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PDP convention creates suspense on rotational presidency

• Aspirants spring up from North, South

Razaq Bamidele

What happened at the National Convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), penultimate Saturday at the Eagles Square, Abuja, where several members from the North openly competed with their southern colleagues in showcasing their aspirations to succeed Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner in 2023, was not a surprise to several political pundits.

This is not surprising in the sense that going by the build-up to the convention, it was crystal clear that deferring discussion about where the president would come from by all the committees saddled with the responsibility of handling the zoning of party offices, gave room for suspicion.

Recall that the Governor Ifeanyi Uguanyi-led committee that recommended the zoning of the office of the national chairman of the party to the North, which was adopted by the party’s National Executive Committee party, was silent on the issue of where its presidential candidate would come from.

In addition to that, another suspense had been created by an earlier recommendation of another committee headed by Governor Bala Mohammed that recommended throwing open the 2023 presidential ticket of the party to all zones. It was from that time that political observers got apprehensive about what the leadership of the party had up their sleeves.

The expected arrangement was a situation whereby the presidential slot would go to the South once the chairmanship slot has been moved up North. And the immediate past National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan, kept the kite of suspense soaring even higher when he confirmed the resolution of the NEC against any deliberation on other issues besides the Uguanyi committee report. Observers wondered that Ologbodiyan could say that, even against his own admission that zoning of offices in the party had traditionally been between North and South.

People were compelled to keep their fingers crossed when the communiqué issued at the end of the zoning committee’s meeting in Enugu, clearly stated that, “the mandate of the Committee does not include zoning of the offices of the President, Vice President and other Executive and Legislative offices of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

So, going by the foregoing, what played out at the party’s National Convention that Saturday was nothing but confirmation of the apprehension that some members might not want the presidential slot leave the North.

The aspirants

Unveiling some of the presidential aspirants from the North that showcased their ambition to contest for the President in 2023 would suffice in this effort to buttress the fear about the alleged conspiracy to scuttle the gentleman agreement on the zoning system.

Atiku Abubakar

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former vice president for eight years under the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007), has never hidden his aspiration to govern the country as president. His aspiration dates back to, at least, 2003 when he was said to have been persuaded to allow his boss to do a second term. But by the end of their joint tenure in 2007, he could not still achieve his ambition, even on other platforms outside the PDP that he eventually returned to.

His remarks since then have shown that, he is not too much in love with the zoning arrangement. For instance, he has been repeatedly reported to have said that where Nigeria’s next president comes from in 2023 is not important.

He was further quoted to have added that, “Nigerians are not bothered where their next president will come from but are hopeful of a leader desirous of addressing the challenges facing the nation.” He said this at the 94th NEC meeting of the party in Abuja sometime ago where he backed the committees’ recommendation that supported throwing the presidential slot open to all the zones.

His words: “PDP has the right to determine how the party should be run and Nigerians have the right to determine how the country should be governed,” insisting that, “the problem of Nigerians has never been where the president comes from.”

So, when his supporters stormed the convention venue with his posters with inscriptions like, “Atiku is the answer,” pundits were of the belief that they were acting out Atiku’s script handed to them by his strategists.

Though, he never made a categorical declaration of ambition, his remarks that “I am 70 years plus, but I have never seen Nigeria in such a bad shape, disunited, insecure with the economy in tatters,” according to the political observer is in line with his usual ground preparation that he has the magic wand to fix the country.

Bukola Saraki

Just like Atiku Abubakar, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, a former two-term governor of Kwara State and the immediate past president of the Senate, has also never hidden his love to be Nigeria’s president. Though he was not quoted to have declared his intention to be president at the convention venue, he nonetheless made a very visible appearance with a number of 80-seater Mercedes Benz luxury buses, displaying his large portraits.

An observer, who described Saraki as a silent political strategist, believed that he was deliberately silent about the aspiration because the National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu is from the North Central zone. And it may not be possible for the president and the party chairman to hail from the same region.

