Decision Day: APC Backtracks On Zoning As Buhari Hosts Party Caucus

• Adamu: Buhari didn’t discuss zoning with party leaders
• Osinbajo, Umahi, and Akpabio deny stepping down
• Tinubu ‘under pressure to withdraw from the race

As all eyes are trained on the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) today for its national convention to elect its presidential candidate at Eagle Square, Abuja, the twists and turns that have characterised the last three weeks may continue hours into the decisive primary.

While stakeholders were already reacting to the purported zoning of the presidency to the South, which was sold as part of the outcome of President Muhammadu Buhari’s meeting with aspirants on Saturday night at the State House, it was an anti-climax, yesterday, when the APC National Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, said that President Buhari has not directed that the party’s presidential ticket should go to any particular geopolitical zone of the country.

Spokesperson for the National Chairman, Muhammad Nata’ala Keffi, in a statement in Abuja, quoting his principal, said that the gathering didn’t discuss zoning.

Keffi noted that such claims were false, mischievous and misleading. He said the President only advised the aspirants to build “a consensus that would help the party reduce the number of aspirants and bring up a formidable candidate.”

Part of the statement reads: “From the quotations from Mr. President’s speech, there is nowhere zoning was mentioned. We call on the public to disregard any information about the zoning of the presidential contest to any part of the country. What Mr President wants is the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians; no more, no less.”

INDICATIONS emerged last night that President Buhari was hosting some members of the APC national caucus to a dinner at the State House Banquet Hall as part of continued consultations with various party stakeholders to elect a consensus candidate ahead of today’s presidential primary.

The APC chieftains at the dinner included the party’s Chair, Adamu, former chairmen, Bisi Akande, John Oyegun and Adams Oshiohmole, the party’s Secretary, Senator Iyiola Omisore and some governors.

In a meeting with the presidential hopefuls on Saturday night, Buhari, who asked aspirants to choose a formidable candidate from among themselves, affirmed that he would discuss it with more party stakeholders.

Details of the caucus meeting were yet to be disclosed at press time last night.

MEANWHILE, hours to the commencement of the convention, it had been stories of alignment and ‘stepping downs’, followed by refusals and denials.

Yemi Osinbajo’s Presidential Campaign Council (PYO) yesterday told APC national delegates that the Vice President has not stepped down from the race.

Reports in the media had claimed that Southwest aspirants met, yesterday, in Abuja to deliberate on presenting a consensus candidate for the region.

However, a statement signed by Richard Akinola, Chairman, PYO Media Council, told APC delegates that the trending report was fake news. He said, “we implore you to kindly disregard various fake news making the rounds that Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has stepped down.

“The purveyors of this fake news are afraid of the huge political support base of the Vice President. Please note that no such action is being contemplated. Prof. Osinbajo is the leading aspirant, as attested to by the report of the party’s screening committee. He is ready for the primary and very sure of his victory.”

The Guardian, however, gathered that the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, is under pressure to forgo his presidential ambition.

A party source, at the weekend, disclosed that President Buhari had last week sent some party leaders to convince Tinubu to step down in the interest of the party.

It was gathered that the leading aspirant was enraged with the message and told the emissaries from the President why he should send them when he could have called or invited him for such discussion.

The source said: “Asiwaju was very angry when they delivered the message. To him, if President Buhari has any reason why he didn’t want to support him for the ticket, there is nothing wrong for the President to call him and discuss it instead of working round to block his chances.”

The source said the position of the President and some people around him might have angered Tinubu during his meeting with party delegates in Abeokuta, Ogun State last Thursday.

It was also discovered that a meeting of party leaders convened in Abuja on Saturday evening failed to convince Tinubu to step down even when it was said that there are plans to provide him with a soft landing as the National Leader of the party.

A source said: “A meeting was held on Saturday night and part of the agenda was to convince Tinubu to step down but we could not achieve it. A meeting was held by 3p.m yesterday, and there was no result, but another meeting will hold on Sunday night to prune down the number of aspirants and particularly, to convince Tinubu not to dare the President.”

MEANWHILE, both Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi and ex-Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has denied stepping down for Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and Tinubu respectively.

According to the David Umahi Campaign Organisation (DUCO) in a statement by Orji Uchenna Orji, the Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Ebonyi State, “Chief Umahi never stepped down, but Lawan only returned a consultation visit previously accorded to him by the governor and that both of them pledged to support each other in event of any of them emerging as the APC presidential candidate.”

Also, sections of the media had reported that Akpabio had stepped down for Tinubu, but in a statement issued yesterday by the Director, Media and Publicity, Godswill Akpabio Campaign Organisation (GACO), Sylvester Okonkwo, Akpabio said he remained the aspirant to beat.

The presidential hopeful insisted that he has no reason to withdraw, nor was he contemplating it, saying it was the wishful thinking of some mischief makers hired by some politicians to misinform and misdirect his supporters.

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