NEWS ANALYSIS: 2023 presidential race: APC, Nigeria face daunting odds – Tribune Online

Tribune Online – Breaking News in Nigeria Today
AS Nigeria moves towards the 2023 general election, the nation’s fault lines may be re-emerging to determine the fate of democracy and the future of the country.
On Saturday, May 28, 2022, the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), elected former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar as its presidential standard-bearer for the all-important 2023 presidential election.
By Abubakar’s election, it is now clear that the North of Nigeria has, roughly, a fifty percent chance of retaining the presidency in the region after eight years of a northerner in power. Even more worrying in the context of the country’s ethno-regional fault lines is that two men of Fulani extraction are posed to rule Nigeria successively for 16 unbroken years. This would not only be a violation of the informal rotational arrangement that defined the ‘elite pact’ that has, in part, helped to stabilise the Fourth Republic and ensured Nigeria’s longest run of democratic rule, it would be a vicious slap in the face for those who are working hard to prevent the feared rupture of the country.
On Tuesday, May 31, 2022, President Buhari summoned the APC governors to the Presidential Villa and appealed to them “to allow our interests to converge.” In one of his frankest of political speeches ever, Buhari asked the governors to reciprocate the free hand he gave them in either running for a second term or selecting their successors in the states. He would like to also pick his own successor.
Though he promised to continue a ‘consultation process,’ it was the clearest indication that there would be no contest for the presidential ticket of the ruling party. It will be left to the wisdom of one man.
While it is not clear yet whom Buhari would select, it is already evident that there is a strong lobby in the North to retain the presidency in the region. One of the excuses was that since the PDP has selected a candidate from the North, the APC has no option but to follow suit.
This is a false political logic. Those who come to equity, the ancient maxim has it, must come with clean hands. Ostensibly, a section of the power elite in the North of Nigeria does not believe in the logic of justice that underlie the expectation that it is the turn of the South to produce the president.
In the context of separatist or irredentist agitations in the South-East and South-West of Nigeria, the campaign for a southern president, the clashes and tension occasioned by experiences of southerners with Fulani herdsmen and the aggravating and dismissive statements by some exponents of northern ‘supremacy,’ the likelihood of another northern (Fulani) president after the end of Buhari’s rule might end up strengthening the hands of those who are insisting that there is no future in Nigeria for their ethnic group.
While a tiny but powerful minority around President Muhammadu Buhari are trying to force his hand to ensure that a northern candidate emerges in next week’s APC presidential primary, some other voices are insisting that Abubakar’s emergence even makes a southern candidate imperative, if not unavoidable, for the APC.

Buhari has left Nigeria twice within the last seven days while the debate and manoeuvres were ongoing. Many believe that he is not persuaded by the argument to retain the presidency in the North.
When President Goodluck Jonathan was making efforts to run for the presidency in 2011, the same group of northern elements now supporting Abubakar and advocating for the northern candidate in the APC insisted that Jonathan’s ambition was wrong, even iniquitous.
They argued that after eight years of President Olusegun Obasanjo, in the unwritten pact that oiled the sharing of power among the ruling elite, it was expected that the next president must not only be from the North, but must serve for two terms of eight years.
Therefore, with the unfortunate death of President Umaru Yar’Adua about a year before the end of his first term, they argued that Jonathan should step aside to allow another northerner to run for office as the candidate of the ruling party, the PDP. Jonathan’s refusal to yield to that logic of unofficial rotation provoked much rancour in the North even as he won the election by almost double of the number of votes that Buhari garnered. However, as a show of their displeasure, Jonathan lost to Buhari in 11 of the 19 northern states.
Though Jonathan did not respect this “pact” the two other major opposition parties, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) did. They elected Major-General Muhammadu Buhari and Mr Nuhu Ribadu, respectively, as their presidential candidates. Atiku Abubakar’s pendulum Atiku Abubakar was one of those who tried to stop Jonathan.
His current bid for the presidency, therefore, seems to make a hypocrite of him. In 2015 when Jonathan tried to get a second term, again, Abubakar joined others in arguing that Jonathan’s ambition further violated the “elite pact” and was, therefore, unjust. Jonathan eventually lost the general election to Buhari whom Abubakar supported after contesting against him for the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In 2015, the new opposition party, the APC, was partly driven by this “elite pact.” There was no question in the party that the presidential candidate had to come from the North. Therefore, apart from Rochas Okorocha who had no chance of winning the ticket, the other four aspirants were from the North.
Buhari, who was the favoured aspirant and around whom the new party was built, easily picked up the party’s presidential ticket. No one doubted that Buhari and all others, in and out of the party political process, who were part of this pact would ensure that power ‘rotated’ to the South at the end of Buhari’s second term.
Therefore, despite the horrendous record of Buhari’s (non)performance as president during his first term, not only did the southern members of the APC allowed him to have an uncontested route to the party’s ticket for a second term, the opposition party, the PDP, also supported a northern aspirant, Abubakar, as its presidential candidate.
