CHIBUZO UKAIBE and ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, write on the intrigues arising from the recent declaration of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar last week to vie for the presidential ticket of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State while meeting with the State governor, Nyesom Wike.
On March 27, 2018, former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, was in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital for a meeting with stakeholders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But this was more than the regular party meeting. After the fanfare and glamour that trailed his arrival, Atiku, who last December, left the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for the PDP, declared his ambition to run for President on the platform of the leading opposition political party, during the 2019 general election. His declaration was planned. The former vice president was accompanied on the visit by some party chieftains including, former PDP National Chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, former Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, former Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Michael Aaondoka and former Deputy Senate Majority Leader, Senator Abdul Ningi.
Although this might not pass for a grand declaration but, it was his first significant public statement on his ambition, even though it had been commonplace talk that he would contest the presidency in 2019. Still, the choice of Port Harcourt was significant, according to party watchers. With the growing influence of the Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, in the affairs of the party, it was strategic for the former Vice President to inform the governor and lobby his support. Many PDP watchers believe that Atiku’s decision to declare in Port Harcourt, reinforces, Wike’s influence in the party. The former vice president is not the first to declare his intent to become the PDP presidential candidate, which is zoned to the North foisted on it by the ruling party.
The former Vice President, who boasted that he will easily defeat President Muhammadu Buhari if he gets PDP’s ticket in 2019, said the President has become politically weak after squandering the goodwill of Nigerians accorded him during the 2015 elections. Atiku, who was deputy to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, said, “I will definitely beat him this time. He has wasted a lot of his massive goodwill.” Atiku said, “There is nothing wrong with it. Ours is a fledgling democracy. What it means is that political parties are yet to mature and are going through constant transformations and changes. “That is why even President Buhari has been able to move from party to party, including ANPP, CPC and now APC. And for those who read about world history and political books like I do, they will know that Abraham Lincoln, Sir Winston Churchill and others went through so much before achieving their dreams.
“After Buhari won the election, he was no longer interested in the party that made him president. Every activity stopped and even the party chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, could not take any decision. “I called Chief Odigie-Oyegun to tell him that our party was dying slowly, but he told me he could not do anything unless he got clearance from the president. “The party became a one-man property. Everyone grumbles behind the president but they are too timid to raise a voice against the illegalities being perpetrated. I should be bold enough to know what I want, and can do so at my age. So, I decided to leave.”
Making the declaration to runby the party. Former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido; former Kano State governor; Ibrahim Shekarau; governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Dankwambo. Others are former minister of special duties, Ibrahim Turaki; immediate past chairman of the PDP national caretaker committee, Sen Ahmed Makarfi. There is also the governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, from the south, who is running against the tide. Lamido is perhaps the most visible on the list of aspirants so far. He has staged two major rallies in Jigawa State. Like Atiku, he has also made visits to Port Harcourt, perhaps to reinforce his lobby for the ticket from Wike. While Fayose has repeatedly maintained that he will contest for the presidential ticket, other aspirants have not been as aggressive in their pursuit for the presidential ticket of the party.
Nevertheless, findings within the PDP reveal that the overbearing influence of Wike is becoming a concern in certain quarters of the party. It was learnt that some governors have not been comfortable with the way Wike’s posture has been sending off some major interests within the party. While last December’s national convention created some acrimony among those who lost, it was gathered that the dismissive posture of the governor played a major part in the eventual defection of founding fathers of the party, like former ministers, Prof Jerry Gana and Prof Tunde Adeniran. However, addressing the gathering in Port Harcourt, Atiku, who was vice president between 1999 and 2007 on the platform of the PDP, said he was on a mission to put Nigeria on the path of growth and set if free from the path of “serial failure” for President while addressing PDP stakeholders at the party’s secretariat, Atiku noted that he is offering himself to set the country on the path of growth.
The former Vice President stated that since 2015, the APC-led Federal Government has destroyed the education, health and infrastructural sectors through poor budgetary allocations and releases. Atiku said, “Since 2015, we have not seen a 100kilometres constructed by the APC Federal Government anywhere in the country.” The presidential hopeful, who called for the unity of the country, saying that no component part of the country to progress alone, further called on Rivers PDP stakeholders to support his ambition to emerge as the party’s presidential candidate. Lending his voice to Atiku’s appeal for support from the PDP stakeholders, former PDP National Chairman, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo said that Atiku Abubakar is a detribalised Nigerian, with the capacity to rescue the country. In his own speech, former Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, described the former Vice President as a true Nigerian, with business and political links across the country, adding that Nigeria needs Atiku Abubakar to revive the country. To Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, there is the need for all PDP members irrespective of their status to ensure that the march to the Presidential Villa is not truncated by disunity. The governor said, “Every Presidential Aspirant must see himself as a member of the larger PDP family. We must do everything to ensure that PDP returns to the Presidential Villa in 2019.