Nigeria 2023: Will Tinubu’s ambition survive Buhari’s consensus game?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Wednesday, 6 April 2022 11:56

Bola Tinubu, former Lagos state governor and All Progressives Congress leader, gestures at a party meeting with President-elect Muhammadu Buhari beside him in Abuja
Bola Tinubu, former Lagos state governor and All Progressives Congress (APC) leader, gestures at a party meeting with President-elect Muhammadu Buhari beside him in Abuja Febuary 17, 2015. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari wants a 'consensus' election to produce the next candidate of the ruling APC...someone who would have a strong chance of becoming the next president. What will be the fate of frontline presidential hopeful, Bola Tinubu, in the APC primary set for next month?

When in December last year President Buhari refused to sign the electoral bill into law, there were protests by several civil society groups who wondered why such an important piece of legislation that could boost the credibility of elections would be rejected.

The proposed law had included a controversial provision that mandated all political parties to pick their candidates only through direct primaries, a move its promoters believed could reduce the influence of godfathers in party politics, and promote a level playing field for all aspirants.

But the fact that the provision in question was inserted into the bill by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila – a protégé of Tinubu – also aroused suspicion among Buhari’s close allies including the Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami.

Malami advised the President against signing the bill in a confidential letter obtained by The Africa Report. The President took to Malami’s advice, insisting that direct primaries should not be the only mode of electing leaders or candidates in any political party.

In a subsequent interview with Channels Television on why he withheld assent to the bill, Buhari stated, “All I said [is that] there should be options… We must not insist that it has to be direct; there should be consensus and indirect [mode].”

In January, the bill was amended, giving all political parties the right to choose between direct, indirect, and the consensus mode of party elections. However, Gbajabiamila again included a provision that states if a candidate is to emerge by consensus, all aspirants who choose to step down must indicate so in writing. This was eventually approved by the President and it became law on 25 February.

Although consensus had been a recognised form of primary, even before the law was signed, it had always been controversial because what usually happens is that a governor simply draws up a list and gathers delegates to affirm the candidacy of everyone whose name appears on it. This has often led to lawsuits. But with the new law mandating a written concession from all contestants now gave it legitimacy.

Buhari’s game

With consensus fully supported by Nigerian law, Buhari decided to test the waters as the leader of the APC, the ruling party that had been enmeshed in a crisis for over two years and had postponed its national convention five times.

The President insisted that there be no elections into the 78 national offices in the APC including those of the chairman, deputy chairman, youth leader, secretary, organising secretary, legal adviser, treasurer and others.

He subsequently shunned all those who had been campaigning for the chairmanship seat for months and decided to anoint 75-year-old Senator Abdullahi Adamu who was not even in the race. Adamu, a veteran politician that defected to the APC from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also had allegations of corruption hanging on his neck.

Buhari also asked the governors to allot the other positions to their preferred candidates and draw up a “unity list” while all those who are not favoured should be made to step down and the funds spent on purchasing forms be refunded.

“President Buhari is a believer in consensus as one of the options of producing leaders and he urged us to explore consensus. While recognising that many people who have indicated interest are competent, only one person will occupy the office at the end of the day. Consensus is part of our constitution and he (Buhari) urged us to work towards consensus,” said Governor Atiku Bagudu, the Chairman of the APC Governors’ Forum shortly before the convention.

Expectedly, most of the aspirants remained adamant until the day of the convention when many were publicly asked to renounce their candidacy on the podium at the convention one after the other while those who refused were portrayed as rebels challenging the authority of the President and the supremacy of the governors.

Going into our Presidential election, when we get to that, most likely it will be done by consensus hopefully and if we cannot do that, we will do indirect (primary) most likely.

They were threatened with ostracisation after the convention. Succumbing to such pressure, one of the aspirants for the office of the national youth leader, Dada Olusegun, grabbed the microphone and tearfully announced he was stepping down from the race.

The story was similar for many who had spent large sums campaigning. In the end, no fewer than 150 aspirants vying for 66 offices stepped down while about 25 others seeking elections into 12 remaining offices decided to slug it out on the field through the indirect voting system but in the end, only those who had been endorsed by the governors won because the voting delegates were all handpicked loyalists of the governors.

Consensus Presidential primary?

With the convention done and dusted, all eyes are now on the APC Presidential primary set for the end of May. There are already reports that Buhari would be employing the same strategy for the primary as he believes “consensus” would be less rancorous.

“Going into our Presidential election, when we get to that, most likely it will be done by consensus hopefully and if we cannot do that, we will do indirect (primary) most likely,” says Nasarawa State Governor, Abdullahi Sule.

At least 10 people are reported to be nursing Presidential ambitions in the ruling party some of whom include: Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; and Central Bank governor, Godwin Emefiele.

Those who have so far declared their interest are Tinubu, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State and Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello. Of all the names mentioned, Tinubu has the largest support base in the party and is the most experienced politically. He thus would not be hoping for a consensus like the others, his supporters say.

Speaking to The Africa Report, the National Secretary of SWAGA, Bosun Oladele South-West Agenda for Asiwaju 2023 (SWAGA’23), a group with the sole aim of ensuring that Tinubu emerges as President, believes the consensus option would be tantamount to “giving the ticket to someone through the backdoor”.

“No party adopts its Presidential candidate by consensus except if it’s a serving President seeking a second term. In 2014, General Buhari emerged through indirect primaries. He defeated Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Kwankwaso and Governor Rochas Okorocha in a fair contest and that is why no one defected after the primary.

“We’ve been touring the country seeking support for Tinubu. We cannot be asked to step down just like that. That would be unfair,” says the National Secretary of SWAGA, Bosun Oladele.

The Director-General of the Tinubu Support Management Council, Abdulmumin Jibrin, had also boasted last month that at least 14 APC governors are supporting Tinubu. However, only four have so far endorsed him publicly including Governors Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano) and Gboyega Oyetola (Osun). Will these governors go against Buhari if he anoints another politician?

Already, reports say some political parties are willing to adopt the Lagos godfather as their Presidential candidate if he is schemed out by Buhari. A group known as the North Central Agenda for Tinubu said last week that five political parties were ready to give the former governor of Lagos State an automatic ticket.

“Some of the campaigns to undermine Tinubu are emanating from his own party, the APC […] There are several political parties that are eager to give Tinubu an automatic ticket in the event that the APC fails to recognize his electoral worth,” John Oriri, the President of the group says.

But APC chieftain, Sunny Moniedafe, who was compelled to step down at the convention after he claims to have spent about N300m ($721,153) while campaigning to be the next chairman of the APC, teslls The Africa Report, that adopting consensus for the Presidential primary would be a disaster.

Moniedafe argues that the consensus option would only create godfathers in the party and would not promote a culture of democracy.

“I campaigned for 20 months only to be told a month to the convention that the APC had zoned its chairmanship seat to the North-Central which doesn’t favour me. I then decided to vie for the deputy national chairman. It was on the afternoon of the convention that I was asked to see Senate President Ahmad Lawan who then asked me to step down.

“This issue of consensus is really not the right thing. It is undemocratic. I will totally work against the use of consensus for Presidential primaries. Let there be a fair contest. That way, the most popular candidate will emerge and we can win the general election,” he says.

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