Abubakar eventually lost to Buhari. The question in the political community is that if the members of the political elite respected this pact by ensuring that two northern (Fulani) Moslems were the presidential candidates of the two major parties in the 2019 elections – thus running the risk of an Abubakar victory which could have ended possibly in three successive terms for two presidents from the North – why would the northern elite, the PDP, and Abubakar not respect the pact in 2022-2023?
In the last one year, there have been direct and indirect insinuations that the North is either not bound by this elite pact or that there was no such pact. Within the APC, there seemed to have been a stronger understanding of the need to respect this pact.
Abubakar, having left the APC to pursue his life-long ambition in the PDP, despite his earlier call for equity under Jonathan, felt no pang of conscience to pursue the presidential ticket of the PDP.
Other northerners, including former Senate president, Senator Bukola Saraki and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Governor Aminu Tambuwal, did not also, feel obliged to respect the ‘pact.’
However, Atiku Abubakar comes to the 2023 presidential race with impressive credentials and heavy financial war chest. He has not only been one of the most consistent pursuers of the presidency, without doubt, he is one of the most cosmopolitan of those who have sought the Nigerian presidency in the Fourth Republic. Abubakar has relationships and alliances across Nigeria and has, on occasions, spoken to the need to address Nigeria’s structural problems. He is broad-minded, tolerant and politically-savvy.
But he also has some albatrosses. There are many who believe that he is part of the rot at the highest levels of the power matrix in Nigeria, apart from allegations of corruption which have not survived the examination of the Nigerian legal system.
Yet, Abubakar’s biggest burden, especially in the context of the agitation for a southern president in the next dispensation, could be how the politicians in the South, including those who supported his emergence in the PDP, would face their people during electioneering to ask them to support another northerner to run the country for the next four, and possibly, eight years.
Atiku’s emergence has happened against three significant experiences. The first is the devastation that most parts of the North have experienced through religious extremism, terrorism, insurgency and kidnapping. This semi-Somalianisation of the North – particularly the north-west and northeast – happened against the backdrop of the irresponsible leadership that the region has experienced for many decades.
Second is the clear evidence in the last seven years that, apart from other factors, Buhari was hindered by old age, as he himself confessed. It is not that old age can be a hinderance in itself, but old age can limit some people in the performance of the arduous duties of the presidency. Abubakar is 75. Although he appears more spirited than Buhari when the latter became president, but Nigerians also assumed that Buhari, who was 72, was far more fit for office than he let on before he was sworn in.
The third is the widespread disaffection in the country particularly since the last 10 years. Nigerians are far more divided today than they have ever been since the end of the Civil War. Therefore, a presidential candidate whose choice represents a disdain for the principle of equity is a challenge to national unity and survival.
APC’s choices In the light of Abubakar’s emergence as the PDP’s presidential candidate and before Buhari seized (the presidential nominating) power from the party on Tuesday, the choices before the APC were three-fold, the last of which was totally unpalatable to the political south. Some of the choices still hold.
The first option was to conduct a ‘free and fair’ presidential primary – as much as that would be possible within the strictures of Nigeria’s democracy and the party’s precepts – and allow all contestants to test their strength. If this were to happen – without any ‘Tambuwal factor’ repeating itself in the APC – the former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, would most likely win the party’s ticket.
There is no doubt that, among the APC presidential contenders, Tinubu is the most formidable. He has the experience, financial muscle, wide network across the country, as well as political grit to win the highest number of votes among the delegates. What is more, he has demonstrated the greatest preparedness for victory by visiting almost every part of the country to canvass for support.
No one can even come near him in the APC in a fair contest. In fact, more factors count in Tinubu’s favour now that his erstwhile political ally, Abubakar, is the candidate of the PDP. If he is not the only one, Tinubu is certainly the strongest among the contenders in the APC to take on the PDP’s candidate. However, Tinubu has some tough currents against him.
One, it appears that he does not have the support of the incumbent president whom he helped install. The taciturn retired general may not have betrayed this openly, but is an open secret in political circles that Buhari is, at best, lukewarm towards Tinubu’s ambition. If the other ambitious party members suspected that Buhari had Tinubu’s back, many of the aspirants would not have purchased the N100 million nomination form.
Two, Tinubu has some powerful enemies in the country, including some retired generals who are sworn to ensure that he would never become president.
Three, as a function of the first reason, the potency of his ambition and candidacy has been diminished considerably by the fact that four other prominent people, three of them well-placed and his former political protégés from his home region, are also in the race for the same ticket.
Four, Tinubu’s ticket would have to be a Muslim-Muslim one because the political North would not countenance a non-Muslim as its representative on a presidential ticket. While a southern Moslem presidential candidate and a northerner Moslem running mate is not an impossible proposition, as the Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe’s ticket in 1993 showed, there are too many of Tinubu’s adversaries who would mobilise against the viability of such ticket – as they did when he tried to be on the ticket with Buhari in 2015.
Five, Mamman Daura, the president’s omnipresent and seemingly omnipotent nephew who, many believe, takes the most important decisions on behalf of Buhari is said to be dead set against the emergence of the Jagaban Borgu – or any of the others from the South – whom Daura has effectively checkmated in the last seven years.
