By Senator Domingo Alaba Obende
The delegates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) will meet from 6th June to pick the party’s presidential candidate. The contest is a contest for Nigeria’s future. The country needs people with not only experience, connections, understanding and capacity but who also have an understanding of where the world is going and what Nigeria needs to do to go along with the world. The party needs a candidate who is a capable leader and can inspire the country to move in a progressive direction.
The need to properly interrogate the candidates and decide on the right person is uppermost here. The country is at a crossroads where we have been stuck with 19th century thinking in the 21st century, the age of knowledge. The APC seems consumed by an obsession with the outcome of the presidential primary of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a party that seems driven by the ideas of yesterday and the past. The emergence of my very good friend and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar seems to have left stakeholders in the APC scrambling for a response as if ours is a party looking to the past and no longer the pacesetter that we promised to be. And so, everyone who has access to a medium has talked about why their candidate deserves to be the APC flag bearer. Also, reports have emerged of a desire among APC bigwigs to field a candidate of either northern extraction or one in the mirror image of Atiku.
Atiku belongs to a different party and that party has its own philosophy, different from the APC, the ruling party in Nigeria. It is this difference in our philosophy that made Nigerians vote for our party. We must therefore not bring a candidate in the mirror image of the PDP candidate. After all, the last presidency of the PDP was from the South, so it could be argued that by choosing a northern candidate this time, they have not really offset their zoning arrangement.
Perception is everything and the perception today is that Atiku and the PDP represent the past and everything that is objectionable about our politics and leadership. In getting obsessed with Atiku, the APC is desperately trying to brand itself in the image of the PDP. It shouldn’t do so. It should feel the pulse in the streets and know that the days of oligarchs running for office and winning are long gone. Nigerians are long past that age and a robust youth engagement is afoot to upturn the regular. APC must put its best foot forward. Else, the party will be roundly humiliated.
It is, therefore, sad that in response to Atiku’s emergence, Alhaji Ahmed Tinubu, one of the APC presidential aspirants, has said and rolled out his supporters to campaign that he is the only man that can beat Atiku. This is fallacious. Tinubu and Atiku are two sides of the same coin and the pulse of the voters indicate that they will have none of them. The APC must not waste the opportunity of setting the agenda for Nigeria’s future and being in the right side of history. And the right thing to do now is to zone the Presidency to the South and to a younger president, who still has age on his side.
The APC’s future is neither in the hands of a northern candidate nor in that of Tinubu, a mirror image of Atiku. First, on a northern candidate. The idea that another northerner should succeed President Muhammadu Buhari is anathema. As Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN rightly said on Thursday, “It is the turn of the Southern part of the country to produce the next President. The party leadership should have no difficulty in making pronouncements on this very important issue, just as it has fixed various fees for the purchase of forms. This must be done without delay. The principle of Federal Character is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, as amended. It will be disingenuous for anyone to argue against rotation at this period.”
The only thing the party has to do is settle for the best man for Nigeria at this time. The PDP candidate is beatable because the party represents the past and all its sordidness, and to present a candidate that mirrors him will send a wrong message to young and discerning voters. This is why Tinubu and his message that only he can defeat Atiku must be rejected.
It is clear that the APC needs to do the right thing. Nigerians will not be easy on the party if in its faulty calculations it assumed that a northerner can hold the forte. As it is today, the country is divided along the fault lines of ethnicity, religion, age, regions and competing visions. The productive class, men and women that are leaders in industry, young people in their 20s and 30s, executives in their 40s and even entrepreneurs and retirees are sick and tired of a political elite with a sense of entitlement, men who have lived off the state and plan to retire on the state. APC should do better. It should look to a candidate with the elan, comportment and focus to inspire confidence within and without. It should look to Dr John Kayode Fayemi. In Fayemi, APC has a game changer. With him, I am absolutely certain Nigeria will prosper.
The presidential campaign for the general election, more than ever before, will focus on the capacity and outlook of the candidates. Compared to Atiku, Fayemi is daylight shining bright. Highly educated, with diverse experiences from the civil sector to journalism, activism, lecturing, public administration as Minister, and as state Executive Governor, Fayemi is a total package. At 57 years of age, he is a bridge between the youth and elderly, and understands both the nexus and the future. But nothing speaks to the man’s quality more than the testimonials from those who have interacted with him. They speak of a man who is a natural leader.
On the campaign for the APC presidential ticket, Fayemi, who is currently a second term Governor of Ekiti State, got praises from both APC governors and those from the opposition PDP, speaking to his capacity to reach across the aisles, build consensus and heal wounds. Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje says of Fayemi: “Your leadership qualities are not hidden. The way you have led the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) for two terms with unity of purpose and with no dissent is a testament to your leadership skills. You have led 36 governors from across different parties effectively”. Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma has this to say: “His management of affairs of the NGF is a classic testimony to his renowned man-management acumen. He is a terrific team player, consensus-builder, and brilliant leader. The conviction behind his words provokes you to want to listen more to the wisdom in his thoughts.” To Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom: “The cohesion you (Fayemi) have brought to the affairs of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) is what Nigeria needs now. You are a fantastic team leader, team player, just and fair minded. I am sure that with you in the saddle, the future is great for Nigeria”. Osun State Governor Gboyega Oyetola describes Fayemi as “a great bridge builder, team leader, consensus manager and one of the best sons of Oodua. He takes everyone’s problem as his own, this is why in four years we (the NGF) have always spoken with one voice”.
Why must the party look to Fayemi? I have looked at Atiku and Tinubu, they do not exude hope. Dour and foraging on experiences long lost and forgotten, they are out of step with modern realities and do not represent the best for our future.
As the party leaders engage and delegates go to vote, they must look at the broad picture dispassionately and objectively. They must not succumb to playing the PDP game because APC will be the loser. A focus on a less controversial but capable, young candidate in Dr Fayemi is the way to go. There won’t be a second time to fix the error of a faulty decision today.
Senator Obende represented Edo North district in the upper chamber between 2011 and 2015. He writes from Abuja