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    Obi, Kwankwaso yet to agree on presidential candidate, running mate

    The joint panel set up by the Labour Party and the New Nigeria People’s Party to work out an alliance between Rabiu Kwankwaso and Mr Peter Obi has submitted its report for consideration, findings by Saturday PUNCH have revealed.

    Kwankwaso, a former Kano State governor and presidential candidate of the NNPP, is said to have a strong followership in the North with his Kwankwasiyya movement, while Obi, a former Anambra State governor and LP presidential candidate, is having an increasing support base among youths in the southern part of the country and the social media.

    While it is no longer possible for political parties to merge, in line with Section 81 (2) of the Electoral Act, both presidential candidates are working on a joint ticket with the hope of defeating the ruling All Progressives Congress, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party and others in the February 25, 2023 presidential election.

    The Section 81 (2) reads, “Political parties intending to merge shall each give to the commission nine months’ notice of their intention to do so before a general election.” Already, the 2023 general elections will commence on February 25, which is less than nine months away.

     

    Kwankwaso in an interview about a week ago confirmed that a committee was set up to work on the alliance and that conversation was ongoing. He said, “We are in talks with Peter Obi and a committee is working to look into how to form a merger between us.

    “The merger is important because as you can see, both the ruling All Progressives Congress and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party did not pick their running mates from the South-East.”

    As the deadline for the substitution of candidates and running mates for the presidential and National Assembly candidates draws near, there is a mounting anxiety among the supporters of the two candidates over the progress made in the alliance talks.

    Meanwhile, the running mate to Obi and director-general of his campaign organisation, Dr Doyin Okupe, confirmed to Saturday PUNCH that the panel had concluded its sitting and talks were ongoing on the way forward.

    Okupe said, “A committee was set up before now and the committee has completed its work. There have been informal meetings and third party stakeholders interventions and we have had structured official meetings too.

    “In all, we came to two agreements; one is that we are going to work together as political parties in order to achieve this change that we all desire. What we did not agree upon is who would be the president and who would be the vice-president. We didn’t agree on that. But we left it open.”

    Asked if the parties would agree on the issue before the deadline for political parties to submit the names of their final running mates, Okupe said, “We are aware of the deadline, and we are working on it. When we adjourned our last meeting, we adjourned sine die. So, if there is a change, we will reconvene. But we are moving on. There is no problem. We have agreed to work together to create a platform for a national coalition, so that objective is still in place.”

    Also, the National Chairman, NNPP, Prof Rufai Alkali, told Saturday PUNCH in an interview that the party was engaging with the people and getting support and solidarity from many places.

    When asked who would become the candidate and running mate between Kwankwaso and Obi, Alkali said, “Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso is a seasoned politician and he knows the country very well. Certain decisions have to be taken at the appropriate time in a way and manner that would bring more strength and credibility to this journey.”

    Asked if a decision had been reached on it, he said, “When we do, you will be among the first to know. No decision yet.”

    About the panel’s report, he said, “I am not aware of anything and I am not going to comment on that.”

    On the prospect of the NNPP in 2023, Alkali said, “I have been in other parties before the NNPP, and I must say it is amazing. We keep receiving calls from people that are likely to join us and we are making a lot of progress.”

    Sources in both the NNPP and LP confirmed to Saturday PUNCH that an influential former President was among those being consulted on the issue.

    Kwankwaso in Rivers

    The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, on Friday received Kwankwaso in Port Harcourt, the state capital.

    After losing the PDP presidential primary to Atiku Abubakar and the running mate slot to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, Wike, who is said to be aggrieved by the development, has continued to receive high-profile politicians, including Obi who visited him on Thursday.

    Meanwhile, both of them were seen in front of the Wike’s residence exchanging pleasantries on Friday. This was about 24-hours after a former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe, as well as the senate minority caucus led by its leader, Philip Aduda.

    The Governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed, also visited Wike on Wednesday, while Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State visited him earlier in the week.

    It is believed that the visits have to do with the forthcoming presidential election. All the visits were followed by a closed-door meeting but the outcome had remained unknown.

    …19 days to go

    Meanwhile, the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general elections released by the Independent National Electoral Commission indicates that political parties have until July 15 to withdraw or replace their candidates and their running mates for the presidential and National Assembly elections.

    By implication, the presidential candidate of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Obi of the Labour Party and other candidates who submitted interim names for running mates have about 19 days away to submit the final names.

    Item six of the timetable read, “Last day for withdrawal by candidate(s)/replacement of withdrawn candidate(s) by political parties for the presidential and National Assembly (elections) is July 15, 2022, while for the governorship and state Houses of Assembly is August 12, 2022. Section 31 of the Electoral Act 2022 provides not later than 90 days to the election.”

