By Emameh Gabriel
As campaign for the 2023 presidential election gathers momentum, Emameh Gabriel assesses the intrigues and prospects that could make or mar the ruling All Progressives Congress
As Nigeria heads into the new year in few days time, it is expected to witness increased activities in the political space as politicians’ scheme for position and advantage ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Even with the avalanche of crisis rocking the party across its state chapters, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) seems set to pick its presidential flag bearer from the south to replace the northern incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. Dominant among the party frontline aspirants is Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and his benefactor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Although there are other big names from the south who are expected to join the race soon, this is depends on how clear the coast looks for them.
Meanwhile, Osinbajo and Tinubu have dominated the media space in the last few months.
The success of the APC in 2023 would be contingent upon how the duo play their cards and who the party might decide to field between the two.
The deluge of billboards and many declarations of support from the growing number of support groups that have sprung up in anticipation of the 2023 general election clearly suggest that the national leader of the APC and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo are chief the contenders for the highest office in the land in next year’s presidential election.
While the leading organization rooting for Tinubu is the Southwest Agenda (SWAGA), the two others also pushing that of his beloved protege are the Progressive Consolidation Group (PCG) and Businessmen For Osinbajo (BFO).
These groups have been going round the country to solicit key stakeholders for their principals. While the BFO has started the mobilisation of the business community in the country, the PCG are consolidating through consultation.
While in the APC where they belong it is not yet Uhuru as both or any of them would have to slug it out among a growing list of contenders including former Rivers State Governor and current Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, Governor Dave Umahi, Governor Kayode Fayemi, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, Senator Rochas Okorocha and who knows whoever in the murky sea of Nigerian politics of caucuses.
By virtue of his political antecedent, the former Lagos State Governor is the man leading the pack as he was instrumental to the formation and ascendancy of the APC in 2015, he was supposed to be the nascent party’s Vice Presidential candidate at the election but was prevailed upon to shelve his ambition, citing the impracticability of a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
His stepping aside later proved to be to be the providence that brought Osinbajo, a very loyal protege of his and Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice when he was governor of Lagos to the spot in 2015 after the emergence of Buhari as APC presidential flag bearer.
And seven years down the line, Osinbajo has certainly not disappointed him, for he has been loyal to his mentor, loyal to President Buhari and diligent in his work much to the public approbation. It is the successes of the VP that has endeared him with all who have crossed his path, hence the clamour in certain quarters for him to succeed incumbent President Buhari at the end of his term. But with Tinubu’s body language and recent, it is certain that the duo would definitely lock horns as times draw closer.
Governors of Ruling Party Divided
Governors elected on the platform of the ruling APC seem to be divided over who can best represent the party’s ticket at the 2023 presidential contest. There are those who believe the national leader should possess automatic right to the ticket given his role in the eventual political triumph of the new party particularly if the prevailing intrigues jolts the ticket to the Southwest, they include Kano Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau state, Governor Babagana Zulum/ Kashim Shettima, Governor Akeredolu of Osun State, Governor Bello Masari.
While there are those who feel that zoning should not be a patriarchal game. They contend that merit and youthfulness should play more role in leadership selection, particularly at such challenging times of the country. As such, the Vice President is a good candidate for plum job. They include Governor Nasir El-rufai of Kaduna State, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and Governor Sule Abdullahi of Nasarawa state.
There are also influential senators and members of the House of Representatives, who are said to be working behind the scene for the Vice President.
Recall that when the PCG in September paid a visit to Governor Sule Abdullahi of Nasarawa state, he described Yemi Osinbajo as a sellable presidential aspirant if he chooses to contest the Presidential elections in 2023.
“Our concern is how we will sustain the party beyond President Buhari. So, if you come up with idea, you know you will not only get my attention but the attention of every progressive governor in the country.
“So, if you are going about to sell this man, I want you to know that not every product is sellable but Osinbajo is sellable”, Governor Sule had told the group.
For those who are aligned to the views of Nasarawa governor, Tinubu candidacy will come with many baggage, some of which might affect the party’s chances in the next general election. Other governors in the fold have remained indifferent in this dichotomy and sometimes even opposed to the Southwestern cause.
Observers have opined that the argument that may move the undecided governors into any of the bandwagons to the marketability and popular acceptability of the eventual flag bearer is Osinbajo’s seeming credibility that could galvanize popular cross sectional support as Goodluck Jonathan’s candidacy did in 2011, just as Tinubu’s marketability is only hinged on his extensive political machinery might harm the party.
