The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has told presidential aspirants in the ruling All Progressives Congress to go to the field and sell their candidatures to the electorate, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
A Presidency source told one of our correspondents that Buhari did not ask any of those who consulted him to either run or drop their ambitions.
Rather, the President was quoted to have advised them not to compromise the integrity of the APC and the Federal Government in their campaigns.
So far, no fewer than eight aspirants in the ruling party have declared their interests in taking over from the President when his tenure expires on May 29, 2023.
The aspirants are Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; a former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi; Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello; a businessman, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim; a former governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha; and Ihechukwu Dallas Chima.
Saturday PUNCH also learnt from reliable sources that the Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, would declare his aspiration at the end of the ongoing Ramadan.
The Presidency source said though Buhari spoke differently to the aspirants when they met with him, it would be difficult for any of them to claim to have got the President’s endorsement.
The source said, “I think the President was being careful when he met with each of them on their presidential aspirations. He specifically told them to be careful in their campaigns.
“He also asked them to go ahead with their campaigns and that he would be watching them from afar. Besides that, he asked them if they were popular enough to win and if they felt they could deliver the presidency to the ruling party. As expected, all of them answered in the affirmative.
“The President also interrogated them on their programmes and if they equally believed in his administration or not.”
Asked what some of the aspirants told the President, the source said, “All they said was that they wanted to contest the presidency on the platform of the APC and that they would need his support. They did not ask for his permission.
“But I think only one of them actually sought his permission and asked if he should join the race. I will not reveal the name of the candidate so that you do not think that is the man the President will support.”
Recall that the President had expressed fear that his preferred aspirant might be “eliminated” if he was known now.
Buhari said this during an exclusive interview with Channels Television in January, while noting that he had no special interest in the 2023 presidential election.
“It is not my problem,” he replied when asked about the next presidential election, adding, “I am not interested. I believe that whoever wins the poll should be sworn in as the next leader of Nigeria.
“All important things have been documented. No one should ask me to appear before the court to give evidence on any issue (public funds). All important things are already on record. I am sure about that,” he added.
When asked about his favourite presidential candidate, the President replied, “I won’t tell you my favourite for 2023; he may be eliminated if I mention. I better keep it a secret.”
One of the aspirants, however, confirmed that the President gave him the permission to enter the presidential race.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said he could not have entered the race without the consent of the President.
“You think I would enter into this race without securing the permission of the President? It is not possible,” he said.
Aspirants jostle for Buhari’s attention
Meanwhile, some of the aspirants have been making moves to secure the attention of the President.
For example, Fayemi followed the President to his office on Thursday after the Council of State meeting in Abuja on Thursday.
The governor, who is also the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, flaunted the attention given to him by the President on his Twitter handle with his picture and that of Buhari.
He wrote, “Walking with the President to his office after the Council of State meeting today. I am always impressed with his deep insights on many issues borne out of years of experience. We all have a lot to learn.”
Fayemi’s comment, however, attracted criticisms from some social media users, who asked the Ekiti governor what he had to learn from the President they believed had failed.
One @henryshiled said, “Kayode, Nigerians are still missing from the bombed train, over 130 killed in Plateau, 20 killed in Benue few days ago, diesel is almost N1,000, national grid down, hyper inflation destroying homes. Why do you think your picture with the cause of our problem deserves attention?”
In his comment, Franklin Adebayo, said via @Franklinbayo, “My governor is learning from a President that plunged the country into recession twice, under him Nigeria picks the poverty capital of the world. He said he is impressed by his deep insight on many issues. Ha! And Fayemi would one day wish to be my president o.”
Meanwhile, it was gathered that Buhari would reveal his preferred candidate in May before the conduct of the party’s primaries.
The National Executive Committee of the APC is meeting on Wednesday to consider the party’s timetable and schedule of activities for its primaries ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Felix Morka, announced this in a statement on Friday in Abuja.
He said the meeting scheduled to hold at the Congress Hall of the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja would also consider nomination of candidates for the 2023 general elections and other relevant business of the party.
Morka said in the statement, “Pursuant to Article 25.2.ii of the Constitution of the APC, the National Working Committee has called the maiden post-National Convention meeting of the NEC to be held on Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
“All members of NEC are by this invitation to take notice of the meeting in accordance with Article 12.3 of the APC Constitution.”
The presidential aspirants were also said to be seeking the support of the wife of the President, Aishat.
Mrs Buhari, who is said to have regained the confidence of some of the power brokers close to her husband, is said to be tactically “supporting a candidate that she knows has the listening ears of her husband.”
