When news broke on Monday, January 10, that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was in Aso Rock, many thought it was just one of those regular closed-door meetings President Muhammadu Buhari routinely holds with influential personalities which one may never get to know what was discussed.
However, this was different!
Shortly after the meeting was over, it became clear that it was unusual. This kind would define the fate of Africa's most populous nation: Tinubu announced in a press conference he had told the president of his intention to succeed him in 2023.
The announcement was received with mixed reactions. To the supporters of the national leader of the APC, it was the best since the sliced bread. His opponents, however, were not happy.
One of his most vocal opponents, Bode George, described Tinubu’s presidential aspiration as a huge joke.
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Meanwhile, Tinubu’s audacious and strategic declaration of interest in the presidency has opened the floor for others interested in the seat to come out of their shell.
By 2023, Buhari would have finished his constitutionally approved second term and would not be eligible to contest again. Therefore, the coast is clear for Tinubu and others in the ruling party to take over Aso Villa from him.
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So far, at least six APC chieftains, including Tinubu, have declared interest in the presidential seat.
1. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu
Among all the aspirants, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu stands tall. Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo, a political columnist, described him as “the most formidable” among those who have declared an interest in the presidency.
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With the return to democracy in 1999, Tinubu, who had earlier served as a senator, emerged as the governor of Lagos and served for eight years.
After using his means and political tactics to displace the PDP as the dominant party in the southwest, Tinubu joined forces with other political stakeholders to form the APC and bring the party into power at the centre.
Kingdom Ogoegbunam, the Platform for Youth and Women Development (PYWD) director, also commented on Tinubu’s political influence.
He said, the former Lagos governor's “declaration to run for the presidency is a welcome idea”.
According to Mr Ogoegbunam, Tinubu’s experience as a two-term Governor in a cosmopolitan state as Lagos, his performance and the kind of successor he produced make him eminently qualified to run for the most coveted seat in the country.
“His nation-wide political structure and his investment in human capital development are also a major boost to his ambition.
“Nigerians are also aware of Tinubu’s impact and contributions to the All Progressive Congress during the 2014/2015 election,” he told Legit. ng.
As he seeks the highest political office in the country come 2023, many of Tinubu’s allies and proteges believe it’s time to pay him back for what he’s done for them over the years.
As a former governor of Borno state, Senator Kashim Shettima said recently; it’s payback time for Tinubu.
Nevertheless, the APC national leader is not without blemishes. As he seeks to succeed Buhari in 2023, his supporters have had to deal with questions of perceived corruption, alleged age falsification, education and health concerns.
Jide Ojo, a veteran political analyst and columnist, said Tinubu is eminently qualified to run for president, according to the constitution, and has the financial muscle/resources to win the election.
He added that the former Lagos governor has a “worthwhile experience” and has many political godchildren, though it’s not certain they will be faithful to him at this moment.
However, Mr Ojo said the APC leader has a lot of baggage, citing the controversies regarding his name, state of origin and age.
According to the political pundit, Nigeria cannot afford to have a controversial president in 2023.
Tinubu is also facing the hurdles of the "deafening" agitation for the southeast presidency.
Like he said in a previous exclusive interview with Legit.ng, Mr Ojo argued that in the interest of fairness, equity and justice, the southeast deserves the presidency in 2023, and Tinubu should shelve his interest.
He said the “political engineering” used to quell the NADECO/OPC agitation in 1999 by zoning the presidency to the southwest should be applied again to give the seat to the southeast in 2023.
Mr Ojo warned that failure to zone the presidency to the southeast will furthwoulduel the IPOB agitation and unrest in the Igbo-dominated region.
2. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo
Before Vice President Yemi Osinbajo finally declared interest in the seat, there were mounting pressures on him to throw his hats into the ring, as Buhari’s political adviser, Babafemi Ojudu, confirmed.
