Consensus fails, and 14 candidates for the APC presidential ticket are on the ballot.

Consensus fails, and 14 candidates for the APC presidential ticket are on the ballot.

The big moment for the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) came last night.

Yesterday’s Special Convention of the ruling APC was the climax of horse trading, and back and forth debate on consensus and zoning controversies.

The nation waited for the commencement of the presidential primary and at exactly 7:42 p.m., the long-drawn contest began with the arrival of President Muhammadu Buhari to Eagle Square, clearly four hours behind his scheduled appearance to kickstart the exercise.

All day, leading aspirants and party stakeholders, especially the progressives governors, threw in all into the game in a last minute effort to make all contending forces align for the long night ahead.

President Buhari, who is stepping down after the two terms he is allowed in the Constitution, had spent days leading up to the convention in negotiations with APC leaders seeking unity over a party candidate.

“The fate of the party depends on what we do here,” APC party chairman Abdullahi Adamu said, echoing the President’s call for unity in the ranks.

“We cannot go into the general election next year without putting our house together,” he said.

Moments before the climax when 2,322 delegates will make the decisive choice with their votes, 23 presidential aspirants had their time in the sun to shine. Some shone brightly on the big stage and others fizzled into the shadows.

Against expected turn of events were earlier reports that the list of aspirants had been pruned down to five or three, but all 23 hopefuls, except the former Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, took turns to address delegates and the nation why they should be given the chance to be the party’s flag bearer.

Frontline aspirant and APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, took the first spot on stage, where he pledged to ensure an indivisible, and united Nigeria.

Speaking to delegates, he assured that he would tackle the spate of insecurity in the polity. The former Lagos State governor, who paid glowing tribute to President Buhari on his effort to reposition the country in the last seven years, stressed that he had the wherewithal to administer the country effectively.

He noted: “Though our tribe and tongue may differ, we must build a united country, premised on equity, fairness and justice. True reform and progress lie not in copying others but in identifying our own opportunities.

“I have done this in Lagos. I humbly ask you to allow me to use these skills and experiences to advance the nation. I come to you with a coherent vision on how to improve our nation such that our schools, industry, agriculture and infrastructure will become the pride of all.

“Ours shall be a land where all Nigerians will have an equal chance and no one is excluded because of his ethnic background, religious creed, place of origin or social station. We are all Nigerians.”

“Additionally, we must continue to empower the states so that grassroots economic and political development is maximised.

“To lead Nigerians is a sacred trust, which I do not take lightly or seek selfishly. By giving me the party’s mandate, I hereby make my solemn vow to make Nigeria the best home for its citizens,” he said.

The night was enlivened at 10:06p.m. when the sixth aspirant to speak, immediate past Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, announced his withdrawal from the race to step down for Tinubu.

This was received by a thunderous roar from the crowd before six other aspirants took turns to announce they were stepping down for the former Lagos State governor.

After Akpabio, other aspirants who mounted the podium to announce their withdrawal from the contest to support Tinubu, were former governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State; former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole; Governor Abubakar Badaru of Jigawa State; Senator Ajayi Boroffice and the only female in the contest, Uju Ken-Ohanenye.

Presidential aspirant, Dr Ogbonaya Onu, decried the marginalisation of the Southeast geopolitical zone as far as the occupant of the exalted seat of the presidency is concerned.

Onu, who was visibly emotional, wondered why the ruling elite has not thought it wise to cede power to the zone since the demise of Gen Aguiyi Ironsi in 1966.

He said the Southwest has had one of its own in the person of Olusegun Obasanjo for eight years on the saddle, Prof Yemi Osinbajo for another eight years as the Vice President and former President Goodluck Jonathan from the South-South geopolitical zone has also had six years since the return to democratic rule in 1999.

He, therefore, queried why the Southeast has remained sidelined in the power equation of the country. “Where is the justice, where is the justice here,” he queried.

Another aspirant and former Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, asked delegates to hire him for the job but should also not hesitate to fire him should he fail to fulfill his electioneering pledges.

Addressing the delegates, Amaechi said he is the most experienced of all the aspirants having been State Assembly Speaker for eight years, governor for eight years, chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum for two consecutive terms and federal cabinet minister for about seven years.

