Ahead of Monday’s presidential primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a clique around President Muhammadu Buhari has succeeded in selling the candidature of Senate President Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan to the president, Daily Trust Saturday has reliably gathered.
Barring any last-minute change, the president, who returned to the country on Friday from Madrid, Spain, where he attended the Nigerian-Spanish Business Forum, will present Lawan to the critical stakeholders of the party as his preferred candidate for the plum job.
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Buhari had on Tuesday told governors who are members of the APC to support his candidate. He, however, did not mention who the person is. The president’s statement has raised dust in the ruling party.
Multiple sources told this paper that the clique, popularly known as the Villa Cabal, has secured the buy-in of the president for Lawan.
One of the sources, a former governor, said Lawan was being forced on the president by the cabal.
“Buhari’s nephew, Malam Mamman Daura, a former director-general of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura, and the national chairman of the party, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, have succeeded in ramming Lawan down the throat of the president,” he said.
He, however, said if the Senate president was forced on the party, it would be a recipe for disaster and implosion.
“Atiku Abubakar will be declared the president-elect by noon on the election day,” he said.
Recall that Atiku had last Saturday emerged as the flag-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2023 general elections.
Corroborating the former governor’s claims, an ally of the president expressed shock over the development, saying it would polarise the country.
“I just discussed the issue with one of the president’s aides. We should not allow this to happen. It is not good that after eight years, the president will be bringing another northerner as his successor. This is not good for us and the country.
“In 2007, Obasanjo brought a northerner when he was leaving because of the power-sharing formula between North and South. Anyone that is supporting the North to retain power beyond 2023 is an enemy of the country,” he said.
Daily Trust Saturday had on May 17 reported that the promoters of Lawan’s candidature had reached out to Buhari’s nephew, Malam Mamman Daura and the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babagana Kingibe.
Daura, in July 2020, while featuring in a BBC Hausa Service interview, said there was no need for zoning the presidential ticket to any part of the country. His statement generated heated debate in the polity, with many construing it to be the position of the president, a claim that was punctured by the presidency.
After two postponements, the ruling party had fixed its presidential primary for June 6, 7 and 8.
Twenty-three aspirants were screened by the party’s screening committee headed by a former governor of Edo State, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
The pendulum has been swinging towards the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Ahmad Lawan and former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.
Tinubu on the edge
Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the public outburst of Tinubu in Ogun State on Thursday was as a result of the feelers from the presidency that Buhari was backing a northern candidate.
Tinubu, at the Presidential Lodge in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, while addressing APC delegates, said, “If not for me that stood behind Buhari, he wouldn’t have become the president.”
But one of the leaders of the Tinubu’s camp said the former Lagos State governor would not defect from the APC no matter the outcome of the primary.
He said the national leader of the APC was not looking for anything from the president other than to allow a free, fair and transparent primary.
“Asiwaju is going to emerge as the APC flag-bearer. He was a fulcrum for the formation of the APC and has no intention to abandon the party to political contractors. He has a tremendous goodwill and empathy across the length and breadth of the country,” he said.
The Osinbajo option
Amid the intrigues to retain power in the North by edging out some contenders, credible sources told this newspaper that the thought of supporting Vice President Osinbajo was also gaining traction, with a view to resolving the impasse.
One of the sources said the presidency had received a security report stating that the polity would be charged should the party’s ticket be retained in the North.
“There is security report that the polity would be charged and the 2023 general elections obstructed if Asiwaju and some of the prominent aspirants are forced out of the race.
“The idea is that by the time Osinbajo is chosen, the South in general will have no reason to protest or do anything funny. Also, the decision will reduce religious and regional tension in the country, including a section of the North.
“So, if by the end of the day he wins, so be it, and if he loses, nobody will complain because the whole idea is to deny Tinubu the presidency,” the source said.
Another source said Tinubu’s outburst on Thursday was not unconnected with the fact that he was aware of this plan.
“It is obvious that he knows he is out of the calculation at present; that is why he started talking openly, not minding the implication. I know that while they are working hard to ensure that Lawan gets the ticket, they would support Osinbajo at the end of the day, even if he would be defeated. In fact, some of them wouldn’t mind if Atiku wins,” he said.
North shouldn’t be ungrateful – Sen Shettima
When contacted, a former governor of Borno State, Senator Kashim Shettima, who is at the forefront of Tinubu’s campaign, said the claims that the APC is weighing the options of a northerner as its presidential candidate were projections of selfish interests of persons other than members and stakeholders of the party.
Shettima told Daily Trust Saturday that the speculation emanated from an assorted crop of opportunistic charlatans, political contractors and merchants of mischief.
“Anybody with a basic knowledge of the history of the formation of our great party, the APC, knows that it is a coalition of like-minds with protected interests.
“The alliance thrives on the acknowledgment of the interests of all groups and sensitivity to the diversity of the country. Any attempt to renege on our pledge to build an all-encompassing party is one danger no stakeholder would wish upon the party, especially in a country characterised by clamour for inclusion and pacification of all groups across ethnicities, regions and religions.
“The North shouldn’t be this ungrateful or power-hungry entity being portrayed by advocates of northern presidency in 2023. What has set the APC apart from other parties is the promise to adhere to progressive values. And there’s no way to earn the trust of Nigerians if we fail to demonstrate this fundamental principle,” he said.
APC panel disqualifies 10 presidential aspirants
Meanwhile, the presidential screening panel of the party has disqualified 10 out of the 23 aspirants seeking the party’s ticket.
Submitting the report of the panel to the party’s national chairman, Senator Adamu on Friday in Abuja, the chairman of the committee, a former governor of Edo State, Chief Odigie-Oyegun, said that only 13 aspirants were qualified to contest at the party’s presidential primary.
Oyegun said his panel interacted with the 23 aspirants of the party who had indicated interest in the party’s presidential ticket.
“We have a shortlist which brought the number down to 13. We could have cut it a little shorter, but we wanted a pedigree with a longer element to surface. It is for the party to decide who their preferred candidate would be.
“It is also an opportunity to showcase the kind of people that exist within the party with their usefulness and kind of experience. Let the world know that this is a party that cares for the young. When we say the young can aspire, we really mean it. And this has been showcased in the report we have written.
“I will conclude by saying that we only drew a word of caution that there is this cleavage gradually becoming the centre stage in a national discourse between the North and South and the presidency.
“And we just want to advise strongly that the party should please think of it in making its decision, address it and let it influence their thoughts because it has its own implications.
“Outside that, on behalf of the wonderful colleagues you gave me to work with. I want to thank you very much. It was a sensitive and challenging assignment but very interesting. All of us have profited immensely.
“It is a pleasant surprise that 99 per cent agreed that the party is supreme. And that whatever the party finally decides, with proper consultation, they would likely accept. We had only one exception who said he would accept consensus so long as it is built on him,” he said.