Politics

Road to 2023: Will Saraki be face of PDP?

From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja

Less than three weeks to the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP) presidential primary, aspirants jostling for the opposition party’s ticket are all over the place. The aspirants, with their gaze fixed on the May 28/29 primary,  are intensifying lobby as they meet with one set of statutory delegates after another.

But unlike the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) where the number of presidential aspirants continues to grow by the day, the PDP has concluded formalities on aspirants to contest in the May 28 and 29 national convention of the party believed to be scheduled for Eagles Square, Abuja.

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With the screening of the 17 who paid N41 million for and obtained the nomination and expression of interest form by the David Mark committee and the submission of the results to the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party, the door of nomination by the main opposition has been closed. According to Mark, only 15 of the 17 aspirants will contest for the votes of the 3700 delegates on May 28 and 29.

The original 17 aspirants include Abubakar Atiku, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, Bala Mohammed, Aminu Tambuwal, Mohammed Hayatoudeen, Anyim Pius Anyim, Peter Obi, Sam Ohunabunwa, Nyesom Wike, Emmanuel Udom, Ayodele Fayose, Dele Momodu, Olivia Tarela who is the only female among them, Charles Okwudili, Chikwendu Kalu and Cosmos Ndukwe. The chairman of the screening panel, former Senate President David Mark told journalists that two of the aspirants were disqualified. Those not cleared are the former deputy speaker of the Abia State House of Assembly, Cosmas Ndukwe and US based medical practitioner, Nwachukwu Anakwenze.

But with the array of aspirants, the contest for the 2023 presidential ticket is expectedly going to be a fierce one.

A breakdown of the aspirant according to their geo-political zone reveals that South South parades three aspirants, South East 6, South West 1, North Central 1, North West 1 and North East 3.

Critical observers believe that the stakes for the PDP ticket are very high and the presidential hopefuls know this and are not leaving anything to chance.

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However, the PDP national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, has repeatedly assured that the party would create a level playing field for all the aspirants.

“There will be a level playing field for all candidates. We don’t have any special candidate.  We don’t have a preferred candidate. It is the party members who will decide and if at the end of the day, the party members vote that you are the one they want, we will queue behind you,” Ayu stated recently,  at a meeting in Abuja.

Many argue that ordinarily, the PDP Governors forum would have determined the outcome of the presidential primary but currently, the state chief executives are divided over who should be the opposition party’s presidential candidate in 2023.

While Governors Okezie Ikpeazu, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Seyi Makinde and Samuel Ortom of Abia, Enugu, Oyo and Benue states respectively,  are believed to be queueing behind the Rivers State governor,  the Adamawa State governor, Ahmadu Fintiri and his Taraba counterpart are supporting Atiku to pick the PDP presidential ticket.

On the other hand, Governors Ifeanyi Okowa, Diri Douye and Godwin Obaseki of Delta, Bayelsa and Edo states respectively are believed not to have taken a stand.

Pundits say with the division  in the governors forum, it will be difficult for the governors to deliver any particular aspirant. Besides, the Electoral Act which bars political appointees from participating in political parties, will further whittle the influence of the governors in the nomination of the PDP presidential aspirant. Therefore, each of the presidential aspirant is left to carry their own cross.

There are a total of 13 PDP controlled states, namely Abia, Enugu, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Bayelsa, Delta, Oyo, Sokoto, Bauchi, Taraba, Adamawa and Benue.

Analysts say the battle for the PDP ticket will be won and lost in the 23 other states, where there are no PDP governors. Besides, the schisms in some of the states have made them open for grabs by any of the aspirants.

However, pundits say the contest may  eventually become a four-horse race with Atiku, Wike, Tambuwal and Saraki  as the major contenders. Incidentally, they are tested hands in political duels. 

While the former Vice President, who is contesting the presidency for the sixth time, is a veteran of many political battles, Wike is more or less the face of the opposition. Similarly, the political tenacity and doggedness of Saraki and Tambuwal cannot be wished away.

However, there are some odds against  the presidential hopefuls. For Atiku, analysts say his age may be a set back, especially against the backdrop of the agitation across the country for a younger president. The former vice president is currently in his 70s.