He said: “Dear delegates, assess us by our contributions. Do not assess us by how much we have brought here because if you assess us by how much we bring here, ask all of us what is our source of revenue? How did we get all these funds?

“The problem of the Nigerian state is all of us. Nigerian politicians will come and talk to you, bring out money and we accept them. Four years after, they will come back and still make the same promises. Do not vote for me if I lie to you. Do not vote for me if I have not performed but I have performed.

“There is need to move forward, to ask Nigerians to hire me and fire me if I fail. If you vote for me, the first thing is that we must develop our economy, bringing it back to industrialisation and production. We will rebuild our universities to be places of learning. There will be rule of law. People will be punished for their crimes”, he added.

One of the presidential aspirants, Pastor Tunde Bakare, vowed to transform Nigeria if elected. Unlike other candidates who stepped down for co-aspirant, he instead expressed confidence in becoming Nigeria’s next president.

Before his speech, the cleric had called for a one-minute silence for victims of the terrorist attack at the St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State on Sunday.

“I am not here to step down for anyone. I am here to step up as the 16th President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he said.

Members of APC Presidential Primary Election Committee at the convention in Abuja… yesterday. PHOTOS: PHILIP OJISUA

Bakare also said he would develop Nigeria like a genius if elected.

With the contest getting fiercer and despite the stout resolve of the Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF) that power should return to the South, three aspirants from the North, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and former governor of Zamfara State, Senator Ahmed Yerima, stood their ground to remain in the race.

The Senate President said parliamentarians make the best leaders all over the world. Speaking to delegates, he argued that his 23 years experience as a parliamentarian places him in good stead to administer the country effectively.

Lawan referred to the United States President, Joe Biden and his predecessor, Barrack Obama, as well as the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who were parliamentarians to buttress his assertions.

Lawan said he had served as minority and majority leader, as well as chaired the key committee of public accounts in the National Assembly to appreciate the challenges and efforts required to administer the country.

He pledged to tackle the multifaceted challenges besetting the country if voted into power.

Kogi governor, in his speech, said he would not chicken out of the race. Bello expressed optimism that he would emerge flag bearer of the party at the end of the presidential primary poll.

Lamenting the spate of insecurity in the polity, he promised to replicate his feat in Kogi to address the multifaceted challenges besetting the country. He assured that he has the wherewithal to defeat the presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2023 poll.

ALL eyes were on Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, after he had received only one aspirant’s endorsement from Pastor Nicolas Felix. While stepping down for the VP, Felix said delegates must be sensitive to the religious and ethnic composition in taking certain decisions.

Felix is a US-based pastor of the Miracle Church International. He had, in 2019, contested the presidency on the platform of the Peoples Coalition Party (PCP) and got 110,196 votes — the third-highest number of votes secured by a political party in the poll.

When Osinbajo took his turn at the podium, he made a soul-stirring appeal to the delegates to consider their future and the future of Nigeria in making the momentous decision as he, against expectations, put his hat into the ring to square up against Tinubu.

The VP defied the pressure being mounted on him to join the fray in withdrawing for his political godfather. He had come under severe pressure by party stalwarts, particularly, from the Southwest geopolitical zone, to step down for Tinubu in line with the spirit of brotherhood and consensus endorsed by the party.

But in his speech, he urged delegates to consider his aspiration to emerge the standard bearer of the party in the 2023 poll.

Osinbajo, who was welcomed to the podium by the deafening chants of “We want you” by his youthful supporters that rented the air for about 10 minutes, waited for the applause to die down before he could proceed with his speech.

He said his experience within the last seven years had accorded him the opportunity of having a first hand experience on the nuances and complexities of running the country. He warned delegates to be wary of voting for an aspirant who would learn on the job of administering the country.

Voting in progress during the convention… early this morning.  PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

He said: “You can’t wish the country well and vote for somebody you don’t believe in. To our dear delegates, when you vote tonight know that your votes have the answer to your prayer for our country and the future.”

He promised to turn around the fortunes of the country by harnessing the vast human and natural resources that abound in the entire 36 states of the country if voted into power at the poll.

