Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar; Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike; his Sokoto State counterpart, Aminu Tambuwal; and a former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, are among the frontline presidential aspirants who will contest the primary of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party today (Saturday).
Others are Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State; his Bauchi State counterpart, Bala Mohammed; a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose; a former Senate President, Pius Anyim; Diana Teriela, the only woman in the race; former FSB Managing Director, Muhammed Hayatu-Deen; media mogul, Dele Momodu; a pharmacist, Sam Ohuabunwa; Charles Ugwu and Chikwendu Kalu.
Former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, who had been screened to participate in the primary, has since defected to the Labour Party.
The election is likely going to be a contest between Atiku, Saraki, Tambuwal and Wike.
Many of the delegates, who spoke with one of our correspondents, said the party must consider who could win the presidential election among the aspirants.
One of them said, “The principal idea behind the decision of the party to throw the presidential contest open to all the six geopolitical zones is to ensure that the PDP does not deprive itself of the best candidate who can win the presidency for us in 2023. Every political party wants to win elections.
“This was the reason why the national leadership of the party refused to zone the ticket to any of the six geo-political zones in the country. I am sure you know that the PDP won the last presidential election. That is why we want Atiku back as our candidate.”
When one of our correspondents visited the campaign offices of some of the aspirants in Abuja, they were brimming with activities.
The liaison houses of some state governments, whose governors are also in the race, were decorated with the campaign insignia of the respective governors.
The state liaison houses of Sokoto, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi and Rivers states at Asokoro were busy with activities.
A source, however, said the refusal of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to sign the amended version of the Electoral Act, 2022 had affected the planning of some of the aspirants.
“If the new Act had been signed, it would have increased the chances of some of the governors, because members of the National Assembly from their states would have been among the delegates and they would have lined up behind their governors,” another source said.
Before the new order, there were more delegates from the southern parts of the country on account of the fact that the PDP controls more states in the South.
However, with the exclusion of statutory delegates and with the provision that only elected delegates, one from each local government area, are eligible to vote during today’s convention, there is a shift in the balance of power between the North, with more local government areas, and the South.
It was gathered that the new arrangement would be in favour of the likes of Atiku and Saraki.
Political watchers are of the opinion that delegates from the state caucuses of the party from the North will vote en masse for Atiku and Tambuwal.
It was also observed that a good number of delegates from the South were likely to vote for Atiku, Wike and Saraki.
There is the likelihood that the exit of Obi from the party has opened the eastern flank to hunting and many of the delegates from the region will prefer to go with Atiku than Wike.
Apart from Abia and Enugu states, whose governors are said to be behind Wike, it was learnt that delegates from the South-East might be shared by contenders like Atiku and Anyim.
A delegate from Ogun State, who spoke with journalists under the condition of anonymity said, “We have been in opposition for almost 12 years. We are not here to play or to collect cheap inducements. We are here for real business and what we are looking at is the aspirant among the lot who can win in the general election and mobilise federal power for us to win back our states for the PDP. You remember that before 2003, the whole of the South-West was in the Alliance for Democracy. But you recall that it was Baba Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku who brought the PDP to government houses in the South-West.
“Although Governor Wike has been saying the same thing that he can win our states for the PDP, do you really believe that if we present him he can win the general election? I am not comfortable with these current governors who want to be president. They are easy targets for the APC to embarrass on corruption allegations and you know that the time between the primary and the general election is very long and there is an opportunity to do enough damage to a governor with corruption allegations hanging on his neck as the PDP presidential candidate.”
Be transparent, Mark tells convention planning committee members
In the meantime, the Chairman of the PDP National Convention Organising Committee, Senator David Mark, assured members of the party that arrangements had been made for a hitch-free exercise.
He spoke while addressing members of the committee in Abuja on Friday.
He also vowed that the exercise would be smooth and transparent.
Mark told members of the committee, “You must be absolutely transparent. If you have any interest or bias for any of the aspirants, you can excuse yourself from this assignment.
“We are prepared for the exercise; virtually all our delegates have arrived Abuja. The PDP has an array of eminently qualified persons to rule Nigeria. We carried out due diligence during our screening. I am confident that whoever emerges from the convention will reflect the wishes of our party.”
Aspirants vow not to step down
Speaking with Saturday PUNCH, Mr Paul Ibe, who is Atiku’s spokesman, said the former Vice-President was confident of victory.
“Well, I can tell you without any ambiguity that Atiku Abubakar has actually worked very hard as an individual. The unique selling point of Atiku Abubakar is as a unifier, a bridge builder, experienced and has multiple competencies. That has been well-documented in the public space. Because of the peculiar time that Nigeria has found itself, plagued by insecurity, economic depression, hunger, poverty and all of that, Nigerians know the kind of leader they need at this point in time,” he said.
