JUST as he promised during an interview with Channels Television in January, President Muhammadu Buhari has not revealed the name of the candidate who he would prefer to succeed him when he leaves office in 2023.
“I wouldn’t say (the name) because he may be eliminated if I mention. I better keep it. It is secret,” Buhari had said when asked if he has a preferred successor.
Few days to the presidential primary election of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which was initially slated to hold at the Eagles Square, in Abuja, on May 29 and 30, 2022 but now rescheduled to June 6, 7 and 8, 2022, Buhari’s choice is still a big secret.
But as delegates converge to elect the ruling party’s presidential candidate for the 2023 general elections, it is expected that the President would, at last, unveil the anointed successor.
All eyes are on Buhari.
Although he usually projects a largely aloof disposition that suggests that he has no interest in issues that did not affect him personally, Buhari has demonstrated that he has the ability and capacity to influence the state of affairs in the APC.
Late into the long-drawn contest for the position of APC national chairman, Buhari brought former Nasarawa State governor Abdullahi Adamu into the race and ensured that he was elected as the party’s national chairman as an unopposed, consensus candidate at the party’s national convention.
Such a feat will be more difficult to replicate in a crowded presidential primary election that involves several hugely ambitious politicians but it is certainly not beyond Buhari to decide who emerges the APC flagbearer, and by extension, his likely successor.
Pilgrimage to Buhari
Major presidential aspirants on the APC platform are aware of the importance of Buhari’s endorsement. Aspirants like former Lagos State governor and party stalwart Bola Tinubu, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Ebonyi State governor Dave Umahi and others officially announced their intention to contest the election after visiting Buhari in the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The aspirants understand that being the President’s preferred candidate is, more or less, all it will take to emerge the APC presidential candidate for the 2023 elections.
But, going by available information, Buhari offered the same advice to all the aspirants who came to see him. The summary of his advice: Consult widely.
Twenty-eight expression of interest and nomination forms for the presidential election were purchased – some by proxy – in the build-up to the APC presidential primary election.
Twenty-five of the forms were filled and submitted, signifying the intent of the concerned aspirants to participate in the primary election.
Barring last-minute disqualification of aspirants – the party is yet to screen the presidential hopefuls – the primary election is going to be a crowded field with an unprecedented number of contestants. The APC National Working Committee (NWC) is compounding the situation by insisting on screening 28 aspirants, including those who bought, filled and submitted forms, and those that had forms purchased in their name but not submitted.
The APC NWC’s insistence on screening 28 aspirants means former President Goodluck Jonathan, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor Godwin Emefiele and African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina are all on the ballot, despite not officially declaring for President after forms were bought them.
The Jonathan saga
Reports have continued to link Jonathan to the APC presidential primary election even after the deadline for purchase and submission of forms elapsed and the forms bought for him by a group comprising herdsmen and members of Almajiri communities were not submitted.
There were reports that Jonathan had informed the APC leadership that he would only contest the primary election if Buhari openly endorses him as the consensus candidate to pave way for other aspirants to step down for him. That will only happen if the former President is indeed Buhari’s secret candidate. That has not happened, yet, and time is running out.
The major aspirants
Among 25 presidential aspirants comprising mostly influential governors, former governors, ministers and serving senators, some individuals still stand out as the favourites. Top of the list is Tinubu, who is believed to have the strongest political structure in the country at the moment. Vice president Osinbajo is also a major aspirant – as Buhari’s deputy for nearly eight years it is not unlikely that he will emerge as the candidate the President is keeping to his chest.
Senate President Ahmed Lawan is another strong force. He has a coalition of influential politicians from different parts of the county behind him, and he can count on the large delegate contingent from the North-West.
Chibuike Amaechi, former minister of transportation, is being mentioned as Buhari’s choice. A longtime Buhari ally, former minister of science, technology and innovation, Ogbonnaya Onu, has also been tipped as the surprise candidate that Buhari could unveil at the presidential primary election.
Lost jumbo delegates
The new Electoral Act 2022 did not allow voting by statutory delegates in political party primary elections. An amendment passed by the National Assembly, aimed at reversing the situation, has not been signed into law by the President.
As a result, public officials such as the President, Vice President, members of the National Assembly, governors and their deputies, members of the state houses of assembly, chairmen of councils, councillors, members of the national working committee, amongst others, who are regarded as statutory delegates in political parties, would not vote in the presidential primary election.
The development will have a major impact on the APC presidential primary election. With statutory delegates ‘disenfranchised’ by the Electoral Act 2022, the number of delegates that would vote in the APC primary election has dropped from 7,800 to 2,340.
The 2,340 are made up of three elected adhoc delegates from each of the 774 local government areas (LGAs) in the country and the six Federal Capital Territory (FCT) area councils.
The non-participation of statutory delegates may affect the electoral fortune of some aspirants, particularly those who ordinarily should be banking on ‘jumbo delegates’ – a term that refers to a situation where a state has a huge number of delegates due to the presence of large number of public officials.
Lagos, Tinubu’s stronghold, has a large number of APC public officials and if statutory delegates were to be involved in the primary election, the state will have about 304 delegates. But without statutory delegates, as dictated by the Electoral Act 2022, Lagos is going to the primary election with just 60 delegates – three delegates each from its 20 LGAs.
Going by the previous computation that included statutory delegates, Lagos was among the top five states with the highest number of delegates. But without the statutory delegates, the state is now occupying the 19th position in the number of delegates.
North-West has largest number of delegates at APC presidential primary
A breakdown of the number of delegates that would represent the various states and the FCT in the APC presidential primary election shows that the North-West has the highest number with a total of 558 delegates.
The South-West is second with 411 delegates, followed by South-South with 369 delegates. The North-Central occupies the 4th position with 363 delegates. The North-East is next with 336 delegates.
The South-East, with 288, has the lowest number of delegates that will be voting in the APC presidential primary election.
Breakdown of the delegates by states and zones
South-West: Lagos – 60, Ekiti – 48, Ogun – 60, Osun – 90, Oyo – 99, Ondo – 54. Total – 411.
South-South: Akwa Ibom – 93, Bayelsa – 24, Cross River: 54, Delta – 75, Edo – 54, Rivers – 69. Total – 369.
South-East: Abia – 54, Anambra – 63, Enugu – 51, Ebonyi – 39, Imo – 81. Total – 288.
North-East: Adamawa – 63, Bauchi – 60, Gombe – 33, Borno – 81, Yobe – 51, Taraba – 48. Total – 336.
North-Central: Kogi – 63, Kwara – 48, Benue – 69, Plateau – 51, Nasarawa – 39, Niger – 75, FCT, Abuja – 18. Total – 363
North-West: Kaduna – 69, Kano – 132, Katsina – 102, Kebbi – 63, Jigawa – 81, Sokoto – 69, Zamfara – 42. Total – 558.