On Sunday October 7, in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers state, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar emerged the presidential candidate on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in an open primary that featured 12 aspirants. Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa reports that the PDP convention defied all odds to record a success. He also chronicles the largely unexpected end to the primaries.
The tension was palpable in the face of all men and women, delegates and officials of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who converged on the Garden City of Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital for the National convention of the party holding from Saturday October 6 to Sunday October 7.
ALSO READ: Ambode: Why the war against Lagos gov is not yet over
As they made their ways around the stadium, it was obvious many were in the situation of a pregnant woman heading for the labour room. The atmosphere was ominous, the deadline was breathing down heavily on the neck of the party and so for the PDP, it was a make or break moment. Any snap could write off the party from the 2019 contest as the deadline given by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) stood at midnight of October 7.
So who picks the ticket? Who drops off the race? Will the Governors do the usual-go into a conclave and emerge with a blue or dark smoke oozing through the window, as in the appointment of Popes? What really was in stock for everyone? The nation was waiting, the international community was waiting. The PDP is not just a baby of Nigerian politicians, it has come to signify a phase in the democratic development of the country and certainly a window through which the outside world rates the march towards the government of the people in Nigeria. As the largest opposition party in the land, one that had ruled the country previously, all eyes were on this party.
But its notoriety for doing the unthinkable; imposing candidates when it should engineer free internal elections, and engendering dictation by its all-powerful Governors have always been a source of worry for Nigerians. Will the party get it right this time? So many questions on the lips of its members, observers and analysts as the convention opened on Saturday.
Hours piled up to a day and the city of Port Harcourt was bubbling in the red, white and green colours of the PDP. The traffic was hell and all Hotels were brimming with presence of party men, their hangers on as well as security operatives. It was going fine but at a very slow pace. Meetings started late on Friday and more meetings in the early hours of Saturday looked as if the big stage was set from about 2.pm that day. But the Stadium was scanty, delegates were sorting out the remnants of their activities, hearing from their leaders before heading for the venue. There were scheduled caucus meetings as the meeting by the Governors earlier in the day had resolved to allow a free process without direct interference of the PDP Governors Forum (PDPGF) as a body. The power was then reserved in the state caucuses and their leaders. And they made quick efforts at getting some decisions sorted. Who would be voted for and who should carry the day? That was the decision that kept back many caucuses from the Stadium. Many others who arrived early into the stadium took advantage of the late arrival of others to further brainstorm and reach conclusions.
As the long nigh wears out, and with the chilly Port Harcourt weather melting into the morning, Governors, party men and even the National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus took time to pace around the Stadium tracks, seeking to lessen the tension. It was a moment the levels all humans, no one could escape the tension which grew worse when the vote sorting began. Hon Boma Goodhead, the iron lady who broke the barriers mounted at the entrance of the National Assembly the other day by the Department of State Services stood upright in from of the Rivers delegation, using her eyes to practically count the votes as the ballots were being sorted into boxes of each aspirant. Governor Wike was taking a walk around while a number of his colleague Governors had left the Stadium just after casting their ballots.
At the end of it all, geopolitical influences took the better of the moment. The South East was able to zero in on Atiku Abubakar, whose camp had hinted of the possibility of picking a running mate from the zone. The South West also promised a majority of its votes to the former Vice President, who had promised to accomplish restructuring, a key agenda the zone had clamoured for all along. The same was true largely of the South South, particularly Bayelsa, Cross Rivers, Akwa-Ibom and parts of Edo and Delta. The Ijaw speaking Bayelsa and its people across the states of South South had adopted Atiku as its choice on the promise of restructuring, while some Governors of the zone who had decided to deviate from the plans by Rivers state Governor, Nyesom Wike, to market the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal also asked their delegates to adopt Atiku.
It was a big battle for Northern votes. The North Central had three aspirants in the persons of Senate President Bukola Saraki, his predecessor in office, Senator David Mark and former Plateau state Governor, Jonah Jang. The North East had two aspirants including Atiku and Governor Ibrahim Dakwambo of Gombe state, while the North West had seven aspirants. Going through such a long list would certainly provide challenges to the voters. Thus, with the backing of Tambuwal by a number of Governors, he could garner some numbers, Saraki had the support of the North Central but it appears his blistering campaign could not reach the grassroots of other zones within the space of time it kicked off. By and large, a number of zones were able to come to the conclusion that the PDP needed a man who would fight the 2019 battle without blinking an eye and they believe that Atiku fits the bill.
