By Ugochukwu Ifeanyi
The recently held People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primary in Port Harcourt has come and gone. The elective convention came with a lot of innovations and turned tjecGarden City and it’s environs to a beehive of activities in the period leading to and during the convention.
While the event itself was very much anticipated by the Nigerian public and watchers of Nigeria abroad, it reached a fever-pitch crescendo with the entry of certain individuals in to the campaign for the party’s presidential ticket.
All the 12 contestants who made a bid for the chance to lift the party’s flag in the presidential election were very competent individuals in their own right. They included former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Senate President Dr Bukola Saraki, the governors of Sokoto State and Gombe State, Aminu Tambuwal and Ibrahim Dankwambo. Former governors of Kano, Jigawa and Sokoto-Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, Dr. Sule Lamido and Attahiru Bafarawa were in the race. Jostling for the ticket also were serving senators, David Mark and Jonah Jang, Dr. Turaki Tanimu and Dr. Baba Datti .
All the aspirants exhuded so much brilliance when they were given a chance to address the gathering of close to 4000 delegates, observers, journalists, security agents and officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). With the manner of their erudition of these aspirants, any of them who emerged as flag bearer could have done the party proud.
The convention revealed some sterling qualities in the contestants that were probably known only to the family members and close associates of the candidates. For instance, it was surprising to know that as Governor of Sokoto State, Bafarawa did not live in the Government House and did not draw any salary. I thought this distinction could only be ascribed to Lateef Jakande, the Second Republic of Lagos State.
It was also a good point to note that Dankwambo got his entire scholarship free, courtesy of the government. Jang claimed he was the candidate with the longest service experience as governor. Mark advertised his military background, long experience in the Senate and demonstrated his love for women by appointing a woman, Senator Kure as the Director General of his campaign. Perhaps, the most brilliant speech was made by Tanimu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. But it was Saraki who gave the most rousing speech. He attacked the longest and loudest cheer from the crowd and if choice of the flag bearer was based on loud cheer, it Saraki’s for grabs.
Undoubtedly, Saraki ran the most innovative campaign among the contestants. His final masterstroke was the presentation of a 24 year-old Kanuri youth, Aminu Mohammed Waziri to drum home his message and wake up call on Nigerian youths to seize the moment and change the dynamics of politics in Nigeria. He refused to come on the podium with the Director General of his campaign promise his security. Rather, he chose to share the spotlight with Waziri. But Saraki’s move to identify with the youths began with the novelty with which he launched his campaign. Realising that his late arrival into the race could hamper his chances, Saraki sought to do things differently. It began with launch of his campaign. Instead of gathering people in an open space or inviting them to a hall, he chose locate the youths and fire their nationalistic ambition by kicking off his campaign in their midst. This has never been done before in Nigeria. It was a resounding recognition for the youths and a pointer to the future of how political campaigns may be executed in this country.
Saraki, more than any other aspirant in the race for the PDP presidential ticket understood that Nigeria has a youthful population and he unabashedly sought to convert this to an advantage. The truth is that this seeming advantage can become an albatross if not we’ll managed. A vibrant youth population who are not productively engaged can become restive and cause problems for the rest of the population. Nigeria is already grappling with this challenge in the North East and the Niger Delta.
Canvassing for votes, Saraki deployed a methodical approach, that put an advance team ahead of his arrival to meet delegates in every state. Every member of the Senate President’s team was knowledgeable and had the capacity to deal with the most complicated questions. However, their role was no more than that of the Biblical John the Baptist who was sent to announce the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Surely, Saraki arrived to meet prep up delegates, who were eager to engage him.
In the small space of time that he started his campaign, Saraki visited 32 states and the FCT to sell himself to the delegates. He deliberately stayed away from Sokoto as a mark of respect for Tambuwal. Refused to go to Kano to honour Kwankwaso. In deference to Abubakar and Dankwambo, he looked away from Adamawa and Gombe. By so doing, Saraki showed that it was not a do-or-die race and that the spirit of sportsmanship was to be coveted under the circumstance.
In presenting himself for a chance to become the PDP’s presidential candidate, Saraki exhibited unrivalled competence, character and courage. He knew he had the ability to match other world leaders, to understand and discuss the economy and political issues.
The moment he announced his readiness to run for the PDP presidential ticket, all eyes were on Saraki. In fact, no analysis of the elective convention was complete without a mention of Saraki. Under every consideration, he was a front-runner. It was clearly a race between Saraki and the . They were not wrong.
Though the result was a surprise to many, placing third behind Abubakar and Tambuwal simply means that Saraki is a man to watch in the future. No doubt, he is going to continue to play prominent roles in the affairs of the country for a long time to come. In the view of many, Saraki was the best presidential candidate that the PDP missed. But since he has congratulated and agreed to work with the winner, he has walked away with his unbowed.
Ifeanyi writes from Awka in Anambra State