President Muhammadu Buhari continues to kick the question regarding his own succession down the road by extending the mandate of the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s care-taker committee by another six months. Accordingly, the date of the first national party convention since June 2018, tentatively scheduled for June this year, will also be pushed towards end-2021, if not later. The convention will be a key signpost in determining the party’s candidate for the February 2023 presidential election, which will likely happen at a separate convention in H2-2022. The latest delay suggests that the key question of whether to rotate the candidacy back from the north to the south – and if so, to which southern candidate – has yet to be resolved.
Recall that APC’s leadership was assigned to a caretaker committee in June 2020, with a mandate to hold a national convention to resolve the party’s leadership impasse within six months. That arrangement had been triggered by the ouster of then-party chairman Adams Oshiomole, a protege of Bola Tinubu, the Lagos- based APC strongman who is widely suspected of eyeing the presidential nomination. The sacking of Oshiomole, orchestrated by a governor from the so- called south-south region, signaled growing opposition to Tinubu’s supposed plans not only from the party’s northern establishment.
In fact, the key question remains whether the party will abide by the unwritten rule of Nigerian politics and rotate the presidential candidacy from a representative of the north to a southerner after two terms. While there are growing calls from the party’s northern establishment to abandon the principle and select a candidate purely based on’merit’, the APC’s precarious inner makeup as well as electoral arithmetic offer strong incentives to stick by the unwritten rules. Indeed, if these are not honored, the APC, which was formed in 2013 as an electoral alliance of mainly northern- and southwestern-based opposition parties, may fall apart alongside its constituent parts. Furthermore, a northern candidate may count on strong support and traditionally high turnout across the north. However, the public backlash triggered by deviating from the principle may potentially preclude a northern candidate from securing at least 25% of the vote in at least two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the capital Abuja, as mandated by the constitution.
Given the traditionally low turnout in the south-east and south-south regions – areas which have remained in political apathy ever since the 1967-1970 civil war – a candidate from the south-west may boost the party’s chances. However, this does not mean that the party will settle with Tinubu by default. In fact, Tinubu has faced stiff opposition ever since Oshiomole’s ouster and is generally viewed as too ambitious and too independent by the party leadership. However, there are several south-western governors and cabinet ministers, potentially even including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, that could serve as alternatives. The upcoming national convention, during which some 7,000 delegates from across the country will elect a new party leadership, will reveal the current balance of power within the party and, as such, provide important clues concerning the presidential succession.