The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubarkar , has kicked off his campaigns but Abuja Bureau Chief, OBIORA IFOH, writes that that there are many challenges the former Vice President must overcome.
Few days ago, about 41 political parties under the auspices of Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP endorsed former Vice President Atiku Abubarkar as the consensus candidate of the opposition parties. The CUPP said its choice of Atiku was due to his qualities which tower above every other contestants to the office. They include national acceptability, financial capacity, spread of his political party, leadership capacity, international acceptability, experience, capacity to rebuild the economy, secure the country and unite all Nigerians amongst other.
The implication is that the 41 parties will file behind the PDP candidate in the pursuit of his aspiration in the coming general election. Meanwhile, it would be noted that Nigeria has 91 political parties presently and from INEC records over 30 other parties have fielded their presidential candidates of which the All Progressives Congress’ Muhammadu Buhari, the incumbent president is the candidate to beat.
After the Port Harcourt convention, Atiku’s first major triumph was the ease with which his fellow contestants against all odds, conceded defeat and pledged to work with him. Several meetings ensued which culminated to the Dubai stakeholders meeting where the party leaders converged in the United Arab Emirates capital city to strategize on the way forward.
The long absence of Atiku from Nigeria appeared to have troubled the APC leaders and the result was the invasion of his plane by the State Security Service on arrival in Nigeria in search of incriminating evidences. This was to be the first hurdle Atiku surmounted and may likely face in future as the security agencies will leave nothing to chance in making sure that they use all government apparatus to hound him.
Having escaped the trap by the government, the agitation by the South-East leaders was getting louder and messier by the day. Leaders of the PDP in the South East had raised objection on the method their party’s presidential running mate, Mr. Peter Obi was chosen and announced without their consultation. The leaders said they only heard about Obi’s choice in the social media and felt slighted by the presidential candidate.
National Vice Chairman of the PDP for South East, Deacon Austin Umahi, who addressed the media said, “Peter Obi is our son and he is from the south east. We are not rejecting anybody but we are saying we are not aware but as leaders of south east said you cannot shave a Man in his absence. The people of the south east need to know, that is our stand. There is no rejection, he is our son.”
The nomination of Peter Obi naturally ruffled a few leaders who are of the opinion that the former Anambra state governor was a late joiner in the party and has contributed very little or nothing to the party. To them, though he is eminently qualified for the position but there are many other party leaders who have bore the brunt of the party in the past and even under the present administration. Standing tops amongst such leaders is the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremmadu, who it was said to have the backing of the three PDP Governor’s from the zone as the natural choice for the top office.
Though, Buhari has reached out to the leaders of the zone where he assured them of his good intentions but it appears the bruise is still deep and hurting. The leaders have since then refused to attend most party functions including the turbanning of Atiku as the Waziri of Adamawa as well as the inauguration of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organization. The leaders also recently paid a closed door visit to President Buhari in Aso Villa.
South east is the only zone that fully stood for PDP in the 2015 general election, delivering all the states for President Goodluck Jonathan. The zone has constantly rebuffed all appeasement from the centre and has vowed to oppose the Buhari government at the detriment of political marginalization. It is therefore a political suicide for the Atiku camp if he ventures into 2019 without truly mending fences with Southeast.
Similarly, the Atiku will have so much trouble-shooting in the South South with the rumored backing-out of Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike as the coordinator of the campaign in the zone.
According to a source, It is understood that Wike was not comfortable with the way things are going in the campaign, especially lack of consultations of appropriate party leaders before vital decisions and appointments are made. The governor has also challenged anyone to show anywhere it was agreed that vice presidency slot must go to the South East.
Recall that Governor Wike had openly supported the presidential aspiration of Aminu Tambuwal and he was expected to run as his vice had the plans worked out. The crushing defeat at the convention may not have been addressed properly. Wike is one of the strong financial pillars of the party. He is also the godfather of the National Chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus. The Atiku camp must work hard to overcome the hurdles of ensuring that the zone particularly, Rivers State is in sync with the agenda of the campaign committee.
