It will take the right leadership within the party hierarchy and the delegates to choose the right man to mount a strong challenge against Buhari.
Primary election to select a presidential candidate of a major political party tests the special greatness of the political system. In any democracy that is worth the name, presidential primary provides an unusual opportunity for understanding the interplay between personalities and party supremacy in the quest for the ultimate prize, the presidency. Don’t forget, presidential primary involves the energetic clash of conflicting ideas. But, how one aspirant’s ideas can be different from the other, and each respects the other and work together, without rancour or hatred, provides an invaluable look at character, strengths and the dynamics of power.
Every party primary reveals this. In the next couple of weeks, the political parties will begin the challenging processes of primary. In none of the over 90 registered political parties will national attention be more focused than the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It’s not for nothing. Having held power at the centre for 16 unbroken years, and losing the presidency in 2015 to the then main opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), PDP is staging a comeback.
The party (PDP) as it is today, has not followed a natural and easy path. It has survived an implosion of its own, now apparently disciplined by a hard and bitter peace. On the other hand, the ruling party is reeling and riling from internal crises of monumental proportions.
But the moment that will define the political life of PDP is about to unfold. How it will conduct its presidential primary to choose who among the current motley crowd of aspirants to square up with the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, without suffering any permanent damage ahead of the general elections early next year is something that will engage the mind. At least, 12 presidential aspirants have been crisscrossing the country. Some are already lining up endorsements from State chapters of the party. Their volunteers are also doing their fieldwork. Some of the aspirants are familiar faces. They have been there on many occasions and lost. Others are having no name recognition. They just want to complete the number or even be spoilers. Nothing is beyond politicians.
Among the presidential aspirants are former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, two-term Governors of Kano and Jigawa States, Rabiu Kwankwaso and Sule Lamido, current governors of Sokoto and Gombe States, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Dankwabo, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and former Governor of Kaduna State and Caretaker Chairman of PDP, Sen. Ahmed Makarfi. Also, want to be president is former governor of Sokoto state, Attahiru Bafarawa. Each of them claims to have what it takes to be President. That’s why the atmosphere in PDP is febrile, and the presidential primary will be watched very keenly, even by the ruling APC. It will be tough and the need for party unity will be of utmost importance to the party leadership. Can PDP put the contest on a high plane to avoid splitting the party?
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I guess the ruling party will be praying for an implosion in the PDP during the primary. Nothing is wrong with that bad expectation. It’s part of politics. However, the crucial questions to ask are: Who among the PDP presidential aspirants has the vision, the philosophy and purposes to give Nigerians a better alternative to the ruling APC and defeat the incumbent president? We know that many of the aspirants are holding meetings, mapping strategy that will resonate with the delegates, we need a forward-looking, well-defined and detailed policy programme of action that will address the challenges that our country and citizens face today. These including insecurity everywhere, absolute poverty in the land, unemployment, especially among our youths, high cost of living, just to mention a few. Our country has become sicker than we thought and not much work done to stop the drift.
It will take the right leadership within the party hierarchy and the delegates to choose the right man to mount a strong challenge against Buhari. The sitting President is beatable in any free, fair and credible election, just the way he defeated the former incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. The same odds that favoured Buhari three years ago, seem against him today. But, it depends on who PDP chooses as its standard bearer. The truth is that Buhari has become a polarising figure, arguably more than any politician in Nigeria today. He has squandered public trust that brought him to power three years ago. Again, it depends on whom the PDP settles for.
Will it be Atiku, Kwankwaso, Makarfi or any of the unfamiliar faces? For Atiku, this may be his last chance. He seems to have the ideas, vision, the war chest and determination to render a crippling blow to the President’s campaign. But talent and determination may not be enough, and big war chest may not do it either. His opponents may say he has a baggage of scandals which the ruling party may cash on to demonize Atiku. Makarfi sounds confident he will clinch the ticket. Why, you may ask? As he told journalists in Lagos on Sunday, his confidence is anchored largely on how he ‘saved’ the party from imminent collapse as National Caretaker Committee Chairman, against the Modu Sheriff faction. That, he believes, will give him enough sympathy from the governors elected on the platform of the party. But politics doesn’t respect subtlety.
Other aspirants also have their own unique selling points they are bringing into the primary contest. But, don’t rule out these two factors that may decide the PDP nominee. One is money. Money, it bears repeating is the lifeblood of modern politics. If you don’t have and your sponsors don’t either, you may not go far, regardless of your talent or moral strength. Raw power won’t do it either. Presidential campaign requires so much money. Nevertheless, there’s a limit to what money can do if the governors conspire against the ambition of any aspirant. So, keep an eye on the PDP governors, their body language on the aspirants. They are the game changers.
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Beyond this, there are several critical moments to keep in mind the ongoing political process of PDP to select its presidential candidate, and by extension, the chances of the president to be re-elected. The first question to answer is: Are you better off now than you were three years ago? Has APC brought the ‘Change’ it promised, and therefore, should be given another four years? Between APC and PDP, which one has a better vision for Nigeria? And more directly, who among the PDP aspirants can make that vision a reality?
In pondering the path of these questions, PDP leadership must bear in mind that the presidency is not a prize to be won; it’s a duty to perform. It doesn’t require indecisiveness. Tremendous moral strength is not enough, because, as presidential historians will tell us, ‘responsibilities abandoned today will most likely return as more acute crises tomorrow’. Since power, they say makes good works possible, power finds its true meaning when it is in the hands of someone who understand how to use it, not for personal gains, but for the good of the country.
In all, one of the ways PDP can avoid a split within its ranks is to persuade or even compel the presidential aspirants to discuss the need for party unity before the primary and convention. They should reach an agreement that the losers should congratulate the winner, and the winner to congratulate his opponents for waging a fine campaign. There is always life after politics, not a ‘do-or- die’ affair.
APC did exactly this during its National Convention in December, 2014 in Lagos where Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the party’s presidential candidate for the 2015. The party went into the election as one, while PDP was a divided, and torn umbrella. The lesson that still resonates is, to paraphrase Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; ‘there’s danger in discord and strength in unity’. But, can the PDP presidential aspirants stick to the high road and hope for the best? The weeks and months ahead will tell.