Four ministers may have become politically stranded after their defeat in the presidential primary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) which was held between Tuesday and Wednesday at the Eagle Square in Abuja.
A total of 28 aspirants bought the party’s N100 million expression of interest and nomination forms to participate in the primary but five of them did not return the forms. Eventually, only 14 stood in the primary election after nine other aspirants withdrew just before voting started.
A former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, eventually won the primary by taking about 60 per cent of the votes and will fly the flag of the APC in the February 25, 2023, presidential election.
The ministers who were forced to resign last month after obtaining the forms were Emeka Nwajiuba (Minister of State for Education), Godswill Akpabio (Niger Delta Affairs), Ogbonnaya Onu (Science and Technology) and Rotimi Amaechi (Transportation).
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, and the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, had also obtained the presidential forms but pulled out after President Muhammadu Buhari asked the ministers to resign.
The Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, also abandoned her interest in the senatorial election to keep her portfolio.
Despite declaring their intention to run in the 2023 elections, the ministers, except Mr Nwajiuba, had held on to their cabinet seats until Nigerians started calling out Mr Buhari for condoning a breach of section 84(12) of the Electoral Act 2022.
Mr Buhari on May 11 eventually demanded the resignation of the ministers.
Mr Amaechi emerged second in the APC presidential primary after scoring 316 votes. Two of the three other former ministers, Messrs Nwajiuba and Onu, got a single vote each from the 2,322 party delegates accredited to vote at the National Convention.
Mr Nwajiuba, who hails from Imo State, was at some point speculated to be Mr Buhari’s preferred candidate, under the impression that the president had acceded to the agitation for the party to zone its presidential ticket to the South-east.
However, once it became clear to him that the president would not name a “consensus candidate,” Mr Nwajiuba boycotted the convention while the other aspirants from the South-east used the time allocated to them to address the delegates to decry the “injustice” the party was meting to their region.
“Following the failure of all these entreaties, it became clear that the convention was headed away from these lofty ideals I subscribe to and will still pursue. I, therefore, declined to attend,” Mr Nwajiuba wrote in his public statement explaining his decision to boycott the event.
On his part, the former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr Akpabio, who is from the South-south region, was one of the seven aspirants who stepped down for the eventual winner, Mr Tinubu.
But the 91 delegates from Mr Akpabio’s Akwa Ibom could not deliver their votes to Mr Tinubu due to a court injunction restraining them from voting at the primary.
Amidst the abysmal performance of Mr Buhari’s ministers, Mr Amaechi stood out at the convention.
The former Rivers State governor polled 316 votes to take the second position ahead of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who came third. Mr Osinbajo secured 235 votes.
Mr Amaechi’s state had only 69 delegates at the convention, an indication he got a lot more votes from outside the state.
Interestingly, Mr Amaechi’s kinsman and former political ally, Governor Nyesom Wike, also came second in the PDP presidential primary.
What is next?
What is next for the four ministers who gave up their seats to run unsuccessfully for the APC presidential ticket? Will the president reappoint them into his cabinet or what are the other options before them?
Mr Buhari, at a valedictory session in Abuja, for ministers leaving the Federal Executive Council, had promised to fill their vacant seats without delay. He has yet to do so.
None of the former ministers has suggested that they would not accept their ministerial positions if reappointed. Also, none of them is recognised by the electoral commission, INEC, as a candidate for any elective position in the 2023 general election, an indication that they may not be bugged down by personal political campaigns if reappointed.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported that Mr Akpabio on Thursday night emerged as the APC candidate for the Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial seat, after reportedly winning a rerun of the party’s senatorial primary.
INEC, however, on Saturday rejected Mr Akpabio’s nomination, saying it recognizes only the winner of the original primary that its officials monitored.
INEC had also said the APC in Akwa Ibom State has no governorship candidate for the 2023 general elections, having failed to conduct a primary.
In 2019, Mr Akpabio lost the senatorial election before being appointed as minister. Will the president once again offer him a lifeline?
After Mr Amaechi’s defeat at the primary, a former Kaduna senator, Shehu Sani, suggested that “President Buhari should re-appoint Rotimi Amaechi back to the Transportation ministry to finish up his railway projects so that we are not left with uncompleted Rail lines.”
Mr Amaechi was one of the officials who pushed the president’s infrastructure agenda. He was also believed to have a good relationship with the ‘Aso Rock cabal.”
Mr Amaechi served as the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly for eight years and served another two terms as governor of Rivers State before his appointment as minister.
It is yet unclear what he plans to do next in public life.
Mr Onu was the first governor of Abia State, between January 1992 and November 1993 before becoming the longest-serving minister in the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation following his appointment in 2015.
Mr Onu was nominated as the presidential candidate of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) in 1999 but surrendered the ticket to Olu Falae after the party entered into an alliance with the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) for the 1999 presidential election.
His latest presidential bid was based on the hope that Mr Buhari and party leaders would zone the ticket to the South-east.
Before President Buhari appointed him the Minister of State for Education in 2019, Mr Nwajiuba had just been elected as a member of the House of Representatives from Okigwe North, his first national office.
He lost the Imo governorship elections on the platform of the All People’s Party (APP) in 2003, 2007 and 2011.
His state governor, Hope Uzodinma, is in his first term. Aside from the governor also being in the APC, the party is split into different factions in the state.