The All Progressives Congress presidential primary, which began on Tuesday and lasted till early hours of Wednesday, was characterised by drama as aspirants stepped down for a former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo.
Although the convention proper was supposed to have commenced at 3.30pm based on the programme of events, it did not begin until about 7:40pm when the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), arrived.
Although 21 aspirants were in the race, contestants including Governor Kayode Fayemi; ex-Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio; a former Governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun; Senator Ajayi Boroffice; the Jigawa State Governor, Abubakar Badaru and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, stepped down for Tinubu.
A presidential aspirant, Nicholas Felix, who stepped down for Osinbajo said the party could not have a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
In his welcome address, the APC National Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, called for a compromise to be reached on all fronts.
The APC national chairman disclosed that it is the bedrock of democracy, which everybody including delegates and aspirants should not be afraid to imbibe.
He stated, “We cannot continue to make our choice out of sentiments or other primordial considerations. That will only invoke in us a wrong choice that we might regret.
“In the course of this decision making, we need to be called upon to make compromises to achieve our goals and objectives as a party.
“Democracy, by its nature, permits such compromises in the spirit of give and take. Indeed, no human society can survive without compromises.
“Let us, therefore, not be afraid of making them with clear conscience and sense of responsibilities,” he urged.
I am serious man with a serious purpose – Tinubu
The party gave aspirants opportunity to address the delegates. An APC stalwart and presidential aspirant, Bola Tinubu, said he was the right person for the party.
He stated, “I sincerely believe that I am the right person this moment calls for. I have the experience, I led the transformation of Lagos from a dangerous, unweloming place to a clean, safe and vibrant place and the fifth largest economy in Africa today. I am a serious man with a serious purpose and I will use all that I know and all my abilities to benefit our people. I’m a unifying leader. I have constructed a formidable structure, one that has delivered electoral victory after electoral victory. I step forward because I believe I can lead our party towards the brightest future.
“I have expertise, my record of corporate leadership, my financial expertise, my experience as an executive governor of Lagos make me unique among all other aspirants, giving me the requisite skill to accelerate the progressives reform that will change the face of our national economy. I cannot on this day talk about a brighter and prosperous future without declaring my determination to fight terrorism and insecurity to the very end. I mourn the lives already lost and want to do everything possible to ensure justice and forever erase terror from our land.
How Akpabio, Amosun, Fayemi, Bankole, Boroffice, Badaru, others stepped down
The immediate past Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, surprised the gathering as the first aspirant to step down.
Akpabio, who boasted of 93 delegates from Akwa Ibom State, publicly asked them to vote for Tinubu.
He said, “I have seen a man who is older than me and who was the first visionary in governance and that man enabled us to have good governance and development in Lagos State.”
The former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs added that he had so many things he would have loved to say about his manifesto but would rather support the next President with the ideas.
He said, “I will join the next President to turn the boys in Nigeria into men. And, therefore, I duff my heart and urge that as I withdraw now, vote for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.”
Also in their speeches, Jigawa State governor, Borrofice and Bankole also stepped down for the former Lagos State Governor.
But a former President of the Senate, Ken Nnamani, who announced his withdrawal from the race on Monday, called for a review of the Constitution to address the issue of federal character.
He said, “Today’s convention suddenly has changed. It is no longer based on the zoning principle. I will suggest strongly that we take a second look at the constitution, the area that concerns federal character which gives all parts of Nigeria equal opportunity to feel like an integral part of the country.”
A presidential aspirant, Nicholas Felix, who stepped down for Osinbajo, said the party cannot have a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Delivering his speech, former Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Ogbonnaya Onu, argued that the South-East should produce President Buhari’s successor.
He said, “I think naturally, it should be somebody from the South-East that will replace him and give the opposite of South versus North and Christian versus Muslim. It will bring stability to our nation, it wil strengthen the unity of Nigeria.”
He lamented that the South-East was the only region in the South that was yet to enjoy the Presidency.
Onu said, “The South-West has eight years as President, eight years as Vice President. The South-South has also enjoined the position of VP and President. Where is the justice? We need to do what is right.”
Amaechi, on his part urged delegates of the APC to look beyond money when assessing the presidential aspirants.
He said, “Please delegates, assess us by our contributions, don’t assess us by how much we bring here. Because if it is by how much we bring here, ask all of us for our source of income, how we got the money.”
A former governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha, urged the delegate to consider their conscience so as to put an end to their sufferings.
He said, “I want to say to you my delegates that the hour is come, the die is cast. You must search your conscience, if possible make phone calls to your families and ask them what must I do with the vote that I have, lest you go back again wallowing in hunger and poverty which has left you in perpetual suffering.”
Also, a former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, refused to step down, insisting that he was the best candidate.
Contrary to the stand of northern governors, two northern governors – the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello and the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan – did not stepped down.
