Seven years ago, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lost power to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Although it made a frantic effort to regain control in 2019, it was futile. Can the main opposition party bounce back in 2023?
Seventeen aspirants picked the presidential nomination forms. The PDP Presidential Screening Committee, led by Gen. David Mark, screened out two of the 17 aspirants. The panel was silent about the names of the affected persons.
The goal of the screening, according to party sources, was to separate the contenders from pretenders.
Since then, the 15 who survived the hurdle have been traversing the 37 chapters across the country to woo delegates.
Prominent PDP contenders are former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Senate President Bukola Saraki, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed, Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal, Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel, former Senate President Pius Anyim, banker Mohammed Hayatu-Deen and businessman Sam Ohunabunwa.
Also in the race are former Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose, his Anambra counterpart, Peter Obi, and publisher Dele Momodu.
Since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the guidelines for next year’s polls, PDP has been busy. Party leaders have returned to the drawing board to map out winning strategies.
Apart streamlining the increasing number of presidential aspirants to a more manageable number to avoid a crowded and rancorous race, the party also, for the first time, jettisoned zoning or rotation of Presidency between North and South. Fifteen aspirants from the North and South were cleared for the shadow poll.
However, only a few are considered ‘serious contenders’ among those on the field criss crossing the six geo-political zones, soliciting for votes from delegates ahead of th convention slated for May 28.
Party insiders take the ambition of Atiku, Saraki and Wike very serious. Some have said that Mohammed and Tambuwal also obtained other forms. While Mohammed has picked form to return for a second term in office, Tambuwal, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, has also obtained the form for the Senate.
Recently, the Bauchi governor also disclosed that he would not run for President, if his former boss, former President Goodluck Jonathan, decided to contest.
At the weekend, it could not be confirmed whether the former leader is running or not.
The big question is how will almost 4,000 delegates vote at the national convention to elect the presidential flagbearer? Money, personality, ethnicity, religion, structure and strategy will play great roles.
There are six states in the zone. They are Kwara, Kogi, Niger, Plateau, Benue and Nasarawa. Saraki, who is a former Kwara State governor, holds the ace in Kwara and environs. He controls the party structure in Kwara and holds all the delegates in his kitty.
In neighbouring Kogi State, some parts of which was under Kwara, the situation may not be different as he is believed to be the major financier of the PDP in the state. Currently, Kogi is an APC state. Both Kwara and Kogi have both close affinity.
The people of Kogi State still see themselves as kinsmen and women with Kwarans and they may feel safer with Saraki, who they see as one of them. With huge mineral deposits in the state, one can understand their sentiment and the belief that they would immensely profit from a Saraki presidency.
However, it should be noted that the influence of former Governor Ibrahim Idris, who is not in Saraki’s camp, cannot be wished away. The prepondrance of opinion is that local sentiments favour Saraki. But, the support may not be total because of the Idris factor.
Atiku, Tambuwal and Saraki are targeting Niger, which also an APC state. The votes of delegates from Niger State, according to analysts, may favour Saraki, who had earlier been adopted as one of the consensus candidates by some northern elders assembled by former President Ibrahim Babangida.
A part of the state was also carved out from Kwara, where both Saraki and his late father, Dr. Olusola Saraki hold major stake and influence.
The new major force in the state is Senator Zainab Kure. Although he may be disposed to Saraki, but he has not indicated her preference. If he does not support Saraki, then, anybody he backs will slug it out with the former Senate President.
Delegates that will attend the convention from Nasarawa State where Saraki as chairman of National Reconciliation and Strategy Committee (NRSC) has played major role in fostering unity and cohesion are said to be in the waiting to repay his good gesture at the convention. Saraki also enjoys the support of stakeholders like Senators Suleiman Adokwe, Phillip Gyunka and Solomon Ewuga, all of whom will help in swinging delegates votes to the former Senate President.
But, in the last few months, Wike has also made inroad into the state through his association with Hon. Ombugardu. The votes of delegates from the state may be shared between Saraki and Wike.
