The stage is set for what would arguably be the most competitive presidential nomination conventions of the Fourth Republic holding tomorrow in Port-Harcourt.
Even the main beneficiary, that is Buhari, was out of the country at the time of the primary, a fact that reflects that the president is a shoo-in for the party ticket.
However, a far different scenario is playing out in Port-Harcourt where 13 party PDP presidential aspirants are slugging it out to pick the ticket of the party for the contest holding in February next year.
The 13 aspirants include former Vice President Abubakar Atiku, Senate President Bukola Saraki, his predecessor, Senator David Mark, former Chairman, PDP National Caretaker Committee, Ahmed Makarfi, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe State and former Minister of Special Duties, Taminu Turaki, SAN.
Also contesting are the immediate past governor of Kano State, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, former Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, former Governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa; former Governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, the founder of Baze University, Senator Datti Baba-Ahmed; and Stanley Osifo from Edo State.
A year ago, Senator Makarfi was the star of the party having guided the party away from the path of destruction that came its way when Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and his band came the way of the party. Makarfi’s presidential aspiration was at that time believed to be unassailable given the fact that he helped to position the present National Working Committee, NWC and the leaderships across the various levels of the party.
However, after he left office, he seemingly went under cover for whatever reason and in that time, Atiku who had just come into the party took over and commenced a serious lobby across the country with a solicitation that has positioned him as one of the four leading aspirants for the ticket.
With the notable exception of the outsiders, the race is seen as a straight fight among four prominent aspirants namely, Atiku, Saraki, Tambuwal and maybe, Kwankwanso. The one time momentum for Turaki is yet to play out.
It is, however, generally agreed that the real momentum for victory for any of the frontrunners would come between today and tomorrow when the powerful PDP governors give direction.
The impression that Governor Wike would have the upper hand is, however, not to be easily assumed. This is because some of his colleagues are also coming to the convention with their own strengths. Akwa Ibom is coming with the highest number of delegates and maybe cash to match Wike.
Among the leading aspirants that eyes would be focused on tomorrow are:
Atiku Abubakar: Experience fighter
Unarguably the most experienced presidential material in the party, nay Nigeria, Atiku has partaken in all but one presidential contest in the country since 1993. The only presidential campaign he was not involved in as an aspirant or running mate was the 1998 transition programme anchored to give General Sani Abacha a foothold in the polity.
Atiku’s preparedness for the presidency was at one time anchored by his NGO, the National Democratic Project, NDP that was anchored among others by the likes of Dr. Usman Bugaje. His media team anchored in the past by Mallam Garba Shehu has proved to be most savvy.
However, what has positioned Atiku in the front of the pack is his network of political associates across the country and his policies and programmes that have been welcomed by especially critical Southerners. Atiku unlike some other aspirants would not be said to be new to the call for the restructuring of the polity.
When the issue of restructuring recently rebounded and he was accused of profiting from the issue, he was able to aptly give reference to his historic arguments on the issue dating from 1995.
Atiku is one of the aspirants who it is believed has a blueprint to run the country and able to tap the best brains from across the country. His national outlook is even reflected in his marital linkages. He has a Yoruba woman, Titi as his first wife and an Ibo, Jennifer as another wife among his three or four wives.
His businesses are also said to be run by professionals picked on merit across the country. Atiku’s trump card for some is his seeming willingness to run for a single term given his age.
However, a major criticism of his is the allegation of corruption which, however, no one has been able to prove.
He also has a major challenge in President Olusegun Obasanjo who had in the past sworn to oppose him even from heaven. But given the situation the country may have found itself, Dr. Obasanjo is said to be stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.
If Atiku is the one to stop Buhari there is little doubt in enlightened political circles that Obasanjo may as well have to upend his position.
Senator Bukola Saraki: Toughened and tried
As the president of the Senate, Saraki is the highest elected political office holder in the PDP. As the head of the opposition he is undoubtedly the most exposed person to the intrigues and plots of the ruling party. Though he recently rejoined the PDP, his stance even when he was in the ruling party showed him as a rebel leading to the endless plots that were staged against him.
