After eight years of being out of power, the internal security failures of the Buhari administration and the inability of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to coalesce a workable party structure has made the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) an option in the 2023 elections. The PDP now finds that it needs a compelling electoral offering that sets an agenda beyond simply being “not-APC” and sell this to a wary electorate. It must also balance massively powerful ethno-religious, business, international and similar blocs, which can make or break any national political party. The most recent attempt at this balancing act has been a consensus grouping that aims at backing a single candidate from northern Nigeria in the contest for the PDP flag.
The northern Nigerian candidates around whom a consensus is sought are mostly heavyweight has-beens comprising Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President; Bukola Saraki, the former Senate President; and Aminu Tambuwal, former Speaker and incumbent governor of Sokoto State. Bringing up the quartet is Mohammed Hayatu-Deen, a banker who has not held any elective posts prior to now.
The most formidable candidate is, of course, Atiku Abubakar, who has already run the country as Olusegun Obasanjo’s deputy from 1999 to 2003 and is now seeking to run it again as helmsman. Being a PDP operative for so long, apart from a brief stint at the APC, Atiku presents a national figure with numerous businesses and socio-political networks he has inherited and assiduously curated alongside a formidable war chest that has dispensed largesse in four failed bids for the presidency and counting. Atiku is also a recognisable brand to the regular Nigerian voter, largely because former President Obasanjo, more than anyone else apart from Nuhu Ribadu, has framed him as being a fantastically corrupt public official and this perception is unlikely to change. Further, in a political terrain where history is routinely pressed to service, Atiku’s failure to go all the way with his self-orchestrated 2003 PDP Convention coup against Olusegun Obasanjo is held against him; most pundits believe his moment of political greatness passed nearly two decades ago. Nigeria is a country where failed coup plotters are seldom forgiven and are always tainted with the patina of bad luck. Nonetheless, there are many who will bet on him.
Bukola Saraki, a banker before his foray into politics, presents an interesting northern Nigerian candidature around whom a consensus can be built at a time when “It’s the economy, stupid” rings true. The Nigerian economy is in shambles largely because of the Buhari administration’s pig-headed defence of the Naira without rationale, policy inconsistencies and routine flip flops from the central bank, and subpar control by the Ministry of Finance. Having been governor of Kwara State, Saraki has sub-national administrative bona fides useful in tempering the big picture view from Aso Rock. He is also young and has assiduously cultivated this cachet as a 57-year-old. Nonetheless, Saraki’s experience is at a bank owned by his late father in what smacks of nepotism especially when Saraki brutally dismantled his own father’s political machinery on which he rode to power in Kwara State. Saraki, ever smiling, is largely seen in terms of an Oedipus complex, which is not helped by revelations from the EFCC that the Board of Société Générale Bank, chaired by his father, on which he sat, approved unsecured loans of N210,000,000 and N40,000,000 to the Kwara State PDP, as well as charges relating to a $35,000,000 transfer and much else in 2003. Saraki was protected by immunity at the time and could not be prosecuted. Nonetheless, as recently as July 2021, he was arrested by the EFCC on alleged theft and laundering of public funds using a network of cronies and proxy companies. He was an able Senate President but even in that period, there were contentions around incorrect assets declaration. Saraki holds British citizenship, dual to his Nigerian one. While not constitutionally barred from vying for office, a dual citizen sitting over the political, defence and security architecture of Nigeria as President, Commander-in-Chief, will likely be of concern to regular Nigerians. Further, in a consensus arrangement where trust is a premium, and loyalty is of the highest value, the other candidates in the consensus coalition may not quickly forget Saraki’s shenanigan of outwitting the APC and even President Buhari to “steal” the senate presidency contrary to party arrangement.
