Unless leading opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) and other critical stakeholders especially in the North where the presidential slot is zoned to, are able to make the right choice among leading presidential aspirants, the forthcoming electoral contest for the incumbent, President Buhari might just be a walk in the park.
The trio of former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, Governor of Gombe, Ibrahim Hassan Dakwambo and ex-governor and former senator, Ahmed Makarfi, are leading contenders for the party ticket with each meeting all or mostly part of criteria sought by stakeholders as qualities needed in the ideal party candidate. But with Senator Makarfi’s last week Sunday’s declaration to contest the presidential election under the banner of PDP, the already muddied water of intraparty electoral challenge took a new dimension as it further confirmed an earlier speculation that has been ongoing within the party and critical stakeholders who are committed to removing Buhari in 2019.
As learnt, opposition elements made up, chiefly, of highly dissatisfied former heads of state and elder statesmen on the one hand and PDP leadership had itemised criteria for choosing the ideal candidate to back. The criteria were predicated on Buhari administration’s perceived weaknesses.
To wit, the ideal candidate must first and foremost be a crowd puller without having any corruption blemish. This point is meant to substantially counterbalance Buhari’s much-vaunted integrity and also split his support base made up of people fanatically supporting him in the core north. Secondly, the ideal candidate must not have the markings of a divisive president. This, principally, is believed to be Buhari’s major Achilles heels. What, with his comments, especially outside the shores of the country, his principal appointments that appear to favour just one section of the country and one of the major two religious divides in the country, the length and breadth of the country is seething with hate and divisive rhetoric. Even more, the perception is believed by many analysts to be at the heart of the wave of insecurity and deep distrust between the citizens and security agencies in the country.
Thirdly, economic and administrative savvy is also being held out by stakeholders and would be kingmakers in choosing the ideal candidate. With the economy still struggling after managing to crawl out of the crushing depression (a first for the country after more than 25 years) that was self inflicted by Buhari’s initial phlegmatic approach to governance, particularly, immediately he took over the leadership, the ideal candidate for the king makers, according to a cross section of the critical stakeholders shopping for replacement must have demonstrable administrative skills. The candidate must be able to summon and assemble net worth individuals who enjoy international clouts to run key sectors of the country’s economy.
“What the shop list is meant to achieve is to present a candidate which can either defeat the incumbent on the first ballot or force a rerun at the very least,” explained an insider to the subterranean political maneuvers. The insider is an aide to a former head of state. According to him, a former head of state from the South is the arrowhead of a non partisan opposition which had in the past mind met with top traditional rulers and politicians in the North. The initial shortlist of candidate, according to a source had Aminu Tambuwal, former speaker and current governor of Sokoto as a leading contender. There were Sule Lamido, former governor, Jigawa State, a high performer while in office and a crowd puller both in his state and Kano, a principal source of significant bloc vote, and Dakwambo. The later, on account of his high performance in Gombe, steadfastness to former president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, which may significantly, sway the East and South-South votes for him.
Some of the candidatures, however, suffered setback for some reasons. Tambuwal was a non-starter after a former governor of Lagos State and national leader of the ruling party who was initially consulted on the matter, stated that he cannot trust the former speaker on account of some alleged previous betrayal. The former governor from Lagos had then insisted that he can only support Atiku, who was not initially on the shop list. Lamido’s candidature was hobbled by corruption allegations for which he is currently being tried by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC.
As also learnt, this matter significantly mellowed the initial opposition of the arrowhead former head of state over Atiku. “The former head of state had at some point began talks with some US state Department officials to see how Atiku can be granted a visa for some meetings and talks with critical private sector players in the US,” explained the newspaper source. As calculated, Atiku’s presence in the US will significantly take the wind out of the sail of the trending mantra from the opposition that the former vice president is currently wanted on corruption allegation charges in the US.
Before Makarfi’s coming, the matter had been settled, largely that either of Atiku or Dakwambo would get the ticket, while efforts would be made to persuade former Kano State governor, also a senator, Rabiu Kwankwaso to play a spoiler roll in the north against Buhari and ruling party, All Progressives Congress, APC’s support base. The former Kaduna State governor’s entry into the race has however created a totally different political dynamics. According to him, “After wide consultations with party men and women as well as other major stakeholders, I have decided to seek the party’s nomination to contest the poll.” The two time Senator said he was now ready to pick the PDP nomination form ahead of the 2019 presidential election.
Makarfi was the caretaker chairman of the party during a very turbulent period for the PDP, when highly controversial former Borno State governor, Ali Modu Sherrif contested his right as chairman of PDP in the courts. It was a turbulent period for the party as elements in the presidency applauded Sheriff. Makarfi’s deft handling of the matter until the Supreme Court ruling that sacked Sheriff is still stuff of legend in the PDP. Under his tenure as a former governor, Kaduna’s sectarian clashes were tamed.
Political pundits see this coming into play given the herdsmen militia menace, allegations over Islamisation and Anglicisation of the polity currently trending. Makarfi is also praised for his touch in handling volatile situations, too. For instance, while as committee chairman handling finances at the Senate, his investigation of alleged diversion of $50 billion by NNPC under former President Jonathan stemmed major crisis. Not only did finding of his committee tally with the take of KPMG, an internationally reputed auditor on the matter, it also shed significant light on why there was a misunderstanding on the matter. The result of his probe doused tension in the polity significantly.
Recent development appears to narrow the choices of the party and indeed the opposition bloc to either Atiku and Makarfi. Though the zoning arrangement favours a northern candidate for one more term starting from 2019, a factor APC has going for it in selling Buhari who has one more term, but a candidate not restricted by term limit may put other section of the country on edge. Only recently, President Buhari signed a law restricting former two vice presidents to a single term of office as president. The law largely favours Atiku who has served two terms as vice president. For Makarfi, there are thinking that he may seek only a term. “His choice will also enjoy wide support from broad section of the country who see Makarfi as cosmopolitan,” explained Iyiola Oyedepo, chairman, PDP, in Kwara State.