By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Not in recent times has the contest for the national chairmanship of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP elicited so many aspirants. In fact, there has indeed been no real contest since the very first contest in 1999 when President Olusegun Obasanjo foisted Chief Barnabas Gemade over the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi.
Given the seeming proclamation of neutrality of the presidency it is not surprising that the forthcoming contest has thus spurred interest from nearly every eligible contestant from the Northeast to which the office has been zoned.
Among the latest to join the contest are Barrister Ibrahim Birma and erstwhile Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Mohammed Abba-Aji.
The duo are joining an already saturated contest that has Dr. Shetima Mustafa, Ambassador Hassan Adamu, Alhaji Bamanga Muhammed Tukur, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali; Alhaji Gambo Lawan; the PDP acting National Secretary, Dr. Musa Babayo; the PDP National Vice Chairman, North East, Senator Paul Wampana; Ambassador Idris Waziri; Professor Jibril Aminu; Alhaji Adamu Muazu and Senator Danjuma Goje; Dr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar, Barrister Ibrahim Birma, Gambo Lawan.
While many of the aspirants continue to jostle for reckoning, strategic stakeholders in the party who are expected to shape the contest have continued to keep mum on the issue. Among the most prominent stakeholders expected to give direction to the contest are the President and the Governors elected on the platform of the PDP.
For many of the aspirants, the endorsement of their home Governors , is expected to be to be pivotal to their aspirations. Among those who could face problem on this basis are former Governor Muazu and all the aspirants from Adamawa State.
Muazu’s problem in getting the open endorsement of his Governor and former friend flows from the rancorous opposition of Muazu to Yuguda’s aspiration ahead of 2007.
Yuguda after succeeding against the odds it is said would be foolhardy to empower his political rival. Though both men are alleged to now feign that the distrust that characterized their past relationship may have been buried, it remains to be seen to what extent Yuguda would be forgiving of the alleged obstacles raised by Muazu against him.
In Adamawa despite the increasingly tough re-election prospects of Governor Murtala Nyako, there are no signs that the Governor has unbent towards his political foes in the race for the PDP chairmanship. Among them are Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and Senator Jibril Aminu who remarkably were pivotal to his emergence as governor in 2007. It is indeed no secret in the Northeast that Governor Nyako is only considering candidates from outside his state.
The opposition faced by the contestants from Adamawa and Muazu in Bauchi has fired speculations on the prospects of candidates from the other states. Particularly, Borno State which has a strong PDP presence but is yet to produce a Governor of the state has continued to be the focus of many eyes.
Among the major candidates to have so far emerged from Borno are Dr. Shetimma Mustafa, Barrister Ibrahim Birma and lately, Senator Mohammed Abba-Ajji. Mustafa’s prospects in the race are especially helped by his experience both in party administration and in his profession. Mustafa was the pioneer national treasurer of the party and was also Chairman of the Party’s National Convention Committee formed ahead of the last presidential primaries. A former minister of Defence,
Mustafa’s experience goes back to the first republic. In the second republic he was a running mate to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe during the late elder-statesman’s second presidential contest on the platform of the Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP in 2003. However, a major challenge many have said of Mustafa is his age. Mustafa is about 73 years. Very old in the eyes of many people even though he is not the oldest in the initially geriatric contest.
Challenged of the impediments of his age in the contest, he said;
“At over 70, my priority is not money, it is honour and honour. I think the oldies so called, should play the intermediary roles so that we can make the party greater, proactive and responsive. I believe that having amassed so much experience in public life, it is not good to lock up all the experience and go home with it.”
“There is a saying that what you see today should be a warning for you tomorrow. If I had gone into detention, my experience would be different from you who just read about it in the books.”
Another contestant from Borno that has also inspired some enthusiasm is Birma. While Birma counts experience as an advantage for himself but not as much as Mustafa he, however, has age as an advantage over Mustafa.
Birma is 51 and has packed much private sector experience and not much of public sector experience. He is, however, acknowledged as a political leader having served as the Secretary of the PDP strategic team in Borno State ahead of the last general elections. The PDP’s success in demystifying the political clout of former Governor Modu Ali Sheriff during the election has continued to count for him and others from Borno.
Despite his limited political exposure, Birma’s campaign has continued to make some impact. At the commencement of his campaign in the Northwest this week, Birma promised to commence early preparations for the 2015 general elections and evolve a party that will be attractive to even its enemies.
Speaking during meetings with party stakeholders in Jigawa and Kano States, Birma said the prospects of the party would be helped by the election of a national chairman who would be able to connect with the grassroots of the party.
Favourite political party
“I want to be the chairman of PDP that will start early to prepare for victory in the 2015 general elections. We are still Africa’s biggest party but that, for me is not the destination. I also want the PDP to become Africa’s favourite political party,” Birma was quoted as telling party stakeholders in Jigawa State in a statement issued by his campaign office.
The latest to have entered the fray is Senator Abba-Aji who formally declared his intention during an interaction with newsmen in Abuja last Tuesday.
Abba-Aji who is a notable political leader of the PDP in his native Borno State is best remembered as the Special Adviser to the President during the controversial period of the ill-health of President Umaru Yar‘Adua. His role then in transmitting or not transmitting the presidential letter is an issue that he may have to explain in the course of the contest.
Explaining his interest in the office, Abba-Aji said he was pushed into the contest by the pressures from party members across the country.
“I am interested in this position. I have yielded to pressures and calls by members of the party nationwide for me to contest to lead the party. ’As a result of these overwhelming calls, I considered it as a national call to duty and I have now availed myself.”