In the same vein, major PDP stalwarts in Plateau State, including former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Lt. Gen.Jeremiah Useni and a former governor of the state, Sen. Jonah Jang, who was in the Nigeria Governor’s Forum, which Saraki presided over at the time, are with the former Chairman of the NGF.
Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, is no doubt a close ally of Wike. But, the state is the centre of the agitation for a President from the North Central. It is on record that Benue people want a president from the zone.
The governor also does not enjoy of the support of Idoma people because he did not choose a successor from among them. They have vowed to work at cross purpose with him during the convention, and the governor, like every other delegate, only has a vote.
The cosmopolitan nature of the FCT makes it difficult to predict how the delegate will vote, especially with Senator Philip Aduda as arrowhead. Aduda looks like the ‘beautiful bride,’ being looked up to by all aspirants. He is a close ally of Saraki. But, he is also a friend of Wike.
In the North West, the return of former Zamfara State Governor Abdul’aziz Yari and Senator Kabir Marafa to PDP will change the game. If Saraki can elicit their support, it will boost his aspiration. The duo are known to be strong allies of the former Senate President, just as the chairman of the party in the state, Colonel Bala Mande (rtd), is also said to be working for Saraki, who is a traditional title holder from the state.
But, considering the closeness of Zamfara to Sokoto, Tambuwal may be in a vantage position to resist Saraki there.
There is no controversy over who owns delegates from Sokoto. Tambuwal is in full control of party hierachy and structure. The governor is also said to be holding the ace in the neighbouring Kebbi State. However, Alhaji Kabiru Tanimu Turaki (SAN) is in control of the PDP structure in Kebbi. If Saraki works hard, he will get some votes from the state.
But, Atiku, an experienced operator, cannot be dismissed. He is a veteran of the game.
The Yar’Adua factor is expected to be at play in Katsina State. This may work for Atiku, his beloved prostege. However, the influence of the immediate past governor of the state and Saraki’s friend, Ibrahim Shema, mean that Saraki also has a footing in the state.
Wike, according to sources, is also targeting Katsina. He knows the influence of both Atiku and Saraki in the state. But, he is struggling to make an inroad there through Senator Mohammed Lado, the party’s governorship candidate.
Kaduna State, which has overtime remained the political headquarters of the North, is currently under an APC-led government. But, the people of Southern Kaduna, where Senator Danjuma Lar, a Saraki man hails from, always vote PDP. Atiku is reaching out to party elders in the state.
In Kano State, there is a challenge. Senator Rabiu Kwankwanso has left the PDP, but his influence will be a major determinant of how delegates will vote. Whoever aligns with him has a great chance. Despite the fact that Kwankwanso has left party, his group demonstrates strength.
This is the avenue that Wike, Saraki and Atiku are trying to exploit. One factor at play is religion.
For Jigawa, Sule Lamido, a former governor of the state and close ally of Tambuwal, holds sway. The voting pattern is predictable.
Borno State, according to political watchers, may go the way of Wike, who is said to have made an inroad there ahead of others. He funds the party machinery in the state.
But, Gombe State may go the way of Bala Mohammed, who has also been the financier of the chapter.
A former governor of the state, Ibrahim Dankwambo, who is leading Wike’s campaign, has been accused of abandoning the party in the last three years that after leaving, only to return when Wike signified interest in contesting. This may be a big minus for Wike.
Adamawa State Governor Ahmadu Fintiri is an ally Wike. But, there is limitation to friendship. He may not be able to openly to express his preference because of local sentiment, which favours Atiku, Waziri of Adamawa. The state is for Atiku. But, surprisingly, Wike will rake some votes.
Elder statesman Gen. Yakubu Danjuma is in firm control of Taraba State politics. He is in support of the Northcentral’s agitation for presidency. He prefers a young person. Political watchers say if Saraki plays his game well, he may curry his favour. But, generally, the perception. Is that Taraba is still for the Atiku.
