By Gbenga Ebitigha
The next presidential elections will hold on Saturday, February 18, 2023. Although the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has promised to publish the time-table after the Anambra state governorship Elections in November, this year, it is safe to assume that, by the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 which commands parties to submit the list of their candidates 60 days to the election, the All Progressives Congress must submit the name of its candidate by Monday, December 19, 2022.
For the candidate to emerge, Article 20 of the APC Constitution prescribes two options: democratically conducted election at the respective national conventions or congress or a consensus provided that the choice undergoes ratification to avoid imposition and promote harmony. The latest date that the law gives the APC to hold that convention is Saturday, December 10, 2022. This is about 19 months, almost 580 days to go.
Who will not fly the flag? Although the 1999 Constitution gives every Nigerian above 40 years the right to aspire to be president, the principle of federal character, enshrined in Section 14 (3) mandates democratic institutions to conduct and constitutional processes to be conducted “in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or other sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies”,
This provision informs the zoning arrangement adopted by parties in presenting the candidates depending on the spatial circumstances. For the presidency and given historical precedent and political evolution, a North/South template that recognizes the ongoing eight-year presidency of President Muhammadu Buhari as representing the North implies that APC is not expected to field a presidential candidate from the North.
Who does the cap fit in the South? Demographics is key to mapping the trajectories to the presidential choice from the South. The South is populated by over 100 ethnic nationalities but the populous nations with significant electoral capacity, that is, the ability to deliver votes are the Yoruba and the Igbo. The World Population Review puts Nigeria’s live population as of June 10, 2021, at 211,112,388. Not less than 21 per cent, (44.3 million) is Yoruba and 18 per cent ( 38 million) is Igbo.
For successful prognosis, ethnic identity must be measured against party affiliation and apathy, It is sufficient for our purpose to state that affiliation with the APC is low among the Igbo compared to the Yoruba, a situation that recent defections of influential politicians from the East seek to correct. Although two states, Imo and Ebonyi, have turned APC and there are prospects of more decamps before the presidential convention, the factors of ethnic identity and party affiliation favour the Yoruba presidential contenders in the party than their Igbo counterparts.
In this regard, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu towers above others in terms of deserving rewards for contributions towards building a formidable opposition and constructing the APC as a platform for contesting power and administering government. This process began with his movement from the Alliance for Democracy in 2006 due to irreconcilable differences with the Afenifere, the influential faction of the party. The 2007 general elections in Lagos State retired the old guards electorally and proclaimed the newly-formed Action Congress as the new kids on the block. The party won the governorship, House of Assembly and National Assembly elections in Lagos State. In 2008, it recorded massive landslides in the local government elections.
These electoral victories were the people’s rewards for the progressive accomplishments of the Tinubu administration in eight years of governing Lagos State. Top among these are the financial re-engineering of the state’s revenue which enabled massive infrastructural upgrade of decaying assets, the creation of 57 local council structures which established its popular-democratic credentials and the creative use of technology to male government more effective, efficient and responsive.
But the most far-reaching advantage of that election is that it provided for the Tinubu movement a solid political base to launch ferocious attacks against the electoral malfeasance of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and retrieve the governorship and legislative mandates of the party stolen through violence and fraud. Between 2007 and 2014, the Action Congress of Nigeria took control of five states, a testimony to Tinubu’s forensic tactics and strategic sagacity.
Without these antecedents, the idea of a merger with the Congress for Progressive Change, whose 12 million votes at the presidential polls, translated to a single mandate for the governor of Nasarawa State could not have happened.
Indeed, the fact that the CPC which had partnered with the Afenifere and Save Nigeria Group failed to mobilise voters in the South West to enable General Buhari to win the presidency pointed to the hold of the Action Congress and its electoral status as the party that any presidential aspirant truly willing to contest and win must do business with.
Coincidentally, the Action Congress of Nigeria was also seeking to expand its reach to the North. In 2007, it yielded its platform to Atiku Abubakar, vice president in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. In 2011, it presented the anti-corruption Czar, Nuhu Ribadu as its presidential candidate. Both, from Adamawa State, did not clinch the ticket.
