Although it is within their rights to contest for the presidency in 2023, notable politicians in the All Progressives Congress (APC), especially those from the southern part of the country, have continued to distance themselves from the race. In this report, WALE ELEGBEDE identifies possible reasons for these curious detachments
The 2023 presidential election is less than two years ahead, but the polity is gradually witnessing alignment and re-alignment of political forces even as some political foes are coming together, while hitherto allies are parting ways.
The Independent National Electoral Commission has already announced February 18, 2023 as the date for the poll, and as expected, some gladiators, who are angling to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari have started testing the political waters either directly or indirectly.
However, it has been a season of denial by some of the personalities being touted to be interested in the race even when their campaign posters have continued to flood major cities across the states of the federation as well as endorsements by support groups.
The campaign posters of the presidential hopefuls have also been trending on social media for some time now, while their presumed support groups are everyday Nigerians, who are rooting for their respective principals to become the next president with or without recourse to their assent.
Whilst there has been a mind game by the leadership of two leading political parties, All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), over where their respective presidential tickets for the 2023 general election will go to between the country’s political divides – North and South, there is no doubt that many of those capitulating have interests but the volte-face is as a result of the uncertainty that presently pervades the polity.
On paper, power is expected to shift to the southern part of the country by the time President Buhari’s tenure elapses in 2023 given the zoning arrangement between the North and South, which took effect in 1999.
However, recent developments in the polity show that the 2023 presidency will go beyond a southern affair as gladiators from both sides of the North and South are gearing up for the contest.
Among those who have openly denied endorsements and perhaps unsolicited support for their ambition in 2023 in the APC include Vice President Yemi Osibanjo; former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; Ondo State governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu; Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio and Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi.
While these strategies are not new to the nation’s electioneering, it is averred in some quarters that the denial and subsequent lull in political activities is because of the mood of the nation.
The APC National Leader and former governor of Lagos State, is possibly one of the frontrunners for the 2023 presidency though he has not formally expressed his interest. He is presently in the United Kingdom, where he has been recuperating after undergoing surgery.
While Tinubu had repeatedly distanced himself from groups promoting his purported 2023 presidential ambition, he has not, however, stated if he was nursing any presidential ambition or not.
His Media Office, at a point disowned a group “Asiwaju Reloaded Ambassadors” that was going about projecting a 2023 presidential bid on his behalf. “We have seen pictures of face caps, T-shirts, shirts and even leaflets with Bola Tinubu 2023 embossed on them purportedly by a faceless group which christened itself ‘Asiwaju Reloaded Ambassadors’ Nigeria’. Neither the group nor its souvenirs are known to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
“We hereby, through this medium, categorically deny any knowledge of the group and dissociate Asiwaju Tinubu from the group’s unsolicited and unwarranted materials,” Tinubu’s media team said.
At another point, the media team had to also tackle an online medium over its report alleging that the former Lagos governor has opened a presidential campaign office in Abuja in a bid to actualize his 2023 presidential ambition.
The media team said Tinubu has not even declared his intention of contesting of the 2023 presidential election, stressing that it is only when he has done so that people can talk about a campaign office.
An online platform had reported that the former governor of Lagos State had strategically opened a campaign headquarters in a Maitama, Abuja, property that once housed a private school.
Reacting to the report, Tinubu’s media aide, Tunde Rahman, said 2023 is a few years away and Tinubu was occupied with his support for the success of the President Muhammadu Buhariled administration. His words: “Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has not even declared his intention to contest the 2023 presidential election, let alone opening a campaign office.
“He has repeatedly said 2023 is still some years away and that he is at present focused on helping President Buhari to deliver on his mandate as he is doing and coast home to victory. “That is his position.
But you know also that many of his friends, associates and supporters who feel he is eminently qualified for the presidency and has done excellently well to advance our democracy and want to see him contest for the top job are doing everything on their own to see this happen. “I don’t know the office you are talking about, but it may just be one of those things these people are doing to get Asiwaju Tinubu to do as they wish.
And I think they have a right to advance the course they believe in. Asiwaju’s appeal, however, is they allow the present government to concentrate on the good job it is doing and allow the matter of 2023 to take care of itself in the fullness of time.”
Some analysts believe that the Vice President is in a good position to succeed his principal, President Buhari. But as seamless as the belief sounds, it is more knotty and delicate than it looks.
Expectedly, many support groups and individuals have started pulling strings for the VP as it concerns the 2023 race. Posters, banners and write-ups, promoting the interest of the professor of Law have surfaced online and in major cities across Nigeria.
However, the vice president’s spokesperson, Laolu Akande, disclosed that Prof. Osinbajo “is not in any way connected with the distribution and deployment of any 2023 political posters whether on the streets or in online videos, banners and the likes on the social media.”
He added: “There has again been a flurry of activities, such as the release of campaign style promotional videos, banners in the Social Media and even the deployment of political posters in some parts of the country, including the FCT and Kano, insinuating that the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, has joined the 2023 Presidential Race.
The Office of the Vice President wishes to reiterate a statement on the same subject, made earlier in May this year. The Office of the Vice President is not in any way connected with the distribution and deployment of any 2023 political posters whether on the streets or in online videos, banners and the like on the social media.
“All these are simply needless distractions from the urgent tasks of governance needed in our country at this time. Prof. Osinbajo has not declared any interest whatsoever in the 2023 election, but he is rather focused on working in his capacity as Vice President in the current administration to address all the compelling issues in the country and concerns of Nigerians, including finding effective and lasting solutions to the security challenges and working to further boost the economy.
“Therefore, we ask that people desist from such publications while we all deal together with the challenges confronting us as Nigerians, and resolve them for the benefit of our people, and the enthronement of peace and prosperity in the land.”