And that decision showed clearly in the returns made at the end of the convention. Chairman of the National Convention Committee, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, the Delta state Governor, read out the figures to the admiration of the gathering. He submitted that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar had won the PDP Presidential ticket for the 2019 general elections by polling 1,532 votes out of the total 3221 votes cast by 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Other results released by the Committee indicated that Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto state came second with 693 votes, while Sen. Bukola Saraki placed third with 317 votes. Others include Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso 158 votes; Governor Ibrahim Dakwambo, 111 votes; Alhaji Sule Lamido, 96 votes; former Kaduna state Governor, Senator Ahmed Makarfi 74; former Minister of Special Duties Tanimu Turaki, SAN, 65 votes; former Sokoto state Governor, Attahiru Bafarawa 48 votes; former Senate President David Mark 35 votes; former Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang 19 votes, while the proprietor of Abuja-based Baze University, Dr. Datti Ahmed got 5 votes.
The total votes cast were 3,221, even though 3, 274 delegates were accredited. The exercise recorded 68 void votes.
The former Vice President was born on November 25, 1946, in Jada, Adamawa. He served as Vice-President of Nigeria under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007, on the platform of the same PDP and had been consistent in search of the ticket of a major political party to vie for the office ever since. This is the first chance he would get since 2007.
Atiku Abubakar worked with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for twenty years, rising to become the Deputy Controller and retired in April 1989 to venture into business and politics.
Unlike in the past when cacophonous voices and rants of discord would have rented the air with many flying the ‘I‘ve been short changed card,’ the situation this time was different. Jubilations seized the Stadium ground as Atiku was obviously coasting to victory. Immediately the Tambuwal tally stood at 693, the Stadium was melted by a thunderous shout of joy by delegates. The vuvuzela and traditional horns were blowing at the loudest, dwarfing the blare from the huge loud speakers that were projecting Okowa’s voice. It was obvious Atiku had won. But that did not reduce tension still. Atiku stood up at instances to enter the convenience. The same for the other aspirants before they got their final results. And following the formal declaration of Atiku as candidate, the voices have been unanimous in hailing the decision. It was a transparent process, peaceful and orderly as attested to by al the party agents of the 12 aspirants when called on stage to assess the process.
Jonathan congratulates Atiku
One of the brains behind Atiku’s return to the PDP and eventual emergence as candidate on Sunday, former President Goodluck Jonathan immediately hailed the process. Jonathan and his former Deputy, Namadi Sambo were also present at the Port Harcourt convention. The former President was earlier called to address the gathering and he was followed onto the stage by Sambo and Ministers who served in his administration.
On Sunday, he described Atiku as a man who has the capacity to take the country to greater heights.
He said: “I congratulate His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar, Waziri Adamawa, and by the grace of God and the votes of Nigerians, the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Our party members have spoken and have nominated you as the candidate for the forthcoming Presidential elections. I am convinced that you have all it takes to take Nigeria to greater heights and transform her into a hub for prosperity and happiness.”
Saraki, Dogara, Dickson hail Atiku
Senate President Bukola Saraki immediately congratulated Atiku and told the former number two man on behalf of other contestants that he had their support. He first spoke oat the Stadium and in another statement on Sunday by his Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), Yusuph Olaniyonu, the Senate President affirmed the readiness to back Atiku to victory.
He said: “Our just concluded convention was a partisan event which the country can show-case as an example that democracy has a future in Nigeria and that when we are determined we can elect our leaders without any manipulation, intimidation and violation of the law and democratic norms.
“The credit goes to the leadership of our party led by Prince Uche Secondus, the organizing committee led by Governor Okowa, the numerous delegates who came from across the country and conducted themselves in a civil, mature and democratic manner. I give kudos to them.
“My commendation also goes to the government and people of Rivers State, for providing the best necessary facilities for hosting over 5000 delegates, campaign workers, security personnel, observers, media people and others who came to play one role or the other in the convention.
“More importantly, let me congratulate the winner and new flagbearer of our party and all the fellow aspirants for running credible and mature campaigns and working all along to reassure millions of our fellow party members and other Nigerians that PDP will leave the convention venue more united and ready to work together to form the next government at the federal and other levels in a manner that we will unite the country, grow the economy, carry along all stakeholders, empower the youths and make government serve the people better.
“Like I said in my speech at the convention after the official declaration of Alhaji Atiku as winner, all the other aspirants, especially myself, are ready to walk and work with him to spread the positive message of the PDP and his campaigns across the nooks and crannies of the country such that the PDP will win the 2019 general elections.
