Following its defeat at the poll in 2015 after 16 years of uninterrupted rule, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is now looking to regain control of Africa’s largest economy. To this end, the PDP has decided that it will not be zoning its presidential ticket and that everyone – regardless of where they are from – will be allowed to contest.
This is at variance with the party’s constitution, which mandates the rotation of power between the north and the south. With President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) completing his eight year-tenure soon, southern elements believe it is time for power to shift to the south.
However, with northern Nigeria having more voters than the south, the PDP believes the race should be thrown open to attract voters from the north. The open race has now put the number of aspirants at 15.
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar;
Former Governor Peter Obi;
Governor Nyesom Wike;
Governor Udom Emmanuel;
Ex-Governor Ayodele Fayose;
Former Senate President Bukola Saraki;
Ex-Senate President Anyim Pius;
Governor Bala Mohammed;
Governor Aminu Tambuwal;
Economist, Mohammed Hayatudeen;
Ovation Publisher, Dele Momodu;
Renowned pharmacist, Sam Ohuabunwa;
Charles Ugwu, Teriela Oliver and Chikwendu Kalu.
But who will take the crown in the end?
The Africa Report notes that of all 15 aspirants, those who stand a chance of winning the party’s ticket are only five: Atiku, Wike, Tambuwal, Saraki and Obi. They are now in a race to win the majority of the 3,700 delegates during the 29 May convention at the Moshood Abiola Stadium.
By far the most experienced, Atiku began running for president in 1993 as the youngest candidate in the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Today, he is contesting as the oldest in his party. At the last PDP primary in 2018, he scored about 50% of the total votes, defeating 11 other aspirants in the process. However, this did not translate to victory at the general election as he lost to President Buhari, even though he had garnered 11 million votes.
Despite his many defeats, he remains optimistic and adamant that he is the party’s surest bet to getting power. At a meeting with the leadership of the PDP, Atiku said: “I am the best candidate. Under normal circumstances, this is a guy who already has 11 million votes in his space, and I think as a party, you should give me the right of first refusal.” With a large financial and political base across the country, Atiku will not be a pushover.
Even so, how feasible is an Atiku victory? The former vice-president will be expected to win key northern states, such as Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Gombe, Adamawa, Borno, Kebbi, Niger, Nasarawa and Taraba, which have a combined 935 delegates
Insiders tell The Africa Report that Atiku is focusing on winning southwest states like Lagos, Ogun, Osun and Ondo. However, the general preference for the south to produce the next president of the party may cost him some votes in the region.
“We are targeting the states that have no PDP governors. There are about 22 of such states, especially those in the north. Atiku has been sustaining some of these delegates financially over the years. They won him the primary in 2019 and they will win it for him again this month,” an aide to the former vice-president tells The Africa Report.
Wike became the de facto leader of the PDP in 2016 due to his position as the party’s largest financier. Having controlled the finances of the oil-rich Rivers State for the last seven years, the governor now believes he has enough support to win the party’s ticket on 29 May.
The Rivers governor has visited almost all the states in the country, receiving pledges from several delegates. He also says he will not settle for any other office, including the vice-presidency, if he loses at the primary. Wike has visited the stronghold of his opponents, oftentimes downplaying the influence such opponents have. During a visit to Anambra State where Peter Obi is from, Wike asked the delegates not to waste their votes on Obi since he will not win the primary.
He is expected to win the votes of all the delegates in Rivers State and most of those in the southeast and south-south. Due to the clamour for a southern president, he could also win a sizable part of the southwest as well as some states in north-central, especially Benue State where governor Samuel Ortom has endorsed him.
However, Wike will find it difficult to secure the needed votes in the core north due to several of his utterances against the region. His attitude, which many have described as arrogant and erratic, could work against him in the primary. As things stand, Atiku is the only person standing in the way of a Wike candidacy.
By far the most popular among millennials online, Obi is widely believed to be the most competent of all the aspirants in the PDP. Obi, who was the chairman of one of Nigeria’s biggest banks before joining politics in 2002, survived many political battles, including an impeachment while he was governor (between 2007 and 2014). Many Nigerians have praised his frugality and prudence, but this has also cost him a lot of political support as he is viewed as a very stingy man.
In a recent meeting with delegates in his home state of Anambra, he advised them not to be carried away by money, saying: “Do you want to collect money and bequeath a society of hopelessness, kidnapping, banditry and poverty to future generations? Is that the society you want for your children?
“Remember, you can’t transfer your delegate status to your children, this is an opportunity for you to decide.”
The Africa Report projects that apart from winning over some delegates in the southeast region – the smallest with a combined 543 votes – Obi may not be able to win the much needed northern delegates.
Obi’s reluctance to spend money lavishly ahead of the primary will also make him lose the support of many delegates who would rather vote for more generous aspirants. Reports, however, say he may be picked again as Atiku’s running mate and be cajoled to step down ahead of the primary. Obi and Atiku have sustained a cordial relationship since they ran on a joint presidential ticket in 2019. Obi was even present at Atiku’s presidential declaration in March.
The former godfather of Kwara State politics has also visited many states seeking the support of delegates. Saraki is fighting a battle on two fronts. He is not only on a national tour for delegates’ support, but is also attempting to oust the current APC leadership in Kwara State and reclaim his title as Kwara’s number one politician.
Recently, the former Senate president’s ambition received a boost when some senior northern figures endorsed him. However, the fact that he is a political hybrid may work against him again. The zoning preference may also be a disadvantage for him in some parts of the south, even though he is part of the Yoruba, the majority tribe in the southwest.
At the last PDP primary in 2019, Saraki scored the third highest number of votes behind Atiku and Tambuwal. Saraki will comfortably win Kwara State and some areas of the north-central as well as the southwest.
The Sokoto State governor came second in the last presidential primary of the PDP. However, because of those who saw him as Wike’s lackey at the time, he suffered heavy defeats in the core Muslim northern state. This was exploited by Atiku who eventually defeated him by a landslide. Nevertheless, Tambuwal’s strategy has since changed and he is now making inroads into the northeast. Still, Atiku, who is also a northerner, may be his biggest challenge.
Speaking to The Africa Report, Dare-Ariyo Atoye (the Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy) says it is still too early to make any conclusions since the aspirants are still consulting delegates across the country.
He, however, admits that Saraki, Wike, Atiku, Obi and Tambuwal remain the frontline aspirants.
The analyst argues that money will also play a huge role as no delegate is expected to receive less than $2,000 to $5,000 each. He, however, says the fact that the ballot will be a secret one means that money may not be enough as there will be no way of monitoring how each delegate votes.
“So far, I expect Atiku to do well in the northeast, Tambuwal northwest, Obi in southeast, Saraki in the north-central and Wike in the south-south; so it is tricky because the PDP governs only 13 states and the rest are up for grabs and these are the ones that they will target. I think it will be interesting, but I believe it will be decided in 48 hours to the primaries. Whatever they have done now is to leave an impression on the delegates.
“But what impression did they leave on the delegates? How have they followed up? We expect it to be a dollar rain, but the highest bidder may not win because it [will] be a secret ballot. There is no way of enforcing how each delegate will vote.”