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Atiku and PDP’s challenge of blending diverse interests

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
24 December 2018   |   4:23 am
The emergence of the Fourth Republic Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as the presidential standard bearer of Peoples Democratic Party...

Nyesom Wike

The emergence of the Fourth Republic Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as the presidential standard bearer of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for next year’s general election did not come easy. Similarly, his path to the ultimate electoral showdown with incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is strewn with many bumps, particularly blending the diverse interests and tendencies within the main opposition party.

Chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum and Ebonyi State chief executive, David Umahi Nweze, threw up what could pass as a prejudicial puzzle for PDP early in the life of the Buhari administration, when he hinted on how he would lead the state chapter of the party to support a presidential candidate outside PDP.

That position presented part of the many worries that troubled PDP shortly after it was humbled in 2015, when an inchoate amalgam of various political tendencies coalesced to become All Progressives Congress (APC).

Apart from Governor Umahi’s overtly anti-party pronouncement, his body language, especially intense closeness to the disgraced former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir David Lawal, sold the dummy that the Ebonyi governor was fine-tuning strategies for his eventual migration to APC.

Troubled by an internal irritation caused by impending leadership squabble in the party, which was sparked off by attempt to solve the riddle thrown up by the outcome of Ahmed Gulak’s suit against the position of acting chairman occupied by Prince Uche Secondus, PDP was powerless to address Umahi’s boisterous utterance.

Again, being a state governor in a democratic dispensation that accords them the status of demigods, the governor exploited his position to undermine the dicey state in which the party found itself. Perhaps such an ambivalent posture was Umahi’s way of requiting his brother governors, particularly then Governor Ayo Fayose and his Rivers State counterpart, Nyesom Wike, for conspiring independent of other governors to impose former Borno governor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, as the acting national chairman of the party.

It is obvious that but for Gulak’s suit against Secondus’ usurpation of the office of acting national chairman, which offended the party’s zoning arrangement, Sheriff should not have been brought in in such a hurried manner without the input of the caucus. But, believing in Sheriff’s ability to fund the party, attempts by stakeholders like Bala Muhammed to get an bonafide party man from the zone were allegedly rebuffed by Wike and Fayose.

As such, minded about his political future, Umahi must have decided on a survival tactic, knowing as a former PDP state chairman that elections are not entirely won in Southeast, but taken with the facility of federal might.

Umahi’s schemes could also be understood by the scary political arithmetic in his state, where his Uburu community of Ohaozara local council and Ebonyi South Senatorial District suffers demographic disadvantage at the hands of the old Abakaliki bloc, comprising Ebonyi North and Central Senatorial zones.

And shorn of the federal might, Umahi seems to reckon that despite his prodigious accomplishments in infrastructural development, politics being a game of numbers, he would be at the mercy of the more populous Abakaliki people. So, he begins political flirtations with the ruling party that fetches him power and might to mitigate the supremacy of the unfavourable electoral arithmetic in his Ebonyi base.

Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State

Coming before the governorship election, Umahi knows that even if President Buhari loses the February 16, 2019 poll, the instruments of coercion or federal apparatuses of poll bending would still be under his command by March 2, 2019, when his fate as governor would be decided by Ebonyi voters. Though Umahi’s situation tends to be more acute for reason of skewed demographics, such consideration is affecting the loyalty of PDP governors to varying degrees.

In the southeast in particular, only the Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is sure of re-election with or without federal might, especially given the strong zoning fervour and lack of credible alternative.

But despite recriminations by the some political office holders, the masses in Southeast see the selection of former Governor Peter Obi as a political lifeline for the geopolitical zone, where impunity and loud leaving have deformed leadership.

It is not known how far the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would keep to its promise of not using the incidence forms during the 2019 election. Nonetheless, 2019 would be the first time Southeast voters would cast their votes en masse for PDP.

What is direly needed is direct communication that the emerging leadership in PDP are poles apart from the dealers of the past. In absence of credible alternative, the governors might end up selling a dud political cheque to the Presidency.

Northeast solidarity
The situation in Northeast throws up a sharp contrast to the Southeast scenario. Of the six states in the zone, only Gombe is controlled by PDP. But while most of the stakeholders are inclined towards zonal solidarity, some that are candidates of other parties, particularly those contesting for National Assembly positions are said to be worried as to what could befall them with an Atiku presidency.

Although the PDP presidential candidate has been canvassing to serve just one term in office if elected, some Northeast politicians feel that an Atiku presidency should extend beyond 2023, hence the fear that his victory in 2019 could entrench PDP in the zone and make things very tough for them in 2023.

So, while most forward looking politicians in the zone see cogent reasons on the need to rally round Atiku and ensure that Northeast mounts the President after a long while, only few like Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, decided on the gamble of joining PDP.

