BY ADEDAYO AKINWALE IN ABUJA AND EMAMEH GABRIEL
In a move that is certainly going to generate shock waves around the country and heighten the already tensed political situation, it has come to light that the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is working towards zoning its presidential ticket to the North-east, with the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan likely to emerge as its presidential candidate in the 2023 elections.
Many in the South who have been strident in calls for the presidential ticket to be zoned to the South after eight years of Buhari in the saddle are will not likely to be amused by this evolving development.
Also, with the latest decision of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) to allow ad-hoc delegates to elect presidential candidate at its forthcoming convention, the chances of a northern aspirant emerging as the presidential standard bearer have brightened even more.
A reliable source in the ruling party who disclosed the new zoning arrangement in the APC to THISDAY yesterday, further confirmed Monday’s disclosure by Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal that the party may have settled for Lawan as its presidential candidate.
It also confirmed a recent THISDAY report that National Assembly’s latest amendment to the Electoral Act, 2022, to allow statutory delegates – all those elected – to participate and vote in the conventions, congresses or meetings of political parties, was designed to boost the chances of the Senate President in the 2023 presidential race.
THISDAY had reported that the aim of the fresh amendment to the Electoral Act which received accelerated passage at both chambers of the National Assembly, was to increase the chances of Lawan in the party’s presidential primaries and subsequently boost the Party’s chances of retaining in the 2023 presidential elections.
However, if President Muhammadu Buhari assents to the Electoral Act 2022 Amendment Bill before him, which will allow statutory delegates to participate in the presidential primaries the dynamics of the contest will change dramatically in favour Lawan.
The current Electoral Act 2022 (as amended) has no role for statutory delegates at the convention.
Statutory or “Super” delegates are elected Councillors, local government chairmen and their vice, party chairmen in the 774 LGAs and six Abuja area councils, state and federal lawmakers, governors and their deputies, president and vice president, NWC members, state party chairmen and secretaries.
The provision in the Principal Act reads: “A political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidate shall clearly outline in its constitution and rule the procedure for the democratic election of delegates to vote at the convention, congress or meeting.
Last week, federal lawmakers amended Section 84 of the Principal Act by deleting subsection (8) and inserting a new subsection (8) as follows: “A political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidates shall clearly outline in its constitution and rules the procedure for the democratic election of delegates to vote at the convention, congress or meeting, in addition to statutory delegates already prescribed in the Constitution of the party.”
“What the National Assembly is trying to do is to back Lawan with the huge number of statutory delegates of past and present legislators that the amendment would allow to attend such conventions and congresses. They are in the region of almost 4,000, who are most likely going to throw their support behind Lawan. So, that is why they are trying to amend the law again to suit their own selfish purposes and calculations,” a source who pleaded to remain anonymous had stated.
On the other hand, the source hinted that the APC was considering either zoning the position of the vice president to either the south-west or south-south.
Under the new APC arrangement, it was gathered that the Senate President might be zoned to the south-east if the ruling party gets the majority seat in the Red Chamber and the Speaker of the House of Representative zone by the APC to the North-west. In the same vein, it was gathered that the leadership of the party might have decided to zone its Deputy Senate President to the North Central and the Deputy Speaker to either the South-west or South-south.
THISDAY had yesterday quoted Tambuwal to have said: “They (APC) are gradually moving away from their zoning arrangement. We know their tricks. They want to see the outcome of our primary come May 28 and 29 before they will decide who will be their candidate.
“Look at the APC national chairman. He is quiet about their supposed zoning arrangement simply because they already have plans to field Senator Ahmad Lawan depending on who is the presidential candidate of our party.”
On his part, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, while speaking on a national television reiterated his support for Lawan’s presidential ambition.
The Senate Chief Whip added: “With Ahmad Lawan, I am ready to be the sweeper of the place (Aso Rock). I don’t need to have a position if Ahmad Lawan is the president,” the former Abia State governor noted.
“I can sweep the Villa; my house is very close to the Villa. I can be the sweeper of the Villa; it is just a stone’s throw. I am not joking.”
According to the former Abia governor, some presidential aspirants are already considering stepping down for the Senate President. Kalu expressed optimism that Lawan has what it takes to reset the country.
