Having won the presidential primary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), KUNLE ODEREMI writes on if former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is out to consolidate or up his game in the February 25, 2023 election.
Prior to the May 28-29, 2022 presidential primary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held at the MKO Abiola National Stadium Abuja, various opportunities were created for all the aspirants to showcase themselves. Majority of the then 15 contenders for the ticket of the main opposition party for the 2023 presidency gave an insight into their blueprint and why they are best suited to lead the country out of perceived quagmire.
At one of those occasions before major PDP stakeholders, a former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar itemised factors he could leverage on as candidate. He said those reasons put him a shoulder high above the other aspirants that threw their hat into the ring. He boasted of having 11 million votes already in the kitty based on his performance at the 2019 presidential poll. He assumed that those number of voters were only waiting for him to clinch the ticket for them to re-enact the 2019 experience. Another reason he advanced was that he was not new to such high-stake contest, having been in the quest to become the number one citizen of the country for five times in the past. Coupled with those factors was the fact that he tasted power before and excelled in the private sector.
But are the 11 million votes he, his associates and allies talk about still intact, given the fluidity in the political environment? What about other factors that have continued to manifest in the battle for supremacy, power and authority in the land, especially after the last general election in the country? Aren’t there new political dynamics that could sway voters, determine the shape and form of politics, with eight months to the 2023 presidential poll?
The final buildup to the PDP presidential primary was asphyxiating until the stage all the 13 aspirants were made to speak for a maximum of five minutes on their mission and vision before the more than 700 delegates that converged for the presidential convention. It was an opportunity for the then aspirants to exhibit erudition, grasp of issues and challenges confronting the country, and offer pragmatic approach and realistic ideas on the direction things might go if they were elected president.
The pervasive suspense subsisted despite reports about the intense horse-trading orchestrated by the combined efforts of traditional and political establishment from the North to break through compromise among aspirants from the North. With the governor of Sokoto State, Honourable Aminu Waziri Tambuwal announcing his withdrawal from the contest at the zero hour, there was a clear signal of the preponderance of the northern caucus having their way. The consequent lamentation and outcry by the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike over the power play and scramble for the votes of delegates only resonates based on what some observers described as the lack lustre and lackadaisical approach to the demand of southern governors for a southern president to succeed Buhari. According to the analysts, with the absence of a coalition based on a sound and shared political philosophy among those behind the initiative, the demand remains a mere clamour. Thus, one or two colleagues of Wike from the South that sandwiched delegates from their states to the primary changed tunes on the campaign for southern or southeastern president in 2023. What this meant was that quite a number of delegates from the South flowed with such leaders at the crucial moment during the primary.
It was apparent that last Saturday’s primary would be a near reenactment of the 2019 exercise. Having failed to strike at building a consensus, the camps of the aspirants from the South created crevices for infiltration by external and rival forces. They aspirants chose to go solo instead of forging a workable alliance with support from the North. Regional bodies that had promised to facilitate opportunity for compromise, ostensibly gave up due to the warped choice of friendship by the aspirants across the zones, with fifth columnists on the prowl. So, the question about bloc votes for aspirants from the South became doubtful except for perhaps two or three contestants from the South-South and the South-East with only one of them as a leading contender for PDP ticket.
Third Force syndrome
With former governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi as his running mate in 2019, Atiku recorded a measure of impact in the South-East. He polled majority of the votes from the five states in the zone, including Imo State, where APC was the ruling party. Most of the votes for the PDP ticket in the South-East emanated from Enugu, Abia, Ebonyi and Abia. With the exit of Obi from the PDP to pick the ticket of the Labour Party (LP), there is bound to a change in the voting pattern of the state and indeed the South-East. The other factor that may account for the reconfiguration could be the quest by the Igbo to lead the country in 2023, a crusade that has subsisted in spite of the unimpressive performance of aspirants from the South-East that partook in the primary of the main opposition PDP.
A major fallout of the indiscretion in both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the PDP over power rotation and zoning is the resurgence of the Third Force concept in the unfolding political dispensation. The whiff of political animosity aggravated by desperation for elective offices in 2023 has culminated groups revisiting the Third Force syndrome with focus on at least three fringe parties: Social Democratic Party (SDP), LP and the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). Some key promoters of the initiative is that Obi might be made the beneficiary. According to inside sources, since PDP has settled for Atiku as its standard-bearer, the option left for the platform is to key into the agenda of some influential persons outside the South-East that the next president should be an Igbo man. The promoters of the cause plan to release a detailed action plan shortly.
