By Emmanuel Aziken
It was not surprising that the presidential nomination convention of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, started late yesterday. After months of heightened expectations, none of the 13 gladiators in the contest was willing to succumb to entreaties to step down.
Early yesterday, a former National Security Adviser, NSA, apparently acting as proxy for some of the country’s most eminent personalities, launched into a meeting with the presidential aspirants with the main issue being that the convention should not end on a rancorous note.
The interest of the former NSA and his backers, including three former heads of state, who have been courted by all the 13 gladiators, was for the PDP to produce a candidate that could match President Muhammdu Buhari in the February 2019 presidential election.
To many of the aspirants, that was also the issue. However, coming to a commonality on the objective has seemed Herculean given the interests of the different contenders.
The 13 aspirants include former Vice President Abubakar Atiku, Senate President Bukola Saraki, his predecessor, Senator David Mark, former Chairman, PDP National Caretaker Committee, Ahmed Makarfi, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe State and former Minister of Special Duties, Taminu Turaki, SAN.
Also contesting are the immediate past governor of Kano State, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, former Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, former Governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, former Governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, the founder of Baze University, Senator Datti Baba-Ahmed, and Stanley Osifo from Edo State.
Indeed, the 2018 presidential convention has turned out to be arguably the most competitive convention of the PDP since the formation of the party in 1998.
Since 1998, when the bet was on General Olusegun Obasanjo or on Dr. Alex Ekwueme, the PDP, until now, has had almost predictable presidential nomination conventions with the incumbent either being pushed as favourite, or his proxy as in 2007, when Obasanjo pushed forward Alhaji Umaru Yar‘Adua.
However, now with the party in opposition, the incumbency factor is absent. That has now projected the next in line in the power hierarchy, that is, the governors as the leading decision makers.
Indeed, ahead of yesterday, the governors were expected to come up with a position, but this paper gathered that such a position has not been possible. The reason has not been too much separated with the differences among the governors themselves.
The most prominent one among the governors coming into the convention is the host governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, whose support for Governor Tambuwal has not been hidden.
Indeed, when the decision was taken to move the convention away from Abuja because of the fear of sabotage by the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, or other agencies of the Federal Government, some of the aspirants were quick to raise objections as they themselves also feared that Wike could also “manage” the convention to ensure that Tambuwal emerged.
One of the first aspirants to raise that fear was Atiku, who had emerged in the front of the pack along with Tambuwal and Saraki.
Immediately the idea of Port Harcourt had been mooted as the venue, Atiku, an adept politician, quickly locked down 2,000 hotel rooms in the Garden City. The former VP’s move was quick to come to Wike’s attention being the governor and chief security officer of the state.
Wike was not happy either because he perceived Atiku was trying to outfox him or for whatever reason and tried to stop him. Though Atiku was not identified as the one, the idea of some presidential aspirants being opposed to Port Harcourt as venue flowed from the sublime clash between the two men.
Meanwhile, by yesterday, we gathered that Wike’s script to push Tambuwal had not gotten universal approval among the governors as many of them and nay, the aspirants themselves were stiffly resisting him.
It could not be confirmed if the issue was raised in the early morning meeting between the aspirants and the retired NSA.
However, one state where the Tambuwal momentum had caught fire was in Ekiti where Governor Ayodele Fayose seemed to have taken up the crusade. It was an issue that was raising the matter of loyalty among that state’s delegation.
“Our governor is pushing for Tambuwal and has told us to vote for him, but my heart is for Atiku,” a member of the Ekiti State delegation said.
Another state where Tambuwal is also advancing is Edo where the state chairman, Chief Dan Orbih, is believed to be pushing for Tambuwal. That was not surprising given the long political collaboration between the two men. Orbih was the Chairman of the PDP Election Panel which, in 2013, took the machinery of the party away from the immediate past governor of Rivers State who is now in APC, Rotimi Amaechi, to Wike.
