The 2023 elections are two years and two months away. Already, notable politicians from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have begun discreet campaigns to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari.
While a few of them, like Senator Ahmed Yarima, have openly declared their presidential ambition, others have been using allies to test the waters.
Because of the uncertainty over zoning, some presidential hopefuls are being cautious, biding their time to see which way the pendulum would swing.
But as we go into 2021, it is expected that the agitation for the presidential ticket in the two major parties would set off a chain of events expected to culminate in who becomes president in 2023.
Daily Trust looks at 12 political heavyweights believed to be warming up to enter the ring in 2023.
He was Vice President from 1999 to 2007 during the reign of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
He was the PDP presidential candidate in the 2019 general elections but lost to APC’s Muhammadu Buhari.
Atiku, a business mogul and political heavyweight, is thought to have a deep pocket with political machinery and structures spread across the country.
He ran for governor of Adamawa State first in 1990 and again in 1998 (when he won, before being picked as VP candidate) and was a presidential candidate of the defunct Action Congress (AC) in the 2007 presidential elections.
He contested the PDP presidential ticket before the 2011 general elections but did not make it.
In 2014, he joined the APC ahead of the 2015 presidential elections and contested the presidential primaries but lost to Buhari.
He would later support Buhari’s run to Aso Rock. After being sidelined by the APC, he returned to the PDP in 2017 and secured the party’s presidential ticket for the 2019 general elections.
Though Atiku has not openly declared his intention to contest in 2023, indications show that he would.
He has been a constant critic of the Buhari administration and his son, Adamu Atiku, had in June 2020, said that his father would contest again in 2023.
Adamu, who spoke at the presentation of his scorecard as Commissioner for Works and Energy in Adamawa State, said, “I don’t see anything wrong with my father contesting for the presidency.
“In 2023, my father will be aspiring to the Number One office in the land because he has been an astute, strategic, master politician for almost four decades,” he said.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu
The APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has not openly declared his intention to run for the 2023 presidency but his allies, loyalists and supporters have commenced early campaigns for him to succeed President Buhari.
Though Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, has at every forum reiterated that the time is not yet ripe for 2023 electioneering, those around him have already started mobilizing.
Immediately after the 2019 elections, a group in Lagos, Tinubu 2023 Non-Negotiable (TNN), began actively campaigning for him nationwide.
Only last week, a new group, South West Agenda (SWAGA), led by Senator Dayo Adeyeye, comprising of former lawmakers and other politicians, asked Tinubu to make a run for 2023.
Tinubu has also recently embarked on a national tour, which analysts say are surreptitious moves to sell himself to the people and invigorate his national appeal.
But his 2023 ambitions are being challenged by forces within the party and he would have to overcome this threat to secure the party’s ticket.
Also, a group of young Nigerian professionals recently unveiled a political movement in Abuja to work for the actualisation of Tinubu’s perceived presidential aspiration.
The movement known as Young Professionals for Tinubu 2023, with membership across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT, said it had been in existence for almost two years, noting that the occasion was to mark its formal inauguration.
The National Coordinator of the group, Mr. Ahmed Muhammed Ibrahim, noted that Tinubu’s leadership qualities and knack for development informed the group’s resolve to work for his emergence as the APC candidate, as well as his success in the 2023 presidential election.
Tinubu has easily dominated South-West politics since 1999 and had been a thorn in the sides of the then ruling PDP.
He battled then President Obasanjo to a standstill and has managed to install every governor in Lagos since 2007, and many others in the South West.
His biggest challenge yet might just be surviving the APC, a party he helped form and still leads, to make his presidential ambition a reality in 2023.
Recently, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, a former two-term governor of Rivers State and current minister of transportation, stressed the need for the APC to respect the gentleman agreement to zone the presidency to the South in 2023.
This, pundits say, suggests he has ambitions for the seat.
Amaechi is one of the most visible ministers in Buhari’s government. He served as the Director-General of Buhari’s Campaign in 2015 and 2019.
He has experience as a former speaker in Rivers State, a two-term governor, former chairman of the NGF and now a minister driving a critical ministry in the present government.
