With the successful hosting of the Special National Convention of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the emergence of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, has once again come to the rescue of the party. This time, it has also be said to hold Atiku’s magic wand by ending his string of electoral defeat.
In May, 2016, when the PDP had its leadership crisis, it was at a national convention held in Port Harcourt that Senator Ahmed Makarfi was appointed to take over the leadership of the party from Senator Ali Modu Sheriff to set the pace for the reform and rebranding that placed the party in its path of recovery.
Interestingly, then and also now, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, played a vital role in reshaping the fortunes of the party that was so battered and disillusioned after the electoral loss that ousted it from the leadership of the nation.
Port Harcourt, and indeed Rivers state, was in the news again when the party chose the city as venue of its special elective national convention for the presidential primary ahead of the 2019 general elections.
There were reports that there were moves to relocate the convention to another venue, an action Wike revisited, warning of consequences if the rumour became a reality. The party calmed frayed nerves and the convention finally kicked off in the Garden City on Saturday, October 6 at the Adokiye Amasiemeka Stadium, with 3,274 accredited delegates.
As expected, economic and other activities in Port Harcourt received a major boost as major players in the party stormed the city.
All major hotels in the metropolis were fully booked with the influx of delegates and other visitors to the state on account of the convention while the capital city witnessed an increased traffic build up on the eve of the convention.
Other commercial enterprises also experienced a boost in their businesses as visitors patronise them, perhaps lending credence to Wike’s reason for insisting the convention should not be taken away from the city..
An incident involving a tanker laden with diesel at the Garrison Junction along Aba Road did not help matters as it created additional traffic situation along the major road.
But while the traders were smiling to the banks, Government House, Port Harcourt become a Mecca of sorts as presidential aspirants thronged to the palace to pay homage to the governor, who had become the Czar of the party.
While preparations were at fever pitch, Wike, accused the All Progressives Congress (APC) of importing thugs to create a situation of insecurity in the state to scuttle the process.
Addressing journalists in Port Harcourt on the eve of the convention, Wike said intelligence reports had revealed that the APC was out to discredit the process by creating an atmosphere of insecurity in the state.
“As at Thursday, APC brought hoodlums to create an atmosphere of insecurity in Rivers State. It is not a mere allegation. We have it on good authority,” he said.
He, however assured delegates that despite the alleged plot, everything had been done to ensure that the National Convention was successful.
The governor stressed that his interest was not in the outcome of the National Convention, but the economy of the state.
He allayed fears that he had plans to interfere with the process, insisting that no single person would be able to influence the outcome of the convention.
He said: “I have a right to vote as a delegate. But my influence is minimal. Those talking about this don’t have the facts.
“Are you saying that as Governor of Rivers State, I will place a gun on the head of all delegates to vote a particular candidate?
“I cannot compel all the 14 governors to vote a particular aspirant. You mean you can change the views and opinions of all the states?” he said.
Meanwhile, Wike welcomed all delegates of the party to the state.
In a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Electronic Media, Simeon Nwakaudu, he assured the delegates of a memorable stay in the state.
He said: “The good people of Rivers State are most delighted and honoured to play host to the distinguished National Delegates of our great party as we elect our presidential flagbearer this weekend and collectively work towards rescuing our nation from the brink of collapse.
“As we gather for this all-important national convention, I assure all delegates of our great party of their security before, during and after the convention. Working with the security agencies and other stakeholders, we will ensure that your stay in Port Harcourt is memorable. ”
It was indeed memorable both to the party and to the eventual candidate, Atiku Abubakar.
Observers believe the primary has been the best organised and the process transparent, free and fair. That perhaps accounted for the agreement by all 12 aspirants to respect and accept the outcome of the primary, first time such commitment was coming from aspirants.
But apart from the commitment to the outcome, all the aspirants had a chance to sell their candidacy to the delegates.
Abubakar said, “This election is one of the most important in the history of this nation since the return of democracy in 1999.
Four years ago, Nigerians voted for change. But today they are not happy with the kind of change they see. The economy is in recession; there is hunger, farmers are struggling, businesses are closing and there are job losses. We need jobs.
