adamu to plot for Northern presidential candidates, as it will spell doom for Nigeria.

“This is the last deciding chance to preserve and defend Nigeria’s unity and peace, APC and PDP national delegates should place patriotism above nepotism and save democracy,” the statement stated.

FORMER Speaker of the House of Representatives and APC presidential aspirant, Dimeji Bankole, has called for the adoption of “modified consensus” as the preferred method for the emergence of the party’s presidential candidate on Sunday.

Speaking with newsmen yesterday in Abuja, the aspirant averred that “modified consensus” was the best approach and least costly option for the emergence of the party’s flag bearer.

According to Bankole, the modified consensus option will see the leadership of the party engage with the various interest groups in the contest to ensure a hitch-free nomination process.

“Consensus is not the same thing as imposition,” Bankole declared, noting that the current opposition to the consensus arrangement in some quarters may be because “consensus is being erroneously equated with imposition.”

Drawing on history, the former Speaker noted: “The emergence of APC itself was a product of consensus, at critical points in the history of Nigeria, consensus had been used to break political logjams.”

He cited, in particular, the adoption of the ‘Doctrine of necessity’ during the illness of late President Umar Yar’Adua as a perfect example of the consensus option. He also added that the consensus option was adopted in the emergence of Adamu as APC chairman.

GIVING an insight into what to expect this weekend, Borno State governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, has enthused that irrespective of competence of the APC presidential aspirants and the strength of their manifestos, the anointed candidate of President Buhari will most likely fly the party’s flag next February.

Zulum made this disclosure, yesterday, in Maiduguri while receiving the campaign team of Rotimi Ameachi, which was led by the aspirant’s campaign Director General, Ali Ndume, and members of the campaign team in a meeting with delegates and members of the APC.

The governor said Borno delegates have no preferred aspirant at the moment but they will vote for a credible candidate based on the preference of the President and their convictions.

“Borno delegates will vote based on their conscience. But again, our leader, President Buhari, is very important in this political equation. We are still waiting for him to tell us what to do and we will follow. His advice is very important so we have to wait for his advice.

“Nigerians should pray for a good candidate to emerge irrespective of tribe, region or ethnic background but a candidate that will ensure the APC forms the central government come 2023,” Zulum remarked.

HOWEVER, the governor of Kano State, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, has assured the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, of “full cooperation” over his ambition to stand as the APC flag bearer.

According to a statement by Senator Lawan’s Presidential Campaign Organisation, Ganduje gave the assurance on Saturday night while the Senate President was on a visit to see party delegates in Kano ahead of the upcoming primaries. The governor described Kano as a swing state in party primaries and even in presidential elections and declared that Kano would swing when it is ready to swing.

Lawan, in his remarks, said he was still in the presidential race, dismissing claims that he has withdrawn to pursue another term in the Senate. He encouraged his supporters not to entertain fear, saying he was working tirelessly to emerge as the APC presidential candidate.

The Senate President described as mischief, report that he has withdrawn from the race. Lawan said that those who planted the report were jittery of his political popularity, regional acceptance and dominance in political space, hence they cooked the fake report to create confusion.

MEANWHILE, there is anxiety among the APC ranks over the decision by the Adamu-led National Working Committee (NWC) to keep to its chest members of the presidential screening committee. The Guardian learnt that the party would inaugurate the screening committee in Abuja today.

No fewer than 20 of the 28 presidential aspirants that filled the N100 million expression of interest and nomination forms are billed to be screened either today or tomorrow.

At the centre of the anxiety is the issue revolving around whether the party will settle for a consensus arrangement or the indirect primary mode sanctioned by the party constitution.

There are also fears that some of the aspirants might be left in the lurch if the party hierarchy decides to open up on its zoning arrangement.

Key stakeholders contend that the party is left with no option than to zone the exalted seat of the presidency to the Southern part of the country after the tenure of President Buhari.

President Buhari’s silence on his preferred candidate has further heightened apprehension among the ranks of the party. It, however, emerged last night that the screening exercise for APC presidential aspirants has been shifted beyond Monday May 23. Spokesperson of the party, Mr Felix Morka, in a terse statement, said a new date for the exercise will be announced soon.

No reason was offered for the sudden change of the date of the exercise, just as the party noted that any inconvenience caused by those affected was deeply regretted.

REITERATING its note of warning, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said the extension being sought by parties for primaries, if granted, would disrupt the planning template for the 2023 general election with dire consequences.

The Commission insisted that it has given enough time for parties to conduct primaries to select their candidates for the polls.

INEC was reacting to a claim by a chieftain of the APC, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, who had accused the Commission of endangering the conduct of the general elections with what he alleged to be its “plots and partisan interests.”

Olawepo-Hashim had also warned of looming danger from the “tight INEC schedule of primaries imposed on political parties in the country.”

According to him, INEC’s schedule “has been influenced purely by a section of the political elite who have positioned themselves to benefit from this INEC calendar.”

He argued that it is not the business of INEC to fix dates of primaries in as much as the primaries are conducted 180 days before the election in accordance with the provision of extant law.

But responding, Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, on Sunday, said the extant laws gave INEC power, as a regulator of political parties, to determine when party primaries should hold.

According to Oyekanmi, the extension being sought by parties, if granted, would disrupt the planning template for the 2023 general election with dire consequences.

He said: “The timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 General Election was released as far back as February this year, one full year ahead of the election. The conduct of primaries was fixed for April 4 to June 3, 2022.

“The extant laws, indeed, give INEC the power, as a regulator of political parties, to determine when party primaries should take place, contrary to the gentleman’s view. It is quite obvious that he has not read the Electoral Act, which is quite disappointing.

“The INEC Chairman had, on at least three occasions, urged the political parties to conduct their primaries within the stipulated timeline, as no extension will be entertained.

“Why is it that the parties cannot conduct their primaries within two months (April and May)? Interestingly, none of them complained about the timeline for party primaries when the timetable was released in February. Why now?”

Special Assistant to the INEC Chairman, Prof. Muhammed Kuna, said contrary to Olawepo-Hashim’s assumptions, the timetable for the primaries was carefully deliberated upon in the Commission with the full knowledge of the various critical activities INEC had to conduct before the general elections.

According to Kuna, these include the printing and display of the list of nominated candidates, printing of results sheets, movement of ballot papers among other activities.

“Just imagine the number of candidates and pages that have to be printed for each candidate for all 18 parties, for all constituencies for the election (executive and legislative at Federal and State levels); the printing of ballot papers (for all registered voters for all constituencies (one presidential, 109 Senatorial, 360 Federal Constituencies, 28×2 Governorship and Deputy Governorship; and 993 State constituencies); the printing of results sheets and the movement of ballot papers, results sheets and related election materials and personnel to location,” he stated.

Kuna added that timeline for the primaries was fixed to enable the completion of these and related critical tasks that cannot begin until parties submit their nominees.

THE PDP, in its reaction, alleged that the delay by President Buhari in signing the amendment made to the Electoral Act to allow statutory delegates to vote in the primaries is part of a plot to derail the electoral process and achieve an illegal elongation of the tenure of the present administration.

The party also alerted Nigerians of the plot by the APC to use orchestrated insecurity and political uncertainty to derail the electoral process, stall the 2023 general election and create a situation to justify a tenure elongation.

In a statement by its national publicity secretary, Debo Ologunagba, the opposition party claimed that desperate APC leaders are behind the delay by President Buhari in signing the amendment to the Electoral Act 2022 so as to frustrate the smooth conduct of primaries by political parties and derail the entire electoral process.

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