The second option for the APC was for Buhari to solely decide who would be the party’s standard-bearer. This is the option that the president has now taken, as he made clear in his address to the APC governors on Tuesday.
In this context, Buhari could take one of two routes in choosing one of the aspirants from the South. The South-West would be the first route. It is the most probable region from which Buhari can pick his successor because that was the region whose votes, added to his hitherto huge but insufficient votes from the North, made his presidency possible. It is also the region in which the party is most popular in the political south.
Here, Buhari’s options include his deputy, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; chairman of the Governors’ Forum and Ekiti State governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi; former governor of Ogun State and serving denator, Ibikunle Amosun and his previous running mate, Pastor Tunde Bakare.
All four assure their supporters that they have the president’s backing. Osinbajo would seem to recommend himself based on his antecedents, capacity, cosmopolitanism and his experience as vice president. Many Nigerians found the weeks in which he was acting president to be some of the best weeks of the Buhari presidency.
It is believed that his problems stemmed from this. Many close to the seat of power believe that Buhari and his powerful nephew, Mamman Daura, are yet to forgive Osinbajo for what they deem to be his ‘transgressions’ when Buhari was sick a few years ago.
He stands no chance with them, therefore, especially where Daura has a voice. But the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) pastor believes in miracles. Fayemi, Amosun and Bakare have not campaigned much, the last two, if at all. The three seem to count solely on Buhari’s backing.
Among them, Amosun is the closest to Buhari and the one with the longest running relationship with the president who seems to be most comfortable with people from his past. While Fayemi has a measure of national profile as former federal minister and the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, he most likely would lose out to Amosun in a contest for Buhari’s support. The former Ogun State governor, despite not receiving help from the president for his favoured gubernatorial aspirant in the election in his state, has had the greatest influence on the president in determining who was appointed from the South-West into federal positions. Unlike the other three and like Tinubu, Amosun is a Muslim and his candidacy also would mean a Muslim- Muslim ticket.
However, as things stood when Buhari left Nigeria for a three-day state visit to Spain on Tuesday, Amosun had the best chance among the four of being selected by Buhari as his preferred candidate.
The second route of the second option is for Buhari to pick his successor from the South-East or South- South. Despite the clamour for an Igbo president, a Buhari nominee from the South-East is the most unlikely of all the options. He has received the least support from the south-eastern states and he has not hidden his take on what such a region deserved from his government.
However, in the unlikely event that Buhari yields to the strong clamour for equity from the South- East, observers believe he would most likely choose the former Minister of Science and Technology and first civilian governor of Abia State, Ogbonnaya Onu. In the case of the South-South, former minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, would easily be on Buhari’s top list. Amaechi, who is one of the closest to Buhari among his ministers from the South, was also the Director-General of the Buhari campaign organisation in 2014-2015.
He struggled in vain to be the retired general’s running mate in the 2015 presidential election. Yet, Amaechi possesses a wide network and a considerable financial war chest. However, Ameachi might not have much electoral value in his home state of Rivers where Governor Nyesom Wike reigns like a monarch – unless Wike’s disaffection over his treatment in the PDP leads him to support the APC, an unlikely outcome if his arch political enemy, Amaechi, is the APC candidate.
THE APC and Buhari’s last option and the one that would be totally unacceptable for the political South, is to support an aspirant from the political North. Here, Buhari has two options. He can either support the Senate president, Ahmad Lawan who is from the North-East, or Governor Abubakar Badaru of Jigawa State from the North-West. (Badaru’s name was gaining some attention in Abuja early in the week.) However, neither has a truly national profile. Despite having been Senate president for almost three years, Lawan’s name neither rings a bell nor attracts any political traction.
He has not won an election beyond a senatorial zone and cannot boast of any political network. Many regard his ambition, like those of others from the North, as an example of the political chicanery of the North. Badaru is even less known than Lawan – despite having served since 2015 as the governor of the north-western state. With Buhari not being on the ticket in 2023, neither Lawan nor Badaru will have a chance in a contest against Atiku Abubakar.
Now that Buhari has announced that he would be a one-man (s)electorate for the ruling party, he faces a difficult task in choosing the APC’s presidential standard-bearer. None of his options is easy or politically convenient. But the fate of the Fourth Republic and the country’s continued existence as a corporate entity might ultimately hang on the decision. If Buhari anoints an aspirant from the South to honour the informal rotational arrangement between the two regions, the party would stand a better chance of defeating the PDP’s candidate.
Combining Buhari’s massive support in the North with the influence of the party’s 14 state governors in the region and massive votes in one of the three regions in the South – most likely the South-West where the APC is most popular of the three zones in the South – will certainly deliver the presidency to the party again in 2023.
But, if Buhari and the APC were to select either of the two (or any other) northern aspirants, the president and the party might end up shooting themselves in the foot. For one, the APC will dissolve like a pack of cards either before the 2023 election or shortly after, especially if the party lost the presidency.
While it is likely that most of the almost two dozen aspirants will acquiesce if Buhari were to choose its candidate from the North, most of the southern aspirants would hardly lift a finger in support of such a candidate in their home region.
They will rightly feel a sense of injustice.

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