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Presidential primary as PDP’s next obstacle

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The forthcoming primary election to select the Presidential flag bearer of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), presents as another golden opportunity for the party to reinvent itself on the way to regaining its dominance of Nigeria’s polity.

That reality seems to have dawned on the leaders of the party as they have begun concerted efforts to put the little misgivings from its December 2017 national convention behind it.

It is obvious that the December 9 and 10, 2017 elective convention was in every ramification PDP’s first real opportunity to redefine its politics after the waterloo of 2015 electoral flop.

But somehow it flunked that opening, but not in an irremediable way.

Some actually wanted PDP to shake-off of the trauma of losing a major election, as well as, atone for some its sins of omission and commission, particularly impunity, imposition and unfair access to opportunities.

With the benefit of hindsight, there is no denying the fact that PDP scored a pass mark in its safe conduct of the elective convention after a tortuous legal disputation of leadership legitimacy.

But on the score of fairness and obedience to codes and norms, the renewed PDP faltered. Nothing gave the party the edge over other political groupings more than its recourse to zoning of party positions and opportunities for public office.

Given Nigeria’s ethnic diversity, zoning in its broad context, provided a token for sense of belonging to the multiethnic groupings in the federation.

As a consequence, the initial concept zoning conferred on PDP the exclusive image of a truly national party.

However, on December 9, 2017 PDP forgot its history and where it was coming from by employing sophism and pragmatism to defray the morality of upholding the same zoning principle, which actually contributed to its loss of a general election to an adhoc amalgam of fringe political platforms.

Although the then chairman of national caretaker committee of the party, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, passed the blame for Southwest’s loss of the PDP chairmanship to the divisive politics in the zone, the expectations of most Nigerians that longed for a quick rebound of the party was cut short.

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Presidential Primary As Fresh Challenge

Going by the timeline of activities released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), political parties are due to start collecting forms for all elections to be issued to candidates from August 17, 2018; that is barely 56 days from now.

That process would also usher in the onset of party primary elections expected to end on October 7, 2018.

It is perhaps out of realisation that time is of essence that PDP began early enough to chew on the imperatives of holding a hitch free primary, particularly against the background of a coterie of presidential aspirants.

The party is said to be devising strategies to curtail the usual bickering that trails competitive presidential primary elections.

Although zoning of the Presidential ticket to the omnibus north seems cut on stone, similar failure to micro-zone to a particular geopolitical district in the north could throw up some hiccups.

As in the case of the chairmanship, the northeast have been waging a silent moral campaign, arguing that after Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, nobody from that geopolitical zone has mounted the high horse of the Presidency.

Political actors from northeast also contend that while the north central has produced three heads of state, including Generals Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar; the northwest has thrown up a total of six heads of state, including Murtala Ramat Mohammed, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, General Sani Abacha, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and President Muhammadu Buhari, that has come for two times.

At the botched PDP national convention, where the broad zoning structure was adopted, party leaders noted that south or west could enter into discussions to further rezone positions allotted to them according to prevailing political circumstances.

While southeast declined to contest the position of national chairman zoned to the broad south, South/south came up with the issue of funding, stressing that it had been bearing the burden of financing the running of the party, including footing legal fees during the many litigations that attended the leadership squabble between Makarfi and Sheriff.

South/south also pointed out that whereas the Southwest did two terms of four years each on the Presidency, it was stopped short from doing a second term through the electoral loss of 2015.

It was against the background of counter arguments that aspirants from the two subzones were allowed to slug it out at the convention.

The then national caretaker chairman, Makarfi, observed that but for the belated consensus arrangement by the Southwest and multiplicity of aspirants, the zone would have done better if it had canvassed national support around one aspirant.

Innovative Primary Versus Northern Consensus

PERHAPS, against the background of lessons learnt from the Southwest experience at the PDP national convention, the monolith north initiated discussions aimed at building consensus and unity.

To some extent the activities of the Northern Political Stakeholders Assembly were necessitated by the desire to ensure that the ugly fate that befell Southwest did not happen in the Presidential contest.

Though the northern elders ruled out the issue of selecting a consensus Presidential candidate, the fact that a platform for socio-political discussions has been opened gives hope that when candidates emerge from different political parties, it would be easy to harmonise positions.

PDP leaders want to ensure not only that the best aspirant emerges, but also that the victorious candidate would ride on the goodwill of the members to eventual victory at the major poll.

The novelty of having Presidential aspirants stand for the primary alongside their potential running mates, if adopted would help party members to judge which joint ticket best balances the zonal tendencies in the party.

It must be in response to the innovation that some presidential aspirants have started giving serious thoughts to choice of running mates.

Former national caretaker chairman of the party, Senator Makarfi, who declared his interest to contest the presidential ticket recently is said to be considering Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, as running mate.

Makarfi is also said to receive the backing of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State.

Vice President Atiku Abubakar is said to be looking towards Southeast to pick his running mate.

Already, former Anambra governor, Mr. Peter Obi, Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, are said to be on Atiku’s table.

Then sudden decision by former Cross River governor, Mr. Donald Duke, to jump off the Coalition of Nigeria Movement (CNM) and declare interest in the Presidency on PDP is said to be informed by behind the scenes plot to have him deputise the current Governor of Gombe State, Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo.

Although Dankwambo is yet to formally declare interest in the 2019 Presidential election, his speeches during the recent Democracy Day celebration left nobody in doubt that the governor is in serious contention.

Signs that the innovation might help to reduce the number of Presidential aspirants emerged recently when Atiku and others visited Ekiti State, as some big names associated with possible run for the top job seem to have scaled down on their campaign.

A PDP insider, who spoke in confidence to The Guardian, explained that part of the party’s strategies towards managing the Presidential primary is to ensure that only serious aspirants take part in the process up to the point of purchase of forms.

He said a lot of discussions and negotiations are going on to ensure that the party holds a very competitive primary and begins electioneering immediately, adding that the idea of waiting to use the running mate slot as tradeoff or bargaining chip has been ruled out.

“I can tell you authoritatively that right from the Presidential primary, we would move into electioneering immediately.

We cannot repeat the mistake of the current administration, because while the campaign is going on the tentative list of ministerial nominees would be compiled as part of out effort to repair the nation,” he said.

He said the party leaders rejected suggestions that the cost of purchasing the expression of interest and nomination forms be made exorbitant as a way of trimming down the number of aspirants.

It would be recalled that some sections of the national media reported that PDP had fixed N12m for the purchase of nomination forms for the Presidential ticket.

But, the party’s National Organising Secretary, Col. Austin Akobundu, in a statement made available to journalists said the party was still drawing up the guidelines.

How far the PDP would go in the 2019 poll depends to a large extent on how it manages its Presidential primary, especially against the background of plans by the ruling party to use both carrot and stick approaches to neutralise its efforts at providing stiff challenge.

The PDP Presidential pimary therefore becomes the last huddle for the party to cross to reassert itself on the polity.


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