Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is perhaps having the best moment of his political career. When the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPFL), announced him as its consensus candidate for the PDP presidential primary election, Atiku, who was in political wilderness at the beginning of the year, became the issue in Nigeria’s politics.
Atiku returned to PDP against hurdles placed by his former boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Governor Murtala Nyako of his home state of Adamawa and, most probably, the Presidency that worked from the background. While Nyako resisted Atiku’s return at the state level, Atiku secured registration at the ward level.
And, whereas Nyako depended on might of state power, Atiku exploited a clear understanding of the constitution and workings of the PDP to work his way back into the party.
His next battle was for a waiver. Obasanjo, as the “founder and leader of modern Nigeria”, had posed the hurdle of waiver before all new members of the party. They require a waiver to contest election if they have not spent two years in the party. Atiku was face-to-face with Jonathan who is scheming for the same office he wants.
The story is yet to be told of how Atiku secured the waiver, but getting the waiver only confirms that Atiku understands PDP and has leveraged on his political sagacity to win his battles within the party. Many analysts of Atiku’s waiver battle had predicted that he would be granted the waiver when it will be too late for him to campaign for the primary.
If that was the design of his opponents, then we should be looking at the hand of fate in Atiku’s candidacy. He got the waiver few weeks to the scheduled primary but before analysts could explain how he did it, INEC requested a three-month postponement for the election.
The impact of the three months extension is evident in the landscape. An opinion poll recently revealed that Atiku enjoys support of 65 per cent of known delegates in the PDP.
Atiku’s appeal to the delegates probably lies on three grounds. Unlike Jonathan, who is new on the scene, Atiku had played on the national political scene for almost 23 years after he started out with the late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua to establish the Peoples Front, a political organisation that stormed the political landscape in the 1980s.
As a founding member of PDP, he has made more contributions to the party than Jonathan and party leaders at the grassroots are likely to remember this while deciding on whom to support.
This appeal to party members is strengthened by his contributions to democracy. Even Atiku’s greatest critics credit him with making his impact in deepening democracy in the country.
He worked with others to frustrate Obasanjo’s plot to elongate his tenure from two terms to life presidency when Jonathan was visibly and financially supporting the onslaught against democracy. In many of his legal battles, Atiku set precedent for internal democracy within political parties and set precedent against the arbitrary use of state institutions like EFCC to deny citizens their rights to stand for election.
Atiku’s hand has been strengthened by his announcement as the consensus candidate by the NPLF. Given the extensive consultations by the Adamu Ciroma committee among traditional rulers, religious leaders, state governors, senators and civil society groups across the North, Atiku’s candidacy will surely enjoy a groundswell of support that the buy-in of these groups will bring. Equally important will be the instinct of PDP stalwarts to defend their chances in the election by supporting a northern candidate.
A Jonathan candidacy will switch northern support for General Buhari and his Congress for Progressive Nigeria (CPC) and that will be too risky for all contestants running on PDP platform. Only a northern presidential candidate will checkmate this. Besides, it is yet to be seen how the combination of Atiku, Babangida, General Aliyu Gusau, Bukola Saraki, Adamu Ciroma, the northern traditional institutions, etc. will be defeated by Jonathan in the north.
In the South, the South-East will be a major battle field. Jonathan has been endorsed several times over by the governors in the zone. The serial endorsement is beginning to look suspicious. The zone will be four years away from the presidency with Atiku as president. They will wait another 16 years if Jonathan wins, by which time none of the major players in the scene will enjoy the visibility to contest.
The chances that the delegates from the South-East will ignore this implication are indeed very rare. The calibre of politicians jostling to be running mate to Atiku from the zone is perhaps the greatest indication of how seriously the zone regards Atiku’s candidacy.
The PDP in the south-west has been thrown into turmoil with the recent loss of Ekiti and Osun States. The party elders in the zone have openly blamed Jonathan for their fate. Even if the south west supports Jonathan, its pool of delegates has been seriously depleted by loss of local councils dissolved by the new AC governors, and the spate of decamping that has been recorded in the states.
The implication of all these is that the south west may not offer Jonathan the quantum of votes he expects to counter the massive votes the consensus candidate is likely to secure in the north.
It is logical to concede that the South-South is the surest zone for Jonathan but, even then, his battle with his state governor, his wife’s open brawl with Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, the confrontation of his godfather, Chief Edwin Clark, with the group that controls the political structure in Delta State as well as the anger in Akwa Ibom State over his transfer of 23 oil wells from Akwa Ibom to his home state, Bayelsa, are enough grounds to suspect that he may not have the bloc votes that many analysts have taken for granted from the zone.
Finally, Atiku has maintained a focused campaign disclosing what he will do if elected president. Jonathan’s campaign has only provided entertainment with new dance steps. So, for delegates who are bothered about PDP’s rating among Nigerians, Atiku offers the hope that the party will be restored to a beacon of hope for the citizens.
* Ejembu is a post graduate student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.