CHIBUZO UKAIBE captures the dicey scenario playing out within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as its team embarks on a fresh round of campaigns.
As the campaign train of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gathers momentum, so has some issues surfaced within its ranks which seem to portray a party in muffled distress. Largely, the party has had to deal with perception issues bothering on whether or not the critical stakeholders are united behind the party’s Presidential candidate, former Vice President, Atiku Abukakar.
From the issue of the South-east governors not being in sync with the presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar to claims that some Northern PDP members are working for President Muhammadu Buhari, the opposition party has had to trudge on.
The emergence of former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi as Atiku’s runinng mate, had attracted lots of excitement, perhaps much more than the objection it attracted from some PDP stakeholders from the South-east.
Obi was celebrated as a cerebral choice to drive the economic rebirth, a key index upon which the party bases its campaign on.
The initial opposition to Obi’s emergence, led by serving political office holders had paled almost as soon as it started. This was on account of the huge acceptance Obi got from within and outside the South-east region. Sensing the backlash, the party leaders who had held a meeting to protest Obi’s selection, started backtracking on their hard stance against Obi. This was even as prominent Nigerians, including former President Goodluck Jonathan, appealed for calm and urged those aggrieved to accept and work with Atiku’s choice.
It was gathered that for some of those opposed to Obi’s selection, the grouse goes beyond the fact that they were not consulted before he was picked for the position. With the prospect of South-east producing the president becoming a reality, an Obi vice Presidency would put him, somewhat, in the lead of those interested in the ticket.
Feelers indicate that some of the South-east governors and the Deputy Senate President, Sen Ike Ekweremadu, might be in contention for the top seat.
They had also hoped that the protest would make Atiku buckle and change his mind over Obi. That didn’t happen. Instead, the Atiku/Obi ticket received a boost with the endorsement of the Igbo intelligensia at a meeting in Enugu State. They affirmed their support for Atiku who was also at the gathering.
Interestingly, most of the political office holders in the region snubbed the meeting, preferring instead to visit President Muhammad Buhari in Abuja. That meeting, in some quarters, was interpreted to be an endorsement of incumbent President.
However underscoring the import of the meeting in Enugu, a PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) member, and former minister of Health, Prof ABC Nwosu, said while it was not the gathering of Ohaneze, there were traditional rulers, Igbo elders. He mentioned a few to include, retired military including one first ever chief of Army staff, Gen Azubuke Ihejirika, Commodore Alison Madueke, the first Chief of Naval Staff was there, the Obi of Onitsha.
“The communique was read by Olisa Agbakoba. The keynote address was given by Goddy Uwazurike, the PhD from Harvard, Gen Ike Nwachukwu was there, who wasn’t there? Anya O. Anya was there,” he said.
He however dismissed claims of opposition to Obi choice. “Have you heard that initial opposition, have you heard anything again on it? Have you not seen the vice presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi with the people who had raised that ? It’s normal in a family. When something is coming and you may think it may come to you or go to another person, then it goes to somebody. If you are dissatisfied and it becomes clear to you that this can go on, you stop. The Igbo has since moved away, far far away from that.
“Who knew Osinbajo before in Nigeria? Who knew that he was even attorney general in Lagos state before he became vice president? Who knew he was a senior pastor in Redeemed Christian Church of God before he was appointed? Wasn’t everybody expecting Fashola to be? Have the west not moved away from it a long time? When Atiku was, wasn’t it Rimi that was expecting to be? It is the prerogative of the candidate to choose whom he wants to work with.”
On the issue of whether or not Ndigbo were consulted before Obi was choosen, he said “Were the Northerners consulted in any form before Atiku was chosen by Obasanjo? You forget I was Obasanjo’s first political adviser, that I was there right from the beginning. Were the Yorubas consulted when it was Osinbajo? How many governors consulted the entire state before they choose their deputies?
“People raise all kinds of questions, I don’t know where they are coming from except that the people are just unhappy that the PDP has decided you can’t have exclusion politics and have brought the south east that people don’t want to come and play at the centre. All these questions are neither here nor there.
“It is the prerogative of the candidate, ones he has emerged to choose who he can work with based on his programmes and the direction he wants to take the country and he looks at all, makes his choice and in this case, Atiku himself said to Ndigbo, that he took a look at the candidates available and chose Peter Obi. That’s what he said to us at a private meeting in Enugu.”
Still, the absence of South-east governors at Atiku’s campaign has not gone unnoticed. Perhaps, while the explanation that the campaigns so far are regional based would have sufficed, the prevailing circumstances continue to make all their actions and inactions, questionable.
However, beyond the issue with the South-east political office holders is the perception of disconnect in the North between PDP and it’s leaders. The recent suspension of PDP’s deputy national chairman for the North, Sen Babayo Gamawa, over anti-party activities and his subsequent defection raised some eyebrows.
This came barely a week after a report emerged in an online paper, in which an alleged PDP governor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, painted a worrisome picture of his party’s chances in the race. The alleged governor has knocked the campaign of Atiku, alluding to disconnect on the one hand and sideling of key members on the other. But while the party has since described the report as sponsored to cause division within the party, the recent upsurge in participation of party stakeholders is instructive, analysts opine.