In his desire to clinch the ticket of the ruling party, Amaechi, who is also former governor of Rivers State, has been visiting power brokers in the North. Within a few days of his declaration, he has visited three states in the North-West and held of discussions with five emirs.
During the trips, he was accompanied by the Director-General of his campaign organisation, Senator Ali Ndume, as well as Senator Sadiq Yar’Adua, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, Senator Ayogu Eze, Salisu Mustapha and David Lyon, among others.
“I am not in the race to lose; I am the candidate Nigerians are looking for and I met enthusiastic people everywhere I go,” the minister told Saturday PUNCH.
VP’s competence to succeed Buhari glaring – Pro-Osinbajo group
Support groups for the presidential ambitions of Osinbajo and Tinubu, on Saturday expressed confidence that their respective principals would get the support of Buhari for their ambitions.
Both groups expressed conviction that their principals enjoyed the support of the Nigerian people, which the President would have no choice but to key into.
The Ekiti State Leader, Osinbajo Grassroots Organisation, Femi Adeleye, said, “Nigerian people were the ones who called on the VP to contest. You could see that it took him time to even come out.
“It was pressure from people across the board calling on him to contest because they saw what he has done, because they could see his humility and they could see how he mingles with people across Nigeria.
“I am sure the President, as a listening leader, seeing that people want Osinbajo, will naturally put his support behind that fellow. The President will toe the line of popularity; he will not want the party to lose.”
Adeleye said development had shown that Osinbajo had the qualities that Buhari would want his successor to possess, saying, “The last time the President went to the United Kingdom for medical check-up, you heard what he said at the airport; he said he had capable hands who he left the affairs of the country with.
“He mentioned the Vice-President and that two other persons, his Chief of Staff and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. He said the VP was capable of handling the situation of the country. That shows that he saw his capability and competence. That means he knows he is capable to take over from him.
“When you look at Osinbajo’s prowess, his educational background and his performance when he was acting President of Nigeria, you saw the actions that he took and you saw how the economy was galvanised in the short time he was there.”
Tinubu has necessary structures, qualities, character to succeed Buhari – TSO
The Director of Media and Publicity, Tinubu Support Organisation, Ekiti State, Abiodun Alonge, said the ex-Lagos governor’s presidential ambition was being driven by Nigerians from all walks of life based on his achievements and antecedents.
He said Buhari would prefer to support such a popular and acceptable aspirant as Tinubu.
Alonge said, “Power lies with the people because they have the legitimate power to choose the person to lead them. The people are with Tinubu and rooting for him. I am very sure that Buhari will not wish away the influence and the power of the people. So, he will support Tinubu.
“The people are in support of the presidential aspiration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, because since his foray into politics, he has been someone who knows what to do and when to do it. As much as we rely on the achievements and the antecedents of the Jagaban, we are counting on the support of the President.
“The President will naturally not want to hand over to a puppet or somebody who will rubbish his hallmark achievements in the last seven years; that is why he will want Tinubu as a successor in view of his antecedents, achievements, courage, consistence and commitment to development. Tinubu has paid his dues.
“Buhari knows that BAT is a colossus, he is a phenomenon, he has all the structures, he has the qualities, the character and foot soldiers all over Nigeria in the South-South, South-East, South-West, North-Central, North-East and the North-West as well the Federal Capital Territory. We are moving and we are sure that our principal will be elected the President of Nigeria come 2023.
“The achievements and the antecedents of the Jagaban are enough testimonies of his ability to deliver as President. That is why we are following, supporting and working assiduously towards the realisation of his ambition in the interest of Nigerians.”
Yahaya Bello is APC’s best bet – Campaign organisation
Similarly, the Yahaya Bello Presidential Campaign Organisation has insisted that Kogi State governor is the APC’s best bet to guarantee victory for the party in 2023.
The Director, Media and Publicity of the campaign organisation, Yemi Kolapo, said, in a statement on Friday, that the APC must not sacrifice Bello’s winning attributes for “destructive politics.”
Kolapo added, “The party needs a candidate that can connect massively with women and youths, considering their combined numerical strength, and that candidate is no other than Governor Yahaya Bello.
“The preference of Nigerians, regardless of tribe, religion or party affiliation, for a younger leader is also very clear. Of the pool of aspirants, as the country stands today, even across party lines, Governor Yahaya Bello is the best bet for the younger generation if this dream must be actualised.
“This consideration has made millions of youths across Nigeria to resolve to put their numbers behind the governor, and this is verifiable with the number of active youths with PVCs currently on the Bello Ambassadors Network, Rescue Nigeria Mission and Yahaya Bello Network, among many other support groups.”