I will work with you to restructure all infrastructure needed to grow our economy. With your support, we can fully get Nigeria working again.
For Attahiru Bafarawa, “I am willing to serve, not to be served. I started politics since 1976 and have served this country in different capacities. I served as governor for eight years and did not collect salaries and did not live in government house.
“I want to be a Nigerian president and not a sectional or religion president. I went round the country by road just to see things myself. We cannot develop the economy without good roads.”
Ibrahim Dankwambo said, “Going round the country, I see that Nigerians looking for security, whether we should belong to one country or not, and food on their table.
“The solution lies in the people PDP has trained since 1999 who can take up the challenge. I am one of those. I am offering myself for service and I have the qualifications, having read to Ph.D and worked with one of the best accounting firms, Central Bank and also become the Accountant General of the Federation, now governor and remained in the PDP when others ran away. At the age of 56, I’m not too young to run, and not too old to retire.”
Senator Datti Ahmed said, “This convention is about our great party doing the right thing. It is about PDP proving to the world that it is reformed and positioned to lead the country.
In real politics, if you stand for something there are things you cannot stand for. I stand for security and sanctity of life and that is why I cannot stand for wanton killings….
“The choice you make today will make the difference between war and peace; between progress and retrogression. I invite you to realise that 2019 election is ours for the taking if we make the right choice.”
For Senator David Jonah Jang, “As a military officer, I fought in the Civil War. I was also a member of NADECO and fought for democracy. Having served also as a senator and also governor for eight years, I have the experience to lead this country.
“Many left the PDP when it had challenges and when their new party failed, they returned. I am not discriminating but this opportunity should be given to those of us who remained to build and keep the party. I will push for restructuring. I will build good foundation for the youth. As a Middle Belter who is committed to the unity of this nation, please give me the chance.”
Sen Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso, on his part, said, “We thought we have seen government before but now we have seen the worst government in Nigeria. To PDP National Chairman, please anytime you want to give an award, give it to Buhari for ensuring the success of PDP because of his bad governance. All those who left the PDP are now back to the fold.
I have experience, having served in several levels and arms of government. Vote for a candidate who will not only ensure the success of the party but who can also run the government. We have seen the situation where people who cannot run a government. The result is bad economy, division between Christians and Moslems, and so on. I’m in the race to bring a government that will unite our people. We will do appropriate restructuring, work on the economy, reform institutions like the police etc.”
According to Sule Lamido: “I have been with PDP through thick and thin. We have been able to build and rebrand the party and today it has become a beautiful damsel. Delegates should follow their conscience and do the right thing. I am the candidate.”
Senator Ahmed Markarfi, “When we took over the leadership of PDP, nobody gave us a chance. But today, we are happy that we have brought back the party to be not just an effective opposition but a government in waiting.
We (aspirants) all about restructuring. It is not a programme of any aspirant. It is an official stand of PDP. It is the policy of PDP that Nigeria should be restructured for the benefit of all.
I was governor of a very difficult state: multi-ethnic, multi-religious. We governed well until the APC took over and crisis came.”
Former Senate President, David Mark: “I’m the only aspirant that has a female as Director General of his campaign organisation. That is because I am gender friendly. I will unite this country across ethnic and religious lines. Once there is unity, there will be peace: peace based on equity and justice. This country has never been so divided.
I will reorganise and reappraise the security architecture of the nation so that it will be in line with modern trends. Having come from a security background, I have the experience and courage to tackle the security challenge facing the country. We have a blueprint that will turn around the economy in 730 days. It is do-able.”
Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki: “Today, this country is not only more divided, there is poverty everywhere and we must put an end to it. We must move away from the past. We must vote for who is capable to move the country forward. If you are looking for a 31st Century leader, a leader who will unite this country, I am the one. Let us vote for today and tomorrow. I will give a youth-driven government.”
And so they all made their promises and expressed the commitment to abide by the decision of the delegates.
Saraki redeemed that pledge when he said after the acceptance speech by Abubakar that all the former aspirants remained committed to their words.
“Today is a great day for this party. It has shown we all believe that the interest of the country is more important than our individual interests.
“We are here to work with you to bring success to our party because we all know this is what Nigerians are all yearning for,” he said.