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John Alechenu takes a look at the growing chances of former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in the race for the Presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party

It is no longer news that the Peoples Democratic Party has thrown open the race for its Presidential ticket. National Publicity Secretary of the party, Hon. Debo Ologunagba, who read out a communiqué after the 96th National Executive Council meeting of the party, said, ”After a very extensive deliberation NEC aligned with the recommendation of the PDP National Zoning Committee that the Presidential Election should now be left open. The party should also work towards consensus candidates where possible.”

With this announcement, the race for the party’s ticket in the run-up to the 2023 general election is undoubtedly beginning to take shape. Perhaps more than anyone else, supporters of former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, are upbeat about what they believe is his growing support base first, among party supporters as well as power brokers across the broad spectrum of the Nigerian society.

Of the 15 persons cleared to contest the party’s Presidential primary, some pundits predict a possible three horse race between former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Bukola Saraki and Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.

While each of the aspirants exude confidence about their chances of clinching the crown during the convention, Saraki’s supporters consider him the bridge between the North and the South as well as the old and the new generation of Nigerians in a deeply fractured nation. Saraki, a Muslim, married to Toyin, a Christian, exemplifies how adherents of both faiths can peacefully co-exist.

Presenting himself at a formal declaration of his bid for the not only the PDP ticket but also Nigeria’s most converted seat-the Presidency, Saraki who spoke at a Breakfast and Media Session titled, “Why I am Running for President,” Organised by the Saraki Support Group in Abuja, recently, said given the chance, he would a President for all Nigerians and will represent a truly Nigerian identity that is genuinely diverse.

With public and private sector work experience as well as political leadership experience at the executive and legislative arms of government, he presents himself as a bridge needed to revamp the economy through the provision of the most needed conducive atmosphere for small and medium scale enterprises to thrive.

Being a Yoruba man of northern extraction, the aspirant acknowledges the growing inequalities especially in the area of education, health care delivery, the downturn in the economy as well as insecurity. This, he promised to address given the chance.  While acknowledging great efforts made by Nigerian leaders in the past, he, however, said as long as there is a child in Nigeria that cannot read or write, then the job is not done.

“And it is for this one child that I want to run for President because I will ensure that the law on compulsory basic education is enforced and the quality of teaching improves in all public schools,” he said.

He also acknowledged that the nation has experienced setbacks in the last couple of years that no one could have imagined possible only less than a decade ago, he said 2023, therefore, presents a great moment of decision for Nigerians.

“2023 presents the moment to choose hope over hopelessness; the moment to choose peace and security over fear and terror; the moment to choose unity and inclusion over division and exclusion; the moment that we draw a bold line in the sands of history and say, ‘no more’ and then move ahead as one people, as one nation, towards our God-assigned destiny as the greatest black nation on the face of the earth,” he added.

However, to get the chance to vie for the job against a likely formidable opponent expected to be presented by the ruling All Progressives Congress, Saraki has the herculean task of surmounting the internal struggles within the PDP where he belongs.

On the surface, everything appears normal. However deep down, Southern aspirants especially those from the South East are pained that the party’s time tested zoning formula was jettisoned now that they believe the zone deserves a shot at the Presidency.

Keen observers of the party argue that the shadowy role played by power brokers, especially former civil war veterans now mostly retired Generals, cannot be discounted.

Leading figures in this group of elder statesmen who make things happen especially within the PDP include: Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who handed Saraki his first political appointment as Special Assistant in the Presidency in 1999, former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida, General T.Y Danjuma, former Head-of- State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and Aliyu Gusau.

Insiders suggest that Saraki is being seriously considered for support by most if not all of these men. It may be recalled that former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar emerged as their preferred candidate for the party in 2019. Atiku won the PDP primary with a baffling margin during the 2018 PDP Presidential primary held in Port-Harcourt.

Those familiar with what transpired argue that Atiku won despite the fact that he was not the biggest spender, River State Governor Nyesom Wike, who was then the chief campaigner for his Sokoto State counterpart, Aminu Tambuwal, out spent most of the aspirants in a bid to secure victory for his candidate. He almost had his way until the eve of the convention when General Gusau stepped into the arena and spread the word among key delegates that Atiku was then the preferred choice. With this intervention, the tide turned against Tambuwal, the rest they say is history.

Another formidable power block within the party is the forum of Governors. As things stand, the body is not as cohesive as it used to be. The reason is not far-fetched; unlike in 1999-2003 when most of them were united in their quest for second term tickets, today, most are pursuing separate dreams.

Apart from Governor Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom), Bala Mohammed (Bauchi) Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), and Nysom Wike (Rivers), who are seeking the party’s nomination to vie for the Presidency, other governors are divided between Wike and Saraki.

Atiku, who enjoyed the support of most, if not all state governors at the height of his power, can hardly make such claims today. It is taken as given that he still enjoys the support of his home state governor, Adamu Fintiri and probably that of neighboring Taraba State, Darius Ishaku.

Saraki’s supporters are confident that he enjoys the support of PDP Governors in the Niger Delta. An insider told VANGUARD “has the support of Bayelsa, Delta, and Edo. Even Akwa Ibom that is running for President is well disposed to and if he were to step down, he would rather do so for Saraki.

In North Central, where he hails from, Saraki is banking on party delegates from Kwara, FCT, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Plateau and some from Benue.

While they concede that Tambuwal for now has a tight grip on Sokoto and Jigawa with the help of veteran politician and former Jigawa State Governor, Sule Lamido, Kano, the largest hunting ground for serious contenders, is open to all.

The state chapter of the party is in turmoil. Supporters of the party’s former strongman, Rabiu Kwankwaso, are leaving the party in droves; those who chose to remain are likely to cast their lot with Saraki. 

In Zamfara and Kebbi States, Saraki will be banking on the cordial relationship he enjoys with most political players across party lines in the state to spring a surprise. He expects to replicate the same feat in Gombe where he has built a network of friendly serving and former serving Senators.

In the Southwest, pundits argue that Saraki stands a chance to share the spoils of the zone with Atiku who arguably is the man to beat in states like Oyo, with his friend Governor Seyi Makinde in charge, and Ogun through his close friend and political ally Ladi Adebutu. Saraki’s supporters are confident of victory in Osun while Ondo is likely to be a tight race between Saraki and Atiku. Ayodele Fayose holds the aces in Ekiti which he could use as a bargaining chip.

Since Saraki is the only aspirant for the North Central, his backers describe his chances as brighter now than ever before.

Director General, Bukola Saraki Campaign who is also a former Nigerian High Commissioner to Canada, Prof.  Iyorwuese Hagher, while speaking about his principal noted that Saraki’s integrity was one out of several reasons why he enjoys support in Nigeria across ethnic, political and religious divides.

He explained that the Bukola Saraki Campaign for the Presidency symbolises the age and social movement when Nigerians have been gravely disappointed with politicians who were elected because of where they were born, the language they spoke, and the way and what they worshiped.

Speaking further, he said: “In Bukola you are witnessing a social movement in Nigeria when, (I paraphrase Dr. Luther King Jr.) ‘Nigerians are ready to elect their President, Judged by the content of his/her political achievements and vision and not by his tribal origin, what language he speaks, and his faiths.’”

He further noted that in the past three months Saraki has been in 36 States of Nigeria either in person or through his Campaign Council to declare his intention to contest for the elective position of President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“His declaration in all the 36 States of Nigeria was well received and the PDP Members and the Nigerian citizens are already in a frenzy to see him win the Primaries to become the flag-bearer of his party the PDP.” The PDP primary scheduled to hold on May 28 and 29 will determine whether or not any of these permutations holds true.

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