Can Saraki Change the Game?

Bukola Saraki

Bukola Saraki

With PDP’s current difficulty in choosing a presidential standard bearer from a pool of heavyweight politicians, is Senate President Bukola Saraki by any stroke of chance a game changer to ponder? Olaseni Durojaiye asks

Given the timing in Nigeria’s political calendar, the gale of declarations to run for the nation’s number one job among top politicians is not surprising even as it is mostly so in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). At the last count, over six tested politicians have thrown their hats in the ring for the PDP presidential ticket and slug it out with President Buhari at the general election coming up next year.

The trend is expected given at least two reasons: The signal emanating from the camp of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) suggesting it would not tolerate any other aspirant except President Buhari and the reality that the PDP is the most fertile ground for presidential aspiration after the APC.

Besides, it is common practice among political parties to hand an incumbent the right of first refusal, when the constitution gives room for same, a good number of those eyeing the PDP ticket defected from the APC to the PDP when it became apparent that the APC would not accommodate their aspiration.

The PDP club of presidential aspirants is star-studded by any standard. They include former Vice-President and perennial aspirant for the nation’s presidency, Atiku Abubakar; President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki; former governor of Kano State and sitting senator, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; former Minister of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs, Tanimu Turaki; former Senate President, David Mark; former Caretaker Chairman of the party, Ahmed Makarfi; a former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa; one time minister and former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido; Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal and Senator Datti Baba-Ahmed among others who might be pretenders to the throne. The line-up, indeed, will make the race tough among all.

From the North West, arguably the hotbed of the nation’s politics, are Kwankwaso, Makarfi, Turaki, Bafarawa, Tambuwal, Lamido and Baba-Ahmed. In the North East is former vice-president Abubakar, while Saraki and Mark come in from the North Central geo-political zone.

Ordinarily, the factors that would determine who gets the PDP ticket would include geo-political zone, candidate’s marketability and acceptability, demonstration of understanding of current political realities as well as the dynamics of political horse-trading. Age is quite a determinant too.

The archetypal path would be to pick its candidate from the North West, given its voting population and which is often the highest and strategic, even if contentious. But a political science teacher at the Lagos State University opined that the time requires the PDP to think outside of the box if it must choose a standard bearer capable of unseating president Buhari at the general election.

According to him, “The PDP needs a paradigm shift if it must unseat President Buhari. It would amount to shooting itself in the leg if its candidate is chosen from the North West geo-political zone from where the incumbent president comes from.”

The don’s perspective was in consonance with a growing sentiment among Nigerians, especially of Northern extraction. The sentiment noted that, except for Abubakar Tarawa Balewa, all of the country’s democratically elected presidents of Northern extraction had all come from the North West geo-political zone.

They include Shehu Shagar, Umaru YarAdua and the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari. Apologists of the sentiment also noted that the story was the same during military rule, adding that three of the nation’s past seven military rulers came from the zone and that it was time to give the North Central and North East some positive concession.
Analysts hold the view that looking beyond the North West would be best for the PDP. Current political happenings in the home states of the aspirants from the North West favour a “paradigm shift.”

Findings showed that almost all the aspirants from the zone lack the political wherewithal to deliver the region for the PDP at the general election, for as long as Buhari is on the ballot. Groundswell of opposition to the aspirations of the affected aspirants, findings also showed, has gravely eroded their political strength in their home states and by extension their strength.

Kwankwaso is currently locked in a supremacy battle on two fronts. On the one hand with his erstwhile deputy, and incumbent governor, Abdulahi Ganduje and on the other with another former governor of the state, Ibrahim Shekarau over the control of the PDP structure in the state.

Kwankwaso, a serving senator and former Defence minister enjoys immense popularity in the state through his Kwankwasiya movement but his popularity is being eroded by his defection to the PDP and his long absence from the state in the aftermath of his political battle with Ganduje, leaving a mass of his erstwhile followers vulnerable and not as loyal to his cause as they used to be. He has not been to the state for a long time now and was even unable to declare his presidential bid in the state.

Markafi is also seen as another strong contender for the party’s ticket. The conclusion is on account of his political pedigree. He is a two-time former governor of Kaduna State, former senator and the immediate past Caretaker Chairman of the party.

Analysts believe he has built up a strong structure and network of political associates while leading the party in furtherance of his presidential ambition like Baba Gana Kingibe famously did in the run-up to the June 12, 1993 presidential Elections, which eventually got him on the SDP ticket alongside the late MKO Abiola. Importantly, Makarfi appears to be siffering trust issues in the PDP. He is largely seen as a Buhari person and might work against the chances of the party.

