THE stage is set. The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, will pick its presidential flagbearer, the seventh since the 1999 return to civil rule, today.
The road that the PDP threaded to today’s presidential national convention has been rough. Several issues had propped up and the decisions that the PDP took on those knotty issues have shaped the texture of the election among the remaining 14 aspirants in the race.
The controversies that led to the sacking of the former National Working Committee, NWC, led by Prince Uche Secondus, the installation of new national officials led by Dr Iyorchia Ayu, and the ratification of the Governor Samuel Ortom-led committee on zoning of elective national offices have defined the outlook of the convention holding at the Velodrome of the MKO Abiola Stadium, Abuja.
In sum, 17 persons purchased the nomination and expression of interest forms. Two were disqualified by the David Mark-led screening committee. Former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi opted out of the race and resigned from the party, leaving 14 contenders.
The 810 Party delegates that will elect one of these presidential hopefuls started trooping into Abuja since Wednesday.
Following the foot work of the aspirants and a number of factors, some of them have emerged as front runners.
Currently, the contest is panning out as three horse race among former Vice President and 2019 presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; current governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike; and immediate past Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki.
Among the trio, Atiku appears to have upper hand as of now. Other aspirants that are poised to pull surprises at the convention include former governor of Kwara State, Bukola Saraki and the current governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal.
Some delegates who spoke on condition anonymity said winning the election and returning to Aso Rock, winning majority of states and National Assembly slots are topmost priorities of PDP leaders ahead of the 2023 elections.
Thus, some of them said the primary position on zoning among the delegates is based on electing a candidate who can win the general election.
“The principal idea behind the decision of the party to throw the presidential position open to all geo-political zones is to ensure that the PDP does not deprive itself of the best candidate that can win the presidency for us in 2023. Every political party wants to win an election. A political party is not a pressure group.
“So, if we are here to win elections. That is our primary purpose. Where and how to allocate positions is not as important to a political party as who can win an election for the party.
This is the enlightened self interest of the PDP as at today. It is the reason the leadership of the party did not yield to the clamour for zoning and that same interest will determine the outcome of our convention on Saturday (today),” a delegate from Ondo State said.
Another delegate from Kaduna State said: “Everyone in the PDP knows that we won the last presidential election. The election was heavily rigged and yet the APC only managed to declare a defeat of Atiku by less than two million votes.
“I don’t think that there is any reason for us to change a candidate that we are used to. Someone with experience and is a good material to market across this country. With due respect to the other aspirants, I dare say that no one among them has name recognition like Atiku. Yes, Saraki has name recognition too, but you can’t compare him with Atiku.”
Effect of non-signing of amended Electoral Act
Until two weeks ago, the race appeared difficult to call. However, the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the amended version of the Electoral Act 2022 has affected the planning of aspirants concerning logistic support to the delegates.
It also affected the number of delegates as statutory or super delegates made up of elected officials at all levels will not take part. Thus, only national delegates from the 774 local councils, six area councils in Abuja and 10 others will take part as delegates in today’s exercise.
Expectedly, the reduction in the number of delegates will no doubt affect the exercise.
“The expectation was that the President would sign the amendment and that primaries will hold according to the provision of the amendment. Unfortunately, we are forced to approach an election with a new law that has never been tested and you will expect that there will be some teething problems in terms of logistics.
“Although the reduction in the figure of delegates that will be voting at the convention is a good development, you cannot rule out the fact that it will affect planning and other critical concerns that the aspirants had planned ahead,” a party leader said.
More northern delegates
Another area where the change from the old system to the new law will likely affect the outcome of the election is in the geo-political distribution of the delegates.
With the old order, the South would have had more delegates because there are more PDP states in the region. However, with the exclusion of statutory delegates and the North having more local councils than the South, there is a shift in the balance of delegates, which now favours the North.
While the South has 355 LGAs and no fewer than 360 delegates, the North has 419 LGAs and if the six area councils of Abuja are added the figure comes to 425. That means the North has no fewer than 430 delegates.
The balance of delegates is one reason some delegates believe that Atiku holds the ace with some saying that Saraki and Tambuwal will pull a surprise.
The projection among many of the delegates is that the state caucuses of the party from the North will come to the convention in one bloc to vote for Atiku and Tambuwal. Although Wike is believed to have also made in-roads into some places in the North, sources said most northern delegates are not favourably disposed the Rivers State governor because of his stance on many national issues.
Conversely, a good number of delegates from the South are said to be favourably disposed to Northern aspirants, especially Atiku and Saraki.
A delegate from Abia State said the exit of Mr. Peter Obi from the race has opened the Eastern flanks for hunting and many of the delegates from the East will prefer to go with Atiku than Wike.
In some states in the South-West, for example, the PDP has been out of power in those states for almost 12 years and the yearning of delegates from those states is to crown an aspirant with formidable political stamina to help win back those states for the PDP.
A delegate from Ogun State said: “We are here from Ogun State, like many other states in the South-West, having 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 of them who can win in the general election and mobilize 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 Alliance for Democracy. But you recall that it was Baba Obasanjo and Atiku that brought the PDP to government houses in the South-West.”