The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has to a great extent reinvented itself from the crushing defeat it suffered in 2015 and subsequent crises. Who could have thought that this was a party teetering on the brink of collapse with its soul being dragged by Senators Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Modu Sheriff before the Supreme Court came to the rescue? Ever since the epic verdict, the party has known relative peace buoyed by the dexterity of the Prince Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee.
The sack of Sheriff and company from Wadata Plaza didn’t spell the end of rancour in the main opposition party as its last convention to elect national officers was greeted by a measure of discontent although only few bigwigs resigned as a result. The defection of some APC chieftains to the main opposition party came with a mild squabble like the case in Kano that eventually saw former governor, Ibrahim Shekarau leaving the party. Only recently, there was disquiet in the PDP over the choice of Port Harcourt, the Rivers capital, as convention venue, which did not go well with some presidential aspirants.
In all of these internal disenchantments, the party has effectively managed the situation and has remained focused on the onerous task of reclaiming power in 2019. But how far it can go with this depends on three factors namely:
1. Who the 4000 party delegates select as the PDP standard bearer to confront President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the 2019 election.
2. How credible the primaries would be;
3. How the party hierarchy assuages defeated aspirants who may want to dump PDP rather than yield their political structures to the aspirant who won the ticket.
Indeed, the APC will be waiting in the wings to see if its bread will be buttered from the Port Harcourt convention.
The aspirants and their profile:
Having zoned its presidential ticket to the North, the PDP is parading about 13 star-studded list of presidential aspirants among whom are: former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Senate President Bukola Saraki, Governors Aminu Tambuwal and Ibrahim Dakwambo of Sokoto and Gombe States respectively, and ex-Governors Attahiru Bafarawa, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Ahmed Markafi, Jonah Jang, and Sule Lamido of Sokoto, Kano, Kaduna, Plateau and Jigawa states respectively. Others are former Senate President David Mark, former Minister of Special Duties, Taminu Turaki and an academia, Datti Baba-Ahmed.
Out of these lot, four have been singled out by many pundits as formidable enough to clinch the main opposition party’s ticket and give President Buhari a good run at the polls next February. They are: Saraki, Atiku, Kwankwaso and Tambuwal. Their profile and what makes them thick are presented below:
Currently the Senate President, he was born on December 19, 1962 to the family of the late Olusola Saraki, a senator (1979–1983) and onetime Senate Leader of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He studied at the London Hospital Medical College of the University of London from 1982 to 1987, where he obtained his MBBS (London). He immediately worked as a medical officer at Rush Green Hospital, Essex, from 1988 to 1989, and was a director of Société Générale Bank (Nig) Ltd from 1990 to 2000.
In 2000, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed Saraki as Special Assistant to the President on Budget. While holding this position, Saraki initiated the Fiscal Responsibility Bill and served on the Economic Policy Coordination Committee, where he was responsible for the formulation and implementation of several key economic policies for Nigeria.
In 2003, he contested and won to become Governor of Kwara State on the platform of the PDP, serving two terms that saw him leave office in 2011. Saraki at a point was the chairman of the influential Nigeria Governors’ Forum. At 56, Saraki connects very well with the Nigerian youth population and is believed to have a wide network of associates and supporters across the country and beyond, with a cosmopolitan disposition many believe puts him in good stead to unite the country as president.
Widely reputed as a master strategist, Saraki became Nigeria’s Senate President in 2015 following a hire-wire manoeuvre which saw him prevailing over forces in his then party (APC) against him becoming Nigeria’s number-three man.
He is a long-time presidential hopeful whose ambition for the nation’s plum job dates back to 1993. Born in November 25, 1946, Atiku served in the Nigeria Customs Service for 20 years rising to the rank of then second highest position of Deputy Director. He retired in April 1989 and went into full-time business and politics. In 1999, PDP’s presidential candidate, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo chose him as running mate whilst Atiku was the governor-elect of Adamawa State. He went on to serve as Vice President of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007.
Atiku is widely reputed to be more formidable than all those justling for the PDP presidential ticket as regards wherewithal and connections. He enjoys a wide following among the elite across Nigeria so much so that then serving minister in Buhari’s cabinet, Aisha Alhassan, alias Mama Taraba, tipped Atiku over her boss for presidency in 2019. They don’t come better prepared for the job than Atiku as it is believed in some quarters that he was the brain behind the economic marvels of the Obasanjo government.
The former Vice President has been in control of the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, since the death of its pioneer, Late General Shehu Musa Yar’adua. But age is also not on his side given that he is 72 and perhaps, 2019 would be the last opportunity for him to be president. He would be 77 by 2023, when power is expected to return to the South and another eight years of southern presidency means that he would 85 in 2031, when power will return to the North should the power shift arrangement hold sway.
