Ahead the 2019 elections, Nigeria’s main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has zoned the office of president to the northern part of the country. This part of the country comprises three geo-political zones, namely northwest, northeast and north central, all of which have 19 states put together.
Expectedly, all but one of those who have shown interest in the position, openly and discreetly, are from the north.
The only aspirant who is not from that part of the country is Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State in the South West zone, who will complete his gubernatorial tenure later in the year.
Mr. Fayose had declared his intention to vie for the nation’s highest political office last year. He is the only one who has publicly done so. However, it is believed that he will yield to the party’s zoning arrangement eventually.
“This ambition is however without prejudice to our party’s position, but in the overall interest of the party and our country,” he had proclaimed in a letter to the PDP leaders, a few days before he declared his intention to run for president in the Abuja.
At the Abuja event, Mr. Fayose said, “Most importantly, despite that the party has zoned the presidency to the North, it may interest you that no one has come out in the manner to show interest and our party should not wait or beg anyone to fly its flag.
“Do we say that if no one comes out from the North, the party won’t have a candidate?” he asked.
Some believe Mr. Fayose is positioning himself for the vice presidential slot. This belief was fueled last year by his failure to back any southwest aspirant for the position of the national chairman.
The northern aspirants
Among northerners hoping to emerge the PDP presidential hopeful for the 2019 election are a former vice president, serving and former governors and former ministers. Others might still indicate interest, especially now that the party has not fixed a date for its primaries.
Even so, whoever emerges in the end may likely face incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the governing All Progressives Congress, APC, in the February 2019 election if the president decides to seek re-election and is picked by the party. Mr. Buhari is himself a northerner.
1. Atiku Abubakar
Leading the pack, at least for now, is former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Mr. Abubakar, a founding member of the PDP, had left the party on two occasions but recently retraced his steps back to where he fondly called “home.”
Mr. Abubakar’s returned to the PDP in December last year from the APC where he moved to in the run up to the 2015 election.
The former vice president has consistently sought to be president since he left office in 2007.
He ran for president on the platform of the defunct Action Congress (AC) in that year’s presidential election but lost to the late Umaru Yar’Adua of the PDP.
In 2011, he contested the PDP primaries but was defeated by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
In 2014, he ran against Mr. Buhari for the APC ticket but came third behind Mr. Buhari and the then Kano State Governor, Rabi’u Kwankwaso.
Mr. Abubakar will probably be running for president for the last time, hence, he is strongly motivated more than ever before to give it his all this time around. He will be 72 by November this year.
It is widely speculated that Mr. Abubakar did not just return to the PDP after leaving the APC last December. The former vice president was reported to have extracted a promise from the then Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee that he would be given the presidential ticket if he returned to the PDP.
The defunct committee was reported to have guaranteed him the nomination of the party for the presidential election before leaving the APC as he reportedly did “not want to be messed up for the third time.”
Both Messrs. Abubakar and Makarfi have since denied demanding and making any commitment.
Strength: Mr. Abubakar’s greatest strength lies in his political exposure having shown interest for the office of the president several times. He began showing interest for the top job since the botched Third Republic. At the time he wanted to run for president under the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Following closely is his wide contacts across the nation, which he might exploit to clinch the ticket. Although, some of his close associates are still in the APC, it is believed that some of them will join him in the PDP to push his candidacy.
Besides, the Waziri Adamawa has the financial war chest to fund his aspiration, a key requirement in Nigerian political clime. Of all those that may join the presidential race on the PDP ticket, he appears to be the richest. Arguably, apart from government, Mr. Abubakar is one of the largest employers of labour in the country.
The former VP appears to be promoting two issues in the quest to clinch the coveted ticket – youth in governance and restructuring. He has decided to make them a major plank of his campaign as they seem critical in the build up to the 2019 poll. Unlike other aspirants, party members and indeed Nigerians know the issues he is bringing to table.
Analysts say any candidate that is able to convince the Nigerian youth that they will be part of his or her administration and also genuinely pursue a restructuring agenda will be a difficult candidate to beat, both at party primaries and general election.
