Nigeriaís ruling party (All Progressive Congress) presidential flagbearer, Bola Tinubu (C) delivers a speech after the party announces him as the winner of its presidential primary during APC special convention to elect the party’s presidential flag bearer for 2023 election at the Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria on June 8, 2022. – Former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu is announced the winner of Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) primary as its candidate for the 2023 presidential election to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)
The two legendary political warhorses, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, have begun their famed battle for the 2023 Presidential poll with the search for their running mates. And, it seems that the way and manner they scaled that first hurdle would determine how far they would go in convincing Nigerians that they possess the magic wand to clean the Augean stable of leadership inertia hobbling the country.
Both standard bearers of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and governing All Progressives Congress (APC) are confronted by similar odds. While Atiku’s challenges lie through the issue of which, between Southeast and South-south geopolitical zones should produce his deputy, Tinubu is grappling with whether to choose a Muslim or Christian running mate.
It would be recalled that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared that political parties have to upload the names of their Presidential candidates and running mates on its portal from June 10 to 17.
Although the APC national leader said the name of his preferred candidate is already in his pocket, Atiku has saddled a committee of PDP leaders headed by former Senate President, David Alechenu Mark, with the responsibility of selecting his ideal second in command.
While the David Mark committee is at it, two contending forces have already arisen to lay claims to the vacant position of presidential running mate in the party. These groups are the forum of former state governors and outgoing governors.
The Guardian gathered that both forces arose after Atiku announced that he would like to get his deputy from the fold of governors, which prompted the former governors, especially the fold of class 99 governors to join the queue of potential Vice Presidents. To make matters very complex, the two geopolitical zones – Southeast and South-south are divided unevenly, because while the South-south has more incumbent governors, Southeast has more of former governors.
According to sources, it was this disparity that necessitated the setting up of the Vice Presidential selection committee, as well as the need to avoid a repeat of the 2019 experience, when Atiku’s choice of Peter Obi sparked protest among Southeast PDP stakeholders, notably, the governors.
From the Southeast, the only class of ’99 governors in contention is the charismatic Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, who they suspect could add value to Atiku’s campaign and eventual government.
Since 1999, when he mounted the saddle as Governor of Enugu State after a very successful medical practice in the United States as an Obstetrics and Gynaecological surgeon, Nnamani has remained a permanent feature of Enugu politics, where he leads the ebeano political grouping.
Like Tinubu, the two-term Enugu Senator has been grooming a huge class of emergent leaders, even as he enjoys a cult following among the masses in the state. Cerebral and engaging, PDP search committee believes that Chimaroke Nnamani would complement the Wazirin Adamawa during the electioneering that promises to be explosive with Tinubu on the ballot.
The expectation that a series of television debates would precede the 2023 Presidential poll is said to be weighing in favour of Nnamani, who, apart from being a contemporary of the former Lagos State governor, was also a long-time sojourner in the United States and blessed with spell-binding communication skills that captivate political campaign.
The question to ask is how much of backing of Southeast governors Nnamani could count on. Apart from his state governor, Ifeanyin Ugwuanyin, and perhaps, that of Abia, Okezie Ikpeazu, Nnamani will have to contend with three other governors, a road the party had tread with Peter Obi.
Nnamani may also not have the resources a sitting governor could give to support a huge presidential campaign.
One other former governor being mentioned in the hunt for Atiku’s running mate is the former Imo State governor, Emeka Ihedioha, who, apart from having served as Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, was Atiku’s former aide. However, Ihedioha, who is a close-confidant and ally of Sokoto State governor, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, is however being limited by his short span as governor and low-level political influence in Imo State, which has an APC incumbent governor.
From South-south, which boasts of five incumbent PDP governors, only three are in their final term, namely, Udom Emmanuel, (Akwa Ibom); Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta) and Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, (Rivers State). Emmanuel and Wike contested against Atiku for the PDP ticket during the primaries. It was gathered that Okowa did not purchase the presidential nomination, perhaps to be relevant at a time like this.
While the forum of incumbent governors is making strong case to produce Atiku’s running mate, it was gathered that emergence of Tinubu and the compelling need to select a value-added deputy has narrowed the search to two serving governors, Wike and Okowa. A little bit of combat readiness makes the case of Wike more appealing. Further, retired military generals, who orchestrated Tambuwal’s withdrawal to pave way for Atiku’s emergence are said to be in the loop also. Their views are being sought as well.
The Guardian learned that Southeast leaders, who supported Atiku’s candidacy have entered into serious discussions with the Wazirin Adamawa against the background of his offer to serve for just one term and handover to a Southeasterner in 2027.
But, with Tinubu camp, there are four potential running mate materials. They include, the Chairman of Progressives Governors’ Forum, Senator Atiku Abubakar Bagudu, who has been an ally of Asiwaju. Sources in APC confided in The Guardian that during the many plots against Tinubu, Bagudu was subtly protecting his (Tinubu’s) interest, especially under the regime of Mai Mala Buni as chairman of Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC).
Then there is the latter day Tinubu apostle, Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, who worked underground against the plot to foist Senate President Ahmad Lawal on the party. Through the Deputy National Chairman, (North), Dr. Salihu Lukman, El-Rufai was said to have ensured that the APC National Working Committee (NWC) was not hijacked by the cabal through its National Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, for the Lawan Presidency project.
A close confidant of Governor Bagudu confided in The Guardian that it was based on the strong contention by the Kebbi State governor and his Kaduna State counterpart that the issue of Muslim/Muslim ticket became a contentious issue. This is just as it was gathered that Tinubu, had, at the height of the crisis in Kano State chapter of APC, asked Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje to shelve his Senatorial ambition with the promise to play “a strategic role” in the Tinubu Presidency. Whether that crucial role revolves around serving as Vice President is yet to be ascertained.
But, apart from the three Muslim prospects, the Tinubu camp is also said to be looking in the directions of Chairman, Northern Governors’ Forum, Hon. Simon Lalong and former Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara. At the point of his defection back to APC, it was suggested that the move was orchestrated by Tinubu to position the former Speaker as his potential running mate. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha is a notable personality that is in the background, quiet and unassuming.
As the INEC’s deadline for the submission of names draws close, whoever ends up as running mates to Atiku and Tinubu would join in the unfolding strategic political warfare by the two old masters of the game. For instance, it was gathered that while Atiku is looking towards Southeast and South/South to achieve balance and in a bid to split votes with Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP), Tinubu is also said to be targeting the high voting population of Northwest and contest for votes with Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
It should be noted that both Atiku and Tinubu were in the same Social Democratic Party (SDP), which threw up Chief M.K. O Abiola as a presumptive winner of the 1993 Presidential election. Which of them would repeat history after 30 years? February 2023 will tell.