But there are odds stacked against him as he may have to battle former President Goodluck Jonathan for the soul of the South-South.
He is also going to contend with the infighting in his home state, which has left the party deeply divided in recent times.
While he has not also declared interest in the presidency, people around him say he has his eyes firmly fixed on the seat and he is not leaving anything to chance.
Though Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State has not declared for president in 2023, remarks made recently by a leader of the APC in his state suggest that the former minister of mines and steel development may be gearing up for the exalted seat.
Penultimate Saturday, the Paul Omotoso-led APC caretaker committee endorsed the governor for the presidency in 2023.
Omotoso, who spoke through Ade Ajayi, the APC caretaker publicity secretary, at an event organised by Olusegun Osinkolu in Ayede Ekiti, Oye Local Government Area of the state, said the party would drag Mr Fayemi into the presidential battle forcefully if he refuses to join willingly.
“On the 2023 presidency, the time has come for the president to come from Ekiti. That is why we are pleading with you to support Governor Fayemi.
“Though Governor Fayemi has never said he wanted to contest, we will force him to plunge into the race because of his competence, dedication and loyalty to [the] APC,” he added.
Fayemi can also leverage on his current position as the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) to pursue this ambition with the support of governors in the ruling party.
Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso
Pundits believe Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, a two-term former governor of Kano State, is likely to pursue his presidential ambition again in 2023.
Though the former minister of defence has not declared interest yet, he has, at different times, sought the presidential ticket of both the APC and the PDP but lost to President Buhari and former Vice President Atiku respectively.
Kwankwaso, who enjoys widespread support in Kano, is the leader of the Kwankwasiyya political movement.
He was in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the 1990s, rubbing shoulders with the likes of the late General Shehu Yar’adua, his former boss Senator Magaji Abdullahi, Babagana Kingibe, Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu, late Tony Anenih, late Chuba Okadigbo, Abdullahi Aliyu Sumaila and late Lamidi Adedibu amongst others.
Donald Duke was the governor of Cross River State and the SDP presidential candidate in 2019.
He left the PDP, where he had served as a two-term governor to run for the presidential seat on the platform of the SDP.
Duke had initially declared his intention to run for president in 2007 but stepped aside in favour of the late Umaru Yar’Adua.
Analysts say his ambition to become president remains alive with his constant engagements at important occasions across the country.
Already, there are some social media groups like Team Donald Duke which has over 40,000 members reportedly from the South-South, South East and South Western parts of the country championing the 2023 presidential ambition of the former governor.
Owelle Rochas Okorocha
With the deafening agitation for a Southern presidency in 2023, Rochas Okorocha, the former Imo State governor and Senator representing Imo West, qualifies as one of the candidates to fly the APC’s flag.
As a former chairman of the NGF, he may enjoy a nationwide reach and with the Igbo fighting tooth and nail to get the presidency, he might enjoy some advantage.
But the argument in some quarters has been that his influence appears to be limited in Igboland.
He, therefore, might not be accepted as the face of the Igbo and the right candidate to champion that course.
Okorocha should be ready to face even tougher challenges than he did in 2019 when he could not secure the APC ticket for his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu.
Ahmed Sani Yarima
He was governor of Zamfara State from 1999 to 2007.
He represented Zamfara West in the National Assembly and equally served as Deputy Minority Leader in the Senate.
He is currently a member of the ruling APC.
Yarima is the only person to have declared his ambition to be president in 2023.
He had attempted before in 2007 but later stepped aside for Buhari.
Recently, he told reporters in his Abuja residence that he would contest the 2023 presidency, insisting that the APC leaders did not reach any agreement before the 2015 general elections that there would be power rotation to the South at the expiration of President Buhari’s tenure in 2023.
If there is a zoning arrangement, it would most likely scuttle Yarima’s ambition, but the former governor seems determined to plod through, arguing that zoning was alien to the 1999 Constitution, the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and the APC’s Constitution.
He insists that no one could force him out of the race on grounds of zoning.
“You see, I don’t think there is anything like agreement. You can ask Mr President.
