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Fayemi and Osinbajo emerge as frontrunners for APC ticket as Tinubu stumbles

Ruling party to decide between younger technocrats and veteran party baron in presidential primaries on 6-8 June

Over 2,300 delegates of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) are meeting in the Eagle Square convention centre on 6-8 June in Abuja to choose their presidential candidate for the 2023 elections.

On the eve of the convention, three frontrunners all from the south-west dominated the field of 13 contenders: Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and former Governor of Lagos State Bola Tinubu.

There is debate over the mechanics of that choice. Will it be a free vote for all the party delegates? Will the governors instruct the state delegates for whom to vote? Or will they be called simply to ratify a candidate agreed in a meeting between the 22 APC state governors and President Muhammadu Buhari? (AC Vol 63 No 10, Consensus candidate plan upsets the frontrunners).

On the first day, the presidential contenders are due at the convention centre to present their programmes and political credentials. Last week, the party screening committee eliminated another ten contenders from the race.

The top five contenders to watch are ex-Minister of Transport Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers State), President of the Senate Ahmad Lawan (Yobe State), Fayemi, Osinbajo, and Tinubu. All of them have been in frontline politics for a decade at least.

Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers State, helped to midwife the birth of the APC when he quit the then ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) under President Goodluck Jonathan in 2013. He took another five PDP governors with him, giving the new party a racing start.

After he helped run Muhammadu Buhari's victorious presidential election campaign in 2015, Amaechi was given the transport portfolio, one of the key posts in terms of political influence and patronage.

Lawan, the only northerner in the top five and a skilled political operator, has run a tight ship as Senate President, keeping the fractious APC caucus firmly behind Buhari's policy agenda. His star rose after the opposition PDP chose Atiku Abubakar (Adamawa State), another northerner and former Vice-President, as its flagbearer on 28-29 May.

In the PDP's sights are the 10 million bloc of votes in the north that has consistently backed Buhari and were the core of his election wins in 2015 and 2019. Earlier, APC members had agreed to rotate the presidential nomination to the south after eight years of party leadership under Buhari, (Katsina State) in the north-west.

But some in the APC were arguing that it should follow suit and pick a northern candidate to go head-to-head with Atiku. That plan was rejected by several northern governors last week when they signed a joint statement declaring that '… the presidential candidate of the APC should be one of our teeming members from the southern states of Nigeria.'

That leaves the initiative with the trio from the south-west. As a force in south-west politics for three decades, Tinubu, had the most extensive political machine and patronage network. It also helps that he is a billionaire thanks to his extensive property portfolio in Lagos, but his candidacy has been plagued by questions about his health and the sources of his vast wealth.

All that came to a head on 2 June when Tinubu addressed a public meeting with Dapo Abiodun, the governor of Ogun State, stating boldly that it was his turn for the presidency. He also claimed credit for the appointment of Osinbajo as Vice-President and for the election of Abiodun as governor. Referring to Abiodun as eleyi in Yoruba meaning 'this one' or 'this thing' exacerbated the insult. Abiodun is also a close ally of Vice-President Osinbajo and had appeared reluctant to host this meeting with his rival.

Tinubu then described Buhari as serial election loser. Using the derogatory term l'ule in Yoruba, Tinubu said Buhari had 'flunked' three elections until he had agreed to join his support base in the south-west to the APC cause. That has infuriated Buhari's allies at the top of the APC, especially party chairman Abdullahi Adamu (AC Vol 63 No 7, Ahead of key convention, Buhari's allies reassert control of the ruling party).

Since then, Tinubu and his cohort have tried to limit the damage without notable success. His best chance, if his claim of majority support in most of the APC states is accurate, would be to force an open delegates vote at the party convention. But the possibility of that happening is receding.

Already, the party's decision not to allow 'statutory' (meaning non-elected) delegates to vote at the convention has shrunk the party electorate by over two-thirds to about 2,300. This will give an over-sized role to the state governors in choosing the candidate.

And both Fayemi, who is also Chairman of the Nigerian Governors' Forum, and Osinbajo have assiduously cultivated the 22 APC governors who will take centre-stage in the final stages of the deliberations (AC Vol 63 No 8, Vice-President Osinbajo's bid challenges APC leader Tinubu and bank governor Emefiele).

Top officials say the convention is likely to make the final choice 'by consensus' to keep the party together.

That means would mean close consultations between Buhari and the governors, most of whom are keeping their choice of candidate firmly under wraps for now.

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