As the opposition Peoples Democratic Party inches closer to the decision moment, consensus candidate appears the game changer, writes Shola Oyeyipo
A little less than two months to the June 3, 2022 deadline by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to all the political parties to submit the names of their candidates for the 2023 general election, the frenzy is fast becoming interesting with extrapolations still as fluid as it has always been.
For starters, the choice of presidential candidates would definitely be a great test and strain on the ability of the various parties to manage crises and handle the resultant conflicts of interest.
This is because the presidential ticket is, perhaps, the most prized laurel any aspiring member of a political party can win. That, also, is why in most cases, only the most valuable, most influential, and experienced members throw their hats into the ring.
Thus, in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), leaders of the main opposition party, have been at crossroads on how to elect a presidential standard bearer, who would earn the support of his co-contestants, and be in pole position to win next February’s presidential election against the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
This, nonetheless, is why many party members believe that credit should be given to the trio of former Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, Governors of Sokoto and Bauchi States, Aminu Tambuwal and Senator Bala Mohammed, for ingeniously initiating the idea of working to produce a consensus candidate among those of them, who had indicated an interest in vying for the office of president.
Gradually and with conscious determination, the team first met in Bauchi on March 20, 2022, and announced that its members were all working together to put forward one of them to contest for the president of Nigeria, instead of having all of them, jostling for the same post. Soon afterwards, they also admitted another aspirant into their midst, a former Managing Director of African International Bank, Mohammed Hayatoudeen.
Curiously, the initiative has started gaining frequent coverage in the media, even as party members had been commending the quartet for deciding of their own volition to prune down the number of aspirants, a situation that makes their ambitions become the first sacrificial lambs.
Hashim Kareem, a party member from Kano, described the efforts of the aspirants pushing for consensus as a big sacrifice and demonstration that the men were first patriots, statesmen, and peacemakers, before politicians seeking public office.
“The aspirants know that by initiating this consensus move, three of them will lose out as only one person will be nominated to contest in the primary proper. Yet, they went on to make public pronouncements on their efforts, thereby, foreclosing the option for any of them to back out. These men have done well and they should be treated as heroes of the PDP and today’s democracy in Nigeria,” Kareem said.
Another member of the PDP from Abia State, Okey Elenwo, noted that the subscribers to the consensus arrangement, had demonstrated their transparency and commitment by going public with their plans from the beginning and leaving no room for escape, maneuver, suspicion or insinuation.
His words: “Initially, I did not believe the four men were serious about their plan. To think that they mean business gives me the impression that they are making a big sacrifice, particularly, since the initiative is a voluntary move and nobody is being compelled to join. Also, the idea was not imposed by the party or being directed by any incumbent president or other external or internal force. The initiators deserve kudos.”
A Lagos stakeholder, Adekunle Oluwole, who talked about the benefit of the arrangement, added that what Saraki, Tambuwal, Mohammed, and Hayatoudeen had started might become the trend that would determine the shape of the 2023 elections, adding that the idea, which was seen as limited to the PDP might also be adopted by the APC, because of its numerous benefits.
According to Peremebao Ohiwe from Bayelsa State, “This consensus arrangement will reduce tension in the PDP. It will make the presidential primaries better managed. The fallout will also be easy to handle. If the aspirants are already holding discussions with each other, then they are already creating grounds for mutual understanding and support for each other. So, whoever emerges will find it easy to rally the others and everybody will be a winner.”
Besides, it is believed that such a process that would reduce the number of aspirants, create a good relationship among them and prepare the grounds for working together as a united team is what the opposition party needs to effectively challenge and defeat the ruling party.
Many also believed that without the consensus arrangement, a situation where there are 15 aspirants within PDP, could lead to division and make it easy for the ruling party to make mincemeat of it at the polls.
In 2015, when the APC was the leading opposition party, it managed to reduce the number of its presidential aspirants to just five. The five were Muhammadu Buhari, the eventual winner, Abubakar Atiku, Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso, Rochas Okorocha, and Sam Nda Isaiah, now late.
Many other aspirants, who many expected to join the race simply put their ambition under wraps and chose to support Buhari to help their party defeat the then ruling PDP. Therefore,the current move by the consensus architects in the PDP is considered a smart move to ensure a cohesive, united, and strong party that could easily defeat the APC, which has suffered image setbacks based on its performance in the area of security, economy and the fight against corruption.
This also explains why the PDP consensus quartet, has continued to take its message of unity and sacrifice to all key stakeholders in the party and had visited all the other 11 governors, who are also members of the PDP to explain their mission to them.
To ensure that their initiative was not seen as a gang-up against any other aspirant, they had equally visited Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who is not part of the current move, but a presidential aspirant. They had visited aspirants from the other zones like Nyesom Wike and Emmanuel Udom, who are also governors and presidential hopefuls.
One of party sources disclosed that the consensus team might next week hold a joint meeting with all other aspirants from other parts of the country, who are not opposed to the consensus idea so that they could all agree on modalities for further reducing the number of aspirants in the interest of the party.
Saraki, who is the spokesman of the consensus advocates, has repeatedly mentioned that all the four of them in the group, were qualified to provide effective leadership and good governance for the nation.
He said they believed that, “The national interest and cohesion within the party are more important than individual ambition,” stressing that, what he and his colleagues had started was worthy of emulation as consensus-building was needed at the material time, when the nation was troubled.
“The efforts of this group of politicians are novel, noble, and worthy of emulation,” noted a political science teacher, Hassan Lado, who added that, “they should be encouraged to pull it through. The consensus plan should not be abandoned mid-way.
“The PDP leadership should openly come out to identify with the idea, praise it and encourage all members and stakeholders to back support it. We should encourage the subscribers to the idea to ensure it has a successful outcome. If it is just because of their selflessness and broad-mindedness, Saraki, Tambuwal, Mohammed, and Hayatoudeen deserve the votes of delegates and other Nigerians, that is, whoever emerges among them as the candidate of the PDP.”
An Enugu-based lawyer, Barrister Okey Nwaeke, noted that consensus was an idea supported by law and added that the new Electoral Act, also recognised it as one of the ways by which parties could select candidates.
He added that credit should be given to the politicians, who were exploring this legal and lawful option as it demonstrated their predilection for peace, unity, and cooperation.
He further advised that the advocates of consensus should continue to use persuasion to sell the idea, because “for as long as it is voluntary, not being forced on anybody and the initiators continue to be firm on the fundamental reasons for starting it, they will continue to be heroes of this political period and history as well as posterity will remember them for good cause.”
The PDP governors, it would be recalled, had adopted the consensus approach in the election of the members of the National Working Committee (NWC) last year during its national convention, when Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, emerged the national chairman. The APC also repeated this approach two weeks ago, when it elected the Abdullahi Adamu-led NWC.
To this end, as Saraki, Tambuwal, Mohammed, and Hayatoudeen work to evolve a consensus candidate in the PDP through persuasion and negotiation, the close associates of Buhari in APC, were already sending signals out that the president would eventually lead the way in endorsing one of the presidential aspirants, who would then become the consensus candidate of the ruling party.
But until this happens, political watchers remain on the lookout for how the consensus game would play out in both the PDP and the APC as the deadline for candidates stare them in the face.