Nigeria’s former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar certainly feels he has unfinished business in the country’s seat of power, and even with odds now stacked up against him, he is determined to once again, challenge for president in the 2023 general election and is determinedly pushing for the position.
Atiku, 75, who ultimately came second best in the 2019 presidential polls, in a contest that pitted him against the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, must feel he has a brighter chance of achieving victory in 2023, given that Buhari will no longer be on the ballot, even if he would be determined to decide who succeeds his on the platform of his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC). The president’s cult following in the North will no longer be much of a factor, and the ruling party will have a hard time deciding on candidate that would have nearly as widespread appeal as Buhari.
The former vice president, who many believe won popular vote in 2019, but was undone by rigging, and a sort of conspiracy between the country’s electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the presidency, has refused to discouraged as he fights to, once again, fly the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party’s flag in 2023, and has in recent weeks intensified lobby as the party shops for its presidential candidate.
“Atiku has since dispatched his foot soldiers to appeal to governors to drop zoning,” a top party member who craved anonymity said. “Ahmadu Fintiri, his state governor is leading the lobby team and has been speaking to his fellow governors from what I gathered.”
Fintri, governor of Adamawa, the home state of the former vice president, and a political son of former number two man, received his Rivers State counterpart, Nyesom Wike on a courtesy visit at the weekend, during which he argued against zoning.
Governor Fintiri, during Wike’s visit said the successful conduct of the party’s now provides Nigerians, especially the younger generation, an alternative platform to elect the next Nigerian president in 2023, and urged the Rivers governor, who he acknowledged contributed immeasurably to the success of the convention, not to relent in his support for the party in the years ahead.
“We are not just colleagues, we are not just in the same party, we have discovered ourselves to be good friends and even metamorphosing into being brothers. This is what we need in this country,” he said.
“That is why I am not a supporter of those who are calling for zoning of the presidency. I am for those that are calling for a good candidate that can bring this country together, and improve on the potentials that abound in both human and capital of Nigeria.
“But I trust that whoever we are going to get as our presidential candidate in 2023 will be the person that Nigerians want, will be the person that understands this country and will be the person that will pull this country together and put her where she belongs in the comity of nations.”
Wike, easily the most influential governor in the PDP, who had not initially supported Atiku’s emergence as candidate in 2019, and is thought to nursing presidential ambition of his own this time, said he was, on his part, concerned about how and when the candidate would emerge.
He noted that the party’s presidential flag bearer will be decided collectively by party stakeholders and at the right time, while explaining that the essence of the visit was to thank the Adamawa governor who chaired the party’s convention committee for doing a good job.
The Rivers governor, among other southern presidential hopefuls, including former president, Anyim Pius Anyim, who has since declared interest to contest, will make Atiku’s quest a lot tougher this time. Unlike 2019 when it was clearly the turn of the North to produce the party’s flag bearer in line with its zoning arrangement, Atiku is finding himself swimming against the wave.
Indeed, Southern governors who account for eight of the opposition party’s total of 13 governors, were instrumental to the decision of the party zoning committee led by Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, to zone its chairmanship position to the North.
The governors had strategized on how best to push for a Southerner to emerge as the party’s standard bearer in 2023, after coming under pressure from party members in the zone who insisted it was turn of the zone to produce Buhari’s successor.
The incumbent President Buhari, from Katsina, Northwest, would be completing his constitutionally permitted eight years in office by 2023. The prevailing logic is that power should return to South.
But politicians are adept at shifting the goalpost. Atiku, who was part of those who broke away from the PDP to join APC in 2014 because former president, Goodluck Jonathan, decided to contest for a second term when the North believed it was its turn, has since turned around to argue that zoning was no longer the right way to go.
When the party eventually succeeded in zoning its chairmanship position to the North, the many concluded that zoning its presidential candidate to the South was now a settled matter. But Atiku went up in arms. He rallied his support base, co-opted Northern PDP governors to oppose the idea of zoning the presidency to the South. In the lead to party’s convention on October 30, he met the party’s at a National Executive Committee held in Abuja, during which he passionately argued his case.
He insisted that where the president comes from has never been the solution to the series of problems facing the nation, stating that the next president can come from any region.
“The PDP has the right to determine its rules on how the party should be governed,” he had said. “The people of Nigeria also have the right to determine who governs them. Where the president comes from has never been the problem of Nigeria, and I can cite examples; neither will it be the solution. There is no such thing as a president from Southern Nigeria or a president from Northern Nigeria. There is only one president from Nigeria, for Nigeria, by Nigerians.”
Further addressing members of the party’s highest decision-making body who approved the recommendations of the PDP Zoning Committee that had zoned chairmanship to the North, he asked them to be fair and just in deciding where the party’s presidential candidate would come from.
At the party’s convention on October 30, he addressed delegates once again, arguing that what the country needed was unity, as ccording to him, there are many differences, but Nigerians can achieve anything if they put their differences aside.
He told delegates that the convention was an opportunity to make decisions that would shape the future of the party for the benefit of all Nigerians.
“We have a chance now to set the ship on the right course; we have a chance to atone for our collective mistakes and those of past leadership,” he had said.
“We have a chance to unite the country as we march towards achieving the dreams of our founding fathers at independence so many years ago.
“We have a chance to set our country on an enviable position in the comity of nations; we can save ourselves, we can save the party, we can save Nigeria together.”
He partly succeeded in his campaign. The party would eventually decide not to take any position with regard to the zone its presidential candidate would come from, essentially throwing it open in the meantime. And the subsequent emergence of former senate president, Iyorchia Ayu, a Christian from Benue State, North Central, as national chairman suggested that the presidential ticket will be thrown open to the North and South, with the North East and South East more likely to be considered.
Ayu had been endorsed by Northern stakeholders prior to the convention, in a move said to have been influenced by Atiku, given that a core Northern Muslim national chairman, would further dampen his chances of emerging candidate.
But at the convention, Atiku suffered a major setback. One obvious fallout of the convention was that the party structure was now under the firm grip of governors, to detriment of party elders led by the former vice president.
There were glaring cases which stamped the authority the governors in the party, including the choice of Deputy National Chairman South and that of the North.
For instance, former Osun State governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola who went to the convention ground after being assured at home, was at the last minute betrayed by Governor Seyi Makinde, who backed the former Deputy Governor of Oyo State and the immediate past Chairman, South West of the party, Taofeek Arapaja, to emerge as the Deputy chairman for South.
It was the same game plan with the counterpart in the North, as Ambassador Uma Illiya Damagum, who was a governor’s candidate emerged as the the Deputy Chairman North, against Mayryam Ciroma, who like Oyinlola refused to stepped down when ask to do so at the convention ground.
The machineries put up by Atiku, former Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, Former Senate President Bukola Saraki and others, to make Oyinlola and Ciroma emerge, failed as the governors definitely had their way.
Atiku, Saraki, Lamido and others had wanted Ciroma and Oyinlola in order to curtail the overbearing influence of the governors but failed.
But not deterred, Atiku has continued to push ahead. Having succeeded in throwing the contest for presidential ticket open, he could yet succeed some more. His media team continues to embark on an aggressive social media campaign. And so far so good, he appears to have succeeded in upending the debate for zoning.