Aminu Tambuwal

The one-time number four citizen of the country, Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, according to checks, became part of the arrangement that resulted into the birth of the APC with the aim of becoming the party’s flag bearer in 2015. It was rumoured then that, as the Speaker, House of Representatives on the ticket of the PDP, Tambuwal had been approached by the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), to be made president. His age and the Sultanate factor were said to be a plus for him.

But the advent of Muhammadu Buhari scuttled his chance of becoming president in 2015 on the ticket of the APC. Unconfirmed reports, however, have it that the grudge he nursed against the leadership of the party was said to have led to his dumping the APC for his former party – PDP, on which ticket he retained his seat initially won on the APC ticket. The victory, which is a testimony of acceptance by his people is a morale booster for the Chairman, PDP Governors’ Forum in 2023.

That must have given him the confidence at the convention ground to postulate about how difficult it was to keep the PDP united, especially as members of the party in the opposition.

With the success of the convention, Tambuwal enthused that, “we are winning (in 2023), by the grace of God,” sounding short of saying, “with me as the candidate”.

Rabiu Kwankwaso

Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso, former Defence Minister, needs no introduction, as he has been twice governor of one of the volatile states in the northern axis of the country. The leader and the originator of the Kwankwasiyyah governed Kano State twice. Kwankwasiyyah is a political movement in support of Kwankwaso’s political interests at any level.

The vibrant grassroots man narrowly missed being the APC candidate in 2015 when he came second behind Buhari, the eventual winner, beating Atiku to a distant third position. So, it was not out of place for his supporters, who stormed the convention venue in their thousands to showcase his popularity.

Recall that Rabiu Kwankwaso comes from a state that has constantly posted the highest number of votes in the country. The state holds the record of a settlement that once recorded zero void votes. With those heavy votes behind him, he appears as the man to watch towards the 2023 race.

However, ambitions of the likes of Bauch State Governor, Bala Mohammed, could not also be wished away because it is on record that some former leaders, who aspired to be something less the president eventually became president.

Southern aspirants

In what looks like toeing the party’s position on throwing the presidential slot open, two major aspirants from the South also made their appearances visible at the convention ground, though only one of them came out physically to declare his ambition. The duo is the former Senate President, later Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF), Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, and Dr. Doyin Okupe, a one-time aide to former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Pius Anyim

The reports from Abuja convention venue of the exercise have it that it was only Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, who openly confirmed his presidential aspiration from the South penultimate Saturday.

He appeared less concerned about whether people are comfortable with the rotational committee’s deferment of discussion on where the president would come from or not when he told reporters that, he would contest the 2023 presidential election irrespective of where it was zoned later.

He reminded that in 2020, he had disassociated himself from posters from well-wishers, urging him to contest, saying, but now, there was no going back.

Doyin Okupe

Whether this Ogun-born medical practitioner cum politician spoke at the convention or not, it is no more news that he has declared his intention to succeed Buhari in 2023. The former personal aide to ex-President Obasanjo on Domestic Affairs has, through several media interviews, stated his ambition to be president.

In one of the interviews, Okupe insisted that, right now, Nigeria needs a president with original vision and ideas in 2023 and beyond, saying he is that man the presidential cap fits.

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When reminded that he has never held any elective office in the country, the vocal politician retorted: “Tell me, governor of where was Obama? Macron was governor of where? It’s a function of commitment, vision and intellect. Many governors, after eight years, what did they achieve? How can being a former governor be a qualification for the presidency? It is idiotic. It can only happen in a mushroom country, which I hope Nigeria is not.

“You must assess a man by the muscle of his intellect, his knowledge, his exposure and his experience. Obama was never a governor of any state; he was a senator. Macron was actually a member of a sitting government; he moved out of that government and in 17 months became the president of his country. All these beer parlour talks are mundane. I hope nobody will talk to me about such things. Having made a mistake in 2015 and 2019, Nigerian should know better now.”

Concluding, Okupe said he possesses the magic wand to bring back the country to the right path if given the mandate to succeed Muhammadu Buhari, as the next president.

So, with the foregoing, the good people of Nigeria need to still hold their breath, pending the final determination by the PDP of which section of the country would produce its presidential flag bearer for the 2023 poll.