Alami Idah Imam

The mood music around Governor Aminu Tambuwal’s presidential campaign had been very positive since the start of activities towards the 2023 general election. But on May 28, at the onset of a turn of events in his party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which looked like they were going to tip the main opposition party into a major difficulty, the trend of opinion around Tambuwal’s campaign changed.

“I have come to the conclusion, to the glory of God Almighty, seeing millions of Nigerians suffering and the need for us to close ranks in the party and, as one of the leaders in this party, I have come to a patriotic conclusion to step down my aspiration,” the Sokoto State governor told the PDP presidential nomination convention before the commencement of voting by delegates.

Following the withdrawal of his presidential ambition, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives asked his supporters among the voting delegates to vote former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

“I have appealed to my supporters to take this in good strides and for national unity and patriotism,” Tambuwal added.

It was the masterstroke that gave Atiku victory.

National Chairman of PDP, Senator Iyiochia Ayu, called Tambuwal “the hero of this convention”.

The key to understanding the significance of Tambuwal’s withdrawal is examining what would have been the cost of his refusal to take the step.

Some other aspirants had withdrawn from the race on or before the convention. Adamawa State Governor Ahmadu Fintiri had said Mohammed Hayatu-Deen stepped down for Atiku. Although, Hayatu-Deen had earlier announced he was exiting the contest, but without stating whom he was withdrawing for.

The outcome of the PDP presidential primary would have been different if Tambuwal did not step down. His was an inevitable step to save a party that was being backed into a corner.

Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, who placed second in the primary, was inching along slowly, but surely, to victory, garnering a comfortable number of votes, despite the earlier withdrawals, which had swelled Atiku’s votes. This was before Tambuwal stepped forward quite skilfully and at a most opportune moment.   

If Tambuwal did not agree to stand down, PDP would probably have missed an opportunity to bring out a candidate with good name recognition and national spread, and a candidate who would not likely give the party much problem to promote. The party would certainly have been more vulnerable in the face of the many state-denominated advantages of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Tambuwal said he consulted widely before deciding to stand down. It also followed appeals, meetings, and negotiations by prominent Nigerians, including former presidents and Heads of State from both the north and south, in a last-ditch effort to save the party.

The Sokoto State governor saved PDP, a party that appeared to be collapsing already in many of its traditional strongholds across the country. And he also saved the north and Nigeria, generally, as Nigerians hope to drink from Atiku’s rich fountain of political experience and deep knowledge of economic management.

Atiku was Vice President to then President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007. Since 1993, Atiku has unsuccessfully contested five times for the office of President of Nigeria. He contested in 1993, 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019. In 1993, he contested the Social Democratic Party presidential primaries, and lost to Moshood Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe. He was presidential candidate of the Action Congress in the 2007 presidential election, where he came third, after Umaru Yar’Adua of the PDP and Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).

Atiku contested the presidential primaries of the PDP during the 2011 presidential election, and lost to then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. In 2014, he joined the APC ahead of the 2015 presidential election and contested the presidential primaries, but lost to  Buhari. In 2017, he returned to the PDP and was the party’s presidential candidate in the 2019 presidential election, which he again lost to incumbent President Buhari.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of PDP, Walid Jibrin, described the emergence of Atiku as the party’s presidential candidate as a huge success story for the main opposition party.

Jibrin stated, “We must remember Atiku’s outstanding performance as vice president to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

“Our party and all our delegates across the 36 states and the FCT must be congratulated for playing good roles.”

The BoT chairman added, “My advice, as the PDP BoT chairman, the conscience of the party, is that we must come together as one entity.

“We must come out as a party, talking with one voice to make our party the greatest, not only in Nigeria and West Africa, but in Africa, with no ethnic, sectional or religious segregation.”

The prompt embrace of opponents confirms Atku is already closing ranks ahead of the general election. In recognition of his sacrifice, Tambuwal was among the first prominent party members Atiku visited shortly after he was declared winner of the primary election.

The PDP presidential candidate has also visited Wike, and the other aspirants. He has been visiting stakeholders across the country, trying to build bridges of understanding.

With the emergence of Atiku, the coast is now clear for PDP to give APC a good run for their money at the presidential poll next year. Tambuwal’s strong support base in the North-west would also be very useful to the Adamawa-born PDP presidential candidate.

For Tambuwal, a long and great future still lies ahead.

As one PDP supporter put it, “The 56-year-old governor of Sokoto State has paid his dues to the polity, and surely, he will be rewarded.”

Imam wrote from Abuja

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