The Port Harcourt national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has largely been seen as a make or mar convention in view of the huge number of presidential aspirants it parades. A dozen aspirants jostling for the single presidential slot certainly portends a big battle is at hand for the PDP. And the question on the lips of many observers is whether the party would manage to be fair to all.
Despite the fact that the leadership of the PDP had zoned the presidential ticket to the North in 2019, the array of political juggernauts parading the space had kept ballooning until it cross the dozen mark.
The aspirants include former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar; Senate President Bukola Saraki; former governor of Kano State and serving Senator, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; former governor of Jigawa State and former Foreign Affairs Minister, Alhaji Sule Lamido; former chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the party who was also a former governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi; former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa; Gombe state governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo; a former governor of Plateau State, Senator David Jang; former Minister of Special Duties, Tanimu Turaki, SAN; former Senate President David Mark; Sokoto State governor and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal; and a former member of the House of Representatives, Datti Baba-Ahmed.
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No doubt, the party is feeling the weight of these top politicians and had instituted efforts to ensure a consensus option if practicable, but consensus appears difficult to achieve in a situation where each of the aspirants parades what you would call intimidating curriculum vitae. A committee of the Board of Trustees is working on that option and it is expected that the committee would announce the outcome of its efforts just before the convention proper.
The tense situation that would most certainly rise to the boiling point on Friday and Saturday is further fuelled by claims credited to the governor of Rivers State, Barrister Nyesom Wike to the effect that some aspirants are merely agents of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the build up to the convention itself, a spark had threatened as Governor Wike vehemently defended the choice of Port Harcourt as venue of the convention amidst alternative views from other members of the party. When some members of the Board of Trustees (BoT) openly disagreed with the National Working Committee (NWC) over the determination of the venue of the convention, it became obvious a crack was setting in. but the leaders promptly doused that tension and immediately agreed to the choice of the Rivers State capital.
Right now, all of the one dozen aspirants have criss-crossed the country, promising renewed hope for nationalism, growth and development. Many of them have justified the need to change the change based on the failings of the incumbent government. So far, none of the aspirants is talking ill of the other and none is threatening to quit due to observed irregularities. But it is perhaps easy for observers to conclude that in the usual way of the politician, when they get to the bridge, they will cross it. Unfailingly, that bridge would have to be crossed between Saturday and Sunday.
The convention promises a big test for the PDP and its leaders who are used to wielding power the big way. This is because it is the first time the party would be choosing its presidential candidate without the overbearing influence of its governors. Before now, the PDP was always boasting of at least 21 governors and at a stage it rose to 27. In that era, what a presidential aspirant needed was the influence of the Governors’ Forum. In Port Harcourt, the states without PDP Governors outnumber those with governors who are only 13. It means more work for the aspirants, more power to the delegates and even the caucus of the governors would have to double its efforts to convince the delegates.
How will the zones vote and what are the factors that would influence the haul of votes each aspirant would get from the zones?
The zone has seven states but the sheer number of the aspirants would make it difficult for an aspirant to coast home to clear victory. This is owing to the fact that each aspirant would control his home base. The North West presents a tricky picture with six of the twelve aspirants in the race spread across four states. Tambuwal is expected to do well with delegates from Sokoto and Zamfara states. A slice of Sokoto State delegates would however go to Bafarawa, another former governor of the state. Taminu Turaki will take Kebbi delegates, while Makarfi and Datti-Ahmed would share the spoils in Kaduna with Makarfi having an edge. Kano would go for Kwankwaso, while Jigawa goes to Lamido and Katsina would remain an all comer’s affairs. Tambuwal may have a good showing here with Saraki picking some slots.
Those who are showing strength here include Atiku, Saraki, Tambuwal and Kwankwaso. Atiku is having a good show in Anambra, while he is seeking a slice of Imo votes where Saraki and Tambuwal also have good showing. Saraki is relying on the strength of his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu to haul votes in Enugu, he is also relying on relationships with senators to take Ebonyi and Abia. Atiku is relying on his old friends like Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Chief Dubem Onyia and Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo to gain good ground in the South East.
The South South also presents a tricky picture out there. The delegates haul appears in favour of Atiku, Saraki, Makarfi, Mark and Tambuwal. The frontlines appear to be Atiku, Saraki and Tambuwal. Makarfi has a number of senator-friends who are selling him well to the delegates in Edo. In fact, Makarfi’s candidature has been boosted by the good works of his coordinator, Senator Odion Ugbesia.
But Atiku is also relying on long standing friends to take the lead here. It has been observed that Mark could get a slice of Edo as well as Cross River, Rivers and Bayelsa, while Saraki is expected to hold down a majority of delegates from Cross River, Akwa-Ibom and Delta
Rivers appears set for Tambuwal who may cart away huge votes in the state. Edo also appears set to give Tambuwal big votes, while Atiku has the support of Bayelsa delegates with Mark likely to get a slice. Delta also looks good for Atiku, Saraki and Tambuwal.
The zone presents a mixed grill for the aspirants as well. Many of the aspirants would have slices of the votes here but it looks like the weakest link for Datti Baba-Ahmed. Here, David Mark is relying on his senator friends of the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Senate to make impact but Atiku appears to have swayed a number of delegates with his adoption of the restructuring agenda. He is keenly followed by Saraki, while Makarfi and Tambuwal are breathing the tape as well.
In Ondo, the state may give good votes to Saraki, with Atiku trailing, while Ekiti may give good votes to Tambuwal due to the support of Gov Ayodele Fayose for his candidacy. Osun and Oyo appear however to be split between Saraki and Atiku. Saraki appears to be getting a good rating among the delegates in the two states owing to his intervention in the governorship election in Osun State recently.
With Chief Bode George leading Lagos, Atiku is hopeful that his influence would get him the votes, while Saraki is also seeking to rely on the support of the business community to rally support in Lagos.
Kwankwaso may get a good showing in Ogun owing to the influence of one of the power brokers who was said to have endorsed him. By and large, the front liners in the battle for South West states would be Atiku, Saraki, Tambuwal and Kwankwaso, with the other aspirants getting some fractions here and there.
The North East zone has two aspirants in the persons of Atiku and Dankwambo. The two are expected to coast home with 100 percent votes in Adamawa and Gombe states respectively. The battle will then shift to states including Bauchi, Borno, Taraba and Yobe. Atiku is expected to do well in states contiguous to his Adamawa home, including Yobe, Borno and to a large extent, but in recent weeks, Tambuwal and Saraki appear to be having strong showing. It was gathered that Tambuwal deliberately delayed his entrance to the race and state tour so as to guarantee that he would be the aspirant with momentum going into the convention.
The influence of the Senate Deputy Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha in Taraba State may bring some vote hauls to Saraki in that state, making him also competitive in Borno and Yobe.
Saraki, Mark and Jang are expected to hold on to Kwara and Kogi; Benue and then Plateau respectively. These are their traditional core states. But states like Niger, Nasarawa, and FCT present a mixed bag. Saraki is expected to coast home with 100 percent of votes in Kwara and Kogi, with Atiku showing strongly in Nasarawa and FCT. Dankwambo is one aspirant who will also take a slice of the votes in this zone.
There is likely to be a scramble for r FCT votes with the likes of Atiku, Saraki, Mark, Tambuwal and Makarfi getting portions of the votes.
The battle of Rivers this time promises some interesting twists. There are five contenders with capacity to tweak things. But the likes of Atiku, Tambuwal, Saraki and Kwakwanso may pull unexpected strings.
There is nothing to suggest a total rule out of some aspirants stepping down shortly before voting commences, especially as the committee of the BoT working on possible consensus is yet to close its books.