There seemed to be a mild disagreement among the national leadership of the All Progressives Congress, APC, as these chieftains converged in a meeting to decide the way forward for the party.
In a bid to fend-off possible schisms in the party over the declaration by the South-West caucus that the 2019 presidential ticket would be open to all zones should President Muhammadu Buhari decides not to run.
The party’s intervention came amid strong claims to the ticket by northern chapters of the APC which insisted that the presidency would remain in the North irrespective of Buhari’s intention.
This happened on a day Senator Adamu Aliero, a former governor of Kebbi State, indicated that he would challenge Buhari for the APC ticket ahead of the 2019 election.
The controversy was stoked on Thursday after the immediate past National Chairman of the party, Chief Bisi Akande, at the end of a retreat for South-West leaders of the APC, declared that the 2019 presidential ticket remained open to all sections of the country in so far as the President had not declared his intention for a second term.
Akande had said: “He (Buhari) has not told us that he is contesting again. Anybody in our party is free to become the President of Nigeria. As soon as they indicate interest, we will set a process through which a candidate is elected. If he is lucky to have the ticket, we will present him as our candidate.”
The President’s on-going first term has been marked by ill-health and absence from office with the latest episode happening between May and August this year.
Remarkably, Katsina State chapter of the party was indifferent to the position of the South-West, saying that while Buhari remained its preferred aspirant for the presidential ticket, the declaration of the South-West would be subjected to a democratic exercise in which it said Buhari would triumph.
Reacting to the development, the National Publicity Secretary of APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, said,
“I can’t see anywhere the ‘South-West APC’ said there is no automatic ticket for Buhari. What I have read was a statement credited to Chief Akande saying that President Buhari has not declared interest in 2019, which is a statement of fact; and that anyone was free to contest from any part of the country, which again is a statement of fact as far as our party is concerned”, Abdullahi said.
Meanwhile, the Sokoto State Chairman of the party, Alhaji Suleiman Danmadamin-Isa, told Sunday Vanguard that the South-West APC was at liberty to take any position, for now, adding that the North had no candidate now other than Buhari.
“For now, until President Buhari tells us he is not interested, the North has no other candidate. Since the position is zoned to the North, if whoever wants to contest hears that Buhari will contest, he will step down.
“As far as zoning is concerned, this is still the turn of the North to produce a candidate,” he said.
The National Vice Chairman (North-West) of the party, Inuwa Abdulkadir, drew away from reacting to the declaration, saying the party had spoken.
Asked about the specific reaction, he said: “You still want me to repeat our reaction, and I am not ready to do that.”
Adamawa State Chairman of the APC, Alhaji Ibrahim Balal, however, rebuffed entreaties on the issue, saying that there was a regional agreement by stakeholders not to comment on the issue. Adamawa is the home state of a possible 2019 presidential aspirant and an APC member, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.
Katsina State Chapter of the party, which is Buhari’s base, was, however, not afraid of a possible contest, saying last night that its endorsement of President Buhari should be subjected to a democratic approval.
The state Chairman of the party, Shittu S. Shittu, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, said the APC was adhering to the principles of democracy and not a dictatorship.
Shittu said that anyone who expressed interest or wished to vie for the presidency should be accommodated as provided for in the democratic practice.
He cited the primary election, which saw Buhari emerged as the party’s flag bearer in 2015 after stiff opposition from other aspirants.
“It is a democracy, it is a must that the seat is open to all”, the party Chairman said.
“Even the President, when he was asked if he would vie for the seat, he said he would but on the condition that the EFCC cleared him that he is not in possession of public funds.
“When we, APC Katsina, say we endorse Buhari and Masari for 2019, we won’t stop anyone from purchasing the form to contest for the presidency. It is a democracy, but, as far as we are concerned, we, the party leaders, have said we are endorsing Buhari and Masari. So if he (Buhari) picks the form and we deny others the chance to pick the form, then it is not democracy that we are practicing. It should be declared vacant for all. Whoever is interested or wishes is free to do so. It is politics.
“So, I don’t see it as a problem or anything. It is democracy. It is compulsory they allow everyone to express his wish. As far as I’m concerned, if you say you want to practice democracy, everyone has a wish.
“Even the last time (2015), he was not the only one that vied. He contested the party primary with Rabiu Kwankwaso, Rochas Okorocha, Sam Ndah Isaiah, and, with God on his side, he emerged the flag bearer of the APC and became the President. So by the time he completes his tenure, the people will judge, and, if they find him worth or capable of continuing, they will do the needful. It is democracy and not dictatorship.”