As the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) prepares for national convention, gladiators eyeing the position of national chairmen are warming up. They are mainly from the South. This may have raised expectations that the main opposition party may zone its 2023 presidential ticket to the North. GBADE OGUNWALE reports
Atiku Abubakar: Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has not hidden his desire to contest for the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2023 presidential election. While it may be too early in the day to weigh Atiku in the balance, developments in the party and projections in the months ahead will be crucial in determining his fate. For now, the terrain appears uncertain with the party embroiled in leadership crisis that is becoming difficult to resolve.
Born November 25, 1946, Atiku will be 77 in 2023. It’s a plus for him that his home state of Adamawa is in the firm control of the PDP. However, the preponderance of opinions among key stakeholders in the party do not favour a candidate in his age bracket. Similarly, not a few have come to tag him a “nomadic politician” for his numerous defections from one political party to the other in the course of his political career.
Also, he is widely considered detached from the PDP anytime the party is in turbulence, but only gets active in party affairs when it’s about time for presidential nominations. Several groups and individuals in the PDP have accused him of abandoning them shortly after he lost the 2019 presidential election. On the other hand, the present administration is widely perceived to have dealt several hard blows to his business interests and finances over alleged political differences. This is believed to have gravely sapped his political war chest and weakened his resource base. More so, many perceive that his political network and support base in different parts of the country may have diminished considerably.
The former Vice President has renewed his visibility in the public space in recent time. Given the mood of the nation, some analysts are of the view that his quest for the party’s 2023 presidential may not be as rewarding as it was the case in 2019. Atiku served as vice president to former President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007 on the platform of the PDP. He fell out with Obasanjo during the second tenure of the joint ticket and was forced to defect to the defunct Action Congress (AC) in 2006 while still serving as Vice President. Atiku got the presidential ticket of the AC and contested for president in 2007, but lost to the late Umaru Yar’Adua who ran on the platform of the PDP in a election the late Yar ‘Adua himself described as heavily flawed. Yar ‘Adua died in office in 2010 and was succeeded by his then deputy, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Atiku returned to the PDP shortly after Yar ‘Adua’s death and struggled in vain for the party’s presidential ticket in 2011. Jonathan picked the PDP ticket and went ahead to win the election.
Having perceived ahead of time that Jonathan was eying the PDP for the 2015 election, Atiku, again, in 2013, joined many other prominent PDP bigwigs to dump the PDP for the then newly formed mega opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). His quest for the APC presidential ticket for the 2015 election was frustrated by powerful forces within the APC who mobilised support for then General Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari had beaten other contestants to the APC ticket and had gone ahead to win the 2015 presidential election.
Having lost hope of getting the APC ticket for the 2019 election, Atiku, again returned to the PDP in 2017. He won the party’s presidential ticket and contested the election with incumbent President Buhari who got the APC ticket for a second term in 2019. Again, Atiku lost the election to Buhari. The former vice president had challenged Buhari’s victory up to the Supreme Court but eventually lost in his bid to have the election result upturned. Thereafter, the Waziri Adamawa went into political hibernation in Dubai where he stayed for about nine months. He returned to Nigeria in September 2020. His pubIic statements and interventions in topical national issues since his return suggest that he may vie for the PDP presidential ticket in 2023.
Atiku had, a few weeks ago, paid a visit to the Rivers State Governor, Mr Nyesom Wike in Port Harcourt. Political event watchers perceive the visit as part of Atiku’s fence mending leg work towards the 2023 elections. He had clashed with Wike in the run up to the 2018 presidential primaries of the PDP when he outsmarted the Rivers Governor in the quest for the party’s 2019 ticket. Wike was widely believed to have mobilised support for his preferred candidate and political ally, Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State.
Another chieftain whose body language may have given an indication of interest in the race is the immediate past President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki. His turbulent four-year tenure (2015-2019) as President of the Senate was characterised by a chain of state sponsored criminal law suits that sought to unhorse him and possibly, confine him to the nearest jailhouse.
