The results of the presidential primary poll of the nation’s leading political parties are usually one of the relatively easy predictions for bookmakers and political analysts. Reason? Long before the shadow elections even a rookie analyst or bookmaker would have pinpointed which of the contenders would coast home to victory with little or no labour, and which contestants would be coroneted virtually unopposed.

But long ahead of the primary elections of two of Nigeria’s main political parties this month, everybody was kept guessing regarding who would be their respective presidential candidates. Consider the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Normally, the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan then would have been an odds-on favourite to pick PDP’s ticket. But a series of legal battles dating back to 2012 over his eligibility or otherwise to run, kept all and sundry guessing endlessly.

The most intriguing and absorbing scenario reigned supreme in the All Progressives Congress (APC). Given that three-time presidential candidate Mohammed Buhari founded one of the political parties which merged to form APC, it was an open secret that if the retired General decided to run again in 2015, he would more or less be coroneted as APC’s flag bearer.

With the unanticipated entry of the billionaire business Mogul, Atiku Abubakar, however, the equation changed for APC and its major stakeholders. For not only is the ex-Vice President a formidable “money bag,” his political suave shuffles, mastery of the game, and organizational structure/acumen, make him a no mean adversary for even Buhari and his ilk, so much so that despite the presence of three other contenders for the APC ticket, conventional wisdom held that the two-way race between Buhari and Atiku on the one hand, and how APC chieftains would handle the battle on the other, could make or mar the party’s fortune in the February 2015 presidential election.

To put the matter in perspective, recall that with the possible exception of the 1993 Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential primary contest between Bashorun MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe in Jos, rarely in living memory has a party’s shadow poll been keenly contested in Nigeria. Add to that the sub-plot of alleged palpable fear by some APC leaders that should Atiku perform a near-miracle to floor Buhari in the primary election, the rival PDP would capitalize on that to easily clinch the forthcoming poll.

Indeed, sources close to at least two of the brains behind APC’s birth in 2013, confided in our correspondent last weekend that in the heat of the battle for the APC ticket in Lagos, fears were rife that Atiku could upset the retired General against all odds. Reason? Although the National Leader of APC, Bola Tinubu, and the party’s chairman, John Oyegun, were said to have prevailed on APC’s state governors to ensure that their delegates voted enmass for Buhari, Atiku was reportedly “mobilizing” delegates from the 22 other states not ruled by APC governors, to help ensure his possible triumph.

According to one of our sources, “As the primary poll was progressing here at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, it dawned on them (APC chieftains) that Atiku was “working” on delegates from about 20 particular states to enable him floor Buhari. Some even believed that he had to some extent, “penetrated” some of the delegates from the 14 APC-controlled states, inducing them from the right, left and centre.”

Determined not to be undone by Atiku’s intimidating war chest, some APC financial pillars notably ex-Lagos governor Bola Timbu and Governor Rotimi Amachi of Rivers State (who is strongly tipped to be Buhari’s running mate) allegedly squirreled truck loads of cash (as one insider quaintly branded it) to the Balogun Stadium with a view to fighting Atiku “naira for naira and dollar for dollar.” Aside from that, some unnamed APC governors also reportedly funneled unspecified amounts of money to the battleground as part of the desperate effort to checkmate Atiku at all costs.

Little wonder, Atiku, it was gathered, felt “bitterly short – changed” when the Kastina – born retired General was eventually declared winner of the fierce contest.” He felt used and dumped,” one of his senior aides told DESERT HERALD on Friday on condition of anonymity. “You would recall that right from the onset we were all assured that a level playing field would be provided for all the contestants.

But what did we see throughout the convention? A particular contestant (meaning Buhari) was favoured shamelessly to the detriment of our principal (Atiku) who clearly had an edge in terms of popularity, media savvy, proactive manifesto, and unrivaled structures with which we can easily defeat whoever emerges as PDP’s candidate down in February 2015.”

Ironically, this medium learnt that it’s partly due to these seeming advantages the powers-that-be are not too comfortable with Atiku’s candidacy. Whereas Buhari is said to be “more amenable” in terms of allowing the party chieftains to fund and virtually dictate his campaign, Atiku is said to be “too independent –minded” to the extent that Tinubu and co. suspect that an APC-won victory under Atiku would be self-appropriated by the former Vice President.

With the battle now won and lost, Tinubu, Oyegun, and the other APC leaders are said to be scrambling to placate a scorned Atiku and his sizeable army of supporters on the one hand, and some other party stakeholders (including one of the vanquished contenders) who felt scandalized over the manner Buhari was allegedly favoured, on the other. The idea, we gathered, is to ensure that Atiku and/or his supporters would not join another party (an unlikely scenario) nor resort to protest votes in February (a real possibility).

“His ego has been badly bruised, hence we must move fast to placate him,” one of the APC leaders was quoted as saying. How that would be engineered, and whether the Adamawa –born retired Customs officer would bend to such charm offensive or resort to recrimination, remains to be seen in the weeks and months ahead.


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