“He led the group. Asiwaju was there. I was part of it. There was no meeting I didn’t attend or any meeting that I attended that there was such an agreement.
“Agreements can’t be verbal, [they have] to be written. In any case, any agreement that is contrary to the laws of this country is not an agreement.
“The Constitution is very clear, the Constitution of the political parties, the Electoral Act.
“We are in a democracy and democracy is governed by processes and procedures and bylaws.
“The Constitution of Nigeria doesn’t recognize anything called zoning and likewise, the APC’s Constitution. If there is that agreement, why didn’t we put it in the Constitution?” he said.
Aminu Waziri Tambuwal
The incumbent Sokoto State governor clinched the governorship seat in 2015 using the APC ticket.
He was a founding member of the APC, after he and some other governors defected from the PDP and helped form the coalition that became the APC.
He would later return to the PDP, vie for the presidential ticket in 2019 and after losing that to Atiku Abubakar, secure a second term as governor of Sokoto State on the party’s ticket.
Tambuwal served as the 10th speaker of the House of Representatives and represented the Tambuwal/Kebbe Federal Constituency of Sokoto State at the National Assembly.
He is currently the Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum (PDPGF).
Daily Trust reports that the governor has started consulting some notable political leaders across the six geo-political zones over his presidential ambition.
On August 22, 2020, Tambuwal held a closed-door meeting with a former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in Abeokuta, Ogun State at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library Pent House.
The Special Assistant on Media to the former President, Kehinde Akinyemi, confirmed the closed-door meeting in a statement he issued the following day.
The statement titled “Obasanjo still relevant for consultations on issues of governance and challenges” described the visit by Tambuwal as an unscheduled one.
The statement also quoted the governor as saying he visited Obasanjo for consultation on governance and other issues.
The governor also consulted former Senate President David Mark, former Defence Minister, Gen TY Danjuma (retd) and many other prominent politicians.
Pundits say Tambuwal is counting on his age, political experience in the legislative and executive arms of governments, his clout, and political pedigree to become president.
There are strong signals that Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State is among those eyeing Buhari’s seat in 2023.
Already, giant billboards have been erected in strategic locations in the state, urging him to run for president in 2023.
Recently, the Kogi State House of Assembly, at its plenary, passed a resolution calling on the governor to run for president.
House Majority Leader, Hassan Abdullahi, while moving the motion said the call was predicated on the ‘sterling performance’ of the governor since he assumed office in 2016.
Besides the resolution by the state lawmakers, the governor’s foot soldiers and loyalists, including commissioners and special advisers in his cabinet, have all been drumming support for his (Bello’s) presidency in 2023 through various social and traditional media platforms.
According to them, it is now the turn of the North Central geopolitical zone to produce the next president.
Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State is also one of the politicians from the South East believed to be interested in Buhari’s plum seat in 2023.
Umahi, who has been a top chieftain of the PDP for many years, recently defected to the ruling APC in a strategic move to position him for the 2023 presidency.
Although Umahi has said that his defection had nothing to do with any presidential ambition in 2023, pundits and political watchers are of the view that the Ebonyi governor was being economical with the truth.
In the fullness of time, it would be clear whether Umahi would throw his hat in the ring for the presidency or not.
Governor Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed of Bauchi State is a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) from 2010 to 2015.
Senator Mohammed of the PDP defeated an incumbent APC governor in the 2019 elections, thereby creating a major upset in a key State that has always voted for President Buhari.
The governor of Bauchi State has not shown any interest to run for the presidency but a civic group, Abuja Coalition of Youth and Women, has called on him to contest the elections.
The group made the call in a communique issued at the end of its meeting in Abuja and signed by Aminu Zakari and Christiana Jacob, president and secretary-general respectively.
According to the group, by 2023, Nigeria would be in dire need of a competent, transparent and resourceful leader to pilot the affairs of the nation and save it from chaos and disintegration.
The names of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe), Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State and Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State are being mentioned in certain quarters, but it is not yet clear if they would contest.
Sources said they are being circumspect about their ambition because of the zoning factor and would most likely contest when the cloud gets clearer.