From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP) had barely commenced the sale of nomination forms for its May 28/29 presidential forms, when four of its aspirants for the party’s ticket started talking about a a consensus candidate.
The four presidential aspirants namely Sokoto governor, Aminu Tambuwal, his Bauchi State counterpart, Bala Mohammed, former Senate President, Bukola Saraki and foremost banker, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen transversed the length and breath of the country to preach the idea to PDP stakeholders.
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For three weeks, the quartet met with with one PDP governor and leader, after another. At every stop, Saraki, who was the spokesman of the group, told everyone that cared to listen that the initiative was part of efforts to rescue the country from alleged misrule of the All Progressives Congress ( APC)-led Federal Government.
The former Senate President, after a meeting between the group and the Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, in Abuja, recently, told journalists, that the consensus move is neither about the North nor South, but about the country.
“When we started about three weeks ago, most of the aspirants we had then were mainly in the North. We are talking to the aspirants across the country. Now, more people have come out in the South and we are all going to meet.
“All the aspirants are going to meet. We are talking about Nigeria. We are not talking about the Northern aspirants or Southern aspirants.
“I have good news that already, moves are being made by the aspirants in the South to meet and eventually when we all meet and see one consensus, that consensus is a Nigerian that represent all the groups,” he stated.
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Saraki added “the most important ambition now is how to begin to fix Nigeria and put the nation on the right course.”
However, the idea was received with mixed feeling; while some party leaders welcomed it, others viewed the consensus proposal with cynicism and outright suspicion. Expectedly, not a few had dismissed the move for a consensus candidate as a Northern agenda.
However, the consensus project spear-headed by the group of four aspirants, collapsed last Friday, after some Northern Elders announced the Bauchi governor and Saraki as the consensus aspirants of the North for the PDP presidential ticket.
Professor Ango Abdullahi, in a communique, after a meeting of some Northern elders, including former military President, Ibrahim Babangida, in Minna, the Niger State capital, noted that Mohammed and Saraki are expected to engage in further consultations, after which one of them will be chosen, as the main consensus candidate for the North.
Ironically, Saraki, after the meeting with Ugwuanyi, had dismissed insinuations, that the push for a consensus candidate was a Northern affair.
He had said: “I just want to be clear about that, and be reassured it is not about just issue of a Northern consensus, not at all; it’s a consensus for the PDP and one Nigeria.”
The development has triggered off a controversy, with some stakeholders in the North kicking against the consensus arrangement, and describing it as the personal opinion of individuals in the zone.
Former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido, in a statement on Saturday, had noted” …that what is reported in the Media is only the personal opinion of those who issued the statement and not the position of the PDP members in the North.”
Lamido added that “the position of the Northern Elders is not only injurious to the North but equally injurious to the Northern aspirants.”
Also, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, Tambuwal as well as Hayatu-Deen have disowned the Northern consensus arrangement, vowing to proceed with their individual campaigns for the PDP presidential ticket.
The Sokoto governor, in a statement by his campaign organisation, had explained that talks among the four aspirants had collapsed two days before the Minna declaration by the Northern Elders.
He explained that “the correct situation is that the team met on Wednesday, 20th April, 2022, at Bauchi Governor’s lodge in Abuja and had a review meeting; and, unanimously agreed that the consensus arrangement was not working.
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“The team further agreed that Senator Saraki should come up with a draft statement on how to communicate this decision to the Nigerian public. This was the last time that members of the team sat and mutually agreed on anything.
“The proposed meeting to review and vet the statement scheduled for 10 pm of the same day was aborted unilaterally by Senator Saraki via a WhatsApp message.
“However, on Thursday, 21st, 2022, when same Senator Saraki circulated yet another WhatsApp message suggesting that members of the team should head to Minna for a meeting on Friday, Gov. Tambuwal reached other members of the team and informed them that he stands by the decision of the team that the initiative is not working. This is the reason Governor Tambuwal was absent at today’s (Friday) meeting in Minna.”
The Bauchi governor disagrees. Mohammed, in a statement by the spokesman of his campaign organisation, Udenta Udenta, explained that it was the group of four aspirants that approached Babangida to superintend over the consensus arrangement for them.
According to the statement, “we wish to place it on record that Gen. Babangida never approached nor lobbied anybody to superintend the process that will lead to the emergence of a consensus presidential aspirant. Rather, it was the group of presidential aspirants made up of Sen. Bala Mohammed, Governor Aminu Tambuwal. Sen. Bukola Saraki and Alhaji Mohammed Hayatu-Deen that collectively, freely and willingly approached Gen Babangida to help select from amongst themselves a consensus presidential Aspirant.
“The above four named individuals not only initiated the consensus arrangement on their own volition but also agreed to fully and unequivocally abide by the decision that Gen Babangida will arrive at in consultation with other elders as well as accept, honour the steps and procedures he will deploy in arriving at any decision.”
Analysts say the twist in the move for a consensus candidate, may have dealt a big blow on the quest by PDP leaders to prune the number of presidential aspirants. At the last count, no fewer than 17 aspirants have obtained Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms to contest the May 28/29 PDP presidential primary.
Nevertheless, Daily Sun gathered that party leaders are consulting to fashion out ways to either achieve consensus or reduce the number of aspirants ahead of the presidential primary.
According to Lamido, “discussions are ongoing with all the aspirants in our party with a view to having a National Consensus if possible or at least working towards having a smooth, acrimony-free National Convention.”
There are also efforts by some aspirants in the South East to go to the May 28/29 presidential primary with a common front. Recently, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation(SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim, former Anambra governor, Peter Obi, former president, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Sam Ohuabunwa and American based medical doctor, Nwachukwu Anakwenze, resolved to work together to ensure that the South East produces the 2023 PDP presidential ticket.
Anyim, who spoke on behalf of the other aspirants, after a meeting, in Abuja said: “four of us are presidential aspirants on the platform of our great party, the Peoples Democratic Party. We met this morning and resolved as follows: we have agreed to work together as a team. We will work together to ensure that a South Easterner emerge us as PDP flag bearer for 2023 presidential election.
“We intend to consult with other zones on this issue and it is based on fairness and equity. In doing so, it is important to note that we have always supported other zones, and we now expect them to reciprocate.”
Daily Sun gathered that while most stakeholders in the PDP are disposed to the idea of a consensus presidential candidate, they argue that the process must be based on equity and justice for it to succeed. However, the major challenge, before the party, is that “equity and justice” is currently being viewed from different prisms by party leaders in North and South.
However, pundits, say it is unlikely that the PDP would be able to produce a consensus candidate for the 2023 election. Those in this school of thought argue that the most likely scenario is for geo-political zones or group of aspirants to form alliances.
This is not the first time, interested individuals or interest group in the PDP would be seeking to forge a common front for the opposition party’s presidential ticket. Prior to the 2011 presidential election, the Northern Political Leaders Forum had nominated Atiku as the North’s consensus candidate to challenge former President Goodluck Jonathan for the PDP ticket.
However, the consensus arrangement did not achieve the desired result.
Analysts say it is doubtful that the result will be different this time around. This is because some of the aspirants see this as their last opportunity to actualize their lifelong dream of being president. And such aspirants, are unlikely to accept any consensus that does not favour them.
Therefore, for the leaders of the opposition party, the dream for a consensus presidential candidate may just be a mirage.