The All Progressives Congress recently announced that it will be holding its presidential primaries in October 2014, adopting what it termed a modified direct primary. The nomination method adopted will see presidential aspirants within the party being voted for at a convention of party delegates elected from all states of the federation. The decision of the party aligns with the provisions of section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010 which is the extant law governing the conduct of elections and related matters in Nigeria. While we await further announcements as to the specific date of the party’s convention as well as the expression of interests by all the presidential aspirants within the fold, a bit of history on the nomination of presidential candidates by Nigeria’s biggest political parties over the years is considered expedient.
The 1993 presidential elections widely adjudged as the most transparent elections in Nigeria yet, may be the best starting point for the brief recourse.
Chief M.K.O. Abiola emerged the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) at the party’s convention in Jos, Plateau state on March 27th 1993, winning the simple majority polling by 272 votes. Abiola had contested for the party’s ticket with Mrs. Sarah Jubril. On the other side, the National Republican Convention (NRC) produced Alhaji Bashir Tofa as its flagbearer after its convention. Prior to this time however, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua had polled 480, 000 votes to beat Chief Olu Falae at the first presidential primaries of the SDP in October 1992 while Adamu Ciroma won the NRC primaries. The 1992 primaries were cancelled by the General Ibrahim Babangida-led federal military government on the grounds that they did not meet the “irreducible minimum requirements of democracy” such as fairness and freedom of the electorate. Abiola would go on to win the 1993 presidential elections which were again annulled by the IBB regime under controversial circumstances.
In 1999, the major political parties at Nigeria’s return to democracy were the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and the All People’s Party (APP). The AD was dominant in the South-West while the APP was popular in the North. The PDP had over 100 former top service chiefs in its fold and with a lot of businessmen, it was able to muster the financial strength to spread across the country early enough with huge following in the South-East, South-South and appreciable following in the North-Central. The AD fielded no candidate for the presidential elections even though its leaders later expressed support for the APP candidate, Chief Olu Falae who emerged the APP candidate by consensus. The PDP held its convention in Jos, Plateau state in February 1999 and former military Head of State, Rtd. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo emerged as the Presidential candidate of the PDP though with some rancor within the party. Obasanjo would go on to win the presidential election.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was expected by many people within the PDP to embrace the Mandela-Option in 2003. It was thought that Obasanjo would serve a single term like the late former South African president, Nelson Mandela, and hand over power to the North in an informal power sharing arrangement. Then Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who enjoyed the support of many state Governors made moves to wrest the PDP presidential ticket from his boss who then had to appease him before Atiku agreed to refrain from standing in for the primaries. At the PDP convention held from January 3-6, 2003, Obasanjo contested the 2003 PDP presidential primaries with Chief Alex Ekwueme, Chief Barnabas Gemade and Alhaji Abubakar Rimi. Obasanjo emerged victorious with 2,642 votes (75.9%) amidst allegations of heavy inducement of delegates and widespread cheating. Meanwhile, the All People’s Party (APP) had transformed into the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP) by 2003 and had former military head of state, Rtd. General Muhammadu Buhari, Chief Rochas Okorocha, Chief Harry Akande, and Yahaya Abubakar as presidential aspirants among others, with Buhari emerging as the party flagbearer after the primaries on January 7, 2003. All the other candidates had been forced to step down for Buhari except Yahaya Abubakar who did not turn up at the venue, paving the way for Buhari’s victory. The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) presented its leader, Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu as its presidential candidate while the Alliance for Democracy (AD) presented no candidate for the presidential elections. Obasanjo won the 2003 elections.
Ahead of the 2007 elections, due to the lingering clash between himself and President Obasanjo, Vice-President Atiku decamped to the Action Congress (formed from a breakaway faction of Alliance for Democracy). The AC at its convention in Lagos nominated Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as its presidential candidate shortly afterwards, and without primaries. In the PDP, political manoeuvers ensured that vibrant Presidential hopefuls as Peter Odili and Donald Duke withdrew from the race to pave the way for reclusive Katsina state Governor, Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua to emerge victorious at the presidential primaries in Abuja on December 16, 2006 where he polled 3,024 votes defeating 11 other ‘not-so-strong’ aspirants. Rochas Okorocha gathered 372 votes to come a distant second. The lone female presidential aspirant within the PDP, Mrs. Sarah Jubril had only 4 votes. Meanwhile in the ANPP, General Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the party’s consensus candidate after Governor Bukar Abba Ibrahim of Yobe and Chief Pere Ajunwa were pressured to withdraw from the race at the convention ground.
Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s rise to the office of President after the death of President Umar Yar’Adua caused some headache for the PDP in 2011 when many northern party stalwarts believed the presidential ticket should return to the North since Yar’Adua had not finished his term of four (or expected eight) years before his death. After President Jonathan expressed interest in the party’s ticket, other aspirants from the north such as Governor (now Senator) Bukola Saraki and Rtd. General Ibrahim Babangida were convinced to step down for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (who had returned to the party) as the northern consensus candidate. At the presidential primaries held on January 13, 2011 at the Eagles’ Square, Abuja, President Jonathan defeated Alhaji Atiku Abubakar convincingly to clinch the party’s ticket. Elsewhere on the same day at Onikan in Lagos, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) which had metamorphosed from Action Congress in an attempt to gain a national spread, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu who had just returned from exile was adopted as the party’s flagbearer at its convention after other aspirants such as Governor Attahiru Bafarawa of Sokoto and Mallam Saidu Malami were persuaded to give up their ambitions. General Muhammadu Buhari had registered a new party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in 2010 and went from being the Chairman of its Board of Trustees to being adopted as the party’s Presidential candidate at its convention. The ANPP which was now without Buhari had Kano Governor, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, Chief Harry Akande and Alhaji Bashir Tofa as presidential aspirants. Mallam Shekarau emerged the flagbearer after defeating the other two at the party’s primaries. President Goodluck Jonathan went on to win the Presidential elections in April 2011.
The next Presidential elections will be held on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2015 and within the APC, Publisher of Leadership Newspaper, Sam Nda-Isaiah has announced his aspirations while Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has similarly expressed interest. It is yet unclear if General Muhammadu Buhari will vie for the ticket again. The APC primaries will however be interesting to observe, going by the history of the three parties that merged to form the party. It may be hard to settle for a consensus candidate without actual primaries as the ACN was used to, just as General Muhammadu Buhari, should he decide to contest, will not have it easy having the ticket delivered to him on an unchallenged platter of gold as in times past.
All eyes are on the APC and with the political heavyweights the party has drawn from the PDP as well as the three parties involved in the merger, the party has to dance with caution to the political beats that will play out between now and October. The APC will be writing a love letter with its primaries and one of the paragraphs must answer the lingering question about internal democracy in the party, as that – among other factors – will determine whether the majority of Nigerians show love to the party on Valentine’s day in 2015, or not!