The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has told presidential aspirants in the ruling All Progressives Congress to go to the field and sell their candidatures to the electorate, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
A Presidency source told one of our correspondents that Buhari did not ask any of those who consulted him to either run or drop their ambitions.
Rather, the President was quoted to have advised them not to compromise the integrity of the APC and the Federal Government in their campaigns.
So far, no fewer than eight aspirants in the ruling party have declared their interests in taking over from the President when his tenure expires on May 29, 2023.
The aspirants are Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; a former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi; Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello; a businessman, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim; a former governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha; and Ihechukwu Dallas Chima.
Saturday PUNCH also learnt from reliable sources that the Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, would declare his aspiration at the end of the ongoing Ramadan.
The Presidency source said though Buhari spoke differently to the aspirants when they met with him, it would be difficult for any of them to claim to have got the President’s endorsement.
The source said,
“I think the President was being careful when he met with each of them on their presidential aspirations. He specifically told them to be careful in their campaigns.
“He also asked them to go ahead with their campaigns and that he would be watching them from afar. Besides that, he asked them if they were popular enough to win and if they felt they could deliver the presidency to the ruling party. As expected, all of them answered in the affirmative.
“The President also interrogated them on their programmes and if they equally believed in his administration or not.”
Asked what some of the aspirants told the President, the source said,
“All they said was that they wanted to contest the presidency on the platform of the APC and that they would need his support. They did not ask for his permission.
“But I think only one of them actually sought his permission and asked if he should join the race. I will not reveal the name of the candidate so that you do not think that is the man the President will support.”
Recall that the President had expressed fear that his preferred aspirant might be “eliminated” if he was known now.
Buhari said this during an exclusive interview with Channels Television in January, while noting that he had no special interest in the 2023 presidential election.
“It is not my problem,” he replied when asked about the next presidential election, adding, “I am not interested. I believe that whoever wins the poll should be sworn in as the next leader of Nigeria.
“All important things have been documented. No one should ask me to appear before the court to give evidence on any issue (public funds). All important things are already on record. I am sure about that,” he added.
When asked about his favourite presidential candidate, the President replied, “I won’t tell you my favourite for 2023; he may be eliminated if I mention. I better keep it a secret.”
One of the aspirants, however, confirmed that the President gave him the permission to enter the presidential race.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said he could not have entered the race without the consent of the President.
“You think I would enter into this race without securing the permission of the President? It is not possible,” he said.