Supporters of the Osinbajo presidency believe in his capacity to rule the nation. During a recent courtesy visit to the governor of Borno state, Dr Aliyu Rabiu Kurfi said Osinbajo should become Nigeria’s next president because of his leadership qualities, good self-discipline, moral qualities and competency demonstrated during Buhari’s absence.
Dr Kurfi, the chairman of the Progressive Consolidation Group (PCG), was referring to Osinbajo’s performance in 2017 when Buhari was away in the UK for a 10-day vacation.
Meanwhile, as President Buhari is undoubtedly a political force to reckon with in the north, Osinbajo’s loyalty to him may also have earned the VP some popularity in the region which has a numerical advantage.
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In 2019, the Emir of Daura (Buhari’s hometown), Alhaji Farouk Umar, commended VP Osinbajo for being loyal to his principal.
Osinbajo is believed to have the capacity to succeed his boss. Age is also on his side. No corruption scandal too.
Further speaking with Legit.ng, Mr Ojo, advocating for the southeast presidency, said he would prefer Osinbajo ahead of Tinubu if the seat must go to the southwest.
“A lot of people are even saying that if there should be transition from Buhari to southern presidency, someone like Professor Yemi Osinbajo who is the vice president is better poised to be the next president of Nigeria….”
According to the political analyst, Osinbajo has worked very closely with the current administration, is a cleric and professor of law, and has the requisite public service record, having served as attorney general and commissioner of justice in Lagos and being a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Mr Ojo said Osinbajo if he becomes president, “will do a lot more than Tinubu”, adding that the VP has the advantage of being younger and more tech-savvy.
However, Osinbajo does not have the kind of political structure Tinubu possesses. The vice president admitted recently that he couldn’t have won a local government election in Lagos state in 2014 when he was nominated as Buhari’s running mate.
Commenting on Osinbajpo’s chances, Mr Ogoegbunam said, “realistically, the Vice President lacks the political structure to battle Tinubu" to clinch the APC presidential ticket.
However, the director of the youth-focused organisation said Osinbajo still stands a chance because of his loyalty “to Mr President, his age in consideration,” and the impacts he made on the unity, economy and security of the nation when he served as the Acting President.
He added that the VP’s candidacy is likely to be “firmly accepted by Nigerians and as such his party the APC may consider” him because he has “zero to no political baggage”.
To get the ruling party’s ticket, Mr Ogoegbunam said, “the Vice President must engage in wide consultations with Nigerians, especially with Mr President, Past Leaders, APC leaders from the South West, some Governors in the party, his close aides, the international community, his primary constituency which is religious leaders, and most importantly His Excellency Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.”
He concluded that “Osinbajo stands a chance and may likely fare better than Bola Tinubu at the polls if presented by the APC.”
3. Senator Orji Uzor Kalu
Being a southeasterner, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu’s presidential aspiration fits in with the loud agitation for the Igbo presidency.
Kalu is a former governor of Abia state, a southeastern state, and currently represents Abia North in the Senate.
Aside from being a southeasterner, Senator Kalu has also boasted that he has the financial muscle to prosecute the campaign for the APC’s ticket.
He said he has all it takes to match Tinubu “grit for grit and campaign for campaign if need be for the APC ticket in 2023.
Nevertheless, Senator Kalu also has some “baggage”.
In 2018, the Abia State University “withdrew Senator Kalu’s certificate over allegations of fraud and breach of admission regulations concerning his graduation.”
He dragged the university to the Court of Appeal but lost. In November 2021, the Court of Appeal validated the withdrawal of Kalu’s certificate, upholding the university’s finding of fraud and illegality in its award.
He is also battling a corruption scandal and even spent some time in prison before the Supreme Court nullified his conviction.
4. Senator Rochas Okorocha
Like Senator Kalu, Senator Rochas Okorocha’s presidential aspiration lies mainly on the strength of the Igbo presidency agitation.
Now a serving senator, Okorocha was Imo governor for eight years.
A piece by Africa Report indicates that “corruption investigations and the lack of a strong base in the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) are likely to scupper Okorocha's ambition of becoming Nigeria's president in the 2023 elections."
