Politics

Atiku to consult Obi, Kwankwaso, Tinubu considers Lalong, El-Rufai, SGF, others

Ex-VP, PDP fear regional divisions in S’East, North may work for APC candidate

Former Lagos gov moves to douse Muslim-Muslim ticket tension

The leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate for the 2023 election, Atiku Abubakar, are mulling over the option of engaging the presidential candidates of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, and the New Nigeria Peoples Party, Rabiu Kwankwaso, in talks on how to work together to defeat the ruling All Progressives Congress.

Obi, who is a former governor of Anambra State and Atiku’s running mate in the 2019 presidential election, and Kwankwaso, a former governor of Kano State, were members of the PDP before they defected to their respective parties to actualise their presidential ambitions.

Findings by Saturday PUNCH, however, revealed that the PDP was considering how to enlist their support and form a formidable team to defeat the candidate of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.

Meanwhile, in the APC, among other qualified persons being considered as Tinubu’s running mate are Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, both of whom are prominent northern Christians.

While efforts are on to avoid a Muslim-Muslim ticket, the party is also said to be considering Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, who is a strong northerner, but a Muslim.

In the PDP, however, it is believed that Obi and Kwankwaso’s defections could affect the fortunes of the party in the February 25, 2023 presidential election.

There are concerns that Obi’s exit will further split the votes of the South, which is the PDP’s stronghold, while Kwankwaso’s exit will have a similar effect in the North, especially Kano State, which has bloc votes. If allowed to happen, the party fears it will work in favour of the APC, which already has more states in the North.

Obi, who had obtained the N40m presidential forms of the PDP before he defected, was said to have left the party due to the unfriendliness of one of the governors of the party in the South-South.

Kwankwaso, a former Minister of Defence, was also the foremost leader of the party in Kano State before his defection.

A former National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, told one of our correspondents in an interview that the result of the 2019 presidential election had shown that the PDP needed to get all the votes it could from all the states, especially northern states with higher numbers of voters.

He said, “In Kano State, President (Muhammadu) Buhari won in all the 44 local government areas with 1.4 million votes, while Atiku got 391,593 votes. Though the incumbent governor of the state, Abdullahi Ganduje, won the governorship election on the platform of the APC in 2019, it was a tight race between his party and the PDP. So, the PDP has prospects in the state, which is why it has to do what is necessary to get the maximum possible from the state.

“The 2019 governorship election results, which were a combination of the March 9 election and the March 23 rerun, showed the APC polled 1,033,695 votes, while the PDP scored 1,024,713 votes. With the above analysis, you will see that the PDP will need the cooperation of the two gentlemen to remain popular and win these states.”

However, Secondus refused to comment on what the party and Atiku planned to do to woo the two men, whom he described as “valuable persons” to the party.

The Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jibrin, also said there were possibilities that votes from the South-East could be split into three with Obi’s candidacy.

“We may have a situation whereby Obi will have some votes from there (South-East), then our party and the APC will get votes as well. We need to work against that. The South-East is our zone and we know the people and the voters there will not abandon us,” he stated.

This, according to findings, is the reason the PDP and Atiku are considering speaking with Obi and Kwankwaso to enlist their support.

A source privy to the planned discussions said, “We will talk to them. The battle ahead is not personal. We need to win the election and rescue the country from the bad governance of the ruling party. Thank God that we have about nine months ahead of us before the conduct of the general elections.

“We have enough time to engage people and solidify whatever agreement we want to propose. We should not allow this opportunity to slip from our hands.”

Atiku still consulting, says aide

When asked to confirm if moves were being made to engage Obi and Kwankwaso in talks, a media consultant to Atiku, Paul Ibe, said in an interview with one of our correspondents on Friday that he could not say if such moves were being made, but that since his emergence, the candidate had been consulting stakeholders.

He added, “After he won the primary, he met with other aspirants, PDP governors, former ministers and other stakeholders. In this race, especially when you are contesting against a ruling party, everyone matters. These are extraordinary times and they require extraordinary measures.