Similarly,  observers argue  that though the Sokoto State governor, who came second in the 2019 presidential primary, says he is the candidate that will deliver the presidency to the PDP in 2023, the fact that he is from the North West, where President Muhammadu Buhari, who would be completing his eight years tenure in 2023 is a major drawback. Pundits say not many would be disposed to having President Buhari’s successor come from the North West.

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For the Rivers State governor, he has has actually put up a strong fight for the PDP presidential ticket. However, Daily Sun learnt that there are a lot of politicians within the PDP and the APC, who have personal scores to settle with Wike. Therefore, they may want to use the opportunity of the PDP presidential primary to get even with him.

So far, the odds are seemly in favour of the former governor of Kwara State, Saraki. In the last few days, the former Senate president has been chalking in several endorsements, fueling speculations that he may just emerge the opposition party’s 2023 presidential candidate.

Some northerners under the leadership of former military President, Ibrahim Babangida recently endorsed Saraki and the Bauchi governor as the North consensus candidate for the PDP primary. However, the endorsement, which was announced by the leader of the Northern Elders Forum, has generated controversy, with some PDP stakeholders in the North denouncing it.

Former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido, in a statement, had  noted” …that what is reported in the Media is only the personal opinion of those who issued the statement and not the position of the PDP members in the North.”

Lamido, who said “the position of the Northern Elders is not only injurious to the North but equally injurious to the Northern aspirants,” at a press briefing by some northern stakeholders, said the national convention will determine the PDP presidential candidate.

Nevertheless, analysts say the controversy trailing the endorsement notwithstanding, its import cannot be completely wished away. And with the declaration of Bala Mohammed that he would step down for President Goodluck Jonathan if he decides to throw his hat into the presidential contest,  the former Senate President may eventually emerge that consensus candidate of the North. Besides, some  delegates from North Central and the South also endorsed the former Kwara governor as their choice for the PDP presidential candidacy.

Former PDP national chairman, Kawu Baraje, recently told party stakeholders in the North Central that it was time for the zone to produce the President of the country.

Baraje said: “we have not seen another candidate from any of the other zones, when we see them we will talk. The only candidate we have seen who is more than qualified is Senator Bukola Saraki.”

Analysts, say though Obi and Anyim, are eminently qualified to be the PDP presidential candidate, the prediction  of the party to  jettison zoning is a major draw back for the two aspirants.

The PDP zoning committee headed by Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, had recommended that the presidential ticket should be thrown open.  Although the recommendation has continued to generate concerns in the opposition party, the decision of the PDP leaders to jettison zoning in the choice of its presidential candidate may have been concluded.

Analysts argue that despite frantic efforts by Obi and Anyim to woo delegates, the chances of the South East clinching the PDP presidential ticket is slim in an open contest. This is because the number of delegates for the opposition party’s national convention is skewed heavily in favour of the North.

Besides, Governors Ugwuanyi and  Ikpeazu of Enugu and Abia states respectively, who ordinarily should lead the campaign for the South East to produce the PDP 2023 presidential candidate are said to  have pitched their tent with Wike.

In addition, efforts by Obi, Anyim, Ohuabunwa and Anakwenze to forge an alliance to boost the chances of the South East producing the PDP  presidential candidate has seemly collapsed.

A top party source told Daily Sun, recently, that after their first meeting in Abuja, the four aspirants have not done any serious follow-up.

He  said: “The thing( alliance) is not likely to yield any fruit. There hasn’t been any serious follow-up for now. But if they want to pursue it seriously, there is still time.  Maybe others ( presidential aspirants from the South East)will join. But it has not reached that stage.”

So in all, in the estimation of many, while the leaders are not comfortable with Wike and are not ready to trust him with the ticket, they believe he has to be factored into the consideration for the convention or primaries. The elders believe that today, the PDP has three leading aspirants, one of whom will emerge. They are Atiku, Saraki (both from the North) and Wike from the South. The calculation is that the three men are the ones they have to make up their mind on who to back and sell to the super delegates who will then spread the message down to the other delegates.

This is because realistically, the three men are the leading aspirants in terms of reach, acceptance, name recognition, exhaustive campaign and influence among delegates.

However, it is for the delegates to make up their mind and decide which of the three men that will fly the flag of the party even though for now,  Saraki has a lot going for him in the contest. The question now is whether the endorsements he has so far garnered  will translate to votes at the May 28/29 PDP convention.

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