Facts emerged on Saturday night that northern elders were behind the emergence of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Atiku won the primary by 371 votes to defeat his closest challenger, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, who poled 237 votes, while a former President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, scored 70 votes.
Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State got 38 votes; Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, scored 20 votes; a former Senate President, Pius Anyim, got 14 votes, while a former President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Sam Ohuabunwa, polled only one vote.
The northern elders’ intervention was said to have led to the withdrawal of the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, and a former Managing Director of FSB International Bank, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen, from the race.
The leaders met with the aspirants from the northern part of the country on Friday night.
Led by a former National Security Adviser, Gen Aliyu Gusau (retd.), and a former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, the leaders went into the crucial meeting to try and reduce the number of northern aspirants to one.
It was learnt that the northern leaders insisted that a particular candidate from the southern part of the country should not be allowed to win the election.
A source privy to the meeting told one of our correspondents that the aspirants from the North were asked to step down for Atiku, who they considered as having national spread more than the others.
It was gathered that Gusau, who was also in Port Harcourt, Rivers State four years ago when Atiku was elected as the party’s presidential candidate, told the aspirants that he was speaking the minds of the entire northern leaders.
The source, who is also a former national chairman of the PDP, said, “The northern leaders felt that Atiku would be better in managing the country and that there is nothing the ruling party or the Federal Government would say about him that had not been said.
“They were of the opinion that no anti-corruption agency will harass him anymore and that he also has national spread.”
It was also gathered that Hayatu-Deen agreed to step down after the meeting, but Tambuwal and others said they would consider it.
“Tambuwal said he would speak at the convention ground, while others said they would speak to their delegates on what to do,” the source added.
Immediately after Tambuwal announced his withdrawal, Atiku took to his Twitter handle to hail the decision.
He also said he was looking forward to working with the former Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Atiku tweeted: “Thank you, H.E @AWTambuwal, for your spirited campaign. I look forward to working with you as we unite our party and our country.”
The announcement was said to have come as a shock to Wike, who was a solid supporter of Tambuwal when the latter vied for the same ticket in 2019. The outcome of the 2019 national convention which was hosted in Port Harcourt, was said to have irked the governor, who allegedly felt that a former National Chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, ought to have helped swayed in favour of his friend, Tambuwal.
The unresolved crisis between Wike and Secondus as a result of the 2019 convention was said to have resulted in the removal of the former national chairman of the party, which was engineered by the governor.
A source close to the party’s top hierarchy said, “It is better we have someone like Atiku.
“He is calm and has listening ears. He is experienced and has his supporters everywhere in the country. That’s why we gave him the ticket.”
I will unify Nigeria, says PDP candidate
In his acceptance speech after he was pronounced as the PDP candidate by the Chairman of the Convention Planning Committee, Senator David Mark, Atiku extended a hand of fellowship to the defeated aspirants and pledged to work with them to ensure victory for the party.
He described the primary as one of the freest elections to be conducted by the party, saying, “Today marks another milestone in the process to consolidate our democratic gains.”
Atiku said if elected President, he would unify the country, deal with insecurity and revamp the economy.
He accused the All Progressives Congress government of polarising the country, stating, “I pledge to unify the country that is why I refer to myself as a unifier. Unity is very important because the government of the APC has disunited Nigerians completely.”
Race for VP slot begins
Meanwhile, the race for who will be Atiku’s running mate has begun in earnest.
Investigations by Sunday PUNCH showed that prior to the primary on Saturday night, some of the governors of the party from the southern part of the country were working with the former Vice-President with the hope of becoming his running mate.
Those being touted as possible running mates are Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa; his Akwa Ibom State counterpart, Emmanuel; and Wike.
Before his sudden defection from the PDP to the Labour Party, a former governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi, was said to be in the running for the vice-presidential slot.
However, skirmishes by some of the governors from the South-South were said to have frustrated Obi out of the party.
A top source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Atiku and the national leadership of the party would consider many factors before deciding on who would be his running mate.
One of the factors was said to be the availability of funds for the campaign.
EFCC storms venue to prevent vote-buying
Delegates to the PDP presidential primary had earlier on Saturday outsmarted operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, who were deployed in the venue to prevent vote-buying.
Sunday PUNCH observed that operatives of the EFCC, numbering over 20, stormed the venue of the convention at the MKO Abiola Stadium in Abuja, apparently to prevent the buying and selling of votes.
The operatives, who wore wine jackets with the inscription: ‘EFCC’, were seen searching all the big bags that were brought into the venue. However, it could not be established if anything was found.
One of our correspondents witnessed some EFCC officials searching a matted woven bag, commonly called ‘Ghana Must Go’, only for them to see name tags and ballot papers inside.
In an interview with Sunday PUNCH, the spokesman for the EFCC, Mr Wilson Uwujaren, confirmed that the operatives were at the presidential primary election venue to monitor delegates’ inducement and financial malpractices.
“Our operatives are at the PDP presidential primary election at the MKO Abiola Stadium to monitor the exercise, and most especially, to check delegates’ inducement and other financial malpractices,” he said.
However, some delegates, who spoke to Sunday PUNCH on conditions of anonymity, mocked the anti-graft agency.
They said sharing of money was taking place at hotels and well guarded locations.
A delegate from Lagos stated, “Some of the aspirants are serving governors. They have governors’ lodges and have also lodged many of us in hotels, where money is being shared. We were flown in from different states. Do you think it is at the venue that we will be given money? The EFCC guys are just jokers.
“They are even wearing uniform (jackets)! Why didn’t they appear in mufti? I am sure they will not go to the APC primary. The serious aspirants have reached out to us and have done the needful.”
Another delegate from Oyo State said each of the delegates received between $10,000 and $20,000, adding that those from states that had no PDP governors were the ones really benefiting from the sharing of money.
“I am from Oyo State. We will vote for whoever Governor Seyi Makinde says we should vote for. We have already been settled and we were camped in hotels and many of us were denied access to aspirants. Delegates from states like Lagos, Osun, Kaduna and others that have no governor are the ones that are collecting money from all the aspirants. They can make as much as $30,000 from the different aspirants, because they are swing states,” he said.
Appalled by the monetisation of the process, one of the aspirants, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen, who is a former Managing Director of FSB International Bank, dropped out of the race on Saturday morning. He, however, promised not to dump the PDP.
In a statement titled, ‘Why I am stepping down as a presidential aspirant of the PDP’, the economist said he remained committed to the task of transforming Nigeria.
Hayatu-Deen reiterated his decision to join the presidential race, saying he “planned to make Nigeria the continental economic powerhouse.”
“It is, therefore, based on personal principles and with great humility that I have decided, after wide consultation, to withdraw from this contest, which has been obscenely monetised,” he said.