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2023: PDP presidential aspirants go to battle

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will tomorrow hold its special national convention to elect its candidate for the 2023 presidential election. ONYEKACHI EZE assesses the chances of the 14 aspirants in the contest

After weeks of intense politicking, lobbying and canvassing for delegates’ support, 811 national delegates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), will this weekend elect the party’s candidate for next year’s presidential election. The party had on April 29, cleared 15 aspirants to contest the primary, out of 17 who obtained nomination and expression of interest forms. They include former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal; former President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; former Secretary to the Government of the Federation Anyim Pius Anyim; Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, his Rivers and Akwa Ibom State counterparts, Nyesom Wike and Udom Emmanuel, respectively. Others are former Governor Ayodele Fayose (Ekiti); media mogul, Dele Momodu; investment banker, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen; former President of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Sam Ohuabunwa, Charles Ugwu, Chikwendu Kalu, and the only female aspirant in the race, Tareila Diana Oliver. While Obi withdrew from the race on Wednesday, two of the aspirants, a United States-based medical doctor, Nwachukwu Anakwenze and ex-Speaker of Abia House of Assembly, Cosmos Ndukwe, were disqualified by the nine-man presidential screening committee led by former President of the Senate, David Mark. Their disqualification was later upheld by the party’s appeal panel. The aspirants have shown seriousness and had gone round the country to sell their programmes and to woo the delegates on their side. The delegates were reduced to 811 after President Muhammadu Buhari failed to sign the amended to section 84(8) of the Electoral Act, 2022, to allow statutory delegates to vote in this special national convention. In the December 2018 convention in Port Harcourt where the PDP candidate for the 2019 presidential election was elected, a total of 3,275 delegates participated. Out of the 15 aspirants jostling for the party’s ticket for the 2023 poll, only Atiku, Tambuwal and Saraki, contested the 2018 presidential primary. The former vice president won with 1,532 votes, Tambuwal secured 693 votes to come second, while Saraki came third with 317 votes. Twelve aspirants contested the primary. Going into tomorrow’s primary election, it is envisaged that the delegates will face a herculean task choosing the best from the 15 aspirants. Even the National Chairman of the party, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, and the chairman of the screening committee (Senator Mark), attested to the suitability of any of the aspirants to be the next president of Nigeria. According to Mark, “we are quite satisfied with the standard of the aspirants by and large, and we think that any one of them who gets the ticket would win the election in 2023. We feel that they are all very well qualified, those we have cleared, and that like I just said, anyone of them who is picked will win the 2023 presidential election.” Against this backdrop, the questions are: Who among the aspirants will the delegates choose? What are their strength and weaknesses?

Atiku Abubakar

The former vice president told the PDP leadership that he deserves the right of first refusal for the party’s ticket because he already has over eleven million votes; a carryover from the 2019 presidential election. Atiku was PDP candidate in the election, but lost to President Muhammadu Buhari. He however believes he was robbed of victory. The former vice president stands a good chance of becoming PDP candidate again. Apart from his financial war chest and national support, Atiku is from the North-East, one of the two regions the Bala Mohammed committee that reviewed the party’s performance in the 2019 general election, in its report, agreed “had the shortest stints at the elecpresidency, (and therefore) should be given special consideration, in choosing the presidential flag bearer of the party, for the 2023 elections.” He has been able to penetrate the PDP governors, who have been working together since 2019, to ensure that one of them becomes the party’s candidate. At the moment, at least three of the governors are working for him, while three others are in the race for the PDP ticket. Atiku knows this is his last chance of contesting for the presidency, and therefore would pursue it with his last strength to ensure he picks the ticket. Already at 76, many consider him too old to contest for the presidency but the former vice president hopes to capitalise on the high number of northern delegates to achieve his ambition. The PDP’s adoption of ad hoc delegates for the national convention because of the non-signing of the Electoral Act, 2022 by President Buhari gives the North an edge over the South in terms of number of delegates. But Atiku may face stiff opposition from some PDP members for his seemingly abandonment of the party after the 2019 elections. The former vice president attended PDP National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting and other activities of the party only once in 2019, where he suggested that a committee be set up to review PDP’s performance in the election. Since then, he has made Dubai his permanent residence. Also, age is working against him. The performance of President Buhari in office, which many blamed on old age, might work against Atiku. Again, PDP appears to be under pressure to cede the presidential ticket to the South-East, which is the only zone from the South that has not produced a president since 1999.