Though, Atiku campaign’s visit to Southwest was greeted with massive crowd of supporters and assurances were given as to the victory of PDP in the zone but behind the scene were acrimonies by some stakeholders over the decision of the candidate to snub the zone in his choice of the Vice President. Before naming Obi as his running mate, some party leaders in the South-West had called on the ex-VP to consider the zone for the VP slot. The presidential candidate whose first wife is from the zone also assured them that he was going to reciprocate their support at the convention where the zone gave him bulk endorsement. It was gathered that the South-West might get the position of either the Secretary to the Government of the Federation or that of the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Atiku cabinet.
On the plan by PDP to reward South-West zone, the PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, said all the six geopolitical zones would be accommodated by the party “when we win the presidential election.”
He said, “The PDP is sensitive to our members in particular and the nation in general. We are going to have elaborate meetings on the zoning of offices and I can tell you all the zones will be accommodated.”
Atiku also said that the South-West is critical to his team’s struggle to liberate the country from the grip of the All Progressives Congress. He said it would be wrong to assume he had decided to neglect the zone because he didn’t pick his running mate from there, insisting that every part of the country would benefit from the available political offices and positions.
Atiku, who spoke through the Head of his Media Campaign Organisation, Mr. Segun Sowumi, said there were no plans by his team to forget any zone. “Every part of Nigeria is important to us. The South-West is very critical to our struggle to liberate the entire country from the grip of the All Progressives Congress. Our candidate has bought into the clamour by the zone for a restructured country. Apart from this, we have only given the slot of the VP out. There are other positions like that of the President of the Senate, SGF, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Head of Service and ministerial positions.”
Both Atiku and Buhari, the front runners are from the north: while Atiku is from the Northeast, Buhari is from the North West. States in the North-East include Adamawa (home state of Atiku), Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states. Presently, PDP controls Gombe and Taraba and it has a lot of followership in Bauchi and Taraba states where the party only lost power in 2015.
In the Northwest which states include Sokoto, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kaduna and Jigawa; the zone which is the most populated is believed to be a safe haven for Buhari. However, PDP has recently snatched Sokoto State and is believed to have shown strong presence in Jigawa, Kaduna and Kano states.
It was in this zone that Atiku strategically commenced its zonal campaign which turned out a massive success. The campaign organization said the spontaneous jubilation and the overflowing crowd of supporters that received PDP’s Presidential Candidate at the zone was a clear demonstration that Nigerians, across the board, have reached a consensus to vote Atiku in as the next president of Nigeria.
Similarly, at the North Central Presidential zonal rally, in Ilorin, PDP said the turnout was a clear confirmation of his acceptance across the board as the next president. The party notes, with a high sense of responsibility, the sacrifices and commitment of the people of the North Central in joining other geo-political zones in the resolve to end the Muhammadu Buhari misrule and usher in a new era of national peace, unity and economic prosperity, as represented in the candidacy of Atiku Abubakar.
“The North Central in embracing Atiku Abubakar has taken a major step in the overall aspiration by all segments of Nigeria’s population to enthrone a caring, pro-people, transparent and development-oriented administration that will unify our nation, revamp ailing economy and galvanize the productive energies of all our people, for the common good.”
Meanwhile, Atiku Abubakar, has also advised the people of the North East geopolitical zone to vote out APC in the 2019 general elections. “It is not just my desire that the people of North East gain prominence again but it is a sacred duty that the people must root out the APC completely from the bottom to the top. I want to appeal that you vote out the APC from the region by ensuring that from the Presidency down to the states, you elect only the PDP. From bottom to the top, l want the PDP to be in control as far as this zone is concerned.”
Though, Atiku appears to be having a leeway into the north, however, it may not be a smooth sail as Northern youths have said they were yet to decide on who to support between incumbent President Buhari and Atiku.