5. Governor David Umahi
Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi state also wants to succeed President Buhari in 2023. Among all the presidential aspirants, Governor Umahi is the newest member of the APC.
As other presidential aspirants are consulting widely across the country, Umahi is currently in a battle to retain his seat as Ebonyi governor after the Federal High Court sacked him and his deputy for leaving the PDP, the party on which platform he was elected, for the APC.
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Nevertheless, as a southeasterner, he stands a strong chance (like Kalu and Okorocha) if the ticket is zoned to the region.
Commenting on the chances of the APC presidential aspirants from the southeast in getting the ticket ahead of Tinubu and others, Ade Bash, a political commentator, said:
“The major thing that matters most in every political contest is who has the political structure; who has the viable structure across the length and breadth of the country, across the six geopolitical zones of the country; who is not just a regional leader, a state leader, who is not just a leader on paper.
“I am not saying other aspirants are leaders on paper, no. And I am not saying they don’t have people in other states or other regions. The most important thing here is a viable political structure. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu seems to have a viable political structure beyond Lagos state, beyond southwest.
“He has it in the northwest, southeast and south-south and every part of the country. He has a viable political structure that can always stand for him and this is evident when you look at his campaigns here and there. In every state he has visited, you would always see hundreds of thousands of people gathering to welcome him from the airport down to where he would have events.
“This shows how much political structure he has, So, people like Governor Dave Umahi, Senator Rochas Okorocha, they also have their structures, no doubt about it. But comparing it with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, I don’t see them winning a free, fair and credible presidential primary. I don’t see them winning it against Tinubu.”
Bash said Tinubu has the best chance to win if the APC adopts the direct or indirect mode of primary elections.
“If APC is to go for the direct, Tinubu has the structure to win it. If APC is to go for the indirect, Tinubu has the structure to win it,” he told Legit.ng.
However, the political analyst noted that there is no 100% guarantee of victory for Tinubu against the southeast aspirants if the APC adopts the consensus method in choosing its presidential candidate.
According to him, the consensus mode, if adopted, will be determined by President Muhammadu Buhari and a few people around him, and they might favour Tinubu or anyone else.
6. Governor Yahaya Bello
Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi stands out as the only APC aspirant from the north-central. He is also one of the early birds to declare interest in the presidency.
Being in his late forties (47), Bello’s supporters appear to focus on selling him to the youth demographic. This is logical and strategic as the youth as “more than half of all voters, 51.1 per cent, are between the ages of 18 and 35, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
However, the Kogi state governor has a problem of negative perception, according to Temidayo Akinboyo, a political analyst.
“Both online and offline, except for his associates and supporters alike, many Nigerians do not appear to take Mr Bello seriously. Some see him as a comedian just passing time in office and not ready for the real business of organic governance.
“Unfortunately for Mr Bello, this negative perception is beginning to assume a life of its own as it is often said that in politics, perception is reality,” Mr Akinboyo wrote in an analytical piece published by Premium Times.
Another strong obstacle facing Governor Bello is the APC's alleged agreement to zone the ticket to the southern region.
Also, Mr Ogoegbunam, the director of PYWD, said this about Governor Bello’s presidential ambition:
“Personally, as a youth in my mid 20’s I should be very enthusiastic about the aspiration of the Governor of Kogi state, His Excellency Yahaya Bello, beause he is a bridge that connects the younger generation and the older generation.
“As Governor, he’s recorded significant gains in youth and women development in his state. But factually speaking, the idea of handing power over to youth in 2023 is not realistic. In “Nigeria, the youths are the majority in population and control a large voting population, but there’s a lack of sensitization and unity amongst them.”
Who stands the best chance among the aspirants?
All the aspirants have both strengths and weaknesses, which may make or mar their chances.
While nearly all of them have boasted that they will clinch the APC's presidential ticket, their fates lie in the hands of the delegates who will vote in the party's primary election.