Delegates vote into the early hours of the morning, Buhari wants level playing field
In his speech, Buhari urged the party to ensure a level playing field for all aspirants.
Voting lasted till early hours of Wednesday.
Earlier, the Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, revealed that the APC governors and the National Working Committee had recommended five aspirants to the President.
Those who were shortlisted were Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; an APC stalwart, Bola Tinubu; Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State; the immediate past Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; and Governor Kayode Fayemi.
Lalong, who was a guest on Channels Television’s ‘Sunrise Daily’ programme, said the five shortlisted aspirants were among the 13 that were highly rated by the Chief John Oyegun-led screening committee.
“The president told us any of these five are qualified to be president and have contributed to the party (APC). He said he is comfortable with any of them… Our recommendation is to enable us to give direction for the party as we go into the primary. We cannot go with everybody, but in our view, these are the people we think should remain.”
Your votes hold answers to your prayers, Osinbajo to delegates
Osinbajo ,in his speech on Wednesday morning in Abuja, told party delegates that their votes hold the key to the answers to their prayers for the country.
He stated, “You cannot wish Nigeria well and vote for someone you do not believe in. So my dear delegates, when you vote tonight, your vote holds the answer to your prayers for our country; for your future and for your country.
“We cannot afford to vote for anyone who’ll be learning on the job. In my last seven years as Vice President, I have prepared for the task that lies ahead. And I’ll be ready from day one.
It is for these reasons that I present myself to you as delegates for your consideration as Presidential candidate of the APC.”
Lalong, who is the Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum, said the five recommended aspirants were also advised to hold consultations among themselves to enable them further reduce the number of contestants.
The governor, however, said the contestants not shortlisted were free to disagree with the recommendation and proceed to contest at the primary.
But Lalong’s revelation did not go down well with some of the aspirants, including Governor Yayaha Bello of Kogi State, who vowed never to step down.
Addressing journalists at the Eagle Square venue of the primaries, he said he would not step down because “I have a bright chance of winning the primaries. I am sure of more than 50 per cent of the delegates.”
Others who rejected the shortlist were: Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade; a former Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba; a former Minister for Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu; Senator Rochas Okorocha and businessman Tein Jack-Rich.
Moments later, a letter addressed to the President by all the South-East Presidential aspirants surfaced online. In the letter dated June 6, they asked the President to ensure that the Presidential candidate of the party is from the region.
The letter was jointly signed by Ikeobasi Mokelu; Onu, Nwajiuba, Governor Umahi, and Mrs. Ken Uju-Ohanenye. Senator Okorocha was listed among signatories but didn’t append his signature.
The letter read in part, “We the undersigned, who are aspirants to the Office of President on the platform of our party the APC, write to commend your fatherly leadership of our country and our party. Your Excellency, we most humbly request that this position of our brothers from the North be deepened and made even more wholesome by further zoning this position to the South-East.
“We are humbly requesting that you consider and pick your chosen candidate from the South-East aspirants in line with your stated objectives of handing over to trusted party loyalists. We humbly seek your Excellency’s prompt and kind intervention to enable the party delegates to assume proper guidance.”
The PUNCH learnt that several aspirants continued to meet with a view to forming a consensus. However, no aspirant agreed to step down before the convention began.
But the Director-General of the Yemi Osinbajo Campaign Organisation, Senator Kabiru Gaya, said the list of Presidential aspirants in the APC had been trimmed to just two – Osinbajo and Tinubu – even as he stated that three aspirants had stepped down.
Gaya, who represents Kano-South senatorial district, told Channels Television that three Presidential aspirants had stepped down for the Vice-President. However, the senator failed to identify the three aspirants, only claiming that former Senate President Ken Nnamani who stepped down on Monday did so in honour of Osinbajo.
Gaya stated, “We have Vice-President Osinbajo and Bola Tinubu. I am aware that some aspirants have stepped down for Osinbajo. Nnamani and two others have stepped down for Osinbajo.”
Although The PUNCH could not independently verify this claim, Nnamani had, while withdrawing from the race, lamented the political marginalisation of the South-East.
Meanwhile, the accreditation of delegates and journalists began at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.
However, this was not without hiccups as journalists assigned to cover the convention waited endlessly in a long queue to complete accreditation and pick up their tags.
The delay in distribution of accreditation tags was attributed to the shoddy arrangement put in place by the APC publicity team.
There was also a stampede at the entrance of Eagle Square, as party supporters overwhelmed security officials, pulled down the barriers and forced their way into the premises.
Our correspondent who witnessed the incident noticed that the crowd forcefully made their way into the venue around 7:05 pm.
However, security personnel comprising mainly the police lifted the fallen barrier and hedged against more influx of people.
Earlier, security forces had fired teargas at the crowd including journalists.
Also, officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission stormed the venue apparently to halt vote buying. It could not be confirmed if the commission arrested anyone.