By Ikechukwu Amaechi
IT is no longer news that when Nigerians return to the polls in February 2023 to elect a president for their beleaguered country, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, will fly the flag of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
At the PDP presidential primaries held at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja on Saturday, May 28, Atiku clinched the party ticket with 371 votes.
Nyesom Wike, Rivers State governor, polled 237 votes; Bukola Saraki, former Senate President, got 70 votes; Bala Mohammed, Bauchi State governor, garnered 20 votes; Udom Emmanuel, Akwa Ibom State governor secured 38 votes; Pius Anyim, former Senate president and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, secured 14 votes, and Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, renowned pharmacist and boardroom impresario, secured one vote.
Interestingly, three aspirants – Ayo Fayose, former governor of Ekiti State; Dele Momodu, publisher of Ovation magazine; Olivia Tariela, the only female presidential hopeful in the race; Charles Okwudili, a lawyer, and Chikwendu Kalu secured zero votes. Though 17 aspirants bought the nomination form, two were screened out. Days before the primaries, Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, quit and pitched tent with the Labour Party, on which platform he is now pursuing his aspiration. Mohammed Hayatu-deen, a banker and former managing director of the now-defunct FSB International Bank, also withdrew from the race before the commencement of the exercise, alleging that the contest had been “obscenely monetised.” But unlike Obi, he stayed back despite his misgivings.
The political intrigues came to a head when Aminu Tambuwal, former Speaker of the House of Representatives and incumbent Sokoto State governor, who had already made his five-minute pitch to the delegates on why Nigerians should trust him with their most-prized political diadem, was drafted back to the podium, just before voting began, to recant, literally, and urge his supporters to vote for Atiku Abubakar.
That dramatic volte-face set the tone for the outcome of the primaries and delivered victory to Atiku Abubakar. On Wednesday, the former vice president went to the Wadata Plaza, PDP national headquarters, to collect the Certificate of Return as the party’s presidential candidate in what he described as “a significant step toward creating One Nigeria”.
Atiku, who was also the PDP presidential candidate in 2019 will now slug it out with Obi, his running-mate four years ago; Senator Rabi’u Kwankwaso, former Governor of Kano State and presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP, and whoever President Muhammdu Buhari, who has arrogated to himself the power of solely determining the All Progressives Congress, APC, candidate, conjures up, among others.
But the PDP primary election, as successful as it seems to be, has brought many issues to the fore. The fact that the North brazenly made a mess of the party’s zoning arrangement and muscled out the South is a recipe for disunity, which negates Atiku’s preachments. It is sad that cries for equity, fairness and justice fell on deaf ears and might was whimsically equated to right. Today, the triumphant North is ululating and the leaders are backslapping themselves for a job well done, but it may well be a pyrrhic victory.
Right now, the presidential candidate of the PDP; the national chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu; and chairman of the Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jibrin, are all Northerners. No political party interested in national unity in a country as diverse as Nigeria with a multiplicity of ethnicities, languages and religions can survive for long without inclusiveness.
By hubristically throwing zoning overboard in such cavalier, in-your-face manner, the North only succeeded in fanning the smouldering embers of national discord. But to discerning political observers, the worst outcome of the PDP primaries is the abundant evidence it provided that nothing has changed. We all know that Nigeria is in a deep hole. Pulling it out requires grit – bold, calculated and strategic initiatives – something transformational and radically different from the status-quo. Nothing shows we are headed in that direction.
As philosophers say, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The PDP last Saturday did what they are wont to do. Expecting that Nigeria will move in a different direction even if Atiku wins the 2023 election will be stretching the limits of optimism.
In his congratulatory message to the PDP presidential flag-bearer on Sunday, Anyim aptly captured the dampened mood of majority of Nigerians who had hoped that 2023 will present an opportunity for a new beginning. “I am shocked that consideration for voting the PDP presidential candidate was not based on burning national issues and how to resolve them, but still on the old primordial sentiments. It appears doubtful if our search for nationhood is yielding any results,” the former SGF wrote.
In the PDP primaries, the sole determinant of success was money – hard currency. The number of votes each aspirant polled was commensurate to the quantum of financial inducement dispensed during the primary season in what has been tagged “Dollargate scandal.” Nigerians have every reason to mourn. But I weep more for Ndigbo. Their leaders betrayed them and sold the entire nation two for a penny. These are a people who have made a sing-song of marginalisation. For atonement, they demanded, justifiably, that the presidency should be zoned to the Southeast. Their clamour for equity, fairness and justice resonated so loudly that leaders of other ethnic nationalities became cheerleaders.
Chief Ayo Adebanjo, 94-year-old Afenifere leader; 95-year-old Chief Edwin Clark, former Federal Commissioner for Information and leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, climbed the rooftops to make their voices heard. The Middle Belt leadership was not left out. But at the end of the day, when it mattered most, the Southeast delegates to the PDP convention, most of them puppets, pawns on the national political chessboard, and their puppeteers betrayed their own people. Of the 95 delegates from the zone, only 15 voted for Southeast aspirants – Pius Anyim (14), Sam Ohuabunwa (1); the remaining 80 votes were shared between Wike and Tambuwal.
The governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu, and his Enugu colleague, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, ensured that delegates from their states voted for Wike.
Former Imo State governor, Emeka Ihedioha, ensured that Imo delegates voted for his friend, Tambuwal, who in turn gave the votes to Atiku. I wonder if Tambuwal got the permission of those who handed him the votes of Imo people on a platter of friendship before pledging same to Atiku.
For Tambuwal, when it mattered most, ethnic solidarity and regional interest trumped friendship. Sadly, these Southeast delegates, one per local government, ought to have represented the people and their interests. It was a sacred mandate. Yet, they toyed with the votes and desecrated the mandate.
I have heard some people say that with only 95 delegates in a convention where the Northwest alone had 182 delegates, the Southeast stood no chance. That is true. Yet, a strong statement would have been made if the Southeast delegates had voted en bloc for an aspirant from the zone. With what happened at the PDP convention, can anyone take any Southeasterner who shouts about marginalization serious? I doubt!