Nigeria: Pressure mounts on APC to pick northern candidate after Atiku victory

By Akin Irede
Posted on Sunday, 29 May 2022 12:38

Former vice-president and People's Democratic Party presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar. 19 February 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Following the emergence of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar – a northerner – as the standard-bearer of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), there is now fresh pressure on the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), to pick a northern candidate that can rival Atiku.

Former Vice-President Atiku emerged again as the candidate of the PDP after a Presidential primary that lasted for a few hours.

The veteran politician, who is running for a record 6th time, won in style by defeating his main challenger, Nyesom Wike, the governor of the oil-rich Rivers State, and 12 others to win the party’s ticket.

Two things of note occurred at the primary.

First was the decision of Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State to step down at the convention and openly endorse Atiku against Wike who had earlier in 2019 sponsored his Presidential campaign. Analysts believe this decision of Tambuwal not only boosted Atiku’s chances, it also proved the solidarity of northerners and the usual division among southerners

“The south has a lot to learn from the genuine brotherly love and unity displayed by northerners. Consider that though Wike backed Tambuwal against Atiku in 2019, the same Tambuwal has turned around to back Atiku against Wike in 2022. Northern solidarity! It is something that the south lacks. Tambuwal has shown that northern solidarity is thicker and stronger than financial solidarity,” tweeted Reno Omokri, a political analyst and former Presidential adviser.

Second was the fact that Atiku scored more votes than all the other 13 aspirants combined to stamp his authority as the most popular and perhaps the most financially capable politician in the PDP. No doubt his emergence has infuriated a section of southerners in the PDP who believe it is the turn of the region to produce the next President following the nearly eight years the north has held power since President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in 2015.

But the opposition party argues that zoning – an informal arrangement that ensures power rotates between the north and the south every eight years – should not be the PDP’s priority but victory. They believe that zoning could prevent the most popular candidate from emerging and could also isolate the north which holds a majority of the votes in the country. Also important is that Atiku’s sub-region, the northeast, has not produced a democratically elected President before.

APC’s new challenge

With the PDP’s primary now over, attention is shifting to the ruling party which has a record 26 Presidential aspirants. Among the aspirants, three are from the north while the remaining 23 are southerners. The northerners are- Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, his Jigawa State counterpart, Badaru Abubakar; and Senate President Ahmad Lawan.

The rest are all southerners some of whom include:

  • Lagos godfather, Bola Tinubu;
  • Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo,
  • Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State,
  • his Ebonyi State counterpart, Dave Umahi;
  • Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River,
  • former Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi;
  • former Science and Technology Minister, Ogbonnaya Onu;
  • former Junior Education Minister, Emeka Nwajiuba;
  • former Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Godswill Akpabio;
  • former Senate President, Ken Nnamani;
  • Senator Ajayi Boroffice,
  • former Governor Ibikunle Amosun,

and a host of others.

The APC had tactically delayed its Presidential primary and refused to state its position on zoning in order to see who would emerge as the PDP’s candidate. The hope had been that a southerner would emerge as the PDP’s standard bearer. But with Atiku winning the ticket, the ruling party will now have to return to the drawing board.

The Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu, who is from the southeast, argues that now that Atiku has won the PDP’s ticket, the smartest thing to do is for the APC to give its ticket to Senate President Lawan, who is also from the northeast like Atiku.

He said in a statement, “Congratulations to the PDP for electing a North Easterner. Nigerians must have seen what I saw yesterday. For our party the APC, it is no longer feasible to talk about southern candidates except the APC want to go on political retirement.

“By now, all APC aspirants should drop their ambition and support a Northeasterner. Senator Ahmad Lawan is the destination.”

Southwest challenge

With President Buhari from the northwest rounding up his tenure, the southwest believes it is the turn of the region to produce the next Presidential candidate of the APC. This is mainly because in the south, the southwest sub-region has the largest support base of the ruling party. Besides, the southwest bloc of the APC led by Tinubu played a crucial part in the victory of Buhari, an ex-general who had lost three Presidential elections until he was supported by the region in 2015.

“It would be an act of betrayal for Buhari not to give the ticket to the southwest. This was a region that stood by him in 2015. Everyone knows the role that Tinubu played. He ignored overtures from then President Goodluck Jonathan to support Buhari. Without the southwest, Buhari would not have won in 2015.

“As for the PDP, the party is not under any obligation to produce a southerner because the last time the PDP had a northern President was over 10 years ago,” Senator Shehu Sani, a member of the PDP, told The Africa Report.

However, many are of the view that if the south must get the Presidential ticket of the APC, then it should go to the southeast, a sub-region which has been largely marginalised politically.

“Since return to democracy in 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo from the southwest has been President for eight years. Vice-President Osinbajo, also from the southwest, has been in power for almost eight years. However, the southeast has been denied the Presidency and the Vice-Presidency. If at all the south must get the Presidency, then it must go to the southeast,” political commentator, Deji Adeyanju, tells The Africa Report.

Governor Umahi of Ebonyi State in the southeast, who is also running for President on the APC platform, argues that it would be unfair to give the APC ticket to the southwest as it would also be tantamount to giving a northerner since the southwest has been fairly represented through Vice-President Osinbajo in the last seven years.

Senator Kalu also argues that rather than the ticket be given to the southwest, the north should retain power. Southeast elements even threaten to support a northerner if the APC gives its ticket to a southwest candidate.

Northern advantage

Northern Nigeria has more states than the south and demographically has not just a larger voting population but a disproportionate voter turnout which is generally higher than the south. Also, historically, the 12 core Muslim northern states have only voted for a northern Muslim since 2003.

“I don’t see this changing in 2023,” says History Professor, David Aworawo.

Historically too, the PDP has since 1999 won Presidential elections in all the 11 states in the southeast and south-south sub-regions of the south. Should the APC pick a southerner, there are fears that he may lose to Atiku.

“APC is under immense pressure to go north after Atiku’s victory which was boosted by the support of Governor Tambuwal. However, equity should be the guiding principle and power should go to the southeast. It will be unconscionable for President Buhari to support a northerner after he has been in power for nearly eight years.  The southwest should forget about the Presidency.

“Yes, there is a lot of pressure on the APC to go north because all political parties think of is winning elections but there must also be equity,” Adeyanju says.

Aware of Atiku’s support base, Lagos godfather, Tinubu and his supporters believe he is now the only one that can defeat the PDP candidate

In his congratulatory message, Tinubu wrote, “I welcome the victory of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the candidate of the PDP in the just concluded primary. I look forward to squaring up with him as a worthy opponent in the coming election.”

But will Tinubu or any other southern aspirant be able to defeat Atiku?

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