Leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC), an amalgam of four opposition parties, have raised a 12-man team to persuade former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), not to vie for the presidential ticket of the coalition party.
It was gathered yesterday that the pressure on Buhari, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) national leader, one of the four parties in the coalition, not to run in the 2015 presidential race is to make the party more electable without any hangover from previous elections.
The national leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), another constituent part of the APC, Senator Bola Tinubu, has also accepted not to seek the APC's ticket as a demonstration of his commitment to building a virile and credible platform that would be used to wrest power from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Buhari has been a serial presidential candidate since 2003 when he first took a shot at the presidency on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), which is also part of the APC.
Buhari, who ran on the CPC ticket in the 2011 presidential election, is believed to be rethinking the decision he made shortly after the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal challenging the declaration of President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP as winner of the election, not to run again.
Another trouble-shooting effort of promoters of the APC was undertaken yesterday in Abuja when Tinubu met with a faction of the CPC in order to resolve the crisis in the party (CPC) that could threaten the coalition party.
Tinubu, at the occasion, said APC leaders were ready to make any necessary sacrifice to ensure the attainment of their goal of giving Nigerians a credible alternative to the PDP.
It was learnt that having successfully floated the merger party last week, some stakeholders in the opposition coalition are worried that the next most daunting challenge facing the opposition movement will be how to pick a presidential candidate that will match whoever the PDP will be fielding in 2015.
A source said the parties' merger committees had been given the assignment to nominate persons to serve in sub committees to trash out issues relating to the constitution, manifesto and position sharing under the merger arrangement.
The committees are scheduled to reconvene tomorrow to commence work on harmonising their positions on the constitution and manifesto of APC.
The source says that although all the parties had accepted in principle not to bring up the issue of candidates for the election until after the merger has taken effect, there are suggestions that it is better to appeal to Buhari and perhaps Tinubu not to vie for any office for now.
The source explained that if Buhari and Tinubu step aside, this will pave the way for the emergence of a younger candidate as the standard bearer of the party in the 2015 presidential election.
He added that for the party to dislodge the PDP in 2015, it must be able to form a broad-based coalition and institute proper internal democracy, adding that that way, the APC will then be attractive to several PDP governors who are ready to defect. The source explained that doing so will also facilitate the emergence of a credible presidential candidate.
Further checks revealed that no fewer than 19 PDP governors are ready to dump the party. It was gathered that the governors are saying that they don't want to leave PDP before Jonathan leaves office so that he would not hound them the way he did to former Bayelsa State Governor, Chief Timipre Sylva.
Buhari had dismissed fears that his ambition to run again for presidency might hamper the consummation of negotiations among the APC’s constituent parties, stressing that the choice of a presidential candidate is that of the new party to make.
However, the source said the stakeholders were not convinced that the former head of state would not run again. He explained that despite the fact that Buhari has repeatedly said he was not insisting on being the coalition party’s presidential candidate, party leaders felt it would be risky to take him on his promise; hence, the need for the lobby to extract a firm assurance from him not to run. The source said: "Some elements within the coalition are concerned that the Buhari factor may make or mar the chances of APC if not properly handled. Because of this, moves are being made to solicit the assistance of those who have considerable influence on the CPC leader to persuade him to agree to support another candidate in the interest of the merger."
According to the source, opinion are that even though Buhari commands a lot of followers in the North, especially among the masses, the power elite, who help to mould voters’ opinions in their respective domains, are not well disposed to his emergence as a president. Another reason why the former head of state is being lobbied not to run again is the yearning by most of the leaders of the opposition coalition that the candidate for the 2015 must not be one with perceived ethnic or religious baggage.
Some notable figures being enlisted to persuade Buhari not to run again are his political allies and close associates, including retired military officers.
Speaking on the electoral threat posed by the APC in the coming elections, a member of the CPC merger committee said within a few days of the announcement of the new merger party, many politicians have started showing interest in embracing the party (APC).
He said most of the PDP governors in the North running their second term have signified their intention to move over to the APC. "Most of the second term governors in the North have indicated interest in joining the APC because of their disenchantment with the manner the present PDP is being run. They are alleging that President Goodluck Jonathan is hijacking the running of the PDP so that he can be guaranteed of a second term come 2015.
"What is clear is that APC will demystify the PDP and expose the ineptitude of the party. The 2015 elections will be fought on issues not on sentiments of religion and ethnicity. APC is a centre of the left anchored on pro-people agenda whereas the PDP is relying on sentiments and therefore cares less on performance," he said.
However, Tinubu during the peace talks with the CPC faction led by Senator Rufai Hanga in Abuja, expressed the readiness of APC leaders to make necessary sacrifices in order to realise their goals.
He told reporters at the end of the talks that no matter the antics of their rivals, the coalition party leaders would do all they could to ensure that APC succeeds.
"I am a committed individual and we are with a committed group surrounded with people of vision, conviction and great commitment. It (APC) will succeed. Our rivals will not want it to succeed; they will do everything to frustrate it. That is part of our political intrigue and environment particularly in Africa but we will work hard at it in the interest of this country and we are really truly committed to make sacrifices," he said. The meeting with the CPC, which was aimed at stemming the internal crisis threatening the unity and common resolve of CPC to partake in the opposition coalition party, was summoned at the instance of Tinubu.
Tinubu, who drove into the Arewa Suite venue of the meeting in a white sport utility vehicle (SUV) at about 12.30 pm, met with Hanga and his group behind closed doors for several hours.
Commenting on the outcome of his intervention in the CPC crisis, Tinubu, who was accompanied by the head of the ACN merger committee, Chief Tom Ikimi, said discussions went well and that the meeting has been able to resolve the conflict and bring the CPC faction on board to be part of the merger.
"The meeting was fine, sweet and delicious. We are meeting in the interest of our various objectives. I am working in the interest of Nigeria, particularly in the interest of APC,” he said.
Hanga also told reporters that his faction has accepted in principle to join APC but that he would have to consult with other members before sealing the deal.
On whether the group has also accepted to withdraw its court case against the CPC national leadership, Hanga, who spoke along with the Publicity Secretary of the group, Chief Dennis Aghanya, said they had agreed to do everything possible to help APC succeed.