Remarkably, Saraki’s prowess as opposition within the ruling party did not start in the APC. While he was in the PDP as an ordinary senator, Saraki was the one who exposed the subsidy fraud in the importation of petroleum products. He reportedly had made private efforts to President Goodluck Jonathan on the issue which were not welcomed before he brought the issue to the Senate.
In the APC, his role in bringing Buhari to power has remarkably not been well chronicled, especially his role in turning over the North-Central, until then the hotbed of the PDP to the APC. However, Saraki was quick to fallout with the new administration, not only because of his successful bid for the office of Senate President, but also because of his outstanding knack for surviving repeated plots laid against him by his adversaries.
The attacks against Saraki were not just political, but even took personal dimensions especially after his wife, Toyin was grilled by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC at the beginning of his stint as Senate President. But nothing was found against her.
He was subsequently charged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal over allegedly undeclared assets. That trial turned into a political circus that saw the administration and Saraki repeatedly appealing and cross appealing what they felt were unfavourable orders of the tribunal.
In the end, Saraki was discharged and acquitted. Even more, was the case of the forgery allegation that was brought against him and the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu. Both men were arraigned supposedly for forging the Senate Standing Rules. That allegation was again brought down not by the courts, but by the superior counsel that was provided by a hired Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN that the administration brought purposely to prosecute the two men.
Saraki has also survived several intrigues including the plot to remove him from office by agents of the APC. The survival knack of the Senate President is one point that his presidential campaign enthusiasts are stoking to drive home his presidential aspiration.
Their claim is that somebody like Saraki who has fought and survived the Buhari administration is needed to take Buhari head on.
However, a challenge for Saraki’s aspiration is the matter of the fact that though from the North, that he is not from the core North, the area that some are canvassing should produce the next president.
His campaign, however, plays down that claim, a fact that several other minority groups in the North are also canvassing.
Governor Aminu Tambuwal: Governor Tambuwal is going into the PDP presidential primary contest with the advantage of youth and a nationwide political network built over from his days in the House of Representatives.
As Speaker of the House, Tambuwal visited nearly every federal constituency in the country either in solidarity with his colleagues or on the invitation of other political stakeholders. It is also no longer a whisper that he has the support of the host governor of the convention, Mr. Nyesom Wike. But there is a question if Wike could have the ability to go through to convince other governors.
He also has the advantage of an impressive record in girl child education as governor of Sokoto State. His challenge, however, would be said to be the matter of political constituency. His shifts into and out of the party has not helped his case, but his movements according to stakeholders was never without a cause.
Though it is generally said that he has the support of the traditional institutions in the state and some other sections of the north, he nevertheless has the challenge of convincing political skeptics of having a solid political base.
His erstwhile political mentor, Senator Aliyu Wamakko is said not to be supportive of his bid. Wamakko stayed back in the APC allegedly on account of issues arising from his stint as governor between 2007 and 2015.
Rabiu Kwankwanso: Senator Rabiu Kwankwanso’s doggedness is legendary. He came back from the defeat in the 2003 Kano governorship election to reclaim the seat in 2011.
His first bid for the presidency in 2014 saw him taking a distant second to Buhari in the APC presidential primaries. That campaign was at that time reportedly backed with the machine of the Kano State Government. Now out of government and viciously estranged from his handpicked successor, that backing of the Kano State government is no longer there.
What had worked for him was the reported support of Dr. Obasanjo. However, that has not taken him too far. It was also the argument of some that Kwankwanso should be backed on the note that his political views were not too distant from Buhari and for those determined to remove Buhari, picking somebody with the same worldview with Buhari was what was needed to entice the president’s supporters from his core base in the north.
However, that campaign has failed to find traction. Kwankwanso has not been helped by the fact that he is presently embattled at home with Governor Abdullahi Ganduje.
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