One position, which fear of the contest has heightened as a result of the formation of the CUPP, is the presidential ticket of the opposition party.
Six weeks ago, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with 38 other political parties to form a grand alliance ostensibly to unseat the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in next year’s presidential poll.
The terms of the MoU indicated that the alliance christened Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) would field a single presidential candidate in 2019.
Apart from the PDP, other political parties in the CUPP include the Reformed APC, a splinter group of the ruling party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the African Democratic Congress (ADC), the former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s preferred political party, among others.
For the opposition party, the grand alliance is a major milestone in its quest to win the next general elections. After the PDP lost the 2015 general election, it has been making frantic efforts on how to bounce back in 2019.
As part of the efforts towards winning the 2019 polls, the party under the leadership of former caretaker committee chairman, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, inaugurated a 115-member Strategy Review and Inter-party Affairs committee saddled with the responsibility of coming up with strategies on how to make the party more attractive to the electorate. At the end of its assignment, the committee, which was headed by former Minister of Information, Prof Jerry Gana, among other things, recommended collaboration between the PDP and other political parties in prosecuting the next general election.
Apparently, building on that recommendation, the PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus earlier in the year, inaugurated a Contact and Mobilisation Committee headed by former Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State. It was the Imoke Committee that eventually sealed the deal with other opposition political parties, resulting in the formation of CUPP. For the PDP, the lines seem to be falling in pleasantly at the moment as it has been the major beneficiary in the ongoing realignment in the polity in the run-up to the next general elections.
Indeed, recently, Governors Samuel Ortom, Abdulfatah Ahmed and Aminu Tambuwal of Benue, Kwara and Sokoto states respectively, with their supporters, had dumped the APC for the opposition party. The Senate President Bukola Saraki; former governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso; former PDP National Chairman, Senator Barnabas Gemade, as well as 13 other serving senators and 32 members of the House of Representatives in the penultimate week defected to the PDP.
A PDP chieftain in Adamawa State, Dr Umar Ardo, told Sunday Sun that the recent political realignment has given the opposition party a big boost for the 2019 general elections.
However, Ardo admitted that the influx of new members into the PDP may cause some ripples in some of the state chapters, but noted that such crises would not affect the party’s chances in the next election.
He said: “It will make the party to be psychological prepared for the election and make the APC psychological defeated. Definitely, there is going to be problems, but the party is prepared to manage it; because if you remember, the party held a meeting of the national and states, leadership three weeks ago and formulated a formula. Definitely, there may be problems, but it will not be a fundamental one that will make the party lose the election.
On the flipside, the defection of the former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio to the APC last Wednesday is perceived in several quarters as a big blow to the opposition party.
Akpabio, who until his defection was the leader of the PDP caucus in the Senate, was one of the backbones of the party in the South-South.
Regardless, former Minister of Works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe said that the exit of the former Senate Minority Leader from the PDP will not hurt the party so much, noting that Governor Emmanuel Udom is the man in charge in Akwa Ibom State.
According to him, “things will settle down in another three months. It is part of national growth. The governor (Udom) is in charge. The governor is much more in control than him Akpabio now. It is only the governor that will defect that one will be worried.”
No doubt, the CUPP and the recent realignment in the polity have given to the PDP some mileage in the forthcoming elections. But these are not without some challenges.
Expectedly, the influx of top shots of the APC into the PDP has raised the stakes in the contest for the opposition party tickets for various positions.
In a bid to accommodate all interest groups, the party has come up with a power sharing formula for both the old and new members.
However, amidst growing concerns, in a bid to woo the members of the ruling party into the PDP, the leadership may have made some concession to them in respect of nomination for the 2019 polls, but the party said there is cause for alarm.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP said that it has noted all the concerns and would ensure that none of its members is shortchanged, noting that it has learnt valuable lessons from its past.
“Our great party has now, more than ever before, become a centre of the new patriotic and broadbased engagements by overwhelming majority of Nigerians, across board, in the renewed democratic realignment that places priority on rescuing our nation from the misrule of President Muhammadu Buhari and his anti-people All Progressives Congress (APC).
