Published On: Sun, Aug 12th, 2018

PDP Coalition: anxiety mounts over flag bearer

By OBINNA EZUGWU

With the recent defection of Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the list of anticipated presidential hopefuls under the main opposition party’s platform is complete. But it now faces an imminent danger of being torn apart by the collision of these individual interests. Already, cracks are emerging, and from all indications, it could get much worse.

President of the Senate Bukola Sarak

“The ambitions are certainly going to clash. Yes, as a matter of fact, it is already clashing,” noted Mr. Taofic Gani, Lagos Publicity Secretary of the party. “We are not going to celebrate yet because we still have long months to the elections and things can still change. There may still be further alignments.”

For a reasonably long time, former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who was the first to rejoin the PDP, remained the foremost presidential aspirant on the party’s platform.

Although there were still existing strong contenders in the party, like Gombe State governor, Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo; former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido and former Kaduna governor, Ahmed Makarfi who recently served as chairman of the party’s caretaker committee and a few others, Atiku towered above them and had looked very much poised to emerge its presidential candidate.

However, with former Kano governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, as well as Saraki and Tambuwal in the picture, the dynamics have changed and the prospect of choosing one out of the many formidable aspirants is a task very much on course to cause squabbles, which if poorly managed, could consume the party.

The first sign of things to come was when Kwankwaso, perhaps in a bid to foreclose the prospect of Atiku emerging candidate, insisted that the PDP must field somebody from either of the three K-states of the North West, comprising Kano, Kastina and Kaduna if the party wanted to win in 2019.

This, indeed, is another way of saying that he should be the candidate if the party wants to win being, easily, the most popular and perhaps most resourced of all the other candidates from the three states, including Makarfi.

If the party is to go with his position, it would mean  that not only will Atiku who is from Adamawa State in the North East, but also the Sokoto governor, Tambuwal who happens now to be the only PDP governor in the North West, will be automatically disqualified. This will be an unlikely scenario.

While Kwankwaso is obviously, the most prominent of all the aspirants from the North West, Tambuwal’s entrant may have altered his projection, thus complicating even the North West bid.

Sources within the party say the Sokoto governor had actually consulted widely and received some degree of assurance of getting the presidential ticket from PDP stalwarts before joining the party fortnight ago. The governor’s consideration, sources say, stems from the fact that he has age on his side and fits into the prevailing argument in favour of a youthful president, in addition to being a person with broader worldview.

But in terms of who has the popularity to swing votes in the zone, many agree it’s Kwankwaso who remains popular in the region and was indeed the favoured candidate of the North for the APC presidential ticket in 2014. He won votes of most delegates from Northern states in the party’s primary, but ended up coming second to President Muhammadu Buhari who relied on the support he got from the South West to edge him out.

Aminu Waziri Tambuwal

To this extent, his supporters assert that he is the only person who can give Buhari a run in the North West and indeed the entire North. But the argument is not of the North West alone. The North East which has not produced a president since the first Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, is also laying bold claim with Atiku and Dankwambo at the forefront.

Indeed, with the duo of Atiku and Dankwambo who have both declared their presidential ambitions, the North East presents a challenge similar to that of the North West with Kwankwaso and Tambuwal. Although on the surface, Atiku appears to have more reach and popularity, some Adamawa residents who spoke to BusinessHallmark say the Gombe governor is mostly preferred by many in the region.

“People don’t really support Atiku here,” said Eze Robinson, a timber dealer based in Adamawa. “Most people want Dankwambo. He is way more popular than Atiku.”

The most complex of PDP’s dilemma as it concerns the former vice president, however, would be the fact that his candidacy may be strongly opposed by the country’s class of 1966 military establishment, especially his former boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Only recently, Obasanjo restated his opposition the prospect of an Atiku president, saying that God would not forgive him if he backs the Adamawa born politician for president. Obasanjo’s position will most likely influence the party’s decision on Atiku. But the determined former vice president will fight to the end and the consequence may not be palatable.

Yet, the prospect of Saraki joining the race throws the field further wide open. With his influence, power and mystic, the Senate president is sure to alter the equation. Already, he has been named National Leader of the party by its chairman, Uche Secondus. Because according to him, Saraki is the highest office holder in the party.

The Senate president who resumed work at the party’s National Headquarters on Thursday, described his first day at work as “a great day for our country,” expressed joy to be back to the party.

“I am happy to be back to the political party where I started my political career. Everybody is important and no sacrifice will be too much to make in our journey to the Promised Land,” he said.

Mr. Gani, hopes, nonetheless, that the need to remove President Buhari whose government he dismissed as a “cankerworm” will be stronger than personal aspirations of individual members and could, thus, compel them to work together.

“For us in the PDP, we are going to do all we can to manage whatever will come out of their joining us because they are also coming with their own demand,” he said. “The common enemy now is Buhari. So, I see a situation where the need for us to remove this cankerworm would compel everyone to bury personal ambitions and work together.

“I think what is essential, and is the common denominator, is that this country is failing. I don’t want to be too critical to say that the country has failed under this APC, and particularly by the leadership of President Buhari.”

But the politics of the party’s candidacy is taking a new twist. A new divide has set in as old members stake claim to right to produce candidate as reward for their loyalty. They are kicking against what they see as preferential treatment for the new entrants at their expense.

A party source told BH that there is already a disagreement between the new entrants and the original members over choice of presidential candidate, with those who never left to join the APC insisting on producing presidential candidate.

“Those who did not leave are arguing that one of them be elected candidate for presidency as reward for their loyalty,” the source said. “But the others are dismissing the argument.”

Makarfi and Lamido who belong to this category are already sticking to the point that the new comers must not be given preference over them. Addressing party members in Kogi where he went to garner support for his presidential bid last week, Makarfi took a swipe at the defectors, suggesting that they were fair-weather members.

“Some people when you pinch them, they will run to another party,” he said. “When the going was tough, I stayed on

“But you accept them into your house and give them your guest room. Next, they take the master bedroom; next, they drive you out of your house. We must not allow this, nor give undue advantage to them, so that we do not alienate our people.

“Modu Sheriff was brought from another party; they said he had three jets; he had billions, but what did he do? He was taking the party down, but I, the ‘bush boy,’ with the support of others, I was able to make members close ranks, and today, we can all see.”

In Minna the following day, he made similar point. But this time more temperately. “If I leave PDP, I would leave politics. If I was to leave PDP, I could have defected a long time ago. So that possibility is not there,” he said.

“I welcome all the defectors and as a matter of fact I predicted it. I said it that after the APC convention you would see a lot of defections and that’s what has happened.

“But the challenge is how to manage it. If we manage it well, the party would be better for it but if we don’t we may run into problems.”

Similarly, Lamido, in an interview with Punch queried, “If we had left the PDP like others, would there have been a PDP to return to?”

But their arguments could prove to be an afterthought, as part of agreement that brought some of the defectors was promises of automatic tickets. And if such is no longer the case, those who feel shortchanged could return to the waiting arms of the ruling party.

“Part of the conditions Kwankwaso gave before returning to the party is that the presidential candidate must come from his side,” the source who craved anonymity said.

“For each defector, certain negotiations were involved. If some members are now resisting the fulfillment of these terms as giving preferential treatment, then there is a problem,” he concluded.

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