Nevertheless, the Bauchi State Governor Mohammed Abubakar, whose state Gamawa hails from, was so delighted over his new ally whom he hurriedly presented to President Buhari barely 24 hours after he was sacked by the PDP, perhaps for fear that his new catch might change his mind. Besides Gamawa the governor also presented a former BoT member of the PDP, Kaulaha Aliyu, to the President at the Villa.
In his comments the governor said “Along with me are very strong stalwarts of the politics of Bauchi State Kaulaha Aliyu is member PDP BOT from inception to date, member House of Representatives in the second republic and a grassroots politician. Sen Babayo Gamawa is the Deputy National Chairman North of the PDP, Former speaker, House of Assembly, Deputy Governor of Bauchi and senator. You can see I am very, very elated because with these two gentlemen I can go to sleep with my two eyes closed, so to speak.”
The Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) gloats over the situation and they have moved to further deepen the perceived crisis of confidence playing out within the PDP. BMO alleged that the Deputy President of the Senate, Like Ekweremadu as well as PDP governors in the south east have now also aligned with the president.
The pro-Buhari advocacy group wondered why it is increasingly difficult for the PDP candidates to identify with their presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.
A statement by the BMO chairman, Niyi Akinsiju and its secretary, Cassidy Madueke, noted that a sign of the President’s wide acceptability is the fact that PDP governorship and National Assembly candidates in several parts of the country are running their campaign with posters bearing his image.
“It is a known fact that there is no living politician with the cult-like followership and support Buhari has in some parts of the country as a result of his legendary integrity, so it is not a surprise that several PDP candidates in Northern Nigeria have been openly canvassing for the President’s re-election.
“The question begging for answer is: why are these candidates not campaigning for Atiku Abubakar or put his image on their campaign posters?”
The pro-Buhari group pointed out that the trend of support for President Buhari among PDP leaders began a few weeks ago with the visit by governors elected on the platform of the opposition party in the South-east geo-political zone and the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu.
“Although the meeting was meant to be one where the governors were to show appreciation for federal government projects in the region, especially the contract award for the second Niger Bridge, it came at a time the political figures were at odds with their parties.
“On individual basis, Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi, has publicly left no one in doubt about his positive relations with the President, whom he has hailed on several occasions for the infrastructural strides in the region, and of late his Enugu counterpart Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi had been pictured wearing a lapel pin with President Buhari’s image.
“What is now left is for the governors and Senator Ekweremadu to be pictured with the viral 4 + 4 hand sign.” But the PDP challenged the BMO, to name its candidates in the north working secretly for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 election.
The party also tasked BMO to name the South-east governors it claimed, were hobnobbing with the President ahead of the 2019 polls or keep its peace.
Replying, the national publicity secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, dismissed both claims by BMO, describing same as ‘a figment of their imagination.’
He said: “We challenge them to name that PDP candidate in the North who is using President Buhari to campaign. He (the President) should name the PDP candidate in his Katsina state who is using his name to campaign.
Ologbondiyan stressed, “There is nothing like South-east governors working for Buhari. We also challenge them to name the South-east governor (s) of the PDP that has mounted a soap-box to say don’t vote for Atiku Abubakar. As long as they are not ready to come clear on these, we don’t understand their claims. If they think that the kind of propaganda that brought them to power in 2015 will work in 2019, we make bold to tell them that Nigerians have moved beyond that.”
The PDP spokesman added, “President Muhammadu Buhari has been politically uncovered by Nigerians. The 2019 elections are not the same as those of 2015. In 2015, Nigerians believed the fake integrity that was mouthed all over the place about Buhari.”
He added that in 2019, “Nigerians have seen through the incompetence of President Buhari and that is why the President can no longer go to meet with the people to campaign. And that is why he has handed over the structure of his campaign to Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
“If he is sure-footed and knows that Nigerians will still accept him the way they did in 2015, he should go round the country and tell them how much delivery he has done about the promises made. But because this administration has failed woefully, in the revival of the economy, the fight against corruption and the war against insurgency, President Buhari cannot return to the people.
“Instead of focusing on what to do with the rejection by Nigerians, they are going about, laying claim to endorsements that do not exist,” PDP said.
For political analysts, the circumstances of this election, just like most, affords politicians the luxury of grandstanding in the course of negotiating a better deal in the next political dispensation. But how far can such grandstanding go such that it does not result in adverse outcomes is another matter.
The weeks ahead hold alot of intrigues. For what it is worth, no PDP leader from the South-east has openly denounced the party yet. Perhaps, they are mindful of the popularity of the party in the region and the effect it would have on their political career. What’s more, Obi has notched up his consultative engagements in his base, consolidating his acceptance among the electorates ahead of the PDP rallies that will hold in a matter of days.
Up North, key political leaders of the PDP have also scaled up their campaigns. From the Senate President, Sen Bukola Saraki, to former Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido to his contemporary in Kano State, Sen Musa Kwankwaso, they have held rallies pulling crowds in the hope of consolidating their hold in their political domains. If the recent rallies in Kogi, Niger, Nasarawa and Plateau also counts for anything, it would seem like the party isn’t letting anything to chance. But would it be enough to swing the votes its way?
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