The plot to draft the Ekiti State governor into the 2023 presidential race had been on the cards for a while, but the voice of those projecting him got drowned at a time
However, it was hope rekindled, when Fayemi emerged as Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). The calculation in some camps within the ruling APC is that the Ekiti State governor would be a more acceptable candidate if the party decides to zone its presidential ticket to the South.
The belief of those pushing the Fayemi agenda is that being a Christian, he will not only enjoy the support of the predominant Christian South, but that of the North, which will, no doubt, present a Muslim as his running mate But disassociating himself from such political postulation, Fayemi said his bridge-building effort should not be misconstrued as a presidential ambition.
The governor, who spoke through his Senior Special Assistant on Public Communication, Segun Dipe, dismissed the insinuation that he was nursing a presidential ambition in 2023. He insisted that it was a fallacy and a misrepresentation of his personality and conduct.
The governor’s aide said those spreading such rumour must have been studying Fayemi from afar and must have misread his relationship with President Buhari, thus taking his reconciliatory efforts for an ambition-driven one.
According to Dipe, while Fayemi could be seen as eminently qualified and a sellable personality from the South-West geopolitical zone, he would rather prefer his intention to be understood as playing a crucial role of bridge-building among the state governors whose forum he chairs at present, and not of any subterranean move towards 2023.
His words: “Fayemi is a sitting governor and he chairs the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. He enjoys these roles and he is playing them to the best of his ability.
His objective is that of engaging in processes such as negotiation, mediation, conciliation, and arbitration in order to move a seemingly violent conflict into non-violent dialogue, where differences are settled through conflict transformation processes or through the work of representative political institutions.”
From nowhere, posters announcing the interest of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs in the 2023 presidency flooded many northern states during the last Sallah celebration.
The posters, bearing Sallah greetings, were spotted mainly in Sokoto, Kaduna and Kano among a host of other northern states at the Sallah’s eve. But the Chief Press Secretary to the minister, Jackson Udom, who confirmed that it is true that there are posters of Akpabio in some northern states, however, said that the posters “have nothing to do with 2023 presidency.’’
His words: “The posters were printed and posted by friends of the Minister in the North. The posters have no bearing with any presidential ambition. The rumour that the Minister is nursing Presidential ambition in 2023 is false.” However, a one-time youth leader, Alhaji Bello Bichi, told reporters in Kaduna that it was not surprising that Akpabio has a growing number of admirers in the North.
“Given the kind of goodwill and respect Akpabio has built in the North for many years, it is not surprising to see his posters. As a Nigerian politician he has been a bridge-builder across the North and Southern parts of the country for many years.
“If any citizen does something spectacular about uniting this country or helping the poor without recourse to their religious or ethno-regional origins, he or she will automatically cultivate many fans and political recognition. And Akpabio is one of such Nigerians,” he added.
In response to campaign posters and fliers tagged Akeredolu/Buni joint APC ticket, the Ondo State governor, in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Richard Olatunde, said Governor Akeredolu had nothing to do with the pseudo campaigners. He, therefore, told the promoter’s not to distract him from delivering electoral promises to the people of Ondo State.
The statement read in part: “Undoubtedly, the development is no less a needless distraction. Although Mr. Governor’s constitutional right, qualification and competence are not in doubt, this particular campaign does not represent in any manner, his immediate political disposition.
“For emphasis, Governor Akeredolu, who has just been re-elected, wishes to be left alone to focus on deepening good governance in Ondo State. He, therefore, advises all involved to be guided, just as he holds the view that only God can put men in position.”
The social media was recently awash with a poster from a group presenting Fashola, who is the Minister of Works and Housing and the governor of Borno State, Prof. Babagana Zulum as presidential and vice-presidential candidates.
But the former governor of Lagos State and Minister of Works quickly distanced himself from the poster tagged the “Nigeria Project 2023” and signed by one Abayomi Mademaku as the Convener of the group behind the poster. Fashola, in a statement by his media aide, Hakeem Bello, said the group neither contacted him nor had his consent.
The statement read in part, “The Media Office of the Hon. Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has urged well-meaning people to disregard the invitation of some groups, operating under The Nigeria Project 2023, purportedly to the inauguration of a Support Group for the Minister and the governor of Borno State “Ordinarily, the poster and the various social media reports almost instantly orchestrated on its account would have been ignored as the handwork of mischief makers.
However, it became necessary to issue this disclaimer for two key reasons. “The first of such was to answer with a strong negative to the numerous inquiries from right thinking and well-meaning Nigerians on whether the Minister had been contacted or if the groups had his consent in issuing the invitation. “Without equivocation, no individual or group has contacted the minister for or on behalf of The Nigeria Project 2023.
As minister, Mr. Fashola is currently focused on leading his dedicated team in the Ministry of Works and Housing to deliver on the mandate of President Muhammadu Buhari for an expanded and upgraded road transport infrastructure; and an affordable housing nationwide in order to achieve economic growth and prosperity for the citizenry.
“Secondly, entities unknown to a political party cannot present candidates on behalf of such a political party. As a ranking and loyal member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the individual and groups cited as promoters of The Nigeria Project 2023 are unknown to the APC and the minister.
“Against the backdrop of the foregoing, the minister urges members of the public to be wary of the antics of unsolicited individuals and support groups whose real intentions remain questionable.
Every support possible should be given to the efforts of the current administration under the leadership of President Buhari to deliver a better nation for all.”
Clearly, the denials ahead of the 2023 presidency may extend till early next year when the coast would have been clearer but how the presidential hopefuls will manage the unsolicited supporters is what is left to be seen.