How 2019 poll was won and lost
With his 15.1 million votes, Buhari had 19 states in the last presidential election, while Atiku had 17 states with a total votes of 11, 3 million. Seventy-three candidates contested the 2019 presidential poll, with 82, 344,107 registered voters. President Buhari won with 15, 191, 847 votes to defeat Atiku who secured 11, 262, 978 votes based on INEC results. The analysis of the result showed that Buhari won in 19 state while Atiku won in 17 states and Abuja. However, Buhari was able to satisfy the constitutional requirement of getting 25 percent in 34 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), but missed the benchmark in both Anambra and Enugu states, according to the commission. His 2019 electoral performance has become a reference point for the ex-vice president. It benchmarks his new thinking and determination to lead the country. For instance, in proclaiming his sixth attempt at becoming president, he said the 2023 poll is a referendum for Nigerians to choose between greatness and lack of progress by their country. It was in this regard that, he was resolute in his ambition to lead Nigeria to guarantee the Nigeria of our dream. His words: “I have contested for the office of president of the federal republic of Nigeria a couple of times in the past. My enduring persistence is borne out of my passion to rekindle the Nigerian dream that I was privileged to live.” But in the last election, he could not amass maximum votes in states such as Kaduna, Osun, Kwara, Nasarawa, Kogi, Jigawa, Ekiti, Gombe, Yobe, Bauchi, Lagos, Ogun, Kano, Katsina, Borno,Sokoto, Kebbi, and Zamfara. Except in Sokoto, Bauchi and Zamfara states, the rest are still being controlled by the All Progressives Congress (APC).
However, Atiku won in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) with 259, 997 votes; Ondo (275, 901); Abia (219 698); Enugu (355,553); Ebonyi (258 573); Anambra (524,738); Oyo (366,690); Adamawa (410,266); Edo (275,691); Benue (275,691) votes; Imo (334, 923); Plateau (548, 665); Taraba (374, 743); Cross River (295, 832); Akwa Ibom (395, 832); Delta (594,068); Bayelsa (197933) and Rivers with 473,971 votes. Meanwhile, there have been series of political realignments since the last general election in the country. These alliances could have far-reaching impact on voting patterns across the six geopolitical zones in the 2023 general election. A similar realignments during the preparations for the 2019 elections changed the scenario in some states, among them, Benue. Governors of Cross River and Ebonyi states have dumped the PDP for APC in the current dispensation, just as some members of the National Assembly have either moved from the APC to the PDP or vice versa lately.
Obstacles before Atiku
The PDP candidate has a number of obstacles, among which is how to placate the zones, especially the South-East; what can he offer the zone to sway them from rallying support for Obi, who appears resolute to run for the presidency? Atiku also faces the challenge of routing the APC in high-voting population areas like Noro, Kano, Katsina and Niger State, where the APC had banked on to consolidate in power. The NNPP machinery may not be formidable enough to make Musa Kwankwaso create an upset against Governor Ganduje who enjoys the privileges of incumbency and solid support coming from Abuja.
The PDP was totally in disarray after it lost the 2019 general election. Many of its leaders became disinterested in the affairs of the party. Discordant tunes among them on the factors that led to the electoral setback raged, consuming PDP leadership at various stages.
To calm frayed nerves, the leadership constituted reconciliation committees but the efforts paled into insignificance, due to the deep-seated anger and frustration among party members. One of such committees was under Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, with a mandate to investigate the immediate and remote causes of PDP defeat in the 2019 elections. One of the main recommendations of the committee was that zoning between the North and the South should be kept in abeyance, and that the 2023 presidential ticket should be thrown open to all the zones in the country. The recommendation sparked a row because it undermined the provision on power shift and power rotation in the PDP Constitution.
The controversy over zoning dovetailed into the frenzied buildup to the conduct of the national convention of the party to constitute a new National Executive Committee (NEC) in October 2021. With the emergence of Dr Iyorchia Ayu, who is from the North as the new national chairman of the party, some advocates of power shift had assumed that the presidential candidate of PDP would come from the South. That school of thought ostensibly led to a preponderance of presidential hopefuls from the South. But with some presidential aspirants from the North openly indicating interest in the ticket, the debacle over zoning became more pronounced, with groups within and outside the PDP taking positions on the controversy. Again, different interventions from the leadership of the party could not solve the riddle, thus the presidential race was thrown open for all aspirants across the zones had to test their popularity and acceptance at the primaries.
Meanwhile, the party had screened 17 presidential hopefuls, who had obtained and submitted nomination and expression of interest forms at N40 million each. Two of the aspirants were not successful during the screening exercise paving the way for 15 aspirants at the primary. However, a former governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi pulled out of the race and renounced his membership of the party, just as a banker, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen also withdrew from the contest at the threshold of the primary. Similarly, Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State withdrew from the contest and asked his supporters to vote for Atiku at the primary.
The emergence of Atiku at the primary was remarkable as it was a product of last-minute political negotiation, bargaining, compromise. Governors and other power brokers had to engage in vigorous discussions and consultations to avert a possibl e logjam because of the determination of the key aspirants to push through their bid, in spite of perceived immediate and long-term implications for PDP at post primary.