By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Features Editor
WITH no fewer than 13 presidential aspirants, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has punctured earlier assumptions that it was not making an impressive run for the presidency.
The perceptions were created and sustained by the near absence of aspirants on its platform, some six months preceding now.
Whether it was by default or willfully, the situation had nearly created fears that Nigerians were headed for a one-horse presidential race.
The anxieties across the country, especially among those who desire change in the presidency in 2019, were just as well palpable.
Until recently, President Muhammadu Buhari was the only visible aspirant in a country of more than 60 political parties.
The PDP aspirants were hardly known or better still, rarely existed – except, of course, in the realm of supposition.
The scene was not charged in any way. Even consultations were done in low and hushed tones.
There was clearly no action to keep the ruling party on its toes.
Sunday Vanguard recalls that apart from former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Ekiti State governor, Mr. Ayo Fayose, Senator Ahmed Makarfy, former governor of Kaduna State; Dr. Datti Baba Ahmed; and ex-governor of Jigawa State, Mallam Sule Lamido, who had long indicated interest, the motley crowd in the race, only made their intention known recently.
Now that they are in the ring, there is a sense of relief among the electorate, even though they hardly know what to expect from the aspirants.
Though the PDP has consistently dismissed fears that the multiplicity of its aspirants could undermine its chances, it is still considered a matter of concern.
After all, this is the second time the party is having such a large number of contestants, after the 1999 experience when nine people contested the ticket with former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Those currently in the race include – but may not be limited to – former governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa, ex-governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang; former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido; former Minister, Tanimu Turaki; Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki; and Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal.
Others are former Senate President, David Mark; Gombe State governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwanbo; former Vice President, Abubakar Atiku; ex-Kano State governor, Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso; and .
A critical analysis of the number shows that seven of them are from the North-west, three from the North-central, while another three are from the North-east.
Since the North-west is considered one of the swing zones in the country’s electoral map, it is not surprising that most of them are from the geopolitical zone.
However, it is also believed that the PDP may want to select a candidate from the zone to match President Buhari, who is also from the area.
Both factors contribute in making the zone the beautiful bride in the electoral contest.
Notwithstanding, the large number of aspirants from the North-west has become a disadvantage to the aspirants from the zone.
A top PDP official, who pleaded anonymity told Sunday Vanguard that the party may not gain any advantage from selecting its candidate from the zone, adding that it could amount to making the presidential contest a North-west affair.
Despite the reservations in some quarters, the large number of PDP aspirants, also adds beauty and rigour to the race.
For instance, the North-central for the first time, is making a strong push for the Presidency now. The zone is banking on its past support for the North-west and North-east, to make a head way.
This may be responsible for the entry of Mark, Saraki and Jang, who are from the zone, into the race.
The aspirants, their issues
Despite the strengths of all the aspirants, observers adjudged Atiku, Makarfi, Saraki,Waziri Tambuwal and Dankwanbo potential candidates.
Findings by Sunday Vanguard also confirmed that, as they were found to be the frontrunners. The dynamics driving the permutation in the PDP favour them.
Looking at the bigger picture, most of the aspirants already have severely localized issues which could limit their ability to emerge as candidate.
The deep-seated nature of some of these issues may not allow their candidacy fly.
For example, Bafarawa, who would battle with the incumbent governor of his state, Tambuwal, may have his ambition limited. His campaign may not be flying but he could split the votes in Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara states. Unlike other aspirants, Tambuwal had not been going round to seek the support of delegates across the country. This may not be unconnected to the belief that his government is battling to survive in Sokoto.
For Jonah Jang, the disputed former chairman of the governors’ forum, he is hardly known beyond Plateau State and with the recent corruption case against him, it would be difficult to sell him as a candidate in an election the ruling APC wants to make the fight against corruption as its Unique Selling Point, USP.
Lamido is very popular in the Kano and Jigawa axis of the North-west; but like Jang, he has ongoing corruption case in court.
Many people believe that the APC is waiting for him and his son to tighten the noose round his neck if he were to emerge as candidate of the opposition party.
For Yakubu, he is a top PDP member, who was a minister under Jonathan. He is a top politician from the North-west but he is not seen as someone who can defeat Buhari.
