Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar; Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike; his Sokoto State counterpart, Aminu Tambuwal; and a former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, are among the frontline presidential aspirants who will contest the primary of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party today (Saturday).
Others are Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State; his Bauchi State counterpart, Bala Mohammed; a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose; a former Senate President, Pius Anyim; Diana Teriela, the only woman in the race; former FSB Managing Director, Muhammed Hayatu-Deen; media mogul, Dele Momodu; a pharmacist, Sam Ohuabunwa; Charles Ugwu and Chikwendu Kalu.
Former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, who had been screened to participate in the primary, has since defected to the Labour Party.
The election is likely going to be a contest between Atiku, Saraki Tambuwal and Wike.
Many of the delegates, who spoke with one of our correspondents, said the party must consider who could win the presidential election among the aspirants.
One of them said, “The principal idea behind the decision of the party to throw the presidential contest open to all the six geo-political zones is to ensure that the PDP does not deprive itself of the best candidate who can win the presidency for us in 2023. Every political party wants to win elections.
“This is was the reason why the national leadership of the party refused to zone the ticket to any of the six geo-political zones in the country. I am sure you know that the PDP won the last presidential election. That is why we want Atiku back as our candidate.”
When one of our correspondents visited the campaign offices of some of the aspirants in Abuja, they were brimming with activities.
The liaison houses of some state governments, whose governors are also in the race, were decorated with the campaign insignia of the respective governors.
The state liaison houses of Sokoto, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi and Rivers states at Asokoro were busy with activities.
Source, however, said the refusal of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to sign the amended version of the Electoral Act, 2022 had affected the planning of some of the aspirants.
“If the new Act had been signed, it would have increased the chances of some of the governors, because members of the National Assembly from their states would have been among the delegates and they would have lined up behind their governors,” another source said.
Before the new order, there were more delegates from the southern parts of the country on account of the fact that the PDP controls more states in the South.
However, with the exclusion of statutory delegates and with the provision that only elected delegates, one from each local government area, are eligible to vote during today’s convention, there is a shift in the balance of power between the North, with more local government areas, and the South.
It was gathered that the new arrangement would be in favour of the likes of Atiku and Saraki.
Political watchers are of the opinion that delegates from the state caucuses of the party from the North will vote en masse for Atiku and Tambuwal.
It was also observed that a good number of delegates from the South were likely to vote for Atiku, Wike and Saraki.
There is the likelihood that the exit of Obi from the party has opened the eastern flank to hunting and many of the delegates from the region will prefer to go with Atiku than Wike.
Apart from Abia and Enugu states, whose governors are said to be behind Wike, it was learnt that delegates from the South-East might be shared by contenders like Atiku and Anyim.
A delegate from Ogun State, who spoke with journalists under the condition of anonymity said, “We have been in opposition for almost 12 years. We are not here to play or to collect cheap inducements. We are here for real business and what we are looking at is the aspirant among the lot who can win in the general elections and mobilise federal power for us to win back our states for the PDP. You remember that before 2003, the whole of the South-West was in the Alliance for Democracy. But you recall that it was Baba Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku who brought the PDP to government houses in the South-West.
“Although Governor Wike has been saying the same thing that he can win our states for the PDP, do you really believe that if we present him he can win the general elections? I am not comfortable with these current governors, who want to be president. They are easy targets for the APC to embarrass on corruption allegations and you know that the time between the primaries and the general elections is very long and there is an opportunity to do enough damage to a governor with corruption allegations hanging on his neck as the PDP presidential candidate.”
Be transparent, Mark tells convention planning committee members
In the meantime, the Chairman of the PDP National Convention Organising Committee, Senator David Mark, assured members of the party that arrangements had been made for a hitch-free exercise.
He spoke while addressing members of the committee in Abuja on Friday.
He also vowed that the exercise would be smooth and transparent.
Mark told members of the committee, “You must be absolutely transparent. If you have any interest or bias for any of the aspirants, you can excuse yourself from this assignment.
“We are prepared for the exercise; virtually all our delegates have arrived Abuja. The PDP has an array of eminently qualified persons to rule Nigeria. We carried out due diligence during our screening. I am confident that whoever emerges from the convention will reflect the wishes of our party.”
Aspirants vow not to step down
Speaking with Saturday PUNCH, Mr Paul Ibe, who is Atiku’s spokesman, said the former Vice-President was confident of victory.
“Well, I can tell you without any ambiguity that Atiku Abubakar has actually worked very hard as an individual. The unique selling point of Atiku Abubakar is as a unifier, a bridge builder, experienced and has multiple competencies. That has been well populated in the public space. Because of the peculiar time that Nigeria has found itself, plagued by insecurity, economic depression, hunger, poverty and all of that, Nigerians know the kind of leader they need at this point in time,” he said.
On if Atiku would step down in favour of a consensus candidate, Ibe stated, “He will harvest delegates. I wouldn’t know if there will be consensus, but in the next 24 hours, anything can happen. It is possible that there will be alignments. How will he be stepping down when he is the man to beat?”
Also speaking with Saturday PUNCH, the spokesman for Saraki, Mr Yusuph Olaniyonu, said his principal had campaigned and lobbied delegates.
Olaniyonu said he was confident that Saraki would clinch the party’s ticket. When asked if the former Senate President would dump the PDP if he loses, Olaniyonu responded, “He will not lose. We are very well prepared. We have done our best. We are confident.