On if Atiku would step down in favour of a consensus candidate, Ibe stated, “He will harvest delegates. I wouldn’t know if there will be consensus, but in the next 24 hours, anything can happen. It is possible that there will be alignments. How will he be stepping down when he is the man to beat?”
Also speaking with Saturday PUNCH, the spokesman for Saraki, Mr Yusuph Olaniyonu, said his principal had campaigned and lobbied delegates.
Olaniyonu said he was confident that Saraki would clinch the party’s ticket. When asked if the former Senate President would dump the PDP if he lost, Olaniyonu responded, “He will not lose. We are very well prepared. We have done our best. We are confident.
“He is the man to beat in this race. We have done our homework. We have done everything we need to do. We are in touch with the delegates. He will not lose. We are sure of that and we have God on our side.”
Another aspirant, Ohuabunwa, who is a former President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, said he would not step down for any aspirant.
“I have the confidence because I have worked hard and I have the conviction that I will take the day. I am not stepping down for anybody, there is no such plan; I have reached out to the delegates and I am convincing them,” he stated.
Media mogul, Momodu, also told Saturday PUNCH that he was confident of victory, adding that he would not withdraw from the race for anyone.
He vowed not to give the delegates money, adding that he would protect his integrity at all costs.
Momodu stated, “I can never step down for anybody. I don’t see the candidate who will make me to step down. I am in the race. I am a global brand; I know what to do; I have interacted with world leaders. I will deliver. I have prepared for this journey for decades. I am already acting presidential and attending to the problems of Nigeria.
“I will never corrupt any delegate. I have said it repeatedly. I have won a presidential primary before without bribing any delegate. I only gave them two copies of Ovation magazine each and I won the election. There are people in this country who still have integrity and believe in reputation. We must change the game.”
However, Anyim, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, expressed fear over the absence of the list of delegates from Ebonyi State.
He warned that the action would mean the denial of the right of the Ebonyi people to vote, which would be detrimental to the PDP primary.
In an open letter on Friday, which was addressed to the National Chairman of the PDP, Senator Iyorchia Ayu; and the Chairman of the PDP Special Convention, Senator David Mark, the presidential aspirant asked that urgent action be taken to remedy the situation.
Meanwhile, the national leadership of the party has limited the number of guests that will accompany each aspirant to the venue of the primary to three.
This was conveyed to the aspirants by the PDP Convention Planning Committee.
One of the aspirants, who spoke with one of our correspondents, said the party was not ready to get the venue congested.
He said, “I have been told to come with just three aides. The aides include my chief security officer, chief detail and any other I deem fit. When I asked for the reason, I was told by the organisers that they were not ready for the crowd as the number of delegates had reduced as a result of the new amended Electoral Act. So, we will be there with a minimum crowd.”
In a related development, Saturday PUNCH learnt that many of the delegates were looking to make between $10,000 and $20,000 each from the aspirants.
A chieftain of the PDP told Saturday PUNCH that the battle would be between two major aspirants and the stakes were very high.
“Delegates will be looking to make between $10,000 and $20,000 each. I was supposed to be among them, but because I am a member of the state working committee, I will not be permitted to vote,” the party chieftain stated.
The Director-General of the Peter Obi Campaign Organisation, Dr Doyin Okupe, said some delegates could make as high as $20,000 each from the presidential primary.
Okupe said some delegates in Delta State at the last governorship primary made as high as $10,000.
“I can tell you categorically that some delegates in Delta State received $10,000 each at the primary. If a state could produce this, then you can imagine how much the presidential election will be,” said Okupe while explaining why Obi dumped the PDP.
Attempts to get a reaction from the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr Debo Ologunagba, proved abortive as he did not respond to calls on Friday.
No room for violence, police warn
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Police Force has warned that it will not allow any room for violence during the presidential primary election of the PDP.
In an interview with Saturday PUNCH, the Force Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, said the police would not condone any act capable of causing chaos in the country, especially within the Federal Capital Territory.
He said, “Politicians and others, especially political thugs, are warned to desist from violence as the police will allow no room for violence, hooliganism, or any act capable of causing chaos or fear in the minds of Nigerians, especially residents of the FCT.
“Politicians and the electorate are warned to play the game by the rules and regulations. Those who may want to foment trouble should steer clear of the FCT as the police and other security agencies are ready to decimate any of their plans.”
The personnel of the FCT Command of the NPF had earlier on Friday performed a show of force in the country’s capital, demonstrating to members of the public their readiness to thwart any form of violence during the presidential primary election of the PDP.
The command’s Public Relations Officer, Josephine Adeh, who also spoke to Saturday PUNCH, reiterated the earlier warning.
“Earlier today (Friday), we carried out a show of force as a way of declaring the command’s readiness to combat situations such as thuggery, hooliganism and sundry disruptions,” she stated.