How 2023 Favours Saraki

With the presidential primary of the Peoples Democratic Party fast approaching, one aspirant to carefully watch out for is former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, Vanessa Obioha writes

With the number of presidential aspirants in the race for the 2023 general election, the two main parties whose presidential candidates may be competing for the big slot in Aso Rock are still the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Party (APC). Though there are upcoming parties like the SDP and the NNPP trending, it is doubtful they will have a national appeal to upstage the main parties to produce the next president.

It is therefore believed that this is the reason why the national focus is on the 38 people seeking the two presidential tickets of the two parties.

Among the 15 aspirants cleared to contest for the PDP presidential ticket at its National Convention scheduled to hold at the Velodrome of the MKO Abiola National Stadium, in Abuja, are former Vice President, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku; former Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki;  Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim; Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed; Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal and former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi.

Others include Akwa Ibom Governor, Emmanuel Udom; ex-Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose; boardroom guru, Sam Ohunabunwa; former Managing Director of Nigerian International Bank (NIB), Mohammed Hayatudeen; Ovation Magazine publisher, Dele Momodu; Olivia Tarela who is the only female among them, Charles Okwudili, Chikwendu Kalu and Cosmos Ndukwe.

In the APC, the contestants who submitted their nomination form before the closing date and will feature in the primaries billed for Eagles Square, Abuja, on May 29 are Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Ahmed Lawan, former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; former Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; former Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi; former Minister of State, Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajuba; and Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello.

Other APC aspirants are ex-Governor of Akwa Ibom, Senator Godswill Akpabio; popular preacher, Pastor Tunde Bakare; Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi; former Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi; former Senate President, Ken Nnamani; Jigawa State Governor, Abubakar Badaru; former Zamfara State Governor, Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima; Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade; former Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, among others.

From the beginning of the race, it has been clear the opposition PDP planned to go to the north in search of a candidate. That is why from the word go, Saraki, Atiku, Tambuwal, and Mohammed were the leading candidates. The race has since last week narrowed to three aspirants: Saraki, Atiku, and Wike.

However, there are indications that the race may have narrowed down to only two people with one of them being the favoured choice of the top leaders of the party, a significant section of the governors, and other super-delegates.

The calculation in the PDP is that using the mathematical principle of elimination and substitution, the race should continue to narrow down until it will get to the convention day. Now, the two aspirants who are having serious consideration as possible flag bearers are Saraki and Wike. It is believed that the elimination process has got to a semi-final stage where one aspirant from each of the two sections of the country, north, and south, is now being considered.

Atiku was eliminated on account of age, agility, and past position on party issues. At age 75, he is said to be too old to face the rigour of the job and provide the presence that the critical job of salvaging the nation requires. Also, it is believed that his health is suspect. The stakeholders also believe that he has had his chance and that his best time was in 2019 when he was handed the ticket on a platter of gold based on the surreptitious intervention of the elders.

His failure to win and his lacklustre attitude to pursuing the litigation challenging the victory of the incumbent has also become a piece of baggage for him. Many party elders and delegates are still unhappy at the way he abandoned the party after the loss of the 2019 election. 

“When the party was in crisis in many of the states and even at the national level, he was nowhere to be found. He was aloof, staying in the United Arab Emirates. He failed to provide leadership. We do not think such a man should get our most prized trophy,” a source said in Kaduna yesterday.

Saraki was therefore chosen as the aspirant from the north who will be pitted against a southern candidate for the party ticket at the convention. What counted most for the former Senate President is his affinity with the south and the decision of the northern elders and power brokers to compensate the northern minority from the north-central zone. It is believed that at a time when the major issue is a threat to national unity and general instability, a man with his background is who the country needs.

His role in the party’s presidential campaign as DG Atiku Campaign Organisation in 2018/2019 and also as chairman of the National Reconciliation and Strategy Committee (NRSC) and his underground role in all the staggered elections that the party featured in, in the last three years are said to have counted for Saraki.

In any case, it was generally agreed that he is capable, competent, and courageous enough to do the job. Some others mentioned that he is the only aspirant that has unfolded his plan that he will implement as soon as he is elected president.

Wike on the other hand is believed to have created too many IOUs that he is now cashing and converting to political capital. He has also shown the capacity to provide funds for the campaigns. It is believed that only his money and the number of people he has provided financial support to in the past are working for him. The Rivers State Governor, many stakeholders reasoned, also has a lot of pieces of baggage which may make him unelectable and acceptable to people from other zones other than his own, if he emerges.

The deal initially in the APC seems to have been concluded that the presidential ticket of the ruling party will go to the south in line with an old, unwritten agreement put together when the party was formed in 2014. This was the reason why until about a week ago, all the aspirants in APC except for Kogi Governor, Bello, were southerners. It is also the reason why all the big wigs in the south in all the three geo-political zones are in the race.

However, the calculation changed when the APC failed in its determination to coerce or compel the opposition PDP to also follow suit. When it became apparent that PDP will not yield to the game of presenting an all-southern candidates election, the APC suddenly changed gear. And guess who was first used to send the clear signal that APC may also join the PDP in presenting a northerner as its candidate? Another Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan.

It is believed that Lawan is the candidate the APC has prepared in case PDP picks a presidential aspirant from the north. He is said to enjoy the support of the National Assembly caucuses, the Presidency, and other stakeholders.

Many believe Lawan is the establishment candidate. He was said to have been propped up after a secret opinion poll sponsored by some top elements in Aso Rock indicates that Saraki will likely win the PDP presidential primaries and go ahead to defeat any candidate from the south.

The apparatchiks who are privy to the results of the opinion polls and the attached analysis then decided to move fast and create an opportunity to stage a return leg of the battle for the Senate Presidency in 2015. It was said that the nation was denied the opportunity of seeing both men square up against each other when Saraki emerged because Lawan and his sponsors out-schemed themselves by being absent from the venue of voting. It was also said that the game is now a draw with Saraki also forced out of the return leg by the forces that ensured he did not get re-elected in his constituency, to forestall his standing against Lawan in the 2019 race for the presidency.

The 2023 presidential election may be another race between the two gladiators, both former Senate Presidents, the incumbent, and his immediate predecessor, to slug it out for a higher post. This time, the electorate will not be just 109 senators. There will be over 80 million registered voters. However, before that return match, both men must scale the hurdle of the presidential primaries next weekend in Abuja.

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