“Those who expect that the party will degenerate into crisis after the primaries have miscalculated. We will all work for the Atiku-PDP ticket to succeed and contribute ideas into solving the problems confronting Nigeria today. The event in Port Harcourt between yesterday and today was a victory for Nigeria and for democracy. We will not lose the momentum but sustain it to rebuild Nigeria and elect Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the next President of Nigeria.
“I wish all our delegates and other participants in the convention journey mercies back home.”
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, also congratulated Atiku in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Turaki Hassan. Dogara stated that the task before Atiku was now to unite with other aspirants to work toward the success of the party in the 2019 elections.
He commended other aspirants for accepting the outcomes of the exercise, stating that their dedicated involvement was the foundation that would lead the party to victory in the presidential elections.
He said: “Come February 2019, PDP will lead Nigeria to the transformation that we so dearly desire as citizens of this dear country.”
Abia state Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, also congratulated Atiku immediately while applauding other aspirants for what he called their resilience, calm disposition and sportsmanship throughout the contest.
He said: “The former Vice President has the capacity to bring about the desired change in the polity with his wealth of experience across different sectors of the nation’s economy, having successfully led Nigeria’s economic team as the Vice President and also as a major player in the private sector. Nigerians are earnestly yearning for leaders who can build bridges, restructure the country and lead the way to prosperity for all Nigerians. I believe Alhaji Abubakar is that leader we need at this time.”
Bayelsa state Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson in his message of congratulations said that Atiku possesses the requisite experience and knowledge to tackle the challenges bedevilling the country.
He said: “Let me congratulate the former Vice President and now the presidential candidate of our great party for the next presidential election over his resounding victory in a free, fair, transparent and credible primary election.
“The delegates have spoken and they have elected a man who understands our country, the Niger Delta and a man who has the requisite experience.
“He can build bridges of understanding and unity and form a great team to address the challenges that are facing our country.
“We look forward to working, collaborating and supporting him in that onerous responsibility. As he rightly said, it is not a job left for him alone.”
Dickson further commended the PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, and members of the National Working Committee (NWC) as well as the convention planning committee headed by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa “for their hard work and the good job they have done.”
He stated further: “I cannot fail to appreciate my brother, Governor Nyesom Wike, the government and people of Rivers State for their hospitality and sacrifices in hosting this historic event.
“Let me also commend our worthy leaders most of whom are my compatriots and friends for offering themselves for service. I thank and appreciate them for their show of sportsmanship and magnanimity.”
Wike speaks on Atiku
He might not have supported his candidacy during the primaries but it appears the past has been immediately put behind as the Governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike quickly congratulated Atiku Abubakar. The Governor, who received Atiku on a thank you visit in the Rivers Government House on Sunday asked all Nigerians to be unanimous in the decision to sack the incumbent president Buhari in 2019. He also described the administration as the most inefficient Federal Government since the country gained independence in 1960 adding that all PDP leaders and well-meaning Nigerians have a duty to form a united front to sack the APC Federal Government.
The Governor said: “We have no party that will salvage the country other than the PDP. A candidate has emerged and we owe it a duty to see that the party takes over from the most inefficient and ineffective party in control of the FG.
“We are one family. You may support aspirant A or B, but once a candidate emerges, you owe it a duty to make sure your party returns to power. We are doing everything we can to ensure that we don’t give APC any gap. They have failed Nigerians and we will take over in 2019.”
Former Governor Peter Obi
Widely acclaimed as a man who ruled with Anambra state with conscience, laying the foundation for a prosperous state, former Governor Peter Obi, has also risen to praise Atiku’s emergence describing his victory as “a consummation of the wishes and desires of most Nigerians, both high and low.”
In a message on Sunday, Obi emphasised that what the PDP delegates did in Port Harcourt was a mirror of what Nigerians wanted free and transparent election. He said that because all the candidates were imminently qualified, with each coming with his support base, Atiku’s victory showed that he was widely accepted. He also commended other contestants for putting up brave contest and conducting themselves in a way befitting true leaders in name and in fact.
From outside the PDP comes some good words from the Convener of Save Nigeria Group (SNG), Pastor Tunde Bakare, of the Latter Rain Assembly. The fiery Pastor said on Sunday that the emergence of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the candidate of the PDP in the 2019 election would make the election keen and interesting.
He said in Lagos on Sunday that Atiku’s emergence was a welcome development which he said indicated that the battle for the presidency would be a tough contest between him and President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and Atiku of the PDP.
He said: “I congratulate him (Abubakar), he makes the issue in 2019 more robust. “It is not going to be an eaglet versus an eagle but an eagle versus eagle: an old eagle versus new eagle and probably both of them old eagles.