Weaknesses: Mr. Abubakar’s major weakness is his desperation to be president. Many Nigerians believe he is desperate to be president, pointing to his defections from one party to another all in a bid to be on the ballot on election day.
Another weakness of the Waziri is the apparent lack or collapse of his political structures across the country. Mr. Abubakar inherited the leadership of the once formidable political group, the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, from the late Shehu Yar’adua. Out of the 18 political groups that formed the PDP in 1998 the PDM was the biggest. It used to boast of a strong structure across all the political units in the country. Not anymore! PDM has since gone into oblivion apparently due to lack of leadership.
Also, despite his posture, many Nigerians accuse Mr. Abubakar of being hugely corrupt and fear he will run a corrupt government.
Another problem for the Waziri Adamawa is his inability to get widespread acceptance across the length and breadth of the north, unlike Mr. Buhari, who might be his major opponent, if both win the primaries.
Mr. Abubakar also appears not to be enjoying the support of PDP governors, a critical group within the party. In fact, should he fail to get the support of PDP governors, he might as well kiss his ambition bye. This assertion is based on the history of the internal politics of the PDP and what just transpired at the elective national convention of the party held last December 9.
2. Ibrahim Dankwambo
Mr. Dankwambo, the governor of Gombe State, north east Nigeria is another major contender for the PDP ticket. The 56 years old is one of only two governors elected on the platform of the party from the north, the other being Darius Ishaku if Taraba.
A former Accountant General of the Federation, Mr. Dankwambo has performed creditably well for the almost eight years he serve as governor. He continued from where his predecessor, Danjuma Goje, stopped. Both are believed to have tremendously transformed Gombe into one of the most developed states in the country within a short time.
Strength: Mr. Dankwambo’s major strength lies in his being an incumbent governor and so it will not be difficult for him to convince his governor colleagues and other party leaders across states where PDP is not in power to support his aspiration.
The Gombe governor is a very close friend of Mr. Fayose who is also the chairman of PDP Governors Forum. Mr. Fayose, though an aspirant too, might convince his colleagues to back Mr. Dankwambo.
As a technocrat, Mr. Dankwambo, has managed to stay away from major controversies since assuming the office of governor in 2011. His ability to secure reelection in 2015 despite the APC “political tsunami” in the north is another proof of his abilities.
Weaknesses: One of Mr. Dankwambo’s major weaknesses is his “aloofness” when it comes to national issues. He is hardly known to stand for anything because he scarcely lends his voice to any matter. For instance, he was hardly seen or heard during the recent turbulent days of the party. It is therefore difficult for Nigerians to know what to expect from his presidency.
Another weakness of Mr. Dankwambo is his ability to confront a formidable APC candidate like Mr. Buhari and defeat him if the latter choses to run for second term.
3. Sule Lamido
Sule Lamido was a two-term governor of Jigawa state. He is also believed to be the most performing governor in the history of the young state.
Mr. Lamido belongs to the “Talakawa” political stock in the north as espoused by the late Aminu Kano.
Mr. Lamido, who will be 70 years by August, is considered a “radical” in politics who, unlike Mr. Dankwambo, does not shy away from expressing his feelings on anything to anyone.
He also believes that the ordinary person must be the direct beneficiary of all government policies.
Strength: His major strength is his apparent loyalty to the PDP. He is one of few party leaders who has been with the party through thick and thin.
As a former governor, Mr. Lamido also has widespread support across the party faithful and leaders.
Closely related to this is that like Mr. Abubakar, Mr. Lamido has the political experience having been in politics for a long time. The former governor was the national secretary of the defunct SDP during the Third Republic. He could use the contacts to project his candidacy.
Also, his ability to easily connect with the ordinary party member and his constant “challenge” of Mr. Buhari also will put him in good stead with delegates to the PDP primary.
Weaknesses: Mr. Lamido’s major challenge is his ongoing corruption trial by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. The PDP will be wary of fielding a candidate facing trial and have the potential of going to jail before, during or after the 2019 election.
