“THE only thing that can make me step down is death. If I am alive, we will run this thing. We will hold the primary on May 28 and 29.”
The statement was made by Rivers State governor Nyesom Wike in a BBC Pidgin interview that was aired on April 22.
Wike was reacting to moves by some Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stakeholders to select the party’s presidential flagbearer for the 2023 general elections through a consensus arrangement.
Moves for a consensus candidate and the debate over zoning of the presidential ticket are thorny issues that PDP leaders are trying to resolve in the build up to the 2023 elections.
For the consensus arrangement to work, other aspirants would, voluntarily, step down for the candidate endorsed by the party.
Section 84(9) of the Electoral Act stipulated that “A political party that adopts a consensus candidate shall secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the position, indicating their voluntary withdrawal from the race and their endorsement of the consensus candidate.”
But even as those championing the consensus arrangement are going ahead with consultations, Wike has made it clear that he will not be stepping down for anybody.
“Why will I step down for anybody? If you want to do consensus, there must be equity and fairness. Are the hands of those demanding consensus clean? People talking about consensus are the ones running the election. Is it the party’s decision? It is not the party that is talking,” he added in the BBC Pidgin interview.
Wike went ahead to describe the proposed consensus arrangement as “a scam”.
The Rivers state governor’s stance indicates that it may not be possible for the PDP to meet up with the requirements of Section 84(9) of the Electoral Act. Wike is not ready to submit any written document to indicate his consent to step down for any consensus candidate.
But unfolding developments in the PDP show that Wike is not the only presidential aspirant who is opposed to the consensus arrangement.
As of April 20, a total of 17 aspirants have submitted expression of interest and nomination forms for the PDP presidential ticket and, therefore, are set to contest the party’s primary election.
The aspirants are Vice President Atiku Abubakar; a former Senate President Bukola Saraki; Sokoto State Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed; Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, an Investment banker Mohammed Hayatu-Deen; a pharmacist Sam Ohuabunwa and a former Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly Cosmos Ndukwe.
Others are Charles Ugwu; a female aspirant Tareila Diana; a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation Anyim Pius Anyim; Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel; a former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi; a former Ekiti State governor Ayodele Fayose; a United States-based medical practitioner, Nwachukwu Anakwenze and media mogul Dele Momodu.
The PDP had initially fixed April 20 as deadline for the submission of forms but the deadline was extended to April 25.
Saraki, Mohammed, Tambuwal initiated consensus arrangement
However, even while the sale of expression of interest and nomination forms was still ongoing, and with the party yet to take a final decision on zoning of the presidential ticket, some PDP presidential aspirants came together to engage in consultations towards agreeing on a consensus candidate.
The PDP presidential aspirants involved in the consensus consultations are Saraki, Bauchi and Sokoto governors Mohammed and Tambuwal, and Hayatu-Deen.
It was unclear whether the Iyorchia Ayu-led PDP national leadesrhip endorsed the move but the idea behind the consultations was that, at the end of the day, one of the aspirants will be selected as the party’s consensus presidential candidate.
Towards actualising the consensus plan, Saraki, Mohammed, Tambuwal and Hayatu-Deen embarked on consultations with party stakeholders across the country, preaching the need for the PDP to unite around a particular aspirant ahead of the general elections.
At a meeting with Benue State governor Samuel Ortom, who also heads the PDP presidential election zoning committee, in Makurdi on March 28, Saraki made a case for the adoption of the consensus option.
“We should come together and find a consensus. We are at a defining moment in the history of this country. We are committed to finding someone to unite us and reduce rancour,” the former Senate president said.
Saraki, Mohammed emerge consensus candidates
The result of the consensus consultations embarked on by the four PDP presidential aspirants (Saraki, Mohammed, Tambuwal and Hayatu-Deen) emerged on April 22.
A group of Northern elders led by a former military Head of State Ibrahim Babangida announced that Saraki and Bauchi State governor Bala Mohammed have been selected as Northern consensus candidates.
“For the purpose of this exercise, it is hereby resolved that Bala Mohammad from the North-East and Bukola Saraki from the North-Central be presented as the Northern consensus candidates for the moment,” a former Vice Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Ango Abdullahi, a professor, said, reading from a communique which announced the emergence of the duo as consensus candidates.
The communique explained that four “major presidential aspirants in the PDP” had met and decided to limit the number of aspirants from the North by forming a consensus among themselves. The candidates that presented themselves for the consensus, according to the communique, are Tambuwal, Mohammed, Saraki and Hayatu-Deen.
