Titanic battle for APC’s presidential ticket

The race for the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress is poised to define the character and future of the party, JOHN ALECHENU reports

As the October commencement date for the conduct of political party primaries draws near, contenders for the Presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress have jettisoned all pretences to throw their hats into the ring.

Former Vice-President Atiku Abukakar set the tone as he has given a September 24 date to formalise his declaration.

Supporters of former Head of State, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd), have told whosoever cares to listen, that their candidate remains the person to beat.

In fact, the South-East zonal spokesperson for the party who is one of several vocal supporters of Buhari, Mr. Osita Okechuwu, is of the opinion that Buhari’s choice as the party’s flag bearer is a fait accompli.

He said “Given all the indices, the APC already has a de facto presidential candidate in the person of Buhari.” To buttress his point, he argues that Article 20 of the APC constitution stipulates that for nomination of candidates either for party offices or presidential election, the consensus option is first explored.

“If an agreement is reached through consensus, it has to be affirmed. If we go through that method, though we have a lot of good quality people in the APC, I do not know of any person who the leadership of the APC would tell Buhari to step down for,” he said.

This does not rubbish the aspirations of other contenders such as: Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, publisher of the Leadership Newspaper, Mr. Sam Nda-Isiah; Senator Bukola Saraki and Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha.

However, of this number of aspirants, only the Atiku and the Buhari campaigns appear the most formidable. The Kwankwaso campaign claims its candidate is still consulting.

As things stand, the APC’s presidential ticket is arguably a two-horse race between Buhari and Atiku. Buhari, a serial presidential candidate since 2003, is seeking the party’s support to take a fourth shot at the nation’s Presidency.

He flew the flag of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party in 2003 and 2007 and that of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change in 2011.

Atiku on the other hand cut his teeth in the presidential race as the flag bearer of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria in 2007. Atiku also made a bid for the Peoples Democratic Party ticket which he lost to incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, in 2011.

Faced with the reality of a fruitless attempt by a divided opposition to gain power at the centre, opposition leaders saw wisdom in coming together to take on the behemoth which the PDP has become.

The formation of the APC which is the amalgamation of three leading opposition political parties namely: the ACN, the CPC, the ANPP and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, renewed hopes for a spirited challenge to the ruling PDP, which has been at the helm of affairs at the national level since 1999.

Although members of the three legacy parties would often deny it, many, if not most of them have yet to fully recover from the hangover of their previous political blocks. Neither Atiku nor Buhari is however leaving anything to chance.

While the former Vice-President has announced that he would make a formal declaration for the Presidency on September 24, Buhari is likely to follow suit either late in September or early in October.

In furtherance of his quest to clinch the party ticket, Atiku is reputed to have made overtures to governors on the party platform. Specifically, he met most of the party’s 16 governors individually after their retreat in Owerri, the Imo State capital, two weeks ago.

Unverified reports indicate that there was an understanding that he will pick one of them as running mate in return for their support.

Before then, he held consultative meetings with party chairmen at the state and local council levels.

One of several party leaders sympathetic to Atiku’s cause argues that the former Vice-President has the reach and the required contacts to mount a successful challenge to Jonathan and the PDP come 2015.

The party leader who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said, “This is not about sentiments; it is about the reality on ground. If you have all or most party members on board, Atiku has what it takes to get the job done.

“We would like to see a free and fair contest which I am confident Atiku will win, and then with the support we get from other aspirants, the APC will be the party to beat.”

A former National Publicity Secretary of Buhari’s CPC, Rotimi Fashakin, is however, of the opinion that should Buhari be denied the ticket, the APC will be the ultimate loser.

“The APC will become the ultimate loser if Buhari is not given the ticket because he remains the only living Nigerian who can give Jonathan and the PDP a run for their money,” he said.

Fashakin argues that the 12 million votes garnered by the ex-general during the 2011 election on the platform of the CPC which was then a few months old, was a pointer to his level of acceptability among Nigerians.

Buhari’s supporters will be relying heavily on the structures of the three legacy parties to actualise his dream. There is, however, a snag. The decision of the party to adopt the indirect primary in the choice of its candidates is causing ripples within the Buhari camp.

It took no less a person than Buhari himself to pick holes in the decision.

During a recent interview, Buhari was quoted as opposing the party’s decision to adopt the modified open direct primaries.

The Buhari camp argues that should the party follow through with this decision, the party will be factionalised. A party insider expressed confidence that the party will realise “its folly” if it takes this path.

A party official sympathetic to Buhari’s cause who pleaded anonymity said, “I am sure by the time we experiment with the indirect primary for the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly before going for the presidential and we discover that we cannot handle the fall out, we will be forced to have a rethink.”

However, those sympathetic to Atiku’s cause are of the view that Buhari’s supporters are heating up the polity within the party. They argue that the Buhari camp is likely to be consumed by its “messiah complex.”

An Atiku sympathiser, who pleaded not to be named because the former Vice-President had instructed his team not to join issues with any aspirant, wondered why the Buhari campaign is afraid of a political contest.

The source said “What is all this talk about 12 million votes in 2011? Are they saying that these votes have been cast and warehoused somewhere for Buhari to pick up?

“Are they saying that since then, people have not changed political views, no one has died or that all these people will come out and vote exclusively for him should he contest in 2015?

“Let us be realistic, we cannot be preaching one thing and doing another. The party flag bearer must emerge through a transparently credible system if we are to make an impact in 2015.”

Although the official position of the party which has been buttressed by its spokesman, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is that all aspirants will be treated fairly, there are fears that political exigency is likely to come into play.

A former Deputy President of the Senate, Ibrahim Mantu, is of the opinion that the lack of internal democracy has been the bane of Nigeria’s democratic experiment since 1999.

Mantu, who spoke at a dinner organised by the Save Democracy Group in Abuja, observed that while it was commendable that Nigeria had enjoyed 15 unbroken years of democracy, parties were still deficient on the issue of internal democracy.

Mantu said “All the political parties including my party (the PDP), are guilty of lack of respect for internal democracy.” It is worthy of note that the APC has yet to fully recover from the acrimony generated by its inaugural national convention.

Only recently, Chief Tom Ikimi who aspired for the position of national chairman left the party in anger citing lack of internal democracy as reason.

Little, if anything, has been heard from the Atiku-led reconciliation committee set up by the party to reconcile aggrieved members of the party.

How the party handles raging storm over its prized presidential ticket is likely to determine its future beyond 2015.

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