There are also Turaki and Lamido. While Turaki, from Kebbi State, appears to be one beautiful bride among a section of party elders and faithful, including a former president, according to media reports, he is however considered a dark horse in the race particularly among the major party financiers.

THISDAY also gathered that that Lamido’s ambition was dead on arrival. One source said, “Lamido is not in contention at all. He is an elder of the party and should remain so.” Likewise Baba Ahmed, described by same source as “a Saraki foot-soldier.”

However, two factors would pose a stumbling block in the way of the ambitions of aspirants from the zone. Coming from the same geo-political zone as President Buhari, a zone considered APC’s stronghold. The other, sources within the PDP said has historic perspective to it, noting that the same zone has always benefitted whenever presidency is zoned to the North since the advent of the fourth Republic.

The major odd against the candidature of Atiku Abubakar are his waning influence in his home state, neighbouring Taraba State and by extension the North East in general. Another factor easily glossed over is the continued opposition to his ambition to rule the country by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Either in or out of the PDP, analysts see the former president as wielding immense political influence across the country and political divide, albeit without a base as the case with Buhari.

THISDAY findings indicated that the calculations and permutations among a critical mass within the PDP favour the North Central geo-political zone in the scheme of things. Proponents of this are strident in their push for the ticket to go to the North Central zone. This automatically throws up Saraki and Mark for critical look among the PDP apparatchik.
Given this push, many in this camp contended that but for Mark’s late entry into the race and were the ticket to go to the North Central zone, the ticket would have been that of Saraki’s to take on a platter.
Even with Mark’s entry, political calculations and the growing call for a much younger candidate that could provide dynamic and progressive leadership, especially among the youth population still favour Saraki.

One source contended that “Saraki would be the game changer for us.” Interestingly, notwithstanding his social media hecklers, there is an increasingly growing number of party faithful across the country that are finding the Saraki narrative plausible, adopting it and vigorously pushing for its realisation.

Many in this camp argued that he fits the bill. This contention has been helped by the fact that his political profile has been on the rise lately leading to many seeing him as the alternative and positive force to President Buhari. Indeed, the Senate president has been enjoying a good measure of media share and top of mind recall lately even if much of the soaring media profile have been engendered by the APC and the administration, albeit inadvertently.

Beyond his media presence, he has always demonstrated admirable political sagacity. The way he navigated the minefield placed in his political path signposted by his travails at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, without being consumed and how he emerged as president of the eighth senate underscored the fact, even showing him as someone ahead and smarter than his opponents.

His critics admit that he comes to the table with strong political capital. Cosmopolitan in outlook, his opponents described him as “always calm and ahead in terms of calculation” and has continued to live up to the billing since he succeeded his late father as the godfather of Kwara politics from where he has extended his political tentacles to many parts the country.

The age factor also favours him. His youthfulness and vibrancy are also winning him accolades and huge following among the youth population within the party and beyond. All of these, political pundits argued, make him a well-balanced candidate and the PDP’s best option if the party must wrest power from the APC.

The calculation has been that Saraki has the zone on lockdown mode and with minimal support from the party machinery he would deliver the zone to the party. Other factors going for him are his cultural affinity with the Yoruba in the South-west and Kogi State, and the bridges he has built over the years would fetch the party significant political dividends across the South-west states. The same applies to the North East, where one of his trump cards will be the interventionist efforts of the National Assembly under his chairmanship.

For the very all important North West zone, political strategists insisted the best the party could play for in the zone, even if it chose its candidate from the zone is the mandatory 25 per cent of valid votes cast. According to them, the strategy to adopt for the zone will be two pronged: Deploy local influential party chieftains and community leaders with the right messaging, one of which should undoubtedly be ‘we will deliver more than your son, the incumbent, has done for the zone.

The source further explained that “The South-east and the South-south zones are traditional PDP strongholds and that will not change this time around especially given their experience in the hands of Buhari in the last almost four years. The best that the APC can muster in the two regions is exactly what the PDP will get from the North West. The PDP has an added advantage in the South-east though. Thus, with minimal effort, PDP would retake Imo State going by the charade being allegedly orchestrated by Governor Rochas Okorocha of the state and the infighting among the APC leaders in the state.”

A Saraki candidature, sources maintained, could make an easy sell. Paired with the right running mate, they are of the view that the PDP would benefit from Saraki’s widespread contacts and associates amongst them former governors, current and former members of the National Assembly as well former ministers, many of whom share his ideals and are quietly discontented with the state of the nation under Buhari.

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