In Saraki’s Senate Presidency, it was four years of one week, one trouble. He spent much of his time moving from one courtroom to the other to answer charges of alleged corrupt practices that dated back to his days as Kwara governor (2003-2011). But like the proverbial cat with nine lives, Saraki was able to wriggle out of the numerous legal web of intrigues that was inexpertly woven by the state to ensnare him. Apparently, his major political “sin” was his audacity to challenge and defeat Dr Ahmad Lawan, the preferred candidate of the leadership of his then party, the APC for the position of Senate President.
An sneaky politician with a good mix of cosmopolitan mien and street wisdom, Saraki was able to beat the APC ambush to clinch the topmost seat in the Eighth Senate. He snatched the glory, leaving Lawan and the APC with bitter story to tell. And to the consternation of the ruling party, the Kwara born politician and scion of the Olusola Saraki political dynasty also traded away the Deputy Senate President slot.
In a political trade by barter, Saraki, again, bushwhacked the ruling party and pushed the number two seat in the Senate to Ike Ekweremadu of the opposition PDP. And for the first time in the history of the Senate, the seats of the President and the Deputy were shared between a ruling party and the opposition. Well schooled in political intrigues, perhaps Saraki had made a long distance move for the Senate Presidency when he dumped the PDP for the APC alongside some prominent PDP chieftains way back in 2013. The PDP at the time was struggling with self-inflicted crisis of confidence, triggered by conflict of interests and clash of ambitions among its leading lights.
He was one of the moving forces behind the bellicose nPDP, a group of disgruntled chieftains of the PDP that defected to the APC in 2013. The group contributed in no small measure to the defeat of the PDP in the 2015 presidential election. The gamble paid off and Saraki, apparently with an eye on the Senate Presidency way back then, got his prize. But, the cards got stacked against him by the Muhammadu Buhari Presidency and the leadership of the APC at the time, having dribbled them in a game of wits.
Consequently, a sufficiently harassed Saraki was forced to return to the PDP in 2018 to confront the APC in the 2019 elections. And as it were, he had had his bed already laid for him by the opposition party because he was still paying his dues to the PDP for the entire period he journeyed with the APC. All the while, he had his left foot in the APC and the right foot firmly rooted in the PDP at the same time.
As President of the Senate, Saraki played the APC bird in daytime and PDP bat at night, a strategic political balancing act of self preservation. Not one to be caught flat footed, he had joined the race for the presidential ticket of the PDP for the 2019 election while still having the party’s ticket for the Kwara Central district securely tucked in his breast pocket. Being a returnee “homeboy”, the leadership of the PDP had placed the two options in his laps. Predictably, he lost the contest for the PDP presidential slot and had had to fall back on the Kwara central ticket.
He contested the 2019 senatorial race against a mass mobilisation of opposition against his aspiration and his entire political structure. The political “insurgency” of the O to ge movement, inspired and coordinated by the APC, put an end to the Saraki political dynasty. And the medical doctor turned politician came out of the race limping.
However, after a brief period of inertia, Saraki appears to be getting back his groove. Of late, he has been actively involved in the affairs of the PDP at the national level. He has also been linked to a series of mobilisation and political shuttles within his North central geopolitical zone in recent times. Saraki has comes across as a politician with tall ambitions and whose gaze is usually fixed on moving targets. Despite the downturn in his political fortune, the two term senator is gradually coming back to the mainstream.
The 58-year-old politician presently chairs a committee on reconciliation and strategy set up by the leadership of the PDP for the purpose of uniting aggrieved members. The assignment has seen him shuttling different locations across the various geopolitical zones on behalf of the party. He is also a key player in the various processes and search for solutions to the leadership crisis that is still plaguing the PDP. Some of his past contribution to the party was his role as Director General of the 2019 PDP Presidential Campaign Council.