Aminu Tambuwal

The Sokoto State governor, who came second in the 2018 PDP presidential primary, is presently the chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum and Vice Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), an umbrella body of all the 36 Nigerian governors. These have positioned him for the 2023 battle for the presidency. Tambuwal lost the PDP ticket to Atiku in 2018 due to disunity among governors of the party. This time, he has positioned himself to battle whosoever that may be interested in the ticket. The former Speaker of the House of Representatives has been able to galvanise PDP governors and make them show interest in the affairs of the party. He is youthful and has proved his mettle in governance, both as Speaker of House of Representatives and governor. In 2018, Tambuwal had the moral and financial support of Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, one of PDP’s influential and respected leaders. At the moment, Wike is one of the presidential aspirants, and this will deny Tambuwal the votes of Rivers’ delegates. Again, Tambuwal is from the North- West, the same zone that produced late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and the incumbent, President Buhari even though he is a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC). This is one of the reasons the Northern Elders screened him out the northern consensus candidacy arrangement that later failed.

Bukola Saraki

The former President of the Senate is a respected political strategist. Many people did not take him serious when he indicated interest to contest for the Senate presidency in 2015. Against all odds, Saraki defeated the APC’s preferred candidate, Senator Ahmed Lawan. He retained the position for four years despite machinations of the presidency and APC leadership to oust him. Saraki came third at the PDP presidential primary in 2018, and was appointed Director General of the party’s 2019 campaign council. The former Kwara Sate governor is respected in Nigeria’s political cycle. He was made Chairman of PDP National Reconciliation Committee, which afforded him the opportunity to sell his candidature to party members. But Saraki is facing the challenge of identity. He is from Kwara State in North Central Nigeria and considered Yoruba by tribe. Whenever there are political offices to be shared, Fulani, in the North West, or at most the Kanuris in the North East, see it as their birthright, leaving out the North Central. Worse still, North Central Yoruba are in great disadvantage. They are nether accepted by their kit and kin in the South West nor by the North.

Anyim Pius Anyim

Anyim is among the first aspirants to declare for the PDP ticket. Like Tambuwal and Saraki, Anyim has held both legislative and executive positions. He was President of the Senate between 2000 and 2003, and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), between 2011 and 2015. He is therefore adequately prepared to be president of Nigeria. He is also well equipped to prosecute his presidential campaign. Also, like Obi, Anyim is from the South-East. He was the first to be endorsed by Igbo leaders for the presidency. His message is gaining traction across the country. In terms of rating, the former SGF is among the first seven vying for the PDP ticket.

Nyesom Wike

The Rivers State governor surprised many, when he declared interest in PDP’s ticket. Before his declaration, Wike was touted to be positioning himself as running mate to Tambuwal. But since his emergence, the political calculation has changed. Wike has brought the doggedness he was known for as Rivers governor into his campaign. He has toured the country, canvassing for delegates’ votes. He told members of the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) that he should be supported to pick the presidential ticket because he supported their emergence as party leaders in last year’s convention. “One good turn deserves another, so you people should also payback because you didn’t go to campaign, but now am coming to campaign. So pay back,” he said. Despite this demand, Wike is not leaving anything to chance. He is deploying every arsenal at his disposal to clinch the ticket. Political observers say the Rivers State governor joined the presidential race to stop Atiku. The former vice president literally broke the bank to win the PDP ticket in 2018. Wike is determined to stop him this time around, and that is why he has thrown his hart to the rings. Wike’s challenge is his style of governance. Many believe he is not diplomatic, and lacks fineness in his approach to issues. This has won him many enemies than friends. The belief is that those who follow him are doing so out of fear, not for the love they have for him. Again, Wike’s ambition may not win the traction of northern delegates, and even some delegates from the South-West, who have not forgotten the uncouth language he used against them during the 2017 contest for the PDP chairmanship. The Rivers governor is prosecuting the war for collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) because he believes the North should not reap where it did not sow.

