From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The calm following the hitherto apprehensive and tense atmosphere which characterised the All Progressives Congress (APC) Special National Convention to elect the party’s presidential candidate in Abuja has confirmed that the battle has been expectedly won and lost.
The sudden return of peace after the convention was a complete departure from the posture of a party heading towards a precipice in the build up to the presidential primary which was a defining moment in the life of the ruling party.
As days zeroed into hours, permutations, consultations, horse-trading, shenanigans, and networking were the order of the day while preparations for the showdown continued. In fact, on the eve of the primary, there was so much uncertainty over who would emerge as the presidential candidate of the party among the 23 aspirants jostling for the ticket.
The State House, where endless consultations were held, the party’s national secretariat where the battle spilled over from time to time, to the Kebbi Governor’s Lodge where the APC governors met to strategize were a Mecca of sort for the governors, stakeholders and leaders who continually converged to find the solution to what looked like a political quagmire.
The party seemingly became divided along ethnic, religious, and other lines among the aspirants, the leadership, and the chieftains. The state governors, though with minor division, occupied a conspicuous side; the cracks in the party’s national leadership continued to widen, with the national chairman at daggers drawn with his NWC members. It was a reign of confusion even in the presidency over the endorsement of one aspirant or the other.
Even few hours to the primary, the party was still facing uncertainty over zoning and power shift, which was responsible for the strategic meetings among the frontline aspirants still laying claims to the ticket.
While it seemed the peace moves among the South West aspirants had collapsed, the South East aspirants were still unanimously making case for one of them to emerge as the anointed candidate, just as many stakeholders including the party’s chairman, Abdulahi Adamu, drummed support for the emergence of a northerner, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, as the anointed candidate.
The political temperature had heightened to a dangerous level on Monday, the eve of the convention, when the APC chairman pulled a trigger on his NWC members over his announcement that President Muhammadu Buhari has endorsed Senator Ahmad Lawan, as the consensus candidate, resulting in a sharp disagreement during that meeting.
The announcement had inflamed the already worsened confused and apprehensive situation, forcing the APC governors to run from pillar to post, holding several strategic meetings at the State House, the party’s national secretariat, and other places to restrategise and perfect their battle on the next line of action.
The climax of the hi-tech politicking was the crucial resolution of the Northern APC Governors and political leaders for power shift to the South.
However, it seemed a temporal solution as hours to the commencement of the primary, the picture was still bleak and unclear to many political watchers as to what the future held for the aspirants and the party, including the party’s chairman who arrived at the venue ahead of other important dignitaries perhaps to evade further consultations.
But, what gave an inkling that better days were ahead was the near-perfect logistic arrangements put in place by the organisers. It was a gross departure from the rowdy situation that characterised the party’s national convention held in March this year.
Urchins, robbers, and unscrupulous elements were kept at bare and caged from running riot, close to the venue.
Although canisters of teargas and pepper spray were occasionally released to disperse the surging crowd, on the whole, insignificant numbers of casualties were recorded compared to what happened during the February national convention.
The defining moment and turning point was witnessed when the aspirants unveiled their manifesto. Former Governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio had released the first shocker punch, when he announced his stepping down for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to the surprise of many.
Another clincher was when the governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, despite campaigning vigorously across every part of the country, earning the status of another favoured aspirant, also announced his stepping down for the former Lagos governor.
The situation had transmuted from apprehension to reality as more aspirants sacrificed their ambition to put a sure footing to the emergence of Tinubu. The governor of Jigawa State, Muhammad Bagudu Abubakar, to former Speaker House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, former Ogun governor, Ibikunle Amosu, Senator Ajayi Boroffice and the only female aspirant and Uju Ken Ohanenye directed their delegates to vote for Tinubu.
Not even the emotional touching speeches from former Senate President, Ken Nnamani and former Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu to make a case for the party to reconsider an aspirant of Igbo extraction as candidate could stop the surging wave in favour of the former governor of Lagos State.
Expressing his grievances, Onu had reminded the delegates and the party leadership at the convention that he singlehandedly saw the building up and formation of APC, including using his money to register the party, yet his efforts and that of his zone are not recognised and rewarded.
“Everybody in the leadership of the party knows the role I played in bringing APC into being; the intellectual preparation for it, bringing people together, nurturing them and so on even to the point that I paid for the money that was used to register APC.
“Look at it, the South West had eight years as president, eight years as vice president, the South-South had eight years as vice president and president, where is the justice, where is the justice, where is the justice, we need to do what is right,” Onu had quipped before taking a bow at the convention arena.
On his part, Nnamani had decried the party discarding federal character, which sues for fairness for all Nigerians by not looking the way of the South East.
“On March 26, we gathered here for another convention and on that day, all the offices contested for were based on zoning principles, which is synonymous with Federal Character in the Nigerian constitution and helps to give all the sections of Nigeria equal opportunity.
“Today’s convention has suddenly changed. It is no longer based on zoning principle, and I will suggest very strongly that we take a second look at the constitution of Nigeria, the one that concerns federal character, which gives all parts of Nigeria equal opportunity to feel that that part is an integral part of the country”, he said.
One of the highlights of the primary, to many people, was when Vice President Osinbajo delivered a thrilling speech to the administration of his supporters cheering him endlessly, but refused to step down for his perceived godfather, Tinubu.
Expectedly, it was however the world of the party delegates that held the ace in deciding the future and fortune of the aspirants despite the warnings from some aspirants for them to shun the temptation of dollars and vote according to their conscience.
From the sorting and counting of the first ballot box to the last one, there was clear signal that the primary election has been won and lost, as the announcement of Tinubu’s name did not only dominate the others but also left many guessing which of the aspirants would come first and second runners-up.
The expectation is that the APC candidate, Asiwaju, may perhaps be magnanimous in extending olive branch to other aspirants, including those he tactically told he was shocked that they could square up against him like the President of the Senate and indirectly, Vice President Osinbajo.
Analysts argue that the leadership of the party must put in place more realistic measures to kick-start a genuine campaign to ensure the party approaches the presidential election as a peaceful and united family.
Expectedly, encomiums have continued to pour in for the winner, from both the opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, APC stakeholders, unexpected quarters like the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, party’s chairman, Abdulahi Adamu, considered as enemies and opponents to Tinubu.
In the words of the APC national chairman and contrary to his initial stand against zoning the presidential ticket to the South, he claimed that the victory of Tinubu as presidential candidate has vindicated the party’s nationalistic outlook and patriotic posture.
“I write on behalf of the entire membership of the APC to congratulate Your Excellency on the sterling victory that you recorded at the just concluded Special National Convention to emerge as the presidential candidate of our great party.
“Your victory has vindicated our party’s nationalistic outlook and patriotic posture as the party of choice for every Nigerian. I am pleased that the party spoke with one voice when the delegates voted overwhelmingly to nominate you as our presidential candidate.”
In his letter accepting defeat and congratulating Tinubu, former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi wrote: “Congratulation on your well-deserved victory at the APC presidential convention and extend my best wishes as you prepare for the 2023 presidential elections. I am confident that your victory will re-energise the progressive ideals of our great party, APC, buttressed by your mission of a common sense revolution which led to the defeat of PDP in the 2015 general elections.”
But beyond the victory dance and jubilation, the party faces the challenge to deploy machinery that will ensure the emergence of an acceptable running mate that will reflect ethnic balancing and weather whatever hurdles the Atiku-led force will unleash to wrest power from the ruling party in next year’s presidential election.