By Mideno Bayagbon
From all indications, it appears that former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, despite being seemingly the most prepared to be President, despite his wide political connections and despite his known capability to fund his presidential campaign, has, once again, an herculean task on his hands, as all the major political forces, both in the PDP and outside of it, tend to be working frantically to ensure that he never gets the ticket to confront President Mohammadu Buhari in the 2019 general elections.
A major tendency in the PDP, spearheaded by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, who former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in a veiled reference, in his famous letter to President Buhari, accused of buying the Supreme Court judgment that enthroned the faction of the PDP, headed by Senator Ahmed Makarfi, who was then the interim Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as the recognised faction, is fully bent on frustrating Atiku Abubakar’s ambition. This group has among others, three serving governors, Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe State, Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, and not too surprisingly Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State, who is being promoted by Wike, among their top contenders.
There is also the silent group headed by Obasanjo who do not want Atiku Abubakar to become the PDP candidate and as such are pulling powerful strings to ensure he does not get it. Apart from working through acolytes in the opposition party, some persons TNG spoke with, believe that the fear of Atiku, getting the PDP ticket and facing the largely weakened President Buhari, is one of the major reasons Obasanjo came up with the group, Nigerian National Mandate, ostensibly to ensure that Buhari never returns and that a younger person, takes over the realm in 2019. To the Obasanjo group, it is anybody but Buhari; but even at that, that person is definitely not Atiku.
To the Nyesom Wike insider group in the PDP, the quest to be power brokers and be sole authorities to decide who gets what, has been a major project. It is also a personal project for Wike, who is seemingly in a life and death battle with his former boss, Rotimi Amaechi. The calculations in the Wike camp, it is learnt, is that if Buhari wins a second term and Rotimi Amaechi continues to enjoy Buhari’s favour, it might eventually speak political doom for Wike who, if he wins a second term, like he is likely to do, will be an outgoing governor in 2023, while Rotimi Amaechi who has been quietly eyeing a possible run for the presidency in 2023 under the envisaged rotation of the presidential seat to the South East, will be on the political ascent. The reverse will be the case if a Tambuwal propelled presidential candidacy trounces Buhari at the polls. So there is a Rivers State angle in the story.
In the Wike group too, is the belief that PDP, as it stands today, is mainly a South South and South East party since that is where eight of its eleven governors come from. Their claim is also that the funding of the party in the last four years has mainly come from these state governments and they will, eventually also going to, play a huge financial role in funding the campaign for the presidency. He who pays the piper, insiders in the Wike camp say, have a right to decide who to back. They believe that the voice of these two zones must be heard and heard loud and very clearly. The thinking is that these zones have the upper hand in deciding who to back for the presidency in 2019.
Already, there is a groundswell of opposition rising against Wike in the party. Most of the prominent political bigwigs in the party, which surprisingly include former President Jonathan, former military President Ibrahim Babangida and a host of others, are against the rising profile of the Wike group, especially with their attempt to foist Aminu Tambuwal on the party as its presidential candidate. It is taken for granted that almost all the PDP heavy weights in the South West are lined up against the Wike group. Even a lull has recently been noticed in the rather rosy relationship Wike and Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State used to enjoy. Infact, conclusion, from the various people spoken to, indicates that should Wike insist on pushing the Tambuwal candidacy, the PDP will be heading up for another factionalisation, and on the road to paving way for an easy Buhari win. People like Dankwambo are said to be particularly very angry that, despite all efforts they have put in to ensure a united party, and despite the fact that they have spent more time trying to build the party than in running their states and other businesses, Wike is trying to make himself the sole kingmaker who can impose Tambuwal over and ahead of those who have stuck with the party and worked tirelessly for his viability.
But then, analysts who have watched carefully the unusual romance Wike and Tambuwal have shared in the last three years are not surprised that the two governors are now the major talk points in the party. Infact careful observers saw the deft hands of Tambuwal during the recent PDP convention to elect party executives. Indeed it is said that it was the strategic alliance between Wike and Tambuwal that led to the foisting of Secondus as party chairman, when to all intent and purposes, the South West had assumed it was their turn to produce the party chairman. Not new to circumventing established party power arrangements, Tambuwal was able to work in cohort with Wike to impose their preferred candidate. The anger of the South West PDP is still at boiling point. It has become clear to most people in the PDP hierarchy that Wike and Tambuwal’s eyes were on the presidential race and the party chairmanship was just a dress rehearsal of what they intend to do at the presidential primaries. A Secondus as party chairman was just one of the jokers in their arsenals.
For Atiku, the road ahead appears very rough. He is not expected to reap the fruits of the internal fights in the PDP by the different sides for supremacy.
The side that is set to fight viciously with the Wike group in the PDP is also positioning former North West governors of Kano, Rabiu Kwankwaso and Ahmed Shekarau alongside former Jigawa governor, and arch enemy of President Buhari, Sule Lamido, and Aminu Dankwambo as their possible preferred choices.
However, Rabiu Kwankwaso, like the Sokoto governor, Tambuwal, is currently an APC member; at least in name. All who have watched his political fortunes
since he lost the APC primaries to Buhari would have noted the scorch earth political tactics that were launched against him in the APC and in his home state, Kano. His former deputy and protege, who he propped up to be governor has turned sourly against him and has worked frantically to try to erase his political footprints in the state and decimate his political group known as Kwankwasiya. The most recent example, was when Kwankwaso was forcefully prevented from going to Kano to address his political supporters. The belief in Aso Rock is that he will eventually dump the APC for PDP, and unless checkmated, could come out tops in PDP to confront Buhari at the presidential polls next year. The fear really is that the Kano massive electoral vote could be lost to the PDP or at best be hugely depleted by a Kwankwaso riding the PDP presidential train.
The fear of a Kwankwaso presidential bid sends jitters down the spine of the Buhari inner caucus team. It is this same team close to Aso Rock, who accuse him of disloyalty and of not cooperating with the Buhari administration since he was defeated at the Teslim Balogun stadium in Lagos during the APC primaries. This is the same team that has fomented trouble for him with the party structure and even in his home state, Kano. They have not forgotten that but for the war chest raised by Bola Tinubu and Rotimi Amaechi, Kwankwaso could have easily defeated Buhari for the candidacy.
Political watchers are however not unmindful of the fact that Atiku, who inherited the Yar’Adua political machinery is not a push over. That he is a fighter. Indeed more than any other contender, he is most likely going to fight hard to get the South West in his corner, while his political allies and foot soldiers, widely spread across the country are already working over drive to neutralise both the schemmings against him in the PDP and from the Obasanjo angle. Yet it is also agreed, due to his age, that this is Atiku’s last chance to successfully run for the presidency. How he manages the process and wins the nomination to run against President Buhari, as the PDP candidate is being waited on, with baited breathe.