Udom Emmanuel

The Akwa Ibom State governor is one of the “reluctant” aspirants. The PDP nomination form was obtained for him by ‘Berekete Family,” a radio and television human rights programme. Udom was not known to have any presidential ambition. It was believed he was only interested in producing his successor, whom he had even openly “anointed.” Though the governor has the wherewithal to prosecute his presidential ambition, he is not seen as too desperate for it. It is also rumoured that one of his aides will be holding the senatorial ticket on trust for him. The aspirant may not make much impact beyond the Akwa Ibom delegates.

Bala Mohammed

The Bauchi State governor is one of the two aspirants shortlisted by Northern Elders as the region’s preferred candidates. The other one is Saraki. Governor Mohammed is from the North-East, one of the zones his committee said has not produced Nigeria’s president since 1999. The Ango Abdullahi- led Northern Elders shortlisted him as a preferred candidate based on historical antecedents of the PDP with regards to previous northern aspiration. According to Abdullahi, “the North- West has had the opportunity of contesting and even forming government in 2007. In 2011, a consensus was made among the four northern candidates, which North-East got but lost at the primaries. In 2019, it got the slot again though the party could not form the government.” Apart from Governor Mohammed, Atiku and Mohammed Hayatu-Deen are the other aspirants from the North- East in race for the PDP ticket. But the governor may have the problem selling his candidature to the South. He is not likely going to beat Atiku for the northern delegates’ votes. PDP is in control of three states in the North-East and two of them are likely going to vote for the former vice president. Should the presidential bid fail, Governor Mohammed has an alternative. He is a first term governor and will be happy going for second term in office.

Hayatu-deen Mohammed

The investment banker was little known, politically outside the North before now. The aspirant alluded much to this, when he told the PDP House of Representatives caucus that he served in many capacities in financial and economic sectors, but boasted that he has been “prepared for leadership because I was saddled with both the private sector, civil society space and the public space.” Hayatu-deen who is from Borno State in the North East, was initially not taken serious. But at the moment, he is leading other aspirants in public advertisements and creation of awareness. His billboard adorned some Abuja streets, and his portrait on vehicles and buildings. The aspirant has proved that he is indeed a good marketer. If experience and past record is anything to go by, Hayatu-Deen may give other aspirants run for their money. But politics is different from banking; it requires a lot of horse-trading and bargaining. The aspirant is from the North-East, which already has two other aspirants, one a former vice president and the other, a serving governor.

Sam Ohuabunwa

Ohuabunwa, a former President of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria has a track record of achievements. He has been successful in all the past positions he had held. Ohuabunwa is running an American type of campaign, not given to the Nigerian style of flamboyancy. He articulated his programmes in a document, which is distributed at every of his campaign venues. His speech delivery is perfect, an evidence of a leader who is focused and knows what he wants. However, most analysts believe that Ohuabunwa is an aspirant whose time has not yet come.

Ayodele Fayose, Dele Momodu and Tareila Diana Oliver

Though these aspirants have obtained the PDP nomination forms, they are not known to have gone to canvass for support anywhere. The only event Fayose featured after obtaining the form, was when he appeared before the PDP screening committee. Also, the only female aspirant, Tareila Diana Oliver is not visible. She only attended a meeting organised by the PDP National Woman Leader for all female aspirants across the country.

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