The communique added that all the four aspirants visited Babangida and gave him the mandate to lead the process for a consensus and agreed to abide by the outcome of the decision.
The communique further disclosed that Babangida encouraged the aspirants to agree within themselves and come up with one candidate. But the aspirants reported back to Babangida after some days and asked him to go ahead and pick one out of the four.
The communique explained that the selection of the consensus candidates was arrived at after a process that involved consideration of criteria such as ‘candidates assessment’, ‘zonal assessment’ and ‘PDP previous experiences’.
The communique noted that, in addition to scoring better points on candidates assessment and zonal assessment, Saraki and Mohammed were endorsed because their zones (North-Central and North-East) deserve to produce the president in 2023, having not had the opportunity since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999.
Consensus arrangement becomes counter-productive
But, rather than uniting the PDP and providing the foundation for a rancour-free primary election, the consensus arrangement has resulted in a fresh crisis in the party. The outcome of the consensus arrangement has been rejected by other presidential candidates and other stakeholders.
Tambuwal, who was part of the consultations, rejected the outcome.
He dismissed reports that Saraki and Mohammed emerged as consensus candidates following the consultations among the four presidential aspirants that initiated the process (Saraki, Mohammed, Tambuwal and Hayatu-Deen.)
“The correct situation is that the team met on Wednesday 20th April, 2022, at Bauchi Governor’s lodge in Abuja and had a review meeting; and, unanimously agreed that the consensus arrangement was not working,” Tambuwal said in a statement released by the Director of the Tambuwal Campaign Organisation (TCO), Nicholas Msheliza.
The Sokoto governor said he will go ahead with his presidential ambition.
Atiku is not bound by consensus arrangement – Campaign organisation
A leading contender for the PDP presidential ticket, Atiku Abubakar, the party’s presidential flagbearer in 2019, is from the North-East. The PDP Northern elders selected Mohammed as a consensus candidate from the zone.
Atiku’s campaign organisation was quick to distance the former vice president from the consensus arrangement.
Raymond Dokpesi, Chairman of DAAR Communications and Chairman of the Atiku campaign organisation – The Technical Committee for the Actualization of Atiku Abubakar’s Presidency in 2023 – in a statement released on April 23, said the former vice president was not bound by the consensus arrangement.
“Atiku Abubakar was never a part of this purported consensus arrangement, neither did he at any time nor in any place, subject himself to any purported consensus process. Therefore, Atiku Abubakar is not bound by any of the recommendations and conclusions of the purported report,” Dokpesi said.
The consensus arrangement was also rejected by a group of Northern PDP leaders, under the aegis of Stakeholders from the 19 Northern States in PDP.
The group, led by a former Jigawa State governor Sule Lamido, in a statement released on April 23, said the selection of Saraki and Mohammed as consensus candidates “was not the position of the PDP members in the North”.
The stakeholders described the development as a calculated attempt to damage the fortunes of Northern aspirants.
Party leadership not involved in consensus arrangement – PDP chairman’s spokesman
Reactions trailing the moves for a consensus candidate indicate that the PDP is heading for a contentious presidential primary election that may undermine the party’s chances in the general elections, if not well managed.
After electing a new set of national officers in a peaceful national convention in October 2021, the PDP is now facing a new crisis over the process of selecting its presidential candidate.
The party will still have to decide whether or not to zone its presidential ticket. The zoning committee, headed by Benue governor Ortom, reportedly recommended jettisoning zoning and throwing the contest open to aspirants from all zones.
Moves by some Northern stakeholders to produce a consensus candidate suggests that the North is not ready to listen to calls that the presidency should go the South in 2023.
Spokesman of the PDP, National Publicity Secretary Debo Ologunagba did not respond when The ICIR reached out to him for comments concerning the latest crisis in the party over the consensus arrangement.
However, Simon Imobo-Tswam, spokesman of the national chairman of the PDP, in an interview with The ICIR on April 23 noted that the Iyorchia Ayu-led party leadership was not involved in the controversial consensus arrangement.
Responding to questions concerning the consensus arrangement, Imobo-Tswam said, “It is not a party thing. The aspirants are making their own arrangements, they want to get somebody they can present to Nigerians.”
He stressed that the PDP was committed to providing a level playing field for all aspirants.
“The party has said it is giving every aspirant a level playing field. It can’t be giving contestants a level playing field and at the same time be organizing consensus for them. They are doing this on their own.”