By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
The imminent return of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar into the fold of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is resetting the permutations for the 2019 presidential ticket of the opposition party.
A possible clash of interests between supporters of the former vice-president and supporters of other presidential aspirants in the party is, however, being played down by party officials. The outgoing acting national chairman of the party and former Governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, (who is said to be interested in the presidency) in an exclusive interview with Sunday Vanguard, dismissed the fear saying that focusing on the possible effects of Atiku’s re-entry into the party would be a distraction from the party’s main goal of regaining power.
Sunday Vanguard further gathered that, as a way of managing the possible stress and sustaining party unity, the party would, this week, inaugurate a post-convention crisis management committee to deal with all such issues that could distract it from its focus on regaining power in Abuja.
Besides Atiku, other party chieftains known to be harbouring presidential aspirations include former Governors Sule Lamido, Jigawa; Ibrahim Shekarau, Kano; Ibrahim Shema, Katsina; and the incumbent governor of Gombe State.
Prof. Jerry Gana, a former senator who went on to become a minister, is also said to be pondering a bid.
Atiku’s entry into the contest on the platform of the PDP would, inevitably, complicate the power dynamics that PDP chieftains had tried to play down.
Though one of the foundation members of the party, Atiku, had left the party on two occasions, in 2006 and 2013, and his imminent return was preceded with wide consultations among notable chieftains.
Sunday Vanguard, however, gathered that unlike before when he rejoined after leaving in 2006, Atiku, this time, does not have to contend with his foe, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Before he resigned from the APC last Friday, Sunday Vanguard gathered that Atiku had met with virtually all the state caucuses of the PDP across the nation and also with former President Goodluck Jonathan during which he won assurances of a good reception back to the party. Two weeks ago, he also met with the National Assembly caucus of the party.
The former vice-president, based on his discussions with the caucuses, Sunday Vanguard gathered, is expected to make a grand entry at the PDP convention on December 9, having penned down his name in the PDP register days earlier.
Atiku is also said to have won the support of many of the Northern state chapters of the party. His suave in-road into the party machine has inevitably put the aspiration of others with presidential aspirations in shaky balance.
A chairman of a state chapter in the South-South who admitted meeting Atiku recently, told Sunday Vanguard yesterday:
“I think his return is inevitable. Atiku is like a good fruit. It is a good fruit that people throw stones at so that they can pluck it and that is why the APC government has been throwing stones at him to cripple him and his businesses.”
The momentum for Atiku started shortly after the 2015 presidential elections lost by the PDP and even before President Jonathan left office. Some PDP diehards led by Chief Olisa Metuh, according to Sunday Vanguard sources, had, after the elections, narrowed down on Atiku as a possible 2019 presidential candidate with the intention of using him to outsmart the APC from power.
“He has the structure, the resources, the goodwill and more importantly, he is from the Northeast, the only part of the North that is yet to produce a president of this country since the sixties,” one source in the Metuh group told Sunday Vanguard.
However, following the travails of Metuh which made him go under political cover, Sunday Vanguard could not confirm if the group was involved in wooing Atiku back to the party or if Metuh still has the influence he had post-Jonathan. Metuh could not be reached for his comments on the developments.
Even more, further political dynamics have clouded the permutations in favour of Atiku.
The most formidable threat to Atiku, Sunday Vanguard has been made to understand, is the increasing clout of Makarfi in the party, a development one senior party chieftain said has presently made him the most formidable presidential hopeful in that fold.
Makarfi had, in 2006 scanned the political environment and quickly jumped into President Obasanjo’s perspective on Umaru Yar’Adua, who was then the governor of Katsina State.
Asked during an interview conducted before Atiku’s resignation broke out, Makarfi said it was an open secret that Atiku was coming to the PDP, saying:
“It is an open secret. Persons who are interested in rejoining or joining the party as a new member, are welcome.”
Pressed further on how the party could manage a presidential contest between himself and Atiku, the party chairman said:
“First of all, I have not made up my decision as to what I will do or not but assuming I do, I would take things as they come; that is when I decide to do so. But at the moment, I cannot allow myself to be distracted. I want to remain focused. Yes, there are risks, so we must go into this convention as one family and come out as one family. Otherwise, whatever ambition anybody may have, it would go with the wind. So first thing first, I don’t want to be distracted by personal aspirations.”
It is not also surprising that the 2019 presidential race is bearing influence on the contest for national chairman that is expected to play out on the convention ground. Atiku, Sunday Vanguard learnt, may, deliberately, be removing his hands from the contest, but those in the know say that he is supportive of the bid of Prof. Tunde Adeniran, a former minister in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
Though President Obasanjo has publicly removed himself from the goings on in the party that threw him up as president between 1999 and 2007, party sources say that the possible inroad of Atiku and the stability of the country has made him have a more than passing interest in the national chairmanship contest. The former president, party sources say, is dismissive of the ambitions of the leading chairmanship aspirants from the Southwest, notably, Chief Bode George, Otunba Gbenga Daniel and Adeniran.
“You know he cannot support George and Daniel for obvious reasons; and for Adeniran, he has people like Atiku and Mantu behind him which makes it a bad case,” a party source from the Middle Belt said yesterday.
Given the level of apprehension by some of the national chairmanship candidates of an alleged plot by the Makarfi leadership to favour Prince Uche Secondus as a successor, permutations that Secondus as chairman would also look in the way of Makarfi for the presidential nomination is a prospect that is bound to unsettle Atiku and his supporters.
As a party chieftain told Sunday Vanguard yesterday, “I don’t believe Atiku is returning to run. All he maybe after is to secure himself in the face of all the attacks from the APC. I don’t believe he would run,” the source who is close to the Obasanjo tendency in the party told Sunday Vanguard.