By Desmond Onu
It is not a hidden fact that Nigeria is divided along ethnic and religious lines. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as a party, has put before its members various presidential aspirants who aim to lead the party to victory. The delegates, 811, comprising 774 ad hoc delegates representing one local government each, and 37 persons with disability, are poised to cast their votes to determine who would emerge as the party’s standard-bearer.
Already, there are permutations that four aspirants lead the pack; even though the analysis was not grounded in facts but in mere speculations, it is evident that there are only three aspirants leading the pack. The first is Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, governor of Sokoto State, and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Vice-President.
It is important to note that they are in their own right competent and have the capacity to lead the nation. The issue remains whether the candidates have the right temperament, sense of urgency and working plan to unite the nation and lead it to glory days ahead.
First, it is important to set out, factually, how the primaries may play out and who stands a greater chance. In the North-West, Tambuwal leads the pack. Having lost out in 2018 to Atiku, Tambuwal wasted little time in engaging with the delegates on a personal level. The engagement has been maintained for over four years and has endeared many to him. The North-West boasts of 193 delegates, of which Tambuwal has well over 90 per cent of them. The political leaders in the North-West are solidly behind their man and have ensured that he is the only aspirant from the region, unopposed.
Wike has been heavily supported by Governor Seyi Makinde and former Governor Ayo Fayose, both of whom are insistent on a southern candidate. With that, Wike confidently has the bulk of the South-West, which boasts 143 delegates, the second largest bloc after the North-West. Wike also has Cross River and Rivers State (uncontested) but will be unable to get the full backing and support of Edo, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and Delta states, thus leaving him short of the 129 delegates, which the bloc boasts of. Wike has attempted to cover up for the loss by looking to the neighbouring South-East bloc, which has 100 delegates, the least bloc among the delegates. He has successfully engaged with Anambra and may have been able to take a chunk out of former Governor Peter Obi’s votes in the state. He also has the backing of the governors of Enugu and Abia, which may mean that he would go with the chunk of votes from both states. However, he has not been able to penetrate the walls built in Imo and Ebonyi, both of which have aligned with Tambuwal and Sen. Anyim Pius Anyim, respectively.
The North-East states are a split zone, even though they should have been the home front of Atiku. However, delegates, both ad hoc and statutory, still feel disrespected, angry and unwilling to forgive the former presidential candidate for abandoning them after he lost the last election. As such, the zone is split between Tambuwal, Wike and Atiku, with Wike successfully co-opting the former governor of Gombe State, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwambo, to his side, he stands a chance of taking Gombe. Taraba and Borno may go the way of Tambuwal due to his proximity to leaders in both states that have agreed to work with him. Bauchi remains with its governor who would also be running. Adamawa and Yobe are the last two states and will most likely pull their weight for Atiku. The 118 votes, which the region has, will be split among these three aspirants.
In the North-Central, votes are split between Tambuwal, Atiku, Saraki and Wike, although it remains unknown who would vote where, one thing is certain, Tambuwal is no pushover and could be in pole position to win the PDP presidential primary.
The question many readers may like to ask is what makes Tambuwal so special that he has been able to pull people his way. Tambuwal is said to be one of the most down-to-earth politicians, meeting people on their own terms and engaging with them in a manner like never before. Tambuwal takes his politics personal and is keen on maintaining quality conversations with people around him, never taking decisions on his own, which is why he had a balanced House of Representatives as Speaker, giving key positions to members of the House in an equitable manner. He also carried everyone along, and made sure that consultation was the theme of the day before taking any critical decision.
As a former teacher and lawyer and secretary to the Nigerian Bar Association, Tambuwal can be said to have an array of experiences. His role as opposition leader, Deputy Chief Whip, and Speaker of the House of Representatives has shown that he is a leader extraordinaire who takes consultation of all stakeholders as being imperative. Tambuwal’s rise in the Nigerian political space makes him somewhat of a political prodigy. His capacity to lead is why he was able to become the chairman of the PDP’s Governors Forum.
It is non-contestable that Nigeria needs a leader who is able to unify the entire nation and not seem like an ethnic champion. The PDP also needs a standard-bearer who would be able to unite the party following the divisions, which have become evident and may tear it apart. Tambuwal is the man for the job of uniting the party and uniting the nation.
In his opening speech on Tambuwal’s visit to the National Working Committee (NWC), the national chairman of the PDP Iyorchia Ayu, stated that Tambuwal was responsible for the birthing of the new NWC and as such the party was grateful to him for this. This is evidence that even the party is very much aware of Tambuwal’s leadership capacity and that the party would be in good hands, if Tambuwal were to be the presidential candidate for the party.
He has shown competence in his role as the governor of Sokoto State, a highly conservative area. He was able to push for the passage of the Child Rights Act in Sokoto State, an act that was passed at national level since 2004 but was passed in Sokoto State in 2021, 17 years after. Only someone with Tambuwal’s capacity would have been able to achieve this.
His belief in institutions taking charge is why, at state level, he has allowed and enabled local government autonomy without intervening in the local government activities, except where he is asked to. He has maintained an independent stance in the activities of the PDP at national level despite being a key player in the emergence of the NWC and, as such, gained the respect of party members across the country.
Justifiably, delegates who have aligned with Tambuwal have done so with very good reason and it will come as no surprise if many more delegates change their position on the day of the primary itself to side with Tambuwal. His easy-going nature, ability to address conflict and build unity among party members are qualities that many party members are drawn to.
As we await the primary this weekend, the PDP has before it an aspirant who cannot only unify the party and the nation but lead the PDP to victory in 2023.
•Onu, political analyst, writes from Abuja