However, contrary to insinuations that the APC might have dropped the idea of zoning or picking its next presidential candidate from the south, Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, yesterday, said he believed the party would do everything possible to ensure it chose a southern presidential candidate.
Ganduje said this when he received the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, whom the governor described as both loyal and successful, at the Kano State Government House.
In a related development, APC would today commence the screening of 2,822 House of Assembly aspirants jostling for the party’s tickets ahead of the May 22 primaries.
The party denied altering the date of its presidential primary, billed to take place between May 30 and June 1.
Ganduje received Osinbajo at the Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, and accompanied him to the scene of yesterday morning explosion in Sabon Gari, from where they proceeded to the Government House, where the vice president was scheduled to hold his ongoing consultations with APC stakeholders and delegates in Kano State.
Speaking on the debate over the zoning of the party’s presidential ticket, Ganduje noted that though the idea of zoning was “not constitutional”, for the sake of equity and fair play, the party would work to ensure that the south produced the next president on the party’s platform.
“We believe that the next president will come from the South and we will work for that,” he said.
Ganduje’s position came amid speculations that the ruling party was planning to jettison the zoning of its presidential ticket in order to retain power in the north.
Reports early this week had it that it was the idea of retaining power in the north that informed the decision of the senate president, Ahmad Lawan, and Governor Badaru Abubakar of Jigawa State to join the presidential race at the last minute.
Also, the ruling party inaugurated its screening committee for House of Assembly aspirants yesterday in Abuja, and said the exercise would end on Thursday.
APC raked in the sum of N5.644 billion from the sale of forms to aspirants vying for state assembly seats.
THISDAY can reliably report that the ruling party cleared all the 145 governorship aspirants screened last Friday, ahead of the governorship primaries to be held in 30 states on May 20.
It was also gathered that out of the 351 senatorial aspirants, the party had so far given a clean bill to 340 to contest the primary election scheduled for May 25. The outcome of the screening for the remaining aspirants was still being awaited.
THISDAY checks revealed that a senatorial aspirant from a South-west state, who had purchased the nomination form, failed to appear before any of the three screening panels at the weekend.
It was also gathered that of the 1,197 aspirants for the House of Representatives seats that were screened, preliminary reports on the exercise showed that Imo and Anambra states topped the list of states with disqualified aspirants. The affected aspirants, according to a party source, were disqualified following a series of petitions and allegations of criminal conducts against them.
In the meantime, following reports last week that the ruling party had altered the date of its presidential primary from May 30 to May 28, when the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had scheduled to hold its own poll to pick a presidential candidate, National Publicity Secretary of APC, Mr. Felix Morka, in a statement yesterday, described the report as fake.
The party stated that should an adjustment become necessary, such changes would be communicated via its official communication channels.
Morka stated, “Our attention has been drawn to a story of purported adjustment to the All Progressives Congress (APC) Timetable/Schedule of Activities for the 2023 General Election, which is making the rounds on social media.
“The story should be disregarded as fake news. The party’s Timetable/Schedule of Activities for the 2023 elections remain as earlier published: Governorship – Friday, 20th of May, 2022;State House of Assembly – Sunday, 22nd of May, 2022; House of Representatives – Tuesday, 24th of May, 2022; Senate – Wednesday, 25th of May 2022; Presidential – Monday, 30th of May to June 1st, 2022.”
APC inaugurated 37 screening committees to screen House of Assembly aspirants and also to elect local government and state delegates ahead of the various party primaries.
Deputy National Chairman, North, Senator Abubakar Kyari, while inaugurating the committees, said the screening would be conducted simultaneously with the election of local government and state delegates.
National Organising Secretary, Suleiman Argungu, described the assignment as one of the critical segments of the party’s transition in the 2023 general election.
Argungu said, “We will provide chairman and secretary of each committee. The guidelines specify roles of the committee, which includes minimum requirements; APC requirements; educational requirements; payment of form fees, which qualifies each aspirant to contest; sponsors and if anybody goes against Section 84(3) of the Electoral Acts as amended, stands disqualified.”
Chairman of Kebbi State Appeal Screening Committee and Director General of Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu, said the assignment was about building a foundation for the new leadership of the country that would emanate from the candidates of the various political parties.