Mark is the newest entrant into the race. Without prejudice, he is no longer perceived as a hot material in the PDP since he left office as number three man. Against the incumbent Senate President, he cannot use the reach that the Senate leadership confers on the holder. He is an old war horse, who has been in the Senate for close to two decades and has served as Senate President for two terms. A retired General, ex-military governor and former Minister, he has the needed experience but many delegates believe the experience of having military men as President has been unpleasant and destructive to Nigeria’s democracy.
It is also believed that Mark may not fit into the bill of appealing to the youths. However, it is not sure whether his candidacy would be favoured by the Generals who are influential leaders in the PDP.
Makarfi, the former party chairman ought to be a strong candidate. He is a former governor, senator and ex-party chairman. Many believe his ambition has not caught the needed national attention and, as such, lacks nationwide support. His visit for former military President Ibrahim Babangida in Minna, Niger State,last month created some waves on account of his presentation, he continues to, however, make useful statements about his claim to being unblemished.
Allegations that he is close to BuharI was found by Sunday Vanguard to be giving many of the delegates a great concern, especially hsi recent statement that a candidate that can defeat Buhari would need to come with some garb of integrity, a statement found in some quarters to strengthen the pich by the APC that the President is Mr. Integrity through and through.
Sen Ahmed, who was one of the first to declare, is the youngest. But he has limited his campaign to the pages of a northern newspaper, making him known to only a few delegates. In fact, it was learned that beating Makarfi in Kaduna would not be possible for him.
Search for delegates
Dankwanbo, who is a former Accountant General of the Federation, has been moving around the states lately. Yet, party sources say he is little known among the delegates.
Since he hails from the same zone with Atiku, the North-east will be a battleground in the search for delegates among all the leading aspirants.
Saraki, a two-term governor of Kwara State, former chairman, Nigerian Governors’ Forum, two-term Senator and incumbent Senate President, hails from the North-central zone. His profile has been growing since the APC made him the issue in the current politics, assailing him all the way. His supporters see him as the opposition leader and even the defender of democracy (especially in the light of his useful noises about the defence of democracy in the face of a rampaging leadership of the ruling party that continues to talk tough against his headshipof the Senate. Whereas some see him as being a cold, calculating political being, a description which some see as his downside, he has consistently come out victorious in all the battles waged against him by the current administration since 2015, beginning with the tussle for the senate presidency.
His popularity among senators and across the country has given rise to the thinking that he has many delegates. They include 50 senators and about 180 House of Representatives members. His recent return to PDP ordinarily ought to have been a disadvantage; but this has been moderated by the party’s new policy to allow all party members, old and new, to aspire to any position of their choice. However, he will have to battle for some of the delegates, who had earlier committed to voting for older aspirants. His staunch resistance in the face of adversity suggests that he has the stamina to withstand pressure.
Extensive political contacts
The strength of Saraki’s candidacy also depends on how the North-central zone can convince delegates from other areas to vote for an aspirant from the zone and the assurance that Saraki can deliver the presidency to the party. Atiku, who is the oldest in the race having first contested in 1993, and who is 72 years old, is believed to have a big war chest as well a network that grew over the years. Whereas he may have gone around the country more than other aspirants, many, however, believe that having contested for the coveted post four times in the past, he is dressed in the toga of someone desperate for power, a perennial contestant who cannot win. Age is also not on his side as this appears like his last battle for the position.
The former Vice President also needs to win the trust of retired Army Generals, who have strong control in the PDP.
Many of them are said not to be comfortable with the likelihood of an Atiku candidacy, particularly based on his seemingly unending spat with Obasanjo. Some state governors, who control majority of the delegates, appear a bit detached from his campaign.
Kwakwanso, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives in the defunct Third Republic, a two-term governor, former minister, and incumbent senator, has not been able to enter his state in the last one year due to antagonism from his successor and estranged ally, Governor Umar Ganduje. Also, another major force in the state, Aminu Wali, does not appear to be on he same page with him. The home battle Kwakwanso is facing has limited his chances and makes him appear as someone who may not win the presidential election if nominated. Ibrahim Shekarau, on the other hand, has just returned to APC.
With the ongoing discussion by geopolitical zones to select consensus aspirants, the motley crowd may be reduced to a manageable size. Also, the aspirants have been holding discussions to ensure that whoever emerges has the support of others. The aim, Sunday Vanguard learned, is to ensure that none of them is sufficiently aggrieved as to want to leave the party.
With assurances of a transparent process, Nigerians are awaiting the outcome of the October 6, 2019 exercise with bated breath.