Wahab Adamu argues that APC leadership’s quest for consensus to choose its presidential candidate is no longer feasible
The ruling All Progressives Congress leadership’s quest for consensus as the mode of selection of its presidential candidate for the 2023 general election may have become unfeasible given the determination of many of the 28 aspirants to assert their right to be rated by the party’s delegates that are expected to converge on Abuja next week.
Incidentally, the indication that this was the preferred mode of selection emerged early but the process of enforcement would appear to have been mismanaged. It is believed that one of the reasons President Muhammadu Buhari initially refused assent to the 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill was because of Section 84 which made direct primary the only mode of selection of candidates, excluding the president’s preference for consensus. But the National Assembly included direct primary and consensus following intense negotiations with the president.
However, the federal legislators in a deft move to curb the habitual excesses of the executive arm, particularly at the state level tied the hands of the party leadership with its clear definition of consensus in Section 84 (9) which requires 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.”
Herein lies the difficulty of the party leadership. In the past, the candidates would have been railroaded or coerced into abandoning their interests. The law now requires that every cleared aspirant would have to voluntarily withdraw their intention to run. This has become difficult for two reasons: The calibre of aspirants and the financial as well as emotional investments in the internal electioneering.
Among the aspirants are Bola Tinubu, two-term governor of Lagos State, former senator and founding member of APC; governors of Ekiti, Jigawa and Kogi States, Kayode Fayemi, Abubakar Badaru and Yahaya Bello; ministers Rotimi Amaechi, Emeka Nwajiuba, Ogbonnaya Onu and Godswill Akpabio; and Ken Nnamani, a former president of the Senate. These are political heavyweights that cannot be perfunctorily pushed aside without serious consequences for the party.
This is more so when the money and the time they had committed to their aspiration are taken cognisance of. Each had purchased nomination forms for N100 million and has traversed the states of the federation to canvass their intentions among the delegates. Serving ministers too had been compelled to relinquish their positions while the not-too-known aspirants have had put aside their businesses to pursue their aspirations. How would the party leadership convince these people to stand down? What would be the criteria for such a decision?
Although it has been suggested that the president could bring the weight of his office to compel withdrawal, this is less feasible given the requirement of Section 84 (9), which places a premium on consent, and Section 84 (10) that stipulates a contest where an aspirant refuses to stand down. Yet a contest, the party leadership fears, is a risk it does not want to take because of its potential for strife or implosion.
The APC would, therefore, appear to have found itself between the devil and the deep blue sea. Which way does it go? The way forward, it would seem, is to weigh the risks and choose the one with a lesser danger. To achieve a consensus, the law requires the voluntary consent of all the cleared aspirants to agree on one of the aspirants as the preferred candidate. The operative word here is “cleared” aspirants. Can the party, using its internal rules prune the number of aspirants by weeding out those that could be recalcitrant? The answer is yes. But what would be the rules and criteria for the weeding exercise as the law requires transparency in the entire process? In any case, the qualification for the presidency is stipulated in the 1999 Constitution as altered and the Electoral Act 2022, and no political party could add or reduce the criteria.
Reference has been made to the use of consensus during the selection of the national leadership during the special convention of the party in March this year. Apart from the fact that that was a completely different ball game as it was a contest for party positions, it actually showed how undemocratic the selection method could be as many of the aspirants barely restrained themselves from challenging the outcomes in court. The stakes this time around are higher because the emergent candidate will slug it out at the general election with the opposing Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate.
In any case, how problematic consensus could be, has been clearly demonstrated by the contests for the lower positions, including Senate, House of Representatives, governorship and state Houses of Assembly. If aspirants for positions with lower stakes find it undesirable to agree, how easy would it be for the ones eyeing the biggest ticket of the party to forgo their money and time?
The less hazardous way for the party, it would seem, is for the party leadership to create a level playing field for the aspirants to test their popularity at the delegates’ meet already slated for next week. In doing this, the party would be consolidating its democratic content which it established way back in 2015 in Lagos when it nominated Buhari from among heavyweights, including Abubakar Atiku, a former vice-president; Musa Kwankwaso, two-term governor of Kano State and former minister; and Rochas Okorocha, then a battle-tested governor Imo State.
That that contest was not attended by rancour was a testimony to the fairness of the process, an indication that a repeat performance this time around could only strengthen the solidarity of the party and its electioneering machine.