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A direct or indirect primary could avert the likely infighting that consensus will provoke, contends John Ehimare

No doubt the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has a herculean task sifting from the avalanche of 28 presidential aspirants consisting of political heavyweights that bought forms to fly its flag. Hardly would anyone envy the party’s burden at this decisive moment. The realism that any slips on this matter can potentially put the party asunder, stir bad blood and open its flanks to be devoured by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems to be infusing some caution.

It may be the underlining reason for several postponements and summersaults over its primary even as the June 3 deadline by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), for parties to hand in the list of their candidates for the 2023 general elections, draws close. Either for ill or for good, it’s clear the APC has only the choice of Hobson as it must decide on its flag bearer in the next few days particularly when INEC has given a stern warning it will not blink on this deadline. It will be political suicide to risk the might of the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC that has many times demonstrated its capacity to bite.

The party leaders appear to have settled for a consensus option to help its apparatchiks and President Muhammadu Buhari crown their preferred choice, virtually goading the aspirants on that line but this doesn’t look like a cakewalk. It’s surely a hard sell. Many of the aspirants are opposed to the consensus option, preferring that they all slug it out at the primary.

This is apparently a catch 22 affair for the party leaders whose previous stronghold on aspirants has now been undermined by the 2022 Electoral Act. Unlike before, aspirants now have to give their consent for the consensus option to hold sway according to the new Electoral Act, making that permutation by the party leaders as a way of weeding off the huge number of aspirants almost like looking for a needle in a haystack.

The Electoral Act 2022 has introduced some interesting complications to the use of the consensus option. In Section 84 (9), the Act states that: “A political party that adopts a consensus candidate shall secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the position, indicating their voluntary withdrawal from the race and their endorsement of the consensus candidate.” In Section 84 (10), the Act further stipulates that where no such written consent can be obtained, then there should be direct or indirect primaries.

This obviously may prove too hot for party leaders to force their way through. Besides many of the aspirants have enough muscle to want to look the party in the face. Without the clout to really whip the aspirants into line, the party is simply compelled to eat its humble pie and strategically beat a retreat.

The APC’s Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, in announcing the recent postponement from the earlier fixed date of May 23 said it was indefinite throwing stakeholders asunder, but feelers, however, say it was just part of the agenda to allow built-up tempers to cool over the choice of a presidential candidate. It’s really a tough one discharging this burden from the array of stars angling to succeed President Buhari.

Former Lagos State Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, with an overwhelming structure which cuts across the country and a huge financial war chest, is considered one of the front runners along with the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, while former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; former Minister of Niger Delta Development, Senator Godswill Akpabio; former Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu are in close chase.

Others are former Imo State Governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha; former Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; Pastor Tunde Bakare; Cross River State Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade; Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi; Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; former Minister of State, Education, Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba; former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani; Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello; Jigawa State Governor, Abubakar Badaru; and former Zamfara State Governor, Sen. Ahmed Yerima. The aspirants also include Senator Ajayi Borroffice; the only female aspirant, Mrs. Uju Kennedy; Pastor Nicholas Nwagbo; former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole; Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan; former Minister of Information, Chief Ikeobasi Mokelu; and Mr. Tein Jack Rich.

Given this large number of aspirants, the consensus option does not look safe for the party. It will be its Achilles heel and certainly throw up recriminations that will be too difficult to manage as it goes into a major election where the PDP, which has lately been victorious in many off-season elections, including the FCT council polls where it won the prime councils and an overwhelming number of councillors, is waiting to crown its newfound prowess.

It may be unfair to begrudge President Buhari and the APC leaders for seeking to enthrone a malleable candidate that will not rock the boat. Many of those angling to succeed Buhari can hardly be exculpated from that raging charge. But the party leaders in foisting their favourite candidate must be mindful of the banana peel.

A direct or indirect primary could be the armour to stave off the likely infighting that consensus will provoke. Although it’s much more difficult getting an anointed son through, it will rid the party of acrimony that may reduce it to tatters. But whether the party will toe this less abrasive line still remain to be seen.

Ehimare, a political and development analyst, lives in Port Harcourt

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