PDP 2019: Torn between consensus and primary election

In this piece, Deputy Editor, LEON USIGBE, looks at the dilemma facing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on how to select its presidential candidate who will slug it out with President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

The question on the lips of many Nigerians as the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), heads to its national convention, is who will bear its flag in the 2019 presidential election, to tackle and unseat the formidable presumptive candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari? PDP faithful and indeed, many political observers believe that any one of the arrays of aspirants under the party may be capable of doing it if only he can secure the cooperation and goodwill of other contestants. But can this be achieved? That is the fear of many political watchers.

There are 12 masquerades running around for the ticket. They include Senate President, Bukola Saraki: former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar; former Chairman of PDP National Caretaker Committee, Ahmed Makarfi; ex-lawmaker and university proprietor, Datti Baba-Ahmed; Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal; former Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso; two-time Senate President, David Mark; former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido; former Minister of Special Duties, Tanimu Turaki; former Plateau State governor, Jonah Jang; former Sokoto State governor, Attahiru Bafarawa and Gombe State governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo. Each of them is a person of immense pedigree. Therefore, observers are wondering, in the event of consensus arrangement, which of them will willingly concede the ticket and thereafter work wholeheartedly with the flag bearer to clinch the coveted post?

Some people have argued that the best way to achieve harmony among the aspirants is through a consensus which, they believe, will avert any animosity that a full-scale contest in a primary election is capable of engendering. But others counter by saying that going that way will amount to imposition, the root of impunity that the present national leadership has fought so hard to erase. Those in this camp, including many of the aspirants, are of the view that picking the party’s candidate through a consensus arrangement is therefore not the way to go. They want a primary election. Not just a primary election, but the one that will be free, fair and credible and be seen to have fulfilled all these conditions both by the contestants and the neutrals.

Prince Uche Secondus, the national chairman of the party, from the moment he assumed office up till now, has hammered on one fact: that this is a “Reformed PDP,” a party that has learnt albeit the hard way, that being run in impunity comes with consequences like losing badly in an election and having to painfully rise from the ashes. And so, for him, the old awry past has gone away, yielding grounds to new ways of doing things. The party boss boasts at every giving opportunity that for any position, there will be no imposition, that there will be clean primaries, and he points to the exercises in the gubernatorial elections of Ekiti and Osun states as ready indications that the party has turned a new leaf. This can be said to have restored confidence in the former ruling party to a large extent. A party, which once had its tail between its leg following the crushing defeat and tarred as corrupt, observers say, has found new confidence, openly addressing its supposedly corrupt past and presenting itself as a better alternative to the APC, not just in terms of performance, but even on the question of tackling corruption.

Consequently, it looks to be attractive to many politicians again. While people who had been reluctant to openly identified with it in the days following its crushing defeat and members were frequent guests to the anti-graft agencies, are once again seemingly happy to be identified as members, new people including prominent former members who helped the APC to power, have returned to admit that they made a mistake by dumping the PDP in the first place. This new movement into the PDP is what is causing the present apprehension in its fold. How can the huge egos coming in be harmonised with the existing ones? This is more so with the presidential aspirants who may not have a second thought about rocking the boat should they lose out on the ticket.

This is precisely what the newly reconstituted Board of Trustees (BoT) led by Senator Walid Jibrin, is now working on. It has seized the initiative and wants to ensure that there is a common ground among the aspirants. The BoT’s role according to the chairman, is to serve as the conscience of the party and remain above the fray to have the confidence of the aspirants.

Therefore, the board members are expected to “always maintain their honour and integrity as conscience of the party to remain neutral and never sponsor or lead aspirants to visits and rallies as was done during last convention.”

What the board has done in its effort to maintain a united PDP front going into 2019, is to raise a committee to work with the presidential aspirants to back one among them for the ticket and recommendation made to the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) for adoption.

Jibrin confirmed this recently as he said: “A committee has been set to discuss with all presidential aspirants to come up with one of them as one candidate.

There are now 12 contestants. The party has been warned to manage the situation of new decampees to the party and also consider the role played by old members. As provided in the party constitution, the board is empowered to regulate its proceedings and draw code of conduct for its members. The board has decided to forward to NWC its full recommendations.”

Even though most of the presidential aspirants assure that they will not leave the party if they do not clinch the ticket and will, instead, support whoever emerges as the presidential candidate of the PDP through a clean process , the fact that most of them are willing to go the whole hog, worries several party’s faithful.

But not so, at least openly, the NWC, which continues to insist that if the aspirants under the BoT’s tutelage decide to talk among themselves and reach a common ground, it has no problem with that. However, it is focused on conducting a national convention where the presidential primary will take place to select its flag bearer.

Kola Ologbodiyan, the image maker of the PDP was unequivocal on this as he said: “The BoT serves as the conscience of our party. Perhaps, in their wisdom, they want to engage the presidential aspirants to see if some of them may want to stand down.

That is, by themselves, not forcefully or not through any other method of the party. Because the only method recognized by the party is the national convention, which is the supreme organ of our party, the highest decision-making organ of our party.

It is at that national convention we will conduct our presidential primary. But if the aspirants on their own submit themselves to a discussion that is not within the confines of our party constitution and the guidelines that have been established by the party, it is not our responsibility as a party to stop them from doing that.

But what the National Working Committee under the able leadership of Prince Secondus is working on is a presidential primary that will be free, that will be fair, that will be credible, that will be clean, that will be clear and that will be very transparent and that will be acceptable to the majority of Nigerians.”

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