Saraki was also one time chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) from 2007 to 2011. He was one of the 12 aspirants that vied for the PDP presidential ticket in the 2019 elections. However, having lost the political turf back home to the APC has obviously weakened his influence in his home base. His ability to manage crisis was exemplified by the way and manner he was able to handle the turbulence during his tenure as Senate President. For instance, despite the heat from the APC leadership, Saraki was able to contain the various tendencies and “negative influence” exerted by the party on the APC dominated Senate. Through deft political moves, he succeeded in deflecting several impeachment moves orchestrated by an adversarial APC leadership against him. SimIlarly, he was able to contain the various offensives perceived to have been instigated by the Presidency and the security agencies against his leadership at the Senate. Saraki’s presidential ambition has been a long standing project. He had subtly indicated interest in the APC presidential ticket in 2015 but had had to sneak out of the project along the line. He was to claim much later that he stepped down for Buhari. Similarly, his posters for the 2023 presidential race on the platform of the PDP had surfaced in different strategic locations within the Federal Capital Territory.
He has however, denied any involvement in the printing of the posters. Observers say that with recent developments in the politics of the APC in kwara, he may still be able to cobble his political structure into shape. The Kwara chapter of the APC is being torn apart by divisive tendencies arising from disagreements over the conduct of ward, local government and state congresses recently. Perhaps, the Saraki camp may cash in on the crisis and reap some political harvest from it in the nearest future. Analysts says his unique status as Abubakar in the north and Bukola in the south may be a plus or minus, depending on the mindsets of party delegates.
Aminu Waziri Tambuwal
The Sokoto State Governor may turn out to be one of the strongest contenders in the race for the party ticket. He has been able to maintain a relatively baggage free outlook in his political career so far. His conciliatory approach to politics has continued to endear him to many stakeholders in the opposition party.
Widely perceived to be temperate and level headed, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives has continued to build political bridges across the six geopolitical zone right from his days in the federal legislature. Seen by his colleagues in the PDP Governors Forum as a team player, Tambuwal’s contribution to the relative stability in the PDP may count for him when the chips are down.
Party sources have continued to credit the 55-year-old politician with a sense of balance between his ambition and the common good of his party. He is widely acknowledged by the various contending groups and interests in the party for his stabilising role in the ongoing efforts at resolving the leadership crisis rocking the PDP at the moment.
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As chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Tambuwal, who is currently serving his second and final term as governor, is seen by many of his compatriots as a stickler for objectivity in all situations. Under his leadership, the PDP Governors Forum has become a force to reckon with in tackling the ruling APC over its obvious poor performance and the administration’s abysmal failure to tame the hydra headed security challenges ravaging the land. Competent party sources have it that Tambuwal took the initiative to mobilise the PDP governors to fill the gap created by the perceived layback approach of the party leadership in giving effective bite demanded of an opposition party.
And for effect, the governors have been meeting every month to voice the party’s position on the state of the nation and they have always been coming up with informed interventions on critical national issues.
For the first time since 1999, a monthly meeting of the governors is being alternated among PDP controlled states, apparently to give party stakeholders in each of the states a sense of belonging. Using the platform of the PDP Governors Forum, Sokoto governor is being recognised for his role as a rallying point for the various organs of the party.
Sources say the National Executive Committee (NEC), the Board of Trustees (BoT), the National Working Committee (NWC) and the National Assembly Caucus have continued to draw inspiration from his role as a peacemaker and a stabilising force. This, they say, was demonstrated at various consultative meetings recently held by the various organs to resolve the leadership crisis triggered by attempts by some forces to unseat the party’s national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus. Tambuwal was reported to have prevailed on his colleagues to avoid possible protracted legal tussle that the truncation of Secondus’ tenure could throw up and the distraction therefrom. This, insiders said, informed the recent decision and resolution to bring the date for the party’s national convention forward from December to October. Going by the resolution, Secondus is allowed to remain in office and to convene the party’s NEC meeting in the shortest possible time. Key decisions regarding the setting up of the convention planning and zoning committees are expected to be taken at the proposed NEC meeting coming up anytime soon.