    The APC and its presidential candidate had been confronted with the possibility of a Muslim/Muslim ticket, given that Tinubu is a Muslim from a Christian-dominated South while his running mate is expected to come from the North, which is dominated by Muslims.

    The Christian Association of Nigeria and other groups and individuals vehemently opposed a Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Christian presidential ticket, saying such would be insensitive and rejected by the people.

    Voter registration extension

    Amid the growing public clamour for the June 30 deadline for the continuous voter registration to be extended, INEC has said it is unable to extend the exercise for now because the matter is already subjudice.

    The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project and 185 concerned Nigerians had filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos asking the court for, among other things, an order of mandamus to direct and compel INEC to extend voter registration by a minimum of three months and take effective measures to ensure that eligible Nigerians are able to register to exercise their right to vote in the 2023 general elections.

    Speaking on rumours that the commission had agreed to extend the exercise for 60 days in line with the request of the House of Representatives, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, the Chief Press Secretary to INEC National Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, said the commission had not extended the June 30 deadline.

    In a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, Oyekanmi said, “INEC has not extended the CVR deadline. What the commission did about two weeks ago when we noticed pressure in particular areas, namely the South-East states, Lagos, Kano, and the Federal Capital Territory, was to send additional 209 INEC Voter Enrollment Devices to those areas to ease the CVR procedure.

    “The commission wanted to wait and assess the effect of that action to determine the next step, but that is by the way now because SERAP went to court and tried to stop us from stopping the CVR.

    “What the court has said, as part of its order, is that we should not announce any date or end the CVR but come on June 29 to respond to issues raised in the suit filed by SERAP. So now, even if we want to extend, we cannot do anything until we have answered the court and responded robustly to the issues raised in the suit and that would be on June 29. So, we can’t take any action on the CVR until then.”

    Also speaking on the issue, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said in an interview on Channels Television on Friday night that the chairman of the commission was disposed to extending the exercise.

    He noted that the surge in the number of registrants lately had made the extension inevitable.

    He added, “We are going before the Federal High Court on June 29 to put the cards on the table. We are convinced that after we make our arguments, the court will be convinced on the reason why we cannot extend the CVR beyond a certain period.

    “But we are convinced, given the enthusiasm of Nigerians and the new resolve of Nigerians to register that an extension is inevitable and the commission is disposed towards extending the period for the CVR but not up to the period that some people are canvassing.”

    He said it would be a futile exercise to extend the registration and be unable to print the permanent voter cards of those registered and get them to collect the cards and vote. “So, we are favourably disposed to an extension of the CVR,” he added.

    ‘Tinubu, best candidate’

    The Asiwaju Tinubu Campaign Organisation has described the APC presidential candidate as the most successful leader among all the presidential candidates.

    The Director-General of the organisation, Chief Adebayo Shittu, at a press conference in Ibadan on Friday, said apart from being a governor of Lagos State for eight years, Tinubu developed leaders who became vice-president, governors, senators and many others even after leaving power almost 15 years ago.

    According to him, governance is not strange to such a leader and getting competent hands to work with him will also not be an issue.

    He added, “He turned Lagos State around when he was there. He raised the internally generated revenue of the state and despite that the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, stopped allocation to the state for two years, the state did not suffer. That is the kind of person we need now.

    Speaking about Tinubu’s running mate, Shittu stated that he would pick someone who would help him to win. He added, “We should not place too much emphasis on religion or ethnicity. If you board a plane now, you won’t ask them if the pilot is a Muslim or a Christian or the state of origin. What you would be concerned with is the competence and the experience of the pilot. So, we need to be concerned about competence and not religious beliefs.”

    LP as alternative

    A presidential aspirant on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party in the recently held primaries, Sam Ohuabunwa, has said Obi has widened the options Nigerians could choose from in 2023.

    In a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Thursday, he said, “For a long time, it looked as if we had just two options, but now there seems to be the third option. That widens the democratic space and is giving relief to those who want alternatives.

    “Though for now, it is too early to say or make any prediction, we are happy that there is a third option for Nigerians. The two parties are formidable and they cannot be glossed over easily.”

    Ohuabunwa, who is the founder and former Chief Executive Officer of Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals and former president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, maintained that the APC and PDP presidential primaries were characterised by vote-buying.

    “The monetisation of our politics is depressing because at both the APC and PDP primaries, everybody saw the impact of big money. If we thought it was just for the primaries of the leading parties, we also saw smaller parties complain about money and all that. If we leave the primaries and come to the general elections, we see the accusations going on in Ekiti (gover

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