The merger of the CPC and the A.C.N. was therefore fortuitous because both needed each other in their bid to capture the presidency. However, the CPC, whose presidential hopeful had attempted the race thrice, made the CPC the strategic partner to take the ticket first. This was truly a sympathetic concession because the A.C.N. with five governors to the CPC’s one governor was in a better position to run.
The logic of equity, therefore, recommends that, after eight years, the Action Congress of Nigeria as a partner should have unfettered access to the APC’s presidential ticket. Tinubu, as the National Leader, must be the top seed.
Considering his gargantuan contributions to the formation and victory of the party, Tinubu’s stoic sacrifice amidst the degrading persecution by his partners in power must rank as one of Dalai Lama’s case studies in self-purgation.
Beyond the embarrassment of promoting his proteges out of his circle of control or flying the kite of a corruption trial, the government-sponsored diminution of his influence over the political territory he nurtured for over two decades has neither moved him an inch from the orbit of the APC nor caused him to forsake the child of his loins. His choice as presidential flagbearer will be the befitting crown for passionate loyalty.
Some believe that much of the above setbacks has been orchestrated by envious desperadoes threatened by the deep respect and love that President Muhammadu Buhari has for Tinubu to the extent of insisting that he should be consulted on critical party matters. They are livid that President Buhari, by this loyalty to his partner arrogates to the man they hate with a passion the status of an alternate president.
The circumstance alludes to the character of the talking drum: its opposite sides offer different views of reality. For the Jagabanists, the diehard followers of Tinubu, the coup that removed Adams Oshiomhole and brought in a contraption that goes by the name of the Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee as their icon as its target. Its programme of new party membership registration, review of Constitution and forthcoming congresses and convention are designed to rob Tinubu of the rewards of his role in making the party the attractive platform it has become.
Rather than obviate his objective, intrigues such as these assure Tinubu of victory. His consummate skills in weaving lasting alliances from complex rivalries were nurtured in the heydays of the Social Democratic Party in Lagos State. From the rival factions in the party, Tinubu wooed combatants into solid electoral machinery that gave him the landslide victory at the party primaries and the Senator elected with the highest number of votes in senatorial elections held July 4, 1992.
What happened during the membership registration exercise in Lagos State should be enough guide to the comparative capacity of the Philistines and the Jagabanists The fact that Tinubu was not honoured with the nomination of the chairmanship of the registration Committee of his political base was imbued with the bile of its engineers. After a merry go round that lasted six weeks, the committee could not register more than 800,000 out of its 2.2 million forms. The reason: many residents aligned with the body language of the Jagaban in subtle protest. Seriously embarrassed, the committee became desperate to meet its target and contacted a few of us for a quick fix. It was to Tinubu that we advised them to turn if they wished to turn the tide in Lagos. With just a nod and directives to operatives, the remaining forms were completed in 10 days!
It is therefore sure, as noon follows the morning and lunch follows breakfast that the forthcoming party congresses will witness the emergence of elected party officials convinced that the man who put this party together deserves the honour of the victory.
Any reader interested in national politics and the regime of insecurity marked by calls for succession and separation may be irritated by the focus of this presentation on Bola Tinubu’s presidential chances. Yet it is precisely these unsavoury developments that make a rational case for Tinubu as the presidential candidate of the APC.
Tinubu ran Lagos State, a space that hosts about 10 per cent of the country and a microcosm of Nigeria’s multi-ethnic society for eight years. He left eternal legacies of the welfarist yet technologically efficient state that remains the dream destination of Nigerians in particular and Africans in general to date. It is interesting that the only state that has demonstrated the capacity to survive separation and secession is not active in the debate and prefers to continue to be the industrial and financial capital of Nigeria.
This is the only man that can rescue the APC from the reputational baggage it carries today: baggage that has negative electoral consequences if the appropriate choice is not made.
And it will do well for active politicians from the North to support the natural choice from the South and resist the temptation of repeating the 1999 ignoble succession plot that sank the country into a quandary.