With Atiku’s US Visit, PDP Consolidates Winning Chances

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Some factors will combine to help the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar win next month’s presidential election, chief amongst which was his recent visit to the United States, which had remained a major campaign issue. Adedayo Akinwale writes

With less than 30 days to the presidential election, political analysts, Nigerians as well as the international community do not know where the pendulum would swing at the moment.
But predictions have so far shown a very tight race between the candidates of the two leading parties – President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). This is in spite of the fact that there are more than 60 candidates in the presidential race with only about five of them considered the most serious contenders.

However, since the emergence of Atiku at the Port Harcourt convention on October 7, 2018, the PDP has since swung into action, traversing the length and breadth of the country. Being the main opposition party, PDP started its presidential zonal rally in the North-west, Buhari’s base on December 3, 2018 in Sokoto, Sokoto State, before proceeding to North-central, which was held in Ilorin, Kwara State, and later South-west zonal rally held in Ibadan and in the North-east held in Gombe State.

While the South-south presidential campaign rally is yet to be conducted, the South-east zonal rally had earlier been scheduled for January 18, 2019 by the party, except that Atiku and some members of his campaign council had to hurriedly travel to the US as part of their campaign. But the states’ campaign had since commenced.

Interestingly, for Atiku and the PDP, last week’s trip to the US significantly changed the tide for him. Ordinarily, a candidate’s visit to the US should not have been an issue as that would have been considered a personal issue, but the ruling APC has made an issue out of, insinuating at every turn that the PDP candidate’s inability to visit the US was out of fear of arrest since he has a pending corruption case to answer.

The debate over Atiku’s US visit became messy at a point that the government was almost interfering in the decision of the US embassy on whether or not to issue one to him. Indeed, the often mob-like supporters of the Buhari government had dared Atiku to visit the US as a first major step to seeking to rule Nigeria.

But the former vice-president ignored them all along and was running with other campaign plans until the time came for him to travel to the US and he did without as much making a media capital from it. That he chose to travel without hinting at it lent credence to his confidence about traveling to anywhere at will and this, has not only shut his enemies up but changed the current tenor of the campaigns for the nation’s top job, whose election is due second week of next month.

Immediately he arrived in the US, Atiku had first met with Congressman Christopher Smith, the man who warned weeks ago against tampering with the electoral process, while a legion of other meetings had been set up for him, including meeting with operators of some of US critical sectors.
Although generally, observers and political analysts have suggested that the presidential campaigns of both the PDP and the APC have not been robust, the PDP appears to be making more efforts and determined to get back to power than the ruling party, which seems to think the election is already a walkover.

Aside the ‘Trader Moni’ initiative, which has Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo as its face and likewise the door-to-door campaign, the APC has not done much when it comes to robust and aggressive campaign for the re-election bid of President Buhari, in addition to desperately avoiding a debate.

When eventually the ruling party released its campaign timetable less than a month to the presidential election, President Buhari, who is seeking re-election, will not be the face of the campaign himself. He has asked a former Lagos State governor and one of the national leaders of his party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to spearhead the campaign on his behalf.
The PDP said it wasn’t surprised that President Buhari is not going out to canvass for votes, alleging that the APC is hell bent on rigging the election.

PDP’s Director of Media and Publicity, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, had said at a press conference that, “We are not surprised that Buhari is not campaigning. What’s he going to campaign on? Is it insecurity, incompetence, mass killings, humongous corruption and collapsed economy?”
But the main opposition party has said on a number of occasions that its campaign would be issued-based and would not engage the ruling party in gutter politics, and so far so good, the party has tried to adhere to that.

The PDP is trying to re-ignite the hopes of Nigerians by saying it has solutions to the myriads of problems confronting the country. The party had at several times promised to end hunger, create jobs, turnaround the economy, and also fight corruption.
Presently, there is no doubt that there is hunger, joblessness, insecurity in the land and the thrust of PDP campaigns so far is the promise to end hunger, create jobs and turnaround the economy. These promises have rekindled the hopes in many Nigerians of the voting age, making some resolute to vote out the present administration, and ‘change the change.’

On the other hand, the APC has maintained the rhetoric that brought it into power in 2015 that the “16 years of PDP rule destroyed this country,” “Atiku is corrupt,” “Buhari is a man of integrity,” and all that. It leaves much to be desired that the ruling party, having been in power for nearly four years has no message-achievement to campaign with.

Prior to the 2015 election, the party promised to fight corruption, create three million jobs every year and tackle insecurity. One would have expected the ruling party to campaign based on its achievements on this three major thematic areas to push for the re-election of Mr. President. This is not the case as the APC appears to be less innovative, or maybe it requires someone to tell the party that Nigerians are no longer interested in rhetoric and the16 years of the PDP but what they have achieved in the last four years.

The ruling party by now should know that no one cares about the much touted Buhari’s integrity or anti-corruption war, when there is hunger in the land and senseless killings, while government has been unable to find lasting solution to them. Nigerians are only interested in what the APC would do to end hunger, killings and joblessness, which they are not being told.

Alleged selective anti-graft war, nepotism, incompetence and witch-hunt of political opponents by the APC-led federal government had drawn more sympathy for the PDP. Considering the body language of the president that has refused to change, many would-be voters in the forthcoming elections have already formed their opinions based on what they have witnessed from this administration so far.

Unlike the 2015 presidential election, when the APC enjoyed massive goodwill, having taken advantage of the emotions of Nigerians to campaign, next month’s election will be a different ball game. Most of Buhari supporters in 2015, including the league of retired generals are all against his re-election.

Former president Olusegun Obasanjo has told Buhari in his famous letter to jettison his second term agenda. He opted to end years of animosity between him and his former deputy, Atiku Abubakar and promised to help launch him to presidency. In fact, he has been going round asking Nigerians not to reinforce failure by re-electing Buhari.

In the midst of these, some supposed ‘men of God’ and political pastors had also released various prophecies for 2019 and had also predicted the winner of the presidential election. While some predicted Buhari to win, some said Atiku would win.
Analysts are however of the opinions that the six geopolitical zones of the federation will be battle grounds for both the PDP and APC. Existing permutation is that the South-south and South-east are for the PDP to lose, the North-west would be shared Buhari, with a loss margin favourable to Atiku.

With what happened in the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections, the South-west will be a serious battleground. Though the APC holds sway there, it should be ready for a tough fight. The South-west might vote overwhelmingly for PDP, not because the party is a credible alternative, but because the APC has failed glaringly.

The killings in the north-central as a result of Fulani herders/farmers clash and the federal government nonchalant attitude to end the carnage is enough reason for people of the zone, especially Benue and Plateau States to vote PDP. Kwara will not also be an easy take for the ruling party, because of the perceived persecution of the Senate President Bukola Saraki.

While North-east has always been a fertile ground for Buhari, which was also evident in 2015, but next month election would be different. The equations have changed significantly. One reason why the region won’t be easy for Buhari this time around is because one of their own, Atiku is Buhari’s main challenger.

The people of the region have never had this opportunity since 1960. With an understanding of the typical Nigerian politics, it is clear that North-east would not abandon their own for someone else, in addition to their current experience in the hands of terrorists.

The ruling APC can only write-off Atiku at its peril, because apart from the fact that he is not a political underdog, his political antecedents and national spread would naturally come handy during next month’s election, not to talk of his growing international acceptance.