The national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, yesterday met with eight governors of the party over the impending governorship primaries for Edo and Ondo States, refusing to grant the right of first refusal to incumbents, Godwin Obaseki and Rotimi Akeredolu of Edo and Ondo; but promised to prevail on the party’s national leadership to ensure a fair process. He however did not say how, or what pressure he would exert on the APC leadership to ensure the primaries are free and fair.
But the meeting has become the source of controversy and anger as critics faulted the governors for violating the Covid-19 travel ban and failing to lead by example. President Muhammadu Buhari had imposed an inter-state travel ban in March as part of measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, save for movement of essential services and goods.
The governors, who represented their colleagues on the party’s platform, were the Chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, Senator Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), Sani Bello (Niger), Muhammad Abubakar (Jigawa), Solomon Lalong (Plateau), Adegboyega Oyetola (Osun), Godwin Obaseki (Edo), Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo) and their host, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, (Lagos).
Sources close to the meeting that held at the Old Lagos Government House, Marina, Lagos said the governors discussed the primaries for the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States and proposed to grant the incumbents, Obaseki and Akeredolu, the right of first refusal.
But Tinubu was said to have responded that ordinarily, he would not have been opposed to that. However, he reportedly pointed out to them that once other party members indicate interest, the democratic thing to do in the circumstances would be to allow the primaries to hold. He reportedly told them it would be difficult to hold down the ambition of other party faithful, advising them to come to terms with the possibility of intra-party contests in the two states.
The sources close to the meeting said there were discussions around the mode of primaries with the governors favoring the indirect process. But the national leader was said to have told them to recognise the constitutional right of the National Working Committee (NWC) to organize the primaries, stating firmly that he personally had always preferred the direct mode of selecting the party’s candidates.
Citing the presidential primaries that produced President Muhammadu Buhari as well as Oyetola in Osun and Sanwo-Olu in Lagos, Tinubu reportedly said the direct primaries give the candidates and the party the opportunity to test their electoral machinery and popularity, saying once a candidate emerges through that process, the general election becomes much easier.
He, however, assured them that whichever one the national secretariat of the party approves, he would prevail on the leadership to ensure that the process is free and fair to all the aspirants. The governors were said to have thanked the national leader for granting them an audience and for assuring them of the fairness of the process of the primaries to be held this month in Edo and next month in Ondo.
There were also indications that the governors may meet with President Buhari today or later in the week at the Presidential Villa in Abuja to discuss the Edo and Ondo elections. Both Obaseki and Akeredolu are having strong opposition in their respective states and preferred the indirect primaries mode because of the distinctive advantage, it has for the incumbent. But their opponents preferred the direct primaries, a preference that also has the approval of the Adams Oshiomhole-led NWC, at least for the Edo contest.