In Yobe, things are a little bit simpler because since 1999, the same political family of Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim has been in control of things. The former governor who turned 70 recently and announced his partial withdrawal from politics lamented the Buhari administration’s failure, especially by not including education as one its core programmes.

Most of those who listened to Senator Ibrahim’s remarks during the launch of his co-authored book, ‘Poorlitics’, believe that the godfather of Yobe politics left an ambiguous hint as to the voting of the Yobe electorate during the presidential poll.

Furthermore, it is plausible that the voting preferences in Yobe State could be a little to the left and a little to the right on February 16, 2019, due to a combination of factors, including northeast solidarity, the Dapchi incidence and influence of leaders like Senator Ibrahim and former Buhari ally, Engineer Buba Galadima.

Borno, the epicenter of Boko Haram, would tilt towards Buhari, but the situation in Adamawa and Taraba States indicates that the PDP presidential candidate would have some fence mending to do with his cluster of supporters across party divides.

The recent reconciliation meeting between Atiku and Baba Mangoro, former governor Murtala Nyako, is an indication that even after winning the presidential election of February 16 next year, the PDP standard bearer would be bogged by how to bring disparate political interest under one umbrella.

Senator Abdul-Aziz Nyako, the former governor’s son, is seeking reelection to the Senate on the platform of African Democratic Congress (ADC). He fell out with Governor Jubrilla Bindow in APC and relocated, believing that before March 2, 2019 Governorship and State Assembly election, Bindow would have seen how far he can go with his incumbency as he faces Umaru Fintiri and other satellite Atiku supporters he displaced from APC.

The scenario might be replicated in Taraba, where Governor Darius Ishaku would be slugging it out with another Atiku fan, Mama Taraba, Hajia Aisha Jumai Alhassan. Even if Tarabans determine who, between the two should be governor, at the end of the day, there would be work for Atiku to do for PDP to retain its clout as a united platform.

The situation in Bauchi is in suspense, because while the PDP gubernatorial candidate, Bala, has covered a large mileage in reconciliation efforts after the governorship primary, it is not known how many party stalwarts would move with former PDP national chairman, Walin Bauchi, Adamu Mu’azu, who has been having some shadow battles with the former Federal Capital Territory minister.

In Kano, Atiku would have some work to do also because although the former governor, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso displaced former Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau and some of his supporters, the governorship primary also discomfited some PDP loyalists, especially those that pitched tent with the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), including Prof. Hafiz Abubakar and Bichi, the governorship candidate.

While Kano offers a complex mix, Katsina has issues with the AKIDA group and mainline PDP loyal to immediate past governor, Dr. Ibrahim Shehu Shema. Efforts made to induce Shema to defect to APC, including spurious corruption charges in court, could not sway the former governor.

How the two groups working for Atiku could come together into a cohesive whole is the challenge before the PDP presidential candidate. The absence of a strong clearance house and decision taking in the party is impacting on the former ruling party, especially against the background of cross defections.

Senator Kwankwaso and his Kwankwasiyya movement have taken charge and waging effective opposition to the ruling party and its incumbent governor, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje. The opposition has continued to escalate the kickback scandal against the governor, making him look bad in spite of his modest achievements in the past three and a half years.

Similar strong coalition is also being built in Zamfara and Kebbi States, where Atiku has loyal allies working within the ruling party for his electoral success. Former governor Ahmed Dankingari has found that despite his movement to APC some chieftain of the party do not trust him and his allies fully.

The suspicion among APC stalwarts in Kebbi is that Dakingari is not sincerely interested in the progress of the party or the success of Atiku Bagudu. Some of governor Bagudu’s loyalists confided in The Guardian that the governor believes that the former governor was merely tagging along, but working behind the scene for the victory of PDP.

Who benefits from the wrangling in Ogun State? Did PDP learn any useful lessons from its loss of Ondo governorship despite the fact that it had an outgoing incumbent?

Although none of the parties to the wrangling in Ogun have not publicly denied support for the PDP presidential candidate, there are indications that unless an amicable resolution is reached one camp might threw its weight behind a rival governorship candidate.

If there is any state in Southwest that is very strategic for PDP it is Ogun. But it appears that in an apparent effort to defer to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the party leadership does not seem to understand the need to coalesce its forces in the state, particularly given the internal insurrection with the All Progressives Congress (APC).

While Ogun State is fighting a proxy supremacy battle with Lagos State, it is obvious that in the hands of PDP the state could assert itself as the bastion of Yoruba politics. With its enhanced economic power, Ogun State could wield similar influence as Lagos and help to shape the emerging national politics enunciated by PDP.

Two months to the presidential election, reconciliation through strong caucus leadership is what PDP needs to achieve poll success in the light of the confused approach by the ruling party. Unless the opposition party shows real hunger to alter the political equation, even if it wins the presidential election, it could be challenged by internal contradictions.