From Adetutu Folasade-Koyi, Abuja

The race for President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor in 2023 has begun in earnest.

In Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, and across the country, “powerful forces across the political and corporate sphere” are allegedly mounting pressure on Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to throw his hat into the ring to succeed his boss.

But mum, so far, is the response from the Vice-President. Calls to his aides went unanswered.

On Monday, Osinbajo’s political benefactor and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, formally informed President Buhari of his 2023 presidential ambition during a visit to the President’s Aso Rock, Abuja, office.

Regardless, Daily Sun learnt that, with Tinubu’s Monday declaration, “the dynamics have changed.”

Religion as stumbling block

A party source told Daily Sun that, prior to Tinubu’s declaration of interest, the Vice-President has been under intense pressure from some interest groups, cutting across political and corporate sectors, to run for President in 2023.

The calculation, according to the source, is that religion would play a major role in who succeeds Buhari in 2023.

“The Vice-President is under pressure to run from many interest groups and some ‘powerful forces,’ on the grounds that, if Asiwaju runs, then religion would be a decisive factor.

“The North, particularly the North West, which has the bulk of northern votes, would not necessarily queue behind a Christian deputy and give him their votes. It’s an open secret that they want the Vice-President’s ticket; in the event that the APC (All Progressives Congress) finally decides to go to the South to pick its presidential candidate. “Secondly, the southern candidate must be Christian, to balance out the eight years of President Buhari.”

Prodded to name some of the “powerful forces,” he replied curtly: “This is not the time for that but those encouraging him to run premise it on two factors: Age and religion. On account of age, he’s young, and he’s a Christian.”

However, a senior party official privy to the matter described the pressure on Osinbajo as “mere speculation. You cannot shave the Vice-President’s head in his absence…The real fight, right now, is for control of the party.”

Nevertheless, another party source reiterated that the major obstacle for the APC and the 2023 presidency is still religion.

He said: “The permutation right now, if nothing happens to change that, is for the APC to produce a Christian candidate, from the South, backed by a northern Muslim as deputy.

“The North West, as it stands, is insisting on picking the Vice-President’s ticket and would not compromise on that…At the moment, three governors and a serving minister have positioned themselves to be the choice of the party. The North, particularly the North West, would not be disposed to having a Christian representing them…”

Choice of running mate

Even though the jostle for running mate among some governors in the North is at fever pitch, there is the clamour that the deputy should be picked from the North West.

“Three governors, one from the North East and another two from the North West, who are serving out their second terms, are keenly interested in oinking the Vice-President ticket of the APC. Initially, the agreement was to draft a Christian, second-term governor from the South West into the presidential race, who would, in turn, choose one of them as his deputy, after getting the party’s presidential ticket.

“But the odds are not in his favour. For one, he would be out of the power loop by the time the intense power game starts, and, secondly, he may not have the war chest to go through electioneering,” the source said.

Control of party structure

The struggle for control of the party’s structure, through the instrumentality of the party’s National Working Committee, is high.

The battle for control of the party goes back to the 2013 merger of ACN, ANPP, a faction of APGA and CPC.

With the merger, which produced the APC, it was agreed that the CPC would produce the President while the ACN would produce the Vice-President and, as an icing on the cake, the ACN got to produce two national chairmen of the party.

But, after the 2019 presidential election, the CPC decided to go for broke, and, to a large extent, together with the ANPP bloc, realised they no longer needed the ACN bloc for the next round of elections. “That was why the preparation for 2023 started with edging out the former national chairman. The CPC is intent on producing officers for strategic positions in the party.”

As at this month, the contending interests in APC, particularly the CPC bloc “don’t have the numbers yet. They would have to woo states with highest numbers of delegates for the convention: Lagos, Kano, Borno and Katsina, because these states are not in CPC’s hands. Organically, they don’t have the numbers as yet.

“Another reason why the convention cannot hold in February is because there’s confusion on the way forward. Some influential party members are insisting on the presidential nomination before the delegates’ convention. That cannot happen because it’s like putting the cart before the horse. Another set of stakeholders is trying to persuade the President that the convention, even if it’s going to be by consensus to choose the new NWC, should be allowed to hold soon.”

Consensus to choose party chairman, others

“Four governors, one from the North East, another from the North Central and two from the North West are strategising for a national chairman from the CPC bloc but they are yet to agree on a particular candidate, even as it emerged that a top shot in the party has asked to be allowed to produce candidates for the national chairman and national secretary positions,” was the submission of a top party shot in Abuja, yesterday.

The other alternative, he added, yesterday, is to allow for consensus and “that’s why the convention for February was struck off the table.”

The APC has been beset with internal squabbles over the national convention. Last year (June 2021), it was shifted to December and, later, last November, it was shifted to February after some governors met with the President.

The President is expected is to meet with “APC governors to ‘firmly agree’ on a convention date and the mode of choosing candidates for the NWC.”

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