“So, there will be alliances and the objective is to kick out the APC that has done nothing than to make Nigerians suffer, promote division and entrench a state of insecurity. But I can’t say if the party is reaching out to them (Obi and Kwankwaso).”

Obi won’t step down, says campaign DG

Meanwhile, when asked if the LP candidate would be favourably disposed to negotiating with the PDP, the Director-General of the Peter Obi Campaign Organisation, Dr Doyin Okupe, vowed that the former governor would not step down for any candidate, adding that the candidate and his supporters were focused on the task ahead.

“The support Peter Obi is getting across the country is too massive for anyone to ask him to step down for anyone. Nobody ever thought Obi could leave the PDP, but he left. The real third force is here with us. The coming revolution is beyond Obi. Peter Obi is a man whose time has come. The PDP and the APC have expired. They are no longer relevant in Nigeria’s current situation.”

Nigerians’ll be disappointed if Obi returns to PDP, says aide

Also, Obi’s media aide, Valentine Obienyem, told one of our correspondents in an interview on Friday that his principal was content with being the candidate of the Labour Party.

Asked if his principal would be favourably disposed to working with Atiku if approached, Obienyem ruled out the possibility, saying that would dash the hopes of many Nigerians and leave them disappointed.

He added, “If today he (Obi) says he is going back to the PDP to be a running mate, I can tell you that if he walks on the street, many Nigerians will stone him and they will see him as a disappointment. Nigerians want him and the only thing we can do for him is to encourage him to answer the call of Nigerians. So, he will contest and I’m sure he will win, all things being equal.

“Today, Nigerians want change and Peter Obi has been seen as a symbol of that change, so the issue of structure people talk about does not arise. The last time they asked him about the structure of his party, he said Nigerians across the country were the structure and that is the greatest structure.”

On how Obi would match Atiku and Tinubu, reputed to be big spenders, the media aide said, “What is happening in Nigeria today is a peaceful revolution. Nigerians want to break away from the old order. Nigeria is ripe for a peaceful transition and Peter Obi is lucky to be at the forefront of that change.”

Asked how Obi would penetrate the North, Obienyem said Nigerians, including northerners, were desirous of good governance and that “what matters is that he has already penetrated the minds of Nigerians all over the country.”

Obi remains Labour Party’s presidential candidate, says Nat’l Sec

The National Secretary of the Labour Party, Mr Umar Ibrahim, said on Friday that Obi remained the party’s presidential candidate and that there was no faction in the party. Ibrahim said this while addressing journalists in Kaduna.

The News Agency of Nigeria quoted Ibrahim as saying, “Former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, is the authentic presidential candidate of the party, duly elected at a convention organised by the leadership of Mr Julius Abure as the national chairman, supervised and recognised by the Independent National Electoral Commission. There is no faction in the LP, but in the imagination of those who are foot soldiers of enemies of Nigeria and Nigerians.

“The leadership and members of the Nigeria Labour Congress have recognised and endorsed the candidacy of Obi.”

I won’t step down for any candidate, says Kwankwaso

Kwankwaso said he was certain of victory over Tinubu and Atiku in 2023 and that he would not step down or withdraw his ambition for any other candidate.

Asked whether he would step down for Atiku, the NNPP candidate said in an interview with Saturday PUNCH on Friday, “I won’t be stepping down for anyone; our party is popular across the country and we are sure of victory at the polls.

“Our candidacy is based on capacity and performance. People are looking for those who have done it better in the past, and people who are trusted. Nigerians want someone who can unite Nigeria, improve the educational system and end insecurity.

“We will defeat the two major parties at the polls in 2023. The Kwankwasiyya Movement is very popular, and we will win even in the North-East. I’m happy that the Electoral Bill was signed into law, and that will make it difficult for anyone to rig us out as they have always done. Once there is a free and fair election, it will be difficult for anyone to defeat us.”

Tinubu considers Lalong, El-Rufai, SGF, others

Similarly, the leadership of the APC has commenced the search for Tinubu’s running mate.

A chieftain of the APC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Nigerians were justified to express reservations about a Muslim-Muslim ticket. He, however, cautioned that people should be more concerned about competence rather than religious affiliations.

