PDP Presidential primary: Atiku, Wike in battle of supremacy
The D-day is today; all eyes are on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to elect its presidential flag bearer for the 2023 general elections.
The road that the PDP threaded to its special presidential national convention has been a particularly bumpy one. Several issues had propped up and the decisions that the party took on those knotty issues have shaped the texture of the election amongst the 14 aspirants for gunning for the presidency under the banner of the main opposition party.
For example, the controversies that led to the sacking of the erstwhile National Working Committee of the party to the installation of new national officials for the party led by Senator Iyochia Ayu and the ratification of the Governor Samuel Ortom-led committee on the zoning of elective national offices have defined the outlook of the convention that is holding at the MKO Abiola Stadium, Abuja, to elect the next presidential candidate of the PDP.
In all, 17 persons purchased the nomination and expression of interest forms in the PDP. Of that figure, two were disqualified by the David Mark-led screening committee, while another aspirant and former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, opted out of the race. In effect, there are 14 aspirants contesting for the ticket of the PDP today and, barring all odds, one of them will be announced the winner at the end of the convention.
Party delegates that will elect one of these presidential hopefuls started trooping into Abuja on Wednesday and their arrival has highlighted some aspirants who are frontline contenders in the race.
Against all previous projections, the race for the PDP presidential ticket is essentially a two-man race. As delegates and party leaders arrive in Abuja ahead of the convention, it becomes more obvious that the election is going to be a contest between the former Vice President and the immediate past presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the current governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike.
Many of the delegates who spoke with our correspondents under anonymity say that the utmost consideration for the party ahead of the 2023 election is to be able to win the presidential election and also for the PDP to have the majority of states in the governorship election.
The popular contention amongst the delegates is that the position of the leadership of the party on the controversy over zoning is based on the consideration to win in the general election.
“The principal idea behind the decision of the party to throw the presidential position open to all geo-political zones is to ensure that the PDP does not deprive itself of the best candidate that can win the presidency for us in 2023. Every political party wants to win an election. A political party is not a pressure group.
“So, if we are here to win elections, that is our primary purpose, of course. Where and how to allocate positions is not as important to a political party as who can win an election for the party.
“This is the enlightened self-interest of the PDP as of today. It is the reason the leadership of the party did not yield to the clamour for zoning and that same interest will determine the outcome of our convention on Saturday (today),” a delegate from Ondo State remarked.
Another delegate from Kaduna State who spoke with our correspondent said: “Everyone in the PDP knows that we won the last presidential election. The election was heavily rigged and yet the APC only managed to declare a defeat of Atiku by less than two million votes. I don’t think that there is any reason for us to change a candidate that we are used to. Someone with experience and is a good material to market across this country. With due respect to the other aspirants, I dare say that no one amongst them has name recognition like Atiku. Yes, Saraki has name recognition too, but you can’t compare him with Atiku.”
Although the campaign offices of some of the aspirants in Abuja was brimming with activities when The Guardian visited during the week, of which the liaison houses of some state governments whose governors are also in the race have been decorated in campaign insignia of those states’ governor, it is believed that the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the amended version of the Electoral Act 2022, has affected the planning of the aspirants concerning logistic support to the delegates.
The projection amongst many of the delegates is that the state caucuses of the party from the North will come to the convention in one bloc to vote for Atiku and Tambuwal. Although Wike is believed to have also made in-roads into some places in the North, findings show that there is little or no appetite amongst the northern delegates to cast their votes for the Rivers State governor.
On the contrary, a good number of delegates from the South are favourably disposed to northern aspirants, especially Atiku and Saraki.
A delegate from Abia State, who spoke with our correspondent said that the exit of the former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi from the race has opened the Eastern flanks to hunting.
Meanwhile, a source within Wike’s camp yesterday alleged that there was a sinister plot to smear his image ahead of the primaries.
According to the impeccable source, a well-orchestrated plot has been hatched to profile Wike as a bunker, whose political spending is funded by proceeds of the illegal practice, by one of his closest rivals.
The source said: “Untenable as this may be against the backdrop of Wike’s relentless battle against bunkering and illegal petroleum refining across his state, hack agents of one of his opponents are unrelenting in trying to push this narrative. The intention is to cast him in the image of an economic saboteur, who has been collaborating with European allies, to perpetuate the act in the state under his jurisdiction.
“Part of the plan is to buy space in about five national newspapers on the eve of the presidential primaries, to plant phantom stories accusing Wike of complicity in oil bunkering activities within his domain. The intention is to discolour the PDP presidential frontrunner in the public eye and reconstruct his subsisting profile of integrity as a public servant, fit to hold higher national office. It will also portray Wike as a hypocritical public officer, who destroys illegal refineries in the daytime and dines with bunkers at dinner. The timing of the publication too will give Wike and his team little room for reaction and rejoinders, because the conjured stories will be in the public just before delegates begin accreditation at the velodrome of the Moshood Abiola National Stadium.”
The source added that from the misconceived pedestal of a possible spoiler or joker in the presidential race, Wike has garnered such tremendous support and acceptance across the country, surprising doubters.
“Wike’s perspiration on the campaign trail and the changing dynamics of political discourse has been a major source of worry for some of his most competitive rivals. His doggedness, vigour, and demonstrated capacity as a bridge-builder and team player, have come to the fore in recent weeks and months, more than ever before. His bluntness and courage to speak to power are notable positives for him. As it stands, Wike is in a good position to breast the tape, much to the surprise of political watchers,” the source added.