In Bauchi State, if Governor Mohammed, remains in the race, all the delegates will vote for him. But, if he opts out, the delegates may scatter. Atiku may get delegates from the state, if Mohammed steps aside. But, a source said at the weekend that Saraki and Wike are closely monitoring the situation in Bauchi. Ethnicity may work against Wike.
Ladi Adebutu is a major factor in Ogun State PDP. He is working for Atiku. While Adebutu is working for Atiku, he cannot frown at some delegates who may vote the Saraki. The former Senate President had penetrated some chapters when he was on reconciliatory mission. Due to his governorship ambition, Adebutu would not want to rock the both because of its consequences.
The closeness between Wike and Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde makes it an open truth that the River State Governor has an upper hand in the state.
Osun State is considered a safe state for Saraki because of his closeness to the Adelekes and former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who are in control of the chapter.
The situation in Lagos State is fluid. It’s between old brigades of Atiku and younger elements that Saraki represents. Atiku has larger support in Ondo State because of the influence of Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), but Saraki and Wike are no pushovers in the states.
The issue is that Atiku, Wike and Tambuwal have deep pockets.
The person holding the party structure in Ekiti State is Fayose, who is very close to Wike. Some even alleged that he is being sponsored by the Rivers governor. But, associates of Fayose have dismissed the insinuations, saying that other aspirants are not more competent than him.
Wike’s influence on Fayose may be targetted at ensuring Atiku and Saraki do not penetrate the state.
Rivers State, no doubt, is for Wike. He will clear all the votes.
Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa is a friend of Saraki. However, James Ibori, a former governor of the state, is however, working for Atiku.
Delta State PDP delegates will be shared between Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and former Governor James Ibori, if they work at cross purpose.
Okowa is said to be well disposed to Saraki, but Atiku will do well too because of Ibori, who still has much influence on the politics of the state.
Okowa, it is said, has an ambition for vice president. He is likely to gravitate towards any aspirant who can assure him of the ticket for running mate may
Governor Emmanuel Udom is also in the race and he is expected to have all the votes from Akwa Ibom, provided he does not quit the race before the convention or on the the day of the convention.
A source said: “If he drops, Saraki will inherit his delegates because it is believed they’re working in an alliance.” Another source said:”There will be bargaining that will enhance relevance for him beyond 2023.”
Edo is torn between Saraki and Wike. Governor Godwin Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shuaibu, are well disposed to Saraki. Dan Orbih, Vice Chairman, Southsouth, is an ally of Wike and he is from Edo. Edo delegates will be split.
Bayelsa State Governor Douye Diri is believed to be supporting Saraki. The governor was a member of the House of Representatives when Saraki was Senate President. He was one of Saraki’s supporters back then. Diri knew Wike worked for Timi Alaibe during the contest for the governorshio poll and he is not overlooking it. But, the former governor, Senator Seriake Dickson, is also a factor. If he is not on the same page with the governor, there can still be in-road for Atiku and Wike.
Cross River is for Wike. But Atiku and Saraki cannot be brushed aside. Saraki enjoys the backing of some stakeholders in the state, including a former Governor Liyel Imoke, who was at Saraki’s presidential declaration in Abuja. Older party members prefer Atiku.
Peter Obi is in firm control of Anambra State delegates. The calculation is that in case he withdraws, whoever he supports will inherit his delegates.
But, the context for Imo State delegates is between Wike and Tambuwal. The party’s national secretary, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, is Wike’s associate while former Governor Emeka Ihedioha is Tambuwal’s pperson.s,
Abia State has a PDP governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, who will decide where the delegates will vote. He is a supporter of zoning or power shift to the South. Therefore, he is rooting for Wike.
Although he is believed to be a Wike’s man, there are some federal lawmakers like Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, and other chieftains who believe the governor should not dictate to them.
Anyim enjoys overwhelming support of Ebonyi State delegates.
Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is Wike’s man. But others like Saraki have foot-soldiers there like Senators Ike Ekweremadu and Okechukwu Utazi.
Currently, the PDP presidential primary is like a three-horse race among Saraki, Atiku and Wike.
The calculation of aspirants can still change. Twenty four hours is a long time in politics. It is a slippery filed.