By Omoshola Deji
Nigeria’s main opposition political party, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, lost power to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015, after ruling the nation for 16 years. As the 2019 presidential election race gains speed, the PDP has vowed to regain power in 2019, but two major challenges stands in her way. The party must present a credible presidential candidate and defeat incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari at the polls. Thirteen political heavyweights are struggling for PDP’s ticket and efforts to present a consensus candidate proved abortive. The party is on the verge of conducting a presidential primary to elect the one who will confront Buhari. This piece weighs the chance of the candidates and foretells the outcome.
The thirteen aspirants jostling for the PDP presidential ticket are former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Senate President Bukola Saraki, Governors Aminu Tambuwal and Ibrahim Dakwambo of Sokoto and Gombe States, 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 Stanley Osifo from Edo State. The PDP presidential aspirants are mainly northerners. The party zoned the ticket to the north in order to lessen Buhari’s vote in the region. The two digit number of aspirants struggling for PDP’s ticket is an indication that the party’s umbrella is large and strong enough to manage all manner of persons, burden and character.
Except PDP presents a credible candidate to Nigerians, it will be difficult for the party to regain power in 2019. The states with the highest number of registered voters such as Kano and Lagos are being ruled by the APC. PDP is in control of 14 states, including Kwara, Bayelsa, Abia, Gombe, Ekiti, Delta, Ebonyi, Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Taraba, Cross-Rivers, Enugu, Sokoto and Benue states. The national convention and presidential primary is scheduled to hold in Rivers state.
On how the presidential candidate would emerge, PDP’s Electoral Guideline states that “aspirant with the highest number of votes at the end of the voting shall be declared the winner of the primary. The document further states that “each aspirant must be nominated by at least 60 persons from not less than two-thirds of all states of the federation who shall be registered voters in their respective local government areas and also registered members of the party”.
The ruling APC has conducted her presidential primary and Buhari returned unopposed. The emergence of Buhari’s candidacy is common among incumbent presidents and governors. Scores of them do everything humanly possible to avoid primaries despite being in control of the party and the state. Competing with them is often considered an affront and such challenger would either be hounded or prevailed upon to step down. Managing the party to ensure there’s no contender and awarding automatic tickets to incumbents is the bedrock of disaffections and defections. This ruined the PDP under the leadership of ex-president Goodluck Jonathan. This also triggered a mass defection from the APC to the PDP recently.
Four out of the thirteen PDP presidential aspirants – Saraki, Kwankwaso, Tambuwal and Atiku – are APC defectors. These men would probably not have defected if they are sure of a free and fair presidential primary contest against Buhari. The desire to fulfill their ambition of ruling Nigeria made them dump the APC for the PDP. Some of them know they can’t win, but having the opportunity to test their popularity in a free, and fair primary makes them feel fulfilled.
The north-south unconstitutional, but conventional power rotation in Nigeria also pushed most of the presidential hopefuls into the PDP. Northerners nursing presidential ambition would be restricted by zoning if do not try their luck now. The ruling elites have technically zoned the presidency to the north and power is expected to return to the South by 2023. The implication of such is that if the northern aspirants postpone their ambition, remain in the APC, and Buhari earns another term to rule till 2023, virtually all the waiting aspirants may never have the opportunity to become president again. They apparently have to wait till 2031, after the south must have ruled for eight years. By 2031, majority of those currently interested in the nation’s top job would have become old and unfit.
Atiku is 71, Lamido is 69, Turaki is 61, and Markafi is 62. If you add 12 years (2019-2031) to the age of all the aspirants, you’ll realize that many of them cannot really afford to wait, especially with the rising advocacy of not too young to run. The either-now-or-never desperation would make the PDP primary a very keen contest.
The star-studded race would be very fierce as veteran contestant Atiku Abubakar seems to only have this one last opportunity. Atiku has failed to achieve his presidential ambition on three attempts, but he has remained consistent in his pursuit. He has traversed the country, making consultations and selling his programs to vote-determining groups and individuals, including former and serving governors and legislatures, religious and traditional leaders, business moguls, and the international community. His advocacy for restructuring is also earning him admiration across the country.
The major obstacle to Atiku’s candidacy is that many see him as a political migrant that jumps from one party to another. He is also competing with a go-getter like Saraki, younger aspirant Tambuwal, and loyal party man like Dakwambo. Be that as it may, Atiku would get the party ticket, if the delegates top voting criteria is the financial capacity to fund campaigns and preference for someone who is popular across Nigeria. Atiku is virtually the only candidate with no other alternative. Majority of the other aspirants have picked governorship and senatorial forms through surrogates.
PDP has been copying APC’s strategy lately. A number of regional political parties merged to form the APC and defeat the PDP in 2015. Adopting a similar strategy, the PDP has aligned with about 40 parties with the sole goal of fielding a joint presidential candidate to defeat the APC in 2019. APC members picked their National Chairman, Adams Oshiomole from the South-South and the PDP did same by going for Uche Secondus. APC presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari is from the northwest, will PDP also present a candidate from the region? Most likely.