With the 2023 presidential election exactly 761 days away from Sunday, politicians across the two major political parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – have already begun some deft political moves and high-level horse-trading in the calculations to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari.
Although the Independent National Election (INEC) has yet to declare the next presidential election open, it had last year fixed the 2023 presidential run for February 18, 2023, thereby preparing intending candidates for early planning.
In a sense therefore, the impending exit of President Buhari, after his constitutional two terms of eight years due in 2023, has thrown the race open to all comers.
Among the array of those currently positioning for the nation’s top job, a former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and a former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, stand out.
Without recourse to an official kick-off, both men are already putting machineries in place to actualise their dreams, with foot soldiers already plotting moves across the country.
However, after failing to defeat Buhari in 2019 in a fiercely contested election, Atiku faces a big hurdle, as the two main political parties are inclined towards zoning their tickets to the southern part of the country for a balance of the rotational idea to power between the north and south.
Curiously, too, within the ruling APC, opposition against Tinubu also thickens by the day. Undaunted, Tinubu, his associates say, believes he has what it takes to secure his party’s nomination and will not back down.
Yet, there are other dark horses lurking around the parties with the hope of beating both Atiku and Tinubu to the tickets.
The long list includes governors, who are preparing to join the race, and have been engaging in deft political moves, crisscrossing states, forming alliances and also reaching out to politicians outside their zones, solely to have one of them emerge the next president of the country.
Among the governors believed to be considering a presidential run are the Ekiti State Governor and Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), Dr. Kayode Fayemi; Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala-Buni, who is also the Chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee and their Sokoto State counterpart, Aminu Tambuwal.
Quietly in the race too with ongoing consultations is a former President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who his supporters have described as the bridge between the north and south, Muslims and Christians, young and old as well as the private and the public sectors.
Also, the Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi, a staunch loyalist of Buhari, is reportedly planning to seek his party’s nomination for the presidency, banking on the Southeast appeal.
Investigations have also shown that the Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan as well as the Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Bagudu, are considering the possibility of throwing their hats in the ring.
Whilst the APC has not categorically admitted it, some chieftains of the party have declared that the party intends to zone the presidency to the south.
Chieftains of the party in the Southwest, including a former governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, said recently that the APC had an understanding that the Southwest would produce the next president.
Therefore, the emerging consensus is that the next president should come from the south, either in the APC or the PDP. This, many believe, may work against Atiku.
According to sources in the presidential villa, Aso Rock, the president too is favourably disposed to having a southerner succeed him.
However, for each aspirant, there are different kinds of hurdles they have to scale before eventually securing their political parties’ nomination.
Opposition against Tinubu is no doubt gathering momentum, mostly from within the APC, as some of the party’s stalwarts are allegedly not disposed to him.
But in spite of the obvious obstacles, both Atiku and Tinubu have remained undaunted.
While Atiku is believed to have continued to consult, even though he is mostly outside the country, Tinubu, who is currently also outside the country, has emerged a frontrunner and already set up political and contact groups across the country, many of whom have continued to consult for him. Clearly Tinubu is revving his political machine in readiness for the 2023 presidential bout and he is sparing no effort towards this goal.
On their parts, much as the governors are constrained by the fact that they still have a mandate to fulfill as states’ chief executives, they are surreptitiously reaching out to members of the political class to build their networks.
Last year, for instance, Tambuwal visited former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his Abeokuta, Ogun State home – a visit many considered was more political than social.
In the same vein, Fayemi was in Kaduna State last year to deliver the 50th anniversary lecture of the Centre for Historical Documentation and Research (Arewa House), a political legacy of the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello.
The lecture, which was part of a weeklong activity that marked the golden jubilee anniversary of the centre, would later spark controversy as many of Fayemi’s political rivals considered it a good platform to leverage and that the opportunity to deliver the lecture was not by sheer happenstance.
APC is planning to commence new membership registration and update of its register on January 25. It has fixed its convention for December.
In both parties, aspiring politicians are positioning to control how both events will play out.
Meanwhile, amid continued agitations over where the two major political parties, would pick their presidential candidates from ahead of the 2023 elections, the PDP has said it would not wait or spy on the APC before deciding where its presidential nominee would come from.
The PDP noted that it was the inability of President Buhari and members of the inner cabinet to respect a supposedly gentleman agreement on presidential zoning that has heated the political atmosphere in the ruling party.
Speaking exclusively to THISDAY on this, National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the party would follow due process in the emergence of its 2023 presidential candidate and denied speculation that the PDP was spying on the APC to choose its candidate first before taking a decision.
According to Ologbondiyan, “The PDP has not reached a decision on zoning. You also asked whether the PDP is dependent on APC before picking its presidential flag bearer for the 2023 presidential election, the answer is that the PDP is not spying on the APC before picking its presidential candidate and we will not take advantage of the APC before choosing our presidential candidate.
“The truth is that the PDP as a party of the people will do the necessary consultations with all the stakeholders before choosing its presidential candidate. We shall not jump the gun, because of the conservation in the APC and therefore will choose our presidential ticket holder, when the time is due.”
He explained that it was due to the inability of the APC leaders to keep to an agreement reached in 2014 that has sparked agitation for presidential zoning within it rank.
“We are not waiting to spy on the APC to pick the presidential candidate. The agitation for the zoning of the presidential candidate of the APC is due to the failed presidential promises by President Buhari. We are not waiting for the APC to pick and then use it as an advantage. No.
“There are conversations in the APC. Let’s not lose the understanding of the conservation in the APC. It is because those who worked to bring President Muhammadu Buhari to power and having seen the failure of President Buhari and all the failed promises made and cannot be actualised and are already afraid that the same thing will happen to the agreement they made before Buhari was chosen as a presidential candidate then.
“You are aware that some prominent persons in the APC are saying there was no agreement and others are saying there is an agreement on the zoning of the presidential ticket. It is this that is causing the agitation for the presidential zoning in the APC.
“For us in the PDP, we have our party organs that will take decisions based on the conversations that would arise within our own political party, the only party that understands the nuances and works in tandem with the nuances of our nation. And when the time comes and at the fullness of that time, PDP will take a decision on where the presidential candidate will come from.
Further mocking the APC, he said, “Who in Nigeria today is interested in joining the APC, let alone teaming up with it? For us, APC has no understanding of party politics or understanding of governance. That is why, when they heard that the PDP has gotten approval to begin membership drive, they rushed to say that they wanted to do membership drive.
“They keep postponing the date. Don’t be surprised that on January 25, when they said they would commence membership registration, they postpone it again, because they had no understanding on party politics and organisations,” he stated.
Tobi Soniyi, Chuks Okocha