The current governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, who emerged as Speaker in 2011, is without a doubt an extremely intelligent person who will vie with Saraki, broad smile for broad smile, as a representative of the youth in a political clime that has been shaped drastically by youth unrest, from #OccupyNigeria to #EndSARS. As Speaker, he cut a figure of principled dissidence when he dumped the PDP—under whose flag he now hopes to be president—for the governing APC, earning national sympathy when the IG of Police ill-advisedly withdrew his security for cross carpeting. An avid political survivor, Tambuwal has been a member of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), defecting to the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) a few months to the 2007 general elections; on being denied a ticket there, he returned to the ANPP, before finally heading to the PDP’s stables on which platform he became Speaker. Tambuwal dumped the PDP just before the 2015 elections and was elected governor under the APC before defecting to the PDP, once again, in 2018. His success is evident in his continued relevance and ambition even though he has been dogged with corruption allegations including a 2013 multibillion naira car purchase scandal where fronts were used to buy 400 official vehicles for House of Representatives members; in 2017, he tangoed with the EFCC over the “pardoning” of aides involved in a N15b fraud case, and, as recently as two weeks ago, Tambuwal was debunking the alleged diversion of N189b belonging to the Sokoto State government over a six-year period. These allegations were revealed in a leaked EFCC interim intelligence report from September 2021.
Mohammed Hayatu-Deen is quite difficult to assess as, having had no public sector experience, he has no record of official corruption which provides a good benchmark to evaluate the consensus candidates. An economist known mostly for his having been the CEO of the defunct FSB International Bank (now Fidelity Bank), he is a technocrat who started out at the Northern Nigeria Development Company (NNDC). With a B.Sc. in Economics from Ahmadu Bello University, Hayatu-Deen has spent his entire career in the private sector as an investment banker. His stint at the FSB International Bank was a successful salvage operation of the formerly government-owned Federal Mortgage Bank, restructuring it from a post office saving bank into a foremost commercial bank. His manifesto relies strongly on these credentials.
The PDP is presented a unique opportunity to return to power in Nigeria after being kicked out of office by the Nigerian people eight years ago but, if it is to succeed in this, it must do more than present itself as merely being “not-APC”. The outsize failings of the APC government, which is the only reason why the PDP is a viable alternative, are closely rooted in its successfully presenting itself in stark “anyone-but-PDP” terms. Therefore, the PDP, in the 2023 elections, must remember very well how regular people voted against it in principle and learn great lessons from its time in Siberia. The principal lesson is, in 2023, it will not be about social and infrastructural promises, but rather radical and well thought out economic plans that reverse the current reality. This is tough enough. Secondly, the PDP must perish the thought of a 2023 victory hinged on protest votes, because lightning does not strike the same spot twice; 2023 is definitely not 2015. Lastly, it will not return to power by fielding the suspiciously or demonstrably corrupt precisely because it is the issue of corruption, rightly or wrongly, that framed the PDP’s disastrous outing at the 2015 general elections and, secondly, candidates that lack conviction and personally stand for nothing will not be rewarded by the electorate this time as was done to the entire APC roster in 2015. The reality is that the PDP is not the only viable opposition party and both it and the APC may be in for unpleasant surprises come February next year.
In considering the four horsemen of northern consensus, Hayatu-Deen alone lacks the political baggage and the imprimatur of corruption; he seems to have a firm grasp of economics and international finance beyond Atiku Abubakar, who as Vice President, chaired the National Economic Council. He also beats Saraki and Tambuwal in all matrices except youth (he is 69), but this can be mitigated if an economic policy that can unlock opportunity for the youth is articulated with their crucial buy-in. Being from Borno State, he has stressed that national healing and reconciliation of the various groups across Nigeria is the first step to ensuring return to enduring peace and security. In all this, Hayatu-Deen is the dark horse of a possible consensus if he can take the field. There is, of course no certainty that any of northern consensus candidates will emerge from jockeying for the PDP flag alongside other geopolitical consensuses. But this does not change the lessons that the PDP will have to demonstrate they have learned, and fast, if the party is to stand a chance in the 2023 polls.
Richard Ali, an Abuja-based lawyer, is a public affairs analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]