By John Alechenu
SEVENTEEN days to the presidential primaries of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, there are indications that the race for the ticket is gravitating towards a three-horse race. This, it was learned during the weekend is as a result of an ongoing consultation and horse-trading among leading stakeholders and power brokers in the party.
All appears set for the presidential primary billed for Eagles Square on May 28 and 29 following the sale of forms and screening of aspirants.
After paying N41million for the expression of interest and nomination forms, each of the 17 aspirants were screened, 15 were cleared and two were disqualified.
Aspirants screened include: Ex- Vice President, Abubakar Atiku; two ex- Presidents of the Senate, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, and Anyim Pius Anyim; Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum and current Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal; his Bauchi State counterpart, Senator Bala Mohammed and businessman, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen.
Others are Governors Nyesom Wike, Emmanuel Udom, of Rivers and Akwa Ibom states respectively; former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi; his Ekiti State counterpart, Ayodele Fayose; Chief Sam Ohunabunwa; Dele Momodu; Olivia Tarela, who is the only female among them; Charles Okwudili, Chikwendu Kalu; and Cosmos Ndukwe.
At the end of the screening exercise, the Senator David Mark-led PDP Presidential Screening Committee gave the nod to 15 of the 17 to compete for the 3,700 delegates votes for the sole ticket. Mark had announced that two of the 17 did not make the cut as such were declared ineligible to contest.
Northern consensus candidates
Not a few feathers were ruffled when some party leaders of northern extraction penultimate week announced former Senate President Bukola Saraki and Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, as the northern consensus candidates. With former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and Governor Aminu Tambuwal of leading the pack, several aspirants from the region rejected the exercise dismissing it as a far cry from the realities on ground.
It is not very clear what Mohammed’s game plan is, there are indications that he is prepared to step down and seek a re-election for a second term as governor to consolidate on his track record of achievements at that level.
Those in this school of thought cite the Bauchi State governor’s announcement that he would drop his presidential ambition should his former boss, President Goodluck Jonathan seek re-election in 2023.There are reports that he has obtained the governorship nomination form through a proxy.
The PDP Governors’ Forum Chairman, Tambuwal, some have argued, has odds stacked against him. Party leaders and northern elders felt slighted that he used unkind words in an attempt to denigrate the work of a team they set up to try to build a consensus among candidates from the zone.
One of the elders, who spoke in confidence because of the sensitivity of the issue said: “It is unfortunate that he took that course of action after being part of those who asked us to mediate with a view to building a consensus among northern aspirants.
Feelers from the PDP hierarchy point to the direction of the party picking its Presidential standard bearer from the North because of political expediency and the desire to win.
“Besides, he like the late Second Republic President, Shehu Shagari, is from Sokoto, North-West Nigeria. Our dear former President, Umaru Yar’Adua now deceased, was also from the North-West. Outgoing President, Muhammadu Buhari, is also from the zone. It would be a hard sell for the party to present another candidate from the North-West at this time.”
Political pundits are also of the view that sensing the possibility of the tide turning against him, the governor has also secretly obtained a form to enable him seek a possible return to the National Assembly and pursue a principal officer role in the Senate.
Emerging front runners
At the moment, Atiku, Saraki and Wike appear to be the top three contenders in terms of their reach, acceptance, name recognition, exhaustive campaign and influence among delegates sampled.
However, feelers from the PDP hierarchy point to the direction of the party picking its Presidential standard bearer from the North because of political expediency and the desire to win.
It was gathered from multiple sources that party leaders are almost unanimous in their view that it was probably payback time for the APC, which galvanized a ground swell of northern opposition against the then incumbent Southern PDP President Goodluck Jonathan, to gain advantage.
Those pushing this line of argument note that the ruling APC is currently faced with a dilemma having been unable to arm-twist the PDP to zoning the presidency to the South where it enjoys a comparative advantage over the opposition party, is now equally toying with the idea of throwing the contest for its presidential ticket open to aspirants from al the six geo-political zones.
Should the argument in favour of a northern candidate scale through in the PDP, it will certainly have an adverse effect on the chances of promising southern candidates such as Obi, Anyim, Wike, Udom, Ohunabunwa, and Momodu among others.
Rising rating of Okowa
These men are top among those being considered as running mates to whoever emerges as the flag bearer. Party insiders also contend that Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, who is not among the presidential aspirants, is equally being considered for the number two spot for his loyalty to the party and his decision to stay out of the presidential contest even though he has the requisite qualification and experience haven served at federal and state levels.
Two names currently stand out among northern contenders, they are Atiku and Saraki both of whom have been on the scene for a while.
However, both men had at one time and the other ditched the PDP, to pursue their ambitions on other political platforms. They both have the onerous task of convincing party delegates that have the party as well as the nation’s best interest at heart this time round.
The ambition of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, is also not one that can be glossed over. His name resonates among party supporters as he has been able to build some form of following over the years with his financial and moral support especially to PDP states.
To his advantage, he has remained in the party since he became a member. He is arguably the party’s highest individual dispenser of financial goodwill now, which is likely to sway delegates’ votes in his favour.
However, there are regional and other interests to contend with. Opponents argue that his often resort to brashness and threats to other contenders and the party leadership could count against him when the chips are down.
While party leading figures are uncomfortable with his style of politics and are unwilling to risk giving him the ticket, they are aware of the damage he was capable of doing to the party’s chances if his interests whatever they are were not factored into the calculations ahead of the presidential primaries.
A party leader who confided in Vanguard said, “We respect Wike, he has been a pillar of support for the party but he must also learn that politics is about consensus building not bullying. Like the NPN of old, we would like to let him know that the PDP is no for sale to the highest bidder.”
They believe the three men are the ones they have to make up their mind on who to back and sell to the super delegates who will then spread the message down to the other delegates.
The leaders also believe the three men are the ones the undecided delegates are thinking about making up their minds on what to do and where to vote.
Learning from past mistakes
A keen observer of PDP politics and an Abuja-based Political observer, Mr. Adakole Emmanuel, expressed the opinion that the party had better learn from its past mistakes if it is to return to power.
He told Vanguard: “We must give it to the PDP it has shown better coordination over the years because apart from the mismanagement of the zoning crisis in 2014 which led to its defeat, it has remained better organized.
“Even the ruling All Progressives Congress recognised this the National Chairman and Secretary, Abdullahi Adamu and Iyiola Omisore are products of the PDP.
“Now, looking at what is happening, the party leadership is looking for a winning formula. The questions to ask are: Will zoning to the Presidency to the South return the PDP to power? Will retaining power in the North after President Buhari’s disastrous eight years do it? Party leaders most of who are tested hands in politics and in power are now more likely to make the necessary sacrifices to return to power.
“I know for a fact that they have tested life as a ruling party and in opposition they know the difference.”
The delegates should have the next 11 days to make up their mind and decide which of the three men will fly the flag of the party.