He said northern governors were working with the party’s National Working Committee to consider a list of options at their disposal, adding, “There is no cause for alarm. We anticipated that things could head this way, but the party is considering some candidates to neutralise the threat of an Atiku presidency.

“The party and the governors are mulling the option of Lalong; Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu; and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha.”

He added that El-Rufai; Kano State Governor, Abdulahi Ganduje; and Mallam Kashim Ibrahim-Imam were also being considered.

The party’s NWC, led by the National Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, and the Progressives Governors’ Forum, led by Bagudu, visited Tinubu barely 24 hours after his emergence as the APC candidate.

PGF to determine Tinubu’s running mate, says TCO

Members of the APC Northern States’ Governors Forum earlier paid a courtesy visit to Tinubu in Asokoro, Abuja. Although details of the closed-door meeting were sketchy, Saturday PUNCH gathered that it might not be unconnected with talks around the running mate and the likelihood of Nigerians rejecting a Muslim-Muslim ticket.

The spokesman for the Tinubu Campaign Organisation, Mr Bayo Onanuga, however, told journalists that the candidate already had an arrangement with the Progressives Governors’ Forum to decide his running mate if he emerged as the candidate.

“The vice-president can come from any region and religion, but the PGF is at liberty to pick. The party will look at the chances and decide how it will balance a Muslim from the South, maybe with somebody that comes from the North-East, North-Central or the North-West. That is how it is done. I cannot circumvent the party. The Bagudu-led PGF has the task to pick a competent deputy for him,” Onanuga stated.

PDP intensifies search for Atiku’s running mate

In a related development, there are indications that the PDP is intensifying its search for a running mate for Atiku. The governors being touted for the role are Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State and Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.

There are also indications that the party has set up a committee comprising the PDP governors, National Working Committee members, former governors and Board of Trustees members with the mandate to pick its vice-presidential candidate.

CAN rejects same religion tickets

Meanwhile, the Christian Association of Nigeria has warned political parties against a Muslim-Muslim ticket or a Christian-Christian ticket for the presidential election. It said this would be a threat to the peace and unity of the country.

CAN, in a statement by its National Secretary, Joseph Daramola, on Friday, congratulated the candidates, while calling for a balance of religious representation when choosing competent running mates.

The statement added, “The running mate of the APC presidential flag bearer, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, should be a Christian from the North; Atiku’s running mate should be a Christian from the South, while Obi should choose his among the Muslims from the North.

“Anything contrary to the above means that the leadership of these political parties do not bother about the unity of this entity called Nigeria. Those who are planning a Muslim-Muslim ticket should also find out what was the outcome of the MKO Abiola and (Babagana) Kingibe ticket in 1993. If they try a Muslim-Muslim ticket this time round, the outcome will be worse, because our fault lines are very visible.”

It stressed that the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had further polarised the country by not heeding CAN’s call to overhaul the security architecture and deploy religious and ethnic balance within the security structure of the country.

A professor of Political Science at the Bayero University, Kano, Fage Sanni, told Saturday PUNCH, “I think they have limited chances if they work individually. They can garner a few votes here and there, but if they were to collaborate in any way, they would make more impact.

“Kwankwaso is very strong in the North-West, and Obi in the South-East, they will need someone like Wike in the South-South. If they can come to a meeting point concerning who becomes President of Nigeria, they will be raising their probability of winning at the poll.

“Already, the APC and the PDP are the dominant parties, but with a formidable collaboration, the election will be a three-horse race at the presidential level.”

Also, a professor of Political Science at the Osun State University, Omitola Olumuyiwa, told one of our correspondents on Friday that he had doubts that the candidates would work together.

He added, “All of them have unique strongholds; Kwankwanso will only have votes in some places in the North, maybe in Kano and a few places, because of the Kwankwasiyya movement, but he does not have a national spread.

“Obi is someone to watch out for, but the problem with Obi is that I don’t see people from the South-East voting for him. They are likely to go the way of Atiku. People will look towards Atiku because he has a better chance than Obi. However, the way Obi is going, you will be surprised that people from the South-West, the North and the South-South will vote for him. He is seen as a kind of departure from the norm.”

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