Atiku, a strong proponent for the restructuring of Nigeria, has not only set up a campaign organization headed by a former governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel, but has crisscrossed the country, consulting with relevant stakeholders and PDP faithful. Though a founding member of the APC and its presidential aspirant for the 2015 polls, Atiku resigned from the APC on November 24, 2017 hinging his decision on the party’s failure to deliver on its promises to Nigerians, who, according to him, have long been desperate for improved economic interventions.
Here is the strong man of Kano politics and the defacto leader of the Kwankwasiyya movement. The former two-term governor of Kano State proved his political worth in 2014 when he placed second to President Buhari for the APC presidential ticket during the primaries which held at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos. Kwankwaso polled 974 votes to defeat Atiku and place behind Buhari, who won the primaries with 4,430 votes.
Born in October 21, 1956, Engineer Kwankwaso attended Kaduna Polytechnic where he achieved both his National Diploma, and Higher National Diploma. He did postgraduate studies in the United Kingdom a Middlesex Polytechnic (1982-1983) and Loughborough University of Technology (1983 -1985) where he got his master’s degree in Water Engineering. The PDP aspirant started work in 1975 at the Kano State Water Resources and Engineering Construction Agency, WRECA, serving as a civil servant for 17 years in various capacities and rising through the ranks as the principal engineer. In 1992, the former Defence minister was elected as a member of House of Representatives representing Madobi Federal Constituency. His subsequent election as Deputy Speaker in the House brought him to the limelight of national politics.
However, a major challenge to Kwankwaso’s presidential ambition is acceptance in the southern part of the country given his perceived pro-North stance. His reported position that the Federal Government disregards the onshore/offshore dichotomy in deciding oil revenue upon which derivation is paid to littoral states because it is responsible for the imbalance that has worsened poverty in the North, while he was governor still resonates in the consciousness of most southerners, especially people of the oil-rich Niger Delta. He was also said to have opposed the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIP, during its public hearing, warning then northern federal legislators against allowing the bill’s passage. Some people in the South-East have also not forgotten how Kwankwaso allegedly influenced former President Goodluck Jonathan to sack Eze Festus Odimegwu as chairman of the National Population Commission, NPC, for his position on the credibility of Nigeria’s census exercises.
Tambuwal, who until May 2015 was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is currently the Sokoto State Governor and wants to fly the PDP flag for the 2019 presidential poll. Tambuwal, who is on his first term as governor, is leveraging on the supposition that his candidacy will not only enjoy the support of the North, but other sections of the country. From the influential Seat of the Caliphate, those who see the potential in Tambuwal believe that his root puts him in good stead to gain the confidence of Hausa/Fulani emirs as well as enjoy the trust of the powerful political class.
Born on January 10, 1966 in Tambuwal village, Sokoto to Alhaji Waziri Tambuwal, the presidential aspirant had his tertiary education at the rated Usman Dan Fodio University where he studied Law, and graduated with an LLB (Hons) degree in 1991. He was called to the bar in 1992 after completing his one-year compulsory legal studies at the Nigerian Law School.
As Speaker of the House of Representatives, the serving Sokoto Governor was able to build political bridges between the North and the South. Tambuwal is indisputably the game changer in today’s primaries as he is said to have the backing of PDP governors who remain a power bloc that cannot be wished away. It is believed that he was assured of the presidential ticket before he made the switch that saw him dumping the APC with his supporters to the PDP a few months ago.
Tambuwal learnt the political ropes by serving as Personal Assistant on Legislative Affairs to Senator Abdullahi Wali, the then-Senate Leader (1999 to 2000), before he contested for a legislative seat as representative of the Kebbe/Tambuwal Federal Constituency in 2003 and later rose to become speaker in 2011.
Port Harcourt convention: an opportunity PDP mustn’t wish away
With this array of eminently qualified aspirants and many others who space won’t allow this analysis to spotlight, the PDP and its delegates will do well to select the very best among the 13 who have what it takes to return the party to power.
To stand a chance of returning to Aso Villa in 2019, PDP must go into this primary with the mindset that every of the aspirant is important and must be given equal chance through a level playground. To defeat a President as entrenched as Buhari, it is a no-brainer that the main opposition must go into the polls as a united front.
It would be an irony for a party, which months ago formed a coalition with about 38 political parties to unseat Buhari, to lose its presidential aspirants with their supporters because of irregularities in the convention. Although politicians will always be driven by their interests, analysts believe that PDP must not give them a reason to do so, hence must take factors two and three earlier listed very seriously. This is aside the very important responsibility of electing a standard bearer in whom most voters will be well pleased.