While the PDP has gladiators that can match Tinubu’s political status, they do not seem to have a gladiator or leading potential candidate that can match Osinbajo’s qualities of intellectuality, loyalty and integrity, and many of the governors in the APC know it.
In clearer terms, they have said while Tinubu remains a huge asset to the ruling APC but he is at the same time somewhat a liability to the party for several reasons.
Meanwhile, the Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), who is also foundation member of the APC, Mr Osita Okechukwu, during the weekend called on Ahmed Tinubu, to shelve his 2023 presidential ambition and support a young person.
This came just few days after Tinubu told newsmen in Abuja, that he would not turn down request by some Nigerians to run for presidency. Tinubu had explained to newsmen that he was still consulting critical stakeholders in the polity and well wishers and would make his intention public soon.
Okechukwu had in a statement on Sunday advised the APC national leader to pick a young presidential aspirant from the southern part of the country and support him.
He said: “If one is consulted by our national leader, His Excellency, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on whether he should run or not for the exalted office of the President of Nigeria in 2023, my candid advice will be that he should use his abundant Almighty God’s endowment to unite the APC and unite the South and by extension our beloved country, by backing a candidate from the southeast”.
The VON DG explained that supporting a young aspirant from the south would unite the region, adding that some northerners feel reluctant to support the south because of their lack of unity, just as he said it would be statesmanlike for Tinubu to be a Kingmaker than throwing his hat into the ring.
In a chat with THISDAY, the national convener of Businessmen For Osinbajo, Dr Fashogbon Oluwatayo Solomon said 2023 would be historical for the country’s political and democratic development.
He said: “The peculiarity of this election is the fact that Nigeria is in a urgent need of a leader with economic, financial and monetary proficiency and competence to address the numerous challenges facing the country. The Infrastructural development going on across the country by the present administration needs to be sustained.
“With the fragile nature of our present nationhood threatened by separatist across different regions, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has proven overtime to be a unifier with the capacity to bring back our unity in diversity and strengthened our nationhood.
Dr. Fashongbo believes that the love and acceptance enjoyed by the Vice President from “every region today is the reason why no one can fault the fact that he remains the best candidate for the 2023 presidential election.
“Above all, Nigeria needs a hardworking, dedicated and God-fearing leader who understands the challenges and needs of her people and also the political will to address them. This Nigerians have identified in Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and thus ready to give him their electoral mandate come 2023.
Meanwhile, a chieftain of the ruling APC and member of the 2018 APC National Convention Committee and a member of the Screening Sub Committee, Elton Onwu, has advised the party to consider 2023 as payback time to reward Tinubu for his loyalty to and consistency with the party.
Mr. Onwu who was reacting to Osita’s statement calling on Tinubu to shelve his presidential ambition, asked the VON DG to explain why should Tinubu drop his ambition?
In a chat with THISDAY, Onwu also asked: “if a man has laboured to build a house, should he abandon it to sleep in the open just to satisfy a visitor who didn’t value his efforts when the building was coming up?
“Emerging from the ashes of the 2003 general elections as the only opposition party Governor in the South West, the rest is history as how then Governor Tinubu fought the then President Obasanjo and his ruling party to a standstill and reclaimed the remaining 5 States of the South West back to the Progressive Politics Family”, he said.
He explained that Tinubu is the only master of the art the APC must rely on to remain in power beyond 2023.
“The APC as a party is blessed; in every term of the definition, to have Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as a National Leader and by the Grace of God, the frontline Presidential Aspirant we are hoping for as stakeholders of the Party.
“Tinubu is a proven bridge builder, a fine and astute harvester of human resources, A political enigma that has mastered the art in unprecedented details and a mentor to several political titans across the economic and political divides of the country.
“APC having him as her Presidential Candidate will no doubt reap from his abundance of goodwill amongst the grassroots and Elites Leadership across Party Lines and ethnographic/religious diversity of Nigeria”, Onwu explained.
Despite the fact that preparations for the 2023 general elections are in top gear and controversies in his party have reached a crescendo, President Buhari seems not to possess a spectre on how his succession would look like and has not publicly or privately upheld or shown favourability to any of the leading contenders for his party’s ticket including his loyal Vice President Yemi Osinbajo or the benevolent national leader of his party.