The leader of the Northern Emancipation Network, Malam Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said: “Every Nigerian, northerners most especially know that the factors that will determine 2019 are distinct from those that shaped the pattern of the 2015 elections. Unlike the previous contest, 2019 is going to be fought between two northerners of the same religious faith and of the same Fulani stock.
“What may dominate the debate for 2019 would therefore be critical physical and human development issues for the North and to a large extent, the integrity of the candidates involved in the election. It is therefore hasty for any individual or group to claim that the North has agreed on a preferred candidate among the two. This is not to take away the right of individuals or associations to form opinions in accordance with their personal set of biases.
“The North and those individuals or groups that genuinely aim to promote and protect the collective interest of the region must not be in a haste. They should allow their decision to be informed by commitment of each of the candidates to the fate of the North.
“President Buhari should make a comprehensive and articulate presentation of his efforts for the North in the last three years and the plans he has for the region if given the second chance by the people. On the other hand, Atiku must give convincing clarifications on the myriad of moral bankruptcy issues raised against him as well as make available whatever alternative programmes he has for the region. All these have not yet been done.”
In the North, generally seen as President Buhari’s stronghold, the emergence of Atiku may have instantly altered the political calculation. Although Buhari still remains very popular in the region, early reactions to Atiku’s emergence as PDP flag bearer suggest that the 2019 presidential race will be a keen contest between the two.
Kano state gave Buhari nearly three million votes in 2015 but the estrangement of Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, the founder of Kwankwasiyya Movement has changed the political turf in the state. But recently, Kwankwaso has gone into political recluse after losing out from the presidential contest in Port Harcourt. Though he has pledged support for Atiku but he was not felt at the North West zonal campaign even though he was appointed as one of the campaign directors. It is believed that all is still not well and the Atiku must move fast to ensure he is realigned into the bigger project.
The middle belt region, including Benue, Kwara, Plateau, Nasarawa, Kogi and Niger may just be for the take if PDP can put its house together and tight. Two of the states including Kwara and Benue have since returned to PDP family and it is believed that the influence of former Senate President, David Mark, in Benue State, who lost to Atiku and Saraki in Kwara are factors that can swing the political pendulum in favour of PDP.
The incidents of deadly clashes between herders and farmers may count as factors that could determine where voters will eventually pitch their tents.
A former federal Commissioner for Information and South-South Leader, Chief Edwin Clark said it has became imperative for the zone to support Atiku because of his clamor for restructuring, insisting that restructuring was the way forward, noting that any presidential candidate talking about restructuring wants the best for Nigerians.
Similarly, a former governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife Southern and Middle Belt regions will “fight” Atiku Abubakar, within six months of his presidency if he recants on his promise to restructure Nigeria. He said that President Buhari has failed in his promise to Nigeria, especially in the area of restructuring.
“When they did not restructure and are even opposed to it, it becomes clear that APC is not for the strength of Nigeria. So, we of the South- East, South- South, South- West and Middle Belt have decided that we will support the candidate who is serious about restructuring. It is one of the reasons why Atiku is the first. Atiku started with the agitation for restructuring before me and before most of us.”
Atiku has persistently insisted on ensuring that the nation is going to be restructured and there are expectations across the country for him to fulfill his promises but he will need to first make concrete assurance to the electorates and win their trust.
Finally, Atiku’s source of stupendous wealth is being played up by the opposition as reward for graft. A senate investigation in 2006 found Atiku guilty of illegally taking funds belonging to the Petroleum Training Development Fund (PTDF). That however was dismissed as politically motivated and the court has since cleared him of any wrongful acts. The former vice-president has also been consistently linked with jailed US Congressman William Jefferson who was sentenced to 13 years in a US jail for bribing Nigerian officials in 2007. The United States has also refused to grant him visa since then even though unconfirmed report has it that a visa was recently granted to the former Vice President.
Atiku must, therefore, work to ensure that the goodwill he is receiving at the moment is appreciated and taking to the bank to ensure that they count as the election date is fast approaching. Atiku must be ready to surmount these hurdles if he hopes to go far in the presidential polls.
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