By Malik Yusuf
If the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) thinks it is going to sell Nigerians another dummy, it should do a rethink because Nigeria needs PDP now more than ever. Whereas democracy is about popular choices and participation, it is increasingly becoming debatable whether or not party members not nuanced in the general makeup of the larger ecosystem where their choice of candidate to fly the party’s flag and would face a competition that is neither indexed in sentiments or sheer cheap talk are properly guided to ensure victory in the general election.
By now, it should be clear to those PDP leaders and members who are not cognitively distant, that is, those who know and understand how to win the general election, that their party needs critical thinking to arrive at who becomes its presidential candidate.
Chanting the mantra of zoning without the corresponding benefit of vote count would mean nothing.
Mounting the platform and rehashing the time-worn phrase of past exploits that did not amount to anything in terms of electoral victory will never translate to electability for a candidate.
Again, threatening other aspirants and demarketing them only goes to show an aspirant’s disdain for courtesy and his abhorrence of decency.
Yet, in all these, the PDP must make its choice, and a good one at that.
No doubt, the push for zoning can never be discounted. It’s a good push. But all pushes do not necessarily translate to electoral victory.
Take it or leave it, the present structure of PDP places it at a disadvantage in terms of accruable demography either in the North or the South. Therefore, its candidate must be one without the baggage of age, corruption blemish and needless faux paux.
Let me explain: Firstly, it is becoming obvious that Peter Obi possesses the skills and mental alertness to become a good president. But how strong is he in the party among delegates and the establishment? A good cruncher of numbers, Obi is well versed in the polemics of political economy as well as its practicalities. That he governed Anambra State at a time the state was in need of stability, which he provided, is a pointer to what a Peter Obi can do for Nigeria. Yet, the malady and carnage being wrought by unknown gunmen of the South East cast a pall on his ambition. Worse, the recent killing of Fatimah and her children in the South East last week by these beasts sends a message of hate. Some would argue about the murders of Boko Haram in the North at a time when Buhari was canvassing for votes, but the near-total condemnation of Boko Haram terrorists is a far cry from the very loud silence of Igbo leaders against terrorists called Unknown Gunmen. Obi’s blueprint is enviable but is he connecting with the right delegates as against the street excitement that his aspiration is generating?
Nyesom Ezenwo Wike (NEW), the Rivers State governor, packs a punch in terms of a war chest. He has worked hard and has moved round and is not short of determination. In fact, were elections to be won simply based on theatrics and show of bravado, Wike would be PDP’s candidate. But strategic thinking, emotional intelligence and an appreciation of the ethos of cosequence management are qualities that appear to suffer discounts here. Add to this his hollow mobilisation speeches, bereft of strategic ideas that can move Nigeria forward. ‘Give me power’ has become his swan song.
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and presidential candidate of PDP in 2019 is not an unknown quantity. He appropriates PDP’s 12 million votes in 2019 as his and, therefore, insists he’s the best candidate. Yes, Atiku has name recognition but that is also his albatross because of the perception deficit his former boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, has created in the realm of corruption. It will dog his every appearance as it did in 2019. Is he electable? The result of his past participation in the race has not birthed the important fruit.
Can PDP ignore him? Of course not. He has become an important entity in the party and must be respected and carried along.
A Wike, with his bluntness and fire-spitting mien, would energise any PDP presidential campaign, just as an Atiku on a campaign platform would add the needed gravitas.
Yet, in this mix, we also have an Abubakar Bukola Saraki (ABS) who moved from PDP to APC and back to PDP. Whereas, as Senate President, he demonstrated how well walking across the aisle could advance the cause and course of democracy, the divisiveness his ascension created in 2015 leaves a sour taste in the mouth of APC leaders because he became Senate President despite the avalanche of opposition from his party. But his ability to manage the Senate and lead the NASS as its chairman for four years, despite the plethora of forces arrayed against him, speaks to his staying power and his managerial ability. Containing President Muhammadu Buhari’s onslaught, defending against Bola Tinubu, defeating the system when DSS stormed NASS to enforce an impeachment agenda, and coming out clean as unblemished, via a Supreme Court judgment that quashed corruption charges against him as sanctioned, again by the state, through the Code of Conduct Bureau and its tribunal, puts Saraki in good stead. Many aspirants cannot boast of this. At least, a leading APC aspirant who is trying to fulfill a life ambition is struggling to settle a corruption case out of court because of fear of being found gratuitously guilty. Unlike Saraki who insisted on going to court to clear his name, some of the aspirants dare not because such a move would open a terrifying Pandora’s box.
On the economic front, Saraki, as Special Assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo, midwifed a policy of self-sufficiency, which has now seen the emergence of the likes of Aliko Dangote of Dangote Group, Abdulasamad Rabiu of BUA Group and the Innoson and Ibetos of our world.
Then there is the issue of youth connection, age and zone.
Hailing from the North Central zone, which has never produced a President or Vice President, should prick the conscience of party leaders and members. Just like the South East, where Dr. Peter Obi hails from, the North Central has not even produced a civilian Vice President, how much more, a President, since independence.
While the South East produced the late Dr. Ifeanyickuwu Alex Ekwueme in the Second Republic, the North Central has never produced a number two civilian. Fair is fair so, fair should be fair.
That Saraki ‘topped’ the consensus list speaks to something.
In terms of age, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State also comes in handy. However, his faux paux about the inferiority of Igbo votes, as well as the optics of his governorship of a state where terrorism is ravaging, do not position him as possibly being capable of leading a Nigeria that is on edge. Being a life bencher, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives who successfully battled the demons of state power present him as a good manager of men. But good as competence is needed – and Tambuwal has this in good supply – he is from the North West go-political zone. As civilians, his zone has produced three presidents – Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari (Sokoto); Umar Musa Yar’Aduas (Katsina); Muhammadu Buhari (Katsina). In terms of competence, fairness and spread, this knocks the bottom off Tambuwal’s aspiration.
Perhaps, that’s why even the consensus approach he jointly pushed was cognizant of this hence Abubakar Bukola Saraki emerged along with Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, with a caveat that North Central has never produced a President or Vice President.
Mohammed Hayatu-Deen was a participant in the consensus mix but he did not get the endorsement of the northern leaders. But being the MD of Northern Nigeria Development Corporation at an early age of 30 says something about his competence. His achievements in the field of management turnaround and strategic planning means Nigeria stands to benefit from his wealth of experience at a time when the economy is shambolic. But does he have name recognition?
For Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, another consensus promoter, he is said to have also picked a governorship ticket which means, he knows exactly what he wants.
In the final analysis, what the PDP should be looking towards is an individual with a mix of positives that can appeal across board and that person who can get the boxes ticked.
Is it about fairness, competence, appeal to youth and youthfulness and a bridge builder at a time of division, the northern elders who sifted through the consensus list and came up with a choice know what they are doing.
• Dr. Yusuf, a Political Economist, sent this piece from the FCT, Abuja.