FEATURE ARTICLE

Ehichioya EzomonSunday, November 12, 2017
[email protected]
Lagos, Nigeria

ATIKU'S VIABLE PATH TO 2019 PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST


he calls for former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to return to the Peoples Democratic Party, "to pick its ticket" to contest for the office of the President in 2019, are getting uproarious by the day. The urgent solicitation is buoyed by Atiku's recent lamentation of being marginalised by the ruling All Progressives Congress, which he and other PDP chieftains helped, with their defections, to nurture into a formidable opposition party.

In an interview on the Hausa Service of the Voice of America (VOA), Atiku said: "Honestly speaking, I'm still a member of the APC; I was part of all the processes, including campaigns until success was achieved.

"But sadly, soon after the formation of government, I was sidelined. I have no any relationship with the government; I've not been contacted even once to comment on anything and in turn, I maintained my distance. They used our money and influence to get to where they're but three years down the line, this is where we are."

This fuelled speculations that he was on his way out of the APC. Indeed, in late September, while defecting to the PDP along with his alleged "over 20,000 supporters across Kano," a former member of the House of Representatives, Bala Baiko, said that Atiku was going back to the PDP, as "all the plans have been concluded." That claim was never refuted.

Since then, Atiku's return to his "original base" has become a battle cry for the hierarchy of the PDP, his supporters, allies, admirers and sympathisers across the states, the latest coming from the party's chapter of his homestead of Adamawa, led by the state chairman, Shehu Tahir.

Urging stakeholders to prevail on the Wazirin Adamawa and others to reconsider their decision and return to the party, Tahir said: "It is not a wise decision for Atiku to abandon the house he helped to build; so, we want him back because the party needs him now to continue from where he stopped."

Interestingly, these callers are dangling the PDP presidential ticket as a bait for Atiku's return to the party, notwithstanding that the former vice president left for the APC in hunt for the elusive ticket, and thus swelled the membership of the fledgling APC to cruise to victory in the 2015 general elections.

However, of the many members angling for his return to the PDP, only Senator Walid Jibrin, chairman, Board of Trustees of the party, has the temerity to tell Atiku the home truth: There's no automatic presidential ticket for him.

Atiku's likelihood of securing the ticket at the primaries is remote, given the power play among the heavyweights that recently pulled the PDP from the edge of the precipice, while he stood aloof. Thus, he cannot be a major beneficiary of the titanic struggle unless, of course, he was working behind the scenes to resolve the party's factional crisis that ended at the Supreme Court.

In that case, he will have to do battle with "PDP constants." First and foremost is Senator Ahmed Makarfi, former governor of Kaduna State, who was the face of the majority faction of a divided PDP, and who claimed the trophy of Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee, ahead of the December national convention. Next is Alhaji Sule Lamido, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Governor of Jigawa State, who has declared his aspiration for the presidency.

To polity watchers, the above synopsis boils down to Atiku wanting to reap where he did not sow, even though those clamouring for his return to the PDP always justify their stand on his being a foundation member of the party, which, truly, he contributed to its founding, and became the pioneer vice president of the administration it formed in 1999.

But recall that before the expiration of his second term as vice president, Atiku, in 2006, defected from the PDP to the opposition Action Congress (AC), under which he contested the 2007 presidential poll, coming third behind the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua of the PDP and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).

In 2009, Atiku returned to the PDP from which he again defected to the the newly-formed APC in the run-up to the 2015 elections, contested in the party's presidential primaries, and came third after Gen. Buhari and Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, former governor of Kano State.

Unlike when Atiku volitionally switched political parties, he's today under intense persuasion, pressure, cajoling and even blackmail by his supporters and PDP members to return to the opposition party, "to pick its ticket," which, from all permutations, is likely unfeasible.

Except on one condition: All the PDP top shots, who defected along with Atiku to the APC in 2014/2015, would return to the party, and line behind him at the primaries. Which, once more, is not possible, as some of those initial defectors have consolidated their positions in the APC.

So, two options are open to Atiku. One, remain in the APC and contest the primaries with President Buhari, if he's gunning for a second term in office. Or pray that the president doesn't run, and in that case stake out his chances with other aspirants that are getting into the double digits.

All said, Atiku's surest bet to being on the presidential ballot in 2019 is to stand on the platform of a neutral political party, outside of the mainstream APC and PDP. Or better still, contest as an Independent candidate (if constitutionally approved), considering his acclaimed nationwide connections, grassroots mobilisation and a war chest to prosecute his desire.

Undoubtedly, these are no easy contemplations, which, perhaps, underscores Atiku's slow or delayed response to throw his hat into the ring, once again!

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