Enthusiasm for Tambuwal in Edo has also been enlivened by the defection of Mr. Kenneth Imansuangbon from the APC to the PDP. Imansuagbon, famed as the Rice Man on account of his periodic donation of rice to the underprivileged in Edo, was a Law School buddy of Tambuwal’s. After a spell of political hibernation in the APC, Imansuagbon last Monday formally defected to the PDP and was an early arrival in Port-Harcourt to boost the Sokoto governor’s campaign.
However, Tambuwal came into the convention yesterday with two main issues. One was the matter of political fidelity relating to his movements to and from the party. While that may have been forgiven, another issue some stakeholders looked at is the case of youth.
It was the feeling of some that in the core North where age is an issue, the idea of the 52-year-old Tambuwal looking the 75-year-old Buhari in the face would be seen by voters in the North as disrespectful.
Indeed as delegates entered the convention ground, there was the repeated buzz of some of the aspirants withdrawing.
So strong was the rumour as it affected David Mark that his campaign, even before dawn yesterday, issued a disclaimer.
His campaign spokesman, Aba Ejembi, responding to the rumour that Mark had been pressured to step down, was forced to assert that “this piece of information is false and unfounded.”
Alleging mischief on the part of some other unnamed presidential campaigns, the Mark team said:
“This disingenuous and ill-advised political gimmick is an admission that other aspirants stand no chance in this contest against Senator David Mark in view of his enviable and unparalleled record of public service.”
Before Mark, another major target of the withdrawal missive was Alhaji Sule Lamido who had to repeatedly denounce the campaign against him.
Despite the determination of the party and the different campaigns to run only issues-based campaigns, the temptation by some of the campaigns to raise mud against other aspirants could hardly be totally suppressed.
One issue yesterday that was still being managed was the issue of surprising names on the delegates list. The case of Dimeji Bankole who was listed as a delegate from Ogun State raised eyebrows especially after the former Speaker of the House of Representatives publicly disclaimed the party few months ago for the Action Democratic Party, ADP.
At one time, Turaki, who is believed to be supported by former ministers in the President Goodluck Jonathan cabinet and by Jonathan himself was also the butt of suggestions of being a mole of APC in the PDP. Insinuations were made to the fact that the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Abubakar Malami, was nurtured in, Turaki’s law office from where the AGF acquired his SAN title.
That smear was, however, rebutted by a senior operative of the Turaki campaign who said that it could not have been possible for Turaki to be in bed with the APC and also at the same time with Jonathan.
“If you know Jonathan’s role and the role of his ministers in our campaign, you would not believe that,” the Turaki campaign official said.
The Turaki campaign has also been not too coy to claim the probity of its aspirant, noting that he alone is one that the Buhari campaign cannot find a corruption file to use for political blackmail.
Turaki served as Special Duties Minister in the Jonathan regime and is arguably the only one of the major aspirants that has yet to be questioned by the administration’s security or anti-graft agencies for culpability on any issue.
Being a delegate convention, the matter of money was also an issue. Asked on when the delegates would be coming out, a senior operative of one of the campaigns said that they were still waiting for the aspirants.
The aspirants were expected to make a last-minute pitch for support round the hotels of the delegates during which money is expected to change hands. By early afternoon yesterday, only one of the frontline aspirants had commenced the circuit reportedly with the distribution of $1,000 to each delegate. Whether they would be influenced by money or not, this is an issue.
Atiku may have a special experience to guide him this time. This paper gathered that, in 2014, ahead of then-APC presidential convention, funds provided by the his campaign for the last-minute pitch to the delegates were surprisingly diverted by proxies delegated to do that work.
It is alleged that they were encouraged to do so by the powerful caucus of prominent APC chieftains who backed Buhari and gave cover for their effort. After the disappearance of the Atiku funds, the people behind Buhari, including a powerful Southwest politician, raised money to the delight of the delegates to support their candidate.
It is as such a surprise for many observers that Atiku has been said to be so frugal with money in his present campaign, apparently wanting to manage the money at the time when it matters most.
It is no surprise that this convention, despite the seriousness with which the aspirants have collectively bonded, themselves, to produce the candidate to beat Buhari is also expected to be a great bazaar!