SPEAKING before commencement of voting, President Buhari in the early hours of today, urged members of the party to remain united and avoid acrimony, while rallying delegates at the special convention to consider voting the presidential candidate with the best chance of securing victory in the 2023 general elections in the February 25 presidential ballot.

In his address, the President said the critical task ahead of the Abdullahi Adamu-led National Working Committee (NWC) ‘’remains to continue to forge the unity of purpose among party members and to keep securing needed compromises in the interest of the party.’’

The President urged party officials and delegates to follow due process and abide by all extant laws and regulations pertaining to election of the party flag bearer.

‘’In every competitive event, there are bound to be winners and runners-up; and as such, all the aspirants who lost or conceded at the primaries, I equally urge you to maintain the spirit of sportsmanship and to stand by our great party for the next challenges ahead.

‘’As we go into the presidential primary, I urge all to keep to the same spirit. We must avoid acrimony and maintain the spirit of sportsmanship.

‘’I enjoin you all to be fair to all and to create a level playing field for all the presidential aspirants in the coming crucial party exercise.”

At the end of the speeches, it emerged that the concept of consensus had been defeated and there would be election to determine the party’s flag bearer. By the time election began, the 23 aspirants had been pruned down to 14.

In the lead-up to the exercise, 28 presidential hopefuls had picked the N100 million nomination and expression of interest forms, but five of them later pulled out. Twenty-three aspirants later appeared before the APC presidential screening committee, led by the party’s former chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun.

The run-up to the special convention, which is billed to run till early hours of Wednesday, had been marred by intrigues over the zoning of the presidential ticket and consensus candidacy. While a consensus candidate was said to have emerged on Monday, President Buhari on his part said the delegates should be allowed to decide the party’s presidential flag bearer.

Part of the APC’s debate over candidates relates to “zoning” – an unofficial agreement among political elites that Nigeria’s presidency should rotate between those from the predominantly Christian South and those from the largely Muslim North. After President Buhari, observers expected the presidency to go to a candidate from the South.

But the PDP, which held its presidential primary on May 28 and 29, chose Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and a political stalwart who is a Northern Muslim.

The opposition’s choice to ignore “zoning” has made the APC reconsider how their candidate will appeal to the North, where voter numbers and participation are traditionally higher.

Buhari, who is the leader of the ruling party, did not declare support for any candidate but instructed APC members to “allow the delegates to decide.

“Our objective must be the victory of our party and our choice of candidate must be someone who would give the Nigerian masses a sense of victory and confidence even before the elections,” he said last week.

APC National Chairman Abdullahi Adamu (middle) addressing delegates at the convention in Abuja… yesterday. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

The Chairman of the Election Committee of the Convention and the Chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum (PGF), Atiku Bagudu, announced that the presidential aspirant with the highest number of votes will be declared winner.

He said the fewer number of delegates at the Eagle Square would make the electoral process more manageable, unlike when the party had about 8,000 delegates at the convention in March.

According to him, “three delegates per local government area will be allowed to vote after accreditation. There will be two voting points. Two states will be called simultaneously.

“Delegates should write the name of their presidential choice clearly, while those that cannot write would be permitted to call a delegate of their choice to help them out.

“Aspirant with the highest number of votes will be declared winner. Any aspirant that wishes to withdraw must do so publicly and also sign the withdrawal form.”

EARLIER, operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) stormed the venue of the APC presidential convention. It was gathered that personnel of the anti-graft agency in the famous red vest and others deployed in plain clothes, arrived Eagle Square at about 4:18p.m.

A senior official of the Commission said a special team under a director in the Commission was dispatched to the venue for discreet monitoring of financial transactions between delegates and agents of aspirants.

The personnel from the special team were said to be embedded in delegate stands to monitor any case of inducement.

“We are also monitoring banking transactions real time in collaboration with the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU),” said the official who spoke on anonymity for lack of permission to speak on the operational details.

Another detective, who spoke to newsmen anonymously when asked how it would be possible for the officials to track or monitor online transactions, said such strategy won’t be disclosed. He said they have deployed important strategy so as to use some actors as examples, adding that anybody, be it delegates or supporters of any aspirant would be made to face the law.

Spokesman of the commission, Wilson Uwujaren, confirmed the operation but declined further comment.

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