The former Jigawa governor also appears “too independent” and will be “his own man” if he becomes president. PDP leaders are known to prefer presidents they can control.
5. Ahmed Makarfi
Mr. Makarfi is the immediate past chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the PDP. He was also a two term governor of Kaduna state and former Senator.
He was invited by the leaders for the PDP to head the party and restore sanity to it following the failure to elect a new leadership in Port Harcourt.
Mr. Makarfi, 62, showed maturity in handling the crisis that heralded his tenure leading up to the Supreme Court.
After the Supreme Court verdict that validated his position, the former Kaduna governor worked with the leaders and governors in the party to not only to put measures in place to elect new leaders, but also woo those who left to other parties, back.
It is claimed in some quarters that because of the way he handled party affairs, some governors and leaders entered into an agreement him to help get their preferred candidates elected into party positions after which they will help him secure the presidential ticket.
Mr. Makarfi, thereafter supervised a successful invention in which all persons listed under a controversial “Unity List” were eventually elected during the December 9 convention.
The Unity list is said to be the creation of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state and some governors.
Strength: Mr. Makarfi’s major strength is the fact that he trusts the PDP and the party faithful also appear to trust him. The manner he ran the PDP during the battle with Ali Modu Sheriff for the soul of the party has endeared him to many of its faithful.
Also, if the reports of the agreement with governors is true, it means he has fulfilled his own part of the bargain and it is now left for the governors to fulfill theirs by ensuring he picks the presidential ticket. It is not going to be difficult for them to do that if they chose to.
Mr. Makarfi does not also appear to have “excess baggage” that will be of concern to PDP faithful. He is not undergoing trial unlike Mr. Lamido and he is perceived as a corrupt person unlike Mr. Abubakar.
Weaknesses: One of his major weaknesses is the feeling that Mr. Makarfi has been battling an illness which allegedly affected his performance as governor of Kaduna state. As a result, the party might be wary of fielding a candidate that will eventually face health challenges if elected.
Also, Mr. Makarfi does not have a solid structure outside that of the party that will work for his interest and confront a formidable candidate like Mr, Buhari.
6. Tanimu Turaki
Tanimu Turaki is a former Minister for Special Duties in the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Turaki is also the chairman of the forum of former PDP Ministers.
Since moving to the PDP, Mr. Turaki has remained loyal to the PDP and chose to remain in the party at a time many persons in the north, especially his home state of Kebbi were trooping to the APC.
Strength: Mr. Turaki’s major strength is that despite serving under Mr. Jonathan, he is one of the few top members of the administration that appears not to be under investigation by the country’s anti-graft agencies.
As the head of the powerful Ministers forum, Mr. Turaki, 61, is also likely to enjoy support from a cross section of the PDP family.
Weaknesses: The former minister is not so well known across the nation compared to other contenders. Anyone seeking to be president in 2019 need not have to first tell most Nigerians who he is.
Also, while his membership of the Jonathan loyalists in PDP is a strength, it could also be a weakness because there are many in the PDP who still hold the former president personally responsible for the defeat of the PDP in 2015. Those in this category may not be comfortable with this choice as the party’s flag bearer.
7. Ayo Fayose
The Ekiti State governor was the first to declare his intention to run for president in 2019. The controversial governor said he decided to declare because no one from the north had come out to express interest.
As the chairman of the PDP governors Forum, Mr. Fayose will therefore not find it difficult to convince his colleagues to ask delegates from their states to vote for him. He has also been seen as the major force in offering opposition to the governing All Progressives Congress, APC, going by his constant attack and criticisms of the party and President Buhari.
Mr. Fayose also appears to have found a way to warm himself into the hearts of many ordinary Nigerians.
The decision of the PDP to zone the office of president to the North is a great impediment to the ambition of the Ekiti state governor. Also, Mr. Fayose is considered by many to be too controversial for a candidate seeking to beat an incumbent president.