Since his emergence to power in 2015, Buhari has skillfully navigated the political infighting and wranglings in his party, only to intervene when absolutely necessary. One of such incidents was the controversial removal of Adams Oshiomhole as the national chairman of the APC in June 2020. Oshiomhole was one of Tinubu’s eyes in the party. His removal eventually paved the way for the control of the party by forces opposed to Tinubu’s presidential bid.
In all of these, the President and his Vice President have maintained a seeming neutral and cordial relationship. However, in the relationship between the two men, there is a strangeness, since the VP is a lieutenant of Tinubu and a representative of the ACN Bloc in the APC merger. This may also be a factor in the way their presidential bid is being viewed by the president and some stalwarts in the fold.
During the President’s recent visit to Lagos for the launch of the autobiography of former interim chairman of the APC, Chief Bisi Akande, in which he was the special guest of honor, it was speculated in some quarters that the book was written to induce his support Tinubu’s presidential bid, perhaps in view of his apparent lukewarmness and indifference.
In his speech on the fateful day, he skillfully evaded to react immediately or subsequently on some of the issues raised in the book about the agreements that took place at the formation of APC or on the eve of the 2015 elections. As if to further underline his apparent ambiguity, few days later he was quoted as saying that he could not wait for 2023 to return to his farm in Daura.
The renowned Professor of Law on a joint ticket with a former military general was a big motivation for those who were disenchanted with the administration of Goodluck Jonathan and propelled APC to power in 2015.
However, Osinbajo was not the usual grassroot politician, lacking the political structure, he rode to the Vice Presidency on the Goodwill of the APC national leader, Bola Tinubu.
But being in power, the former academician has learnt the art of politics through his participations and cultivated the required network as he has come to be loved and admired by many sections of Nigerians who considered his intellectual dexterity and gentle manners as what is needed in a forward looking leader that can bring an end to Nigeria’s intractable and persistent problems.
But the outspoken Pastor of Redeemed Christian Church of God is strongly religious and loyal as can be seen through the harmonious relationship with the president much to the admiration of the northerners who value trust and loyalty.
This sentiment can be seen in the words of the Emir of Daura, who speaking on Saturday 18th December during the Turbaning ceremony of the President’s son Yusuf Buhari as the Talban Daura, in Katsina state showered praises on Osinbajo.
Osinbajo graced the occasion while is principal was on a diplomatic visit to Turkey.
Speaking of the Vice President, the Emir of Daura said “we extend our appreciation to His Excellency, the representative of the president. He said the Osinbajo is a noble man who keeps his promises and a trust worthy person who has so much patience and knows what to do at any given time.”
“He is a very good man, he is my favorite person but I always forget how to pronounce his name properly. He is a very nice person,” the Emir said.
Osinbajo has always strived to be tactfully at par with his principal regardless of where the short term political wind is blowing. Even when speculations were rife on his alleged presidential aspiration, he had refused to be drawn into it, instead saying he was focused on helping the president succeed. Despite the fact that groups have been beating his drum, he has not being a visible face or voice, covertly or overtly politicking for the 2023 ticket, especially the way his political godfather is doing.
With many observers believing that he has not been able to bring his best to bear because of the intrigues of politics, particularly the intrigues surrounding his emergence on the national stage and that if given the opportunity he would wield power better, Osinbajo support base has continued to increase across regions and political divides, especially among the middle and educated classes and the youths who desire a paradigm shift in governance.
Despite his simple demeanor and occasion pronouncements on national issues, he seems not to have for once lost sight of the extraordinary, almost divine manner of his political ascendancy. For now it is difficult to know what is next move but with the growing clamour for him to contest particularly from Nigerians disaffected with the political system and the growing intrigue in the APC nothing is off the table.
But the question remains: with Osinbajo’s growing popularity and acceptance across the country’s political divides, and with projections by political watches suggesting that he is APC’s best best and a nightmare to the main opposition PDP, will Tinubu shelve his ambition to give his party less work to do ahead of 2023?
The President and his Vice President have maintained a seeming neutral and cordial relationship. However, in the relationship between the two men, there is a strangeness, since the VP is a lieutenant of Tinubu and a representative of the ACN Bloc in the APC merger. This may also be a factor in the way their presidential bid is being viewed by the president and some stalwarts in the fold
While the PDP has gladiators that can match Tinubu’s political status, they do not seem to have a gladiator or leading potential candidate that can match Osinbajo’s qualities of intellectuality, loyalty and integrity, and many of the governors in the APC know it. In clearer terms, they have said while Tinubu remains a huge asset to the ruling APC but he is at the same time somewhat a liability to the party for several reasons