Also, while the rift between Secondus and the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike appears to have defied reconciliatory agreements reached by the party on August 10, sources say Tambuwal has since been working quietly behind the scene to reconcile the PDP chair with the Rivers governor. He is said to have, at various consultations with stakeholders, cautioned that any protracted leadership crisis in the PDP could ruin the chances of the party in the 2023 elections. Such crisis, he was reported to have also warned, might pave the way for the detection of more prominent chieftains to the ruling APC.
Party members recall his spirited moves to prevent the recent defection of the Cross River State Governor, Prof Ben Ayade and his Zamfara State counterpart, Bello Matawalle to the APC. Tambuwal had mobilised some of his colleagues to meet with Ayade and Matawalle with a view to dissuading them from leaving the PDP.
But, the two governors appeared to have crossed the Rubicon and many analysts believe that the reasons for their defection were actually more in what they did not say, than the reasons they advanced for their actions.
Back home, Tambuwal has also been able to ensure stability in the Sokoto state chapter of the PDP. Reports indicate that he enjoys the goodwill and confidence of the leadership and stakeholders in the state chapter. They are said to be united behind him in the discharge of his duties as governor and that they are also said to have assured him of their unflinching support for whatever his next political endeavour may turn out to be.
Tambuwal started his political career as a member of the House of Representatives elected on the platform of the PDP before he emerged as Speaker in 2011. He was a member of a group of disgruntled chieftains that formed the “rebel” nPDP that defected to the APC in 2013. He got elected governor in 2015 on the platform of the APC but dumped the ruling party and returned to the PDP in 2018 alongside a few others who defected to the APC about the same time.
He joined the race for the presidential ticket of the PDP in 2018, but came second, losing the slot to Atiku. He sought re-election as governor in 2019 and got re-elected for a second term.
Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed is also being speculated to be eying the party’s ticket. He came into prominence in 2007 with his election into the Senate to represent the Bauchi South senatorial district.
He was a leader of the Unity Forum, a group of senators that mobilised support for the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan during the protracted infirmity of late President Umaru Yar’Adua. The Bala group had mounted a support campaign for Jonathan against the backdrop of opposition perceived to have been inspired by a cabal within Yar ‘Adua’s kitchen cabinet. Jonathan eventually became President after Yar ‘Adua’s death in 2010. He appointed Bala Mohammed as Minster of the Federal Capital Territory. Bala abandoned his seat in the Senate for the ministerial position. He held the position up till 2015 when the PDP lost the Presidency to the APC. After a four-year break, he contested for governor in 2019 on the platform of the PDP and won the election.
The leadership of the PDP had appointed him as chairman of the party’s committee charged with a responsibility to review the factors that led to the party’s loss in the 2019 election and to make recommendations for the way forward. One of the highlights of Bala’s committee report, which he submitted a few months ago, had called for the jettisoning of zoning of the PDP presidential ticket for the 2023 poll.
The report however, added that the committee received numerous memoranda from diverse groups and interests calling for the party’s joint presidential ticket to be zoned to the Northeast and the Southeast.
It is instructive to note that Bala Mohammed’s Buachi is one of the six states in the Northeast zone. Not a few stakeholders have insinuated that the report might have been tailored to fit the governor’s apparent presidential aspiration. So, far, he has not confirmed or denied rumours in the media space linking him to the 2023 race. He has been telling the various interest groups urging him to contest, that he was still consulting. There have been a plethora of media reports lately, that the governor may have been contemplating dumping the PDP for the APC. He has yet to confirm of deny the reports. His active involvement in the affairs of the party and the PDP Governors Forum in recent times may have put a lie to the reports. Bala Mohammed, 62, is presently serving his first tenure as governor and may seek reelection if his rumoured presidential bid fails.