“Whereas the APC has the colossal misfortune of being stuck with a very unpopular and unimpressive presidential candidate, who has brought unpardonable pain and anguish to millions of innocent citizens, the PDP remains open, as the only dependable platform for all Nigerians, across board, to democratically and transparently coalesce and throw up that credible pan-Nigerian President and a government of national unity to move our nation out of the woods which we have been plunged by the dysfunctional APC.
“The PDP, therefore, urges all members to join forces with millions of compatriots who are already rallying on our rebranded platform to achieve this collective quest, which has become to them, a national emergency, come 2019.
“The repositioned PDP has amply learnt from the past. All members must, therefore, dispel every fear in relation to control of our structure as well as processes for selection of candidates for election, especially on the choice of our presidential candidate, as such will be handled with the strictest adherence to the principles of internal democracy and zero tolerance for imposition,” Ologbondiyan stated.
Also Ogunlewe told Sunday Sun that there is no point for any PDP member to be complaining about people coming into the party, stating that the more people defect to the opposition party before the next election, the better for it.
He said that instead of complaining of party structure being hijacked, the old members should go to the field to work.
“Everybody in Nigeria has the right to join a party of his choice to compete for positions. So, if you are very popular, why are you scared. Go and campaign, let the delegates decide. There should be total impartiality and internal democracy. If you are popular in your constituency, why are you bothered about who is moving in and who is leaving. The more the defections, the better for our party,” he said.
One position, which fear of the contest has heightened as a result of the formation of the CUPP and defection of APC bigwigs, is the presidential ticket of the opposition party.
Prior to the defections, former Vice President, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku; Ahmed Makarfi; former Minister of Special Duties, Taminu Turaki; former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido; Gombe State governor, Ibrahim Dakwambo and founder of Baze University, Senator Datti Ahmed had declared for the presidential race under the PDP. Others are former Minister of Education, Ibrahim Shekarau and former Sokoto State governor, Attahiru Bafarawa.
But the competition for the PDP presidential ticket is likely to become more stiff, as there are indications that Alhaji Tambuwal and Alhaji Kwankwaso may join the contest soon. The Senate President, Saraki is also said to be interested in contesting for the 2019 presidential poll on the PDP platform.
Analysts say the way and manner the presidential primary will be conducted will make or mar the opposition party in the 2019 polls.
But Ardo is optimistic that the party would navigate through the process successfully.
According to him, “since all the presidential aspirants are northerners, Northern leaders are working towards getting them to put their house in order. They are talking to each and every one of them. Either they agree among themselves or they will be talked into stepping down.”
However, he warned that “no person, who has a criminal charge should be allowed to contest the PDP presidential primary. The only way the PDP can secure its participation in the election is to bring a candidate without any encumbrance. PDP must come up with a candidate without encumbrance; encumbrance in terms of health or criminal charges. That will prune down the number of contestants.”
CUPP and the Obasanjo factor
Although former Minister of External Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi, at the signing of the MoU between the PDP and the 38 other political parties, which gave birth to CUPP, had said that an MoU on how the joint presidential candidate of the group will emerge will be signed at a later date, party sources told Sunday Sun that the group may adopt whoever emerges as the presidential candidate of the PDP.
The implication is that other parties in the coalition will be very much interested in who emerges the presidential standard bearer of the major opposition party.
Then there is the former President Obasanjo’s factor as he had after a meeting with the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) recently pledged to collaborate with the opposition party to ensure that President Muhammadu Buhari does not return for a second term in 2019.
Pundits say Obasanjo would not just support any candidate the PDP nominates for the presidency, especially as that candidate may be the join candidate of the CUPP, a group he is very much involved in.
Last week, the former president was quoted in some national dailies to have said that God would not forgive him if he knowingly supports one of the aspirants gunning for the PDP presidential ticket.
Obasanjo’s comment is seen as a subtle message to the PDP about who should or should not get its presidential ticket.
This, no doubt, will put the opposition party in a dilemma, especially as the leadership had repeatedly assured its members that there would be a level playing field for all aspirants for the various positions, including the presidential ticket, in next year’s election.
Therefore, as it is, the challenge before the PDP is to effectively manage the defections into its fold so that it does not become counterproductive.
Besides, it is also imperative for the opposition party to ensure that it brings to the field a candidate that will be acceptable to its partners in CUPP, and to be sure the exercise does not cause disaffection within its ranks.