Tinubu, Atiku, Saraki And Makarfi’s PDP: The Hazy Political Romance

CHIBUZO UKAIBE, captures the evolving intrigues surrounding the political schemings ahead of the 2019 general election.

Prospects of a new political party emerging ahead of 2019 has been rife. It had been a long held prediction (shortly after the 2015 general election) that a third force would rise from an inevitable crisis of confidence within the two leading parties.

As it stands, the perceptible fragile cohesion within the All Progressives Congress (APC) on the one hand, and the raging national leadership crisis within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on the other, has continued to give fillip to the forecast.

With former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, both national leaders of APC, seemingly distant from the intricate runnings of the party, the chasm within is getting somewhat wider.

For Tinubu, his unfortunate outings in the National Assembly leadership saga, Kogi State governorship election, and recently Ondo State, has seen him further lose grip of a party which he was very pivotal to its formation.

More so, in the face of his tussle with forces within the APC, the shocking support he enjoyed from some vocal PDP members in the South-west, like the Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose and former spokesman of President Goodluck Jonathan’s 2015 presidential campaign, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, raised eye brows in political circles.

In the case of Atiku, his perceived ambition ahead of 2019, appears to be putting him at cross purposes with interests within the APC. This had culminated in his recent face off with the Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasiru el-Rufai, a fracas which revolves around the 2019  candidacy of the party.

Other party stalwarts, like former governors of Kano State, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and former governor of Sokoto State, Sen Aliyu Wamakko, have also not had it easy. They appear to been relegated, measurably, in the scheme of things in the party.

Interestingly, things appear to be looking up for the once embattled Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, who had had to experience the wrath of some interests in the party for daring to go against a preferred candidate for the senate leadership.

But after months of grueling legal trials, Saraki, appears to have found some reprieve in the face of what appears to be a new found romance with the presidency.

The conflagration in PDP further accentuates the notion of the emergence of a new party, analysts opine.

As the feisty leadership tussle between Sen Ahmed Makarfi-led camp and Sen Ali Modu Sheriff’s group continues to plunge the former ruling party deeper into self-destruct mode, talks of the former abandoning what’s left of PDP remains rife.

Makarfi’s PDP had set up a strategic committee, whose most pronounced assignment is to facilitate an alliance with political groups and interests outside the party.

As much as this move reinforced talks of the intra party alliance or emergence of the new party, Sheriff’s camp considers the possible exodus of their estranged party members as good riddance.

Both camps, in the early stages of the leadership tussle, had accused each other of working for interests within the ruling APC. While Sheriff accused Makarfi group of working for the emergence of an APC chieftain as PDP’s presidential candidate in 2019, the later had in turn accused the former of acting the script of the APC to destroy the PDP.

Nevertheless, as far as the projections go, 2017 is said to have been set for the unveiling of the anticipated party, just as some key states have already been mapped out for the taking.

But, for watchers of the prospective realignments, the outcome of recent Ondo State governorship election was instructive.

For PDP, some analysts posit that it’s defeat, particularly for a state it controls, put to question its ability to win future major elections, especially in its stronghold, causing some doubt as to the party’s electoral might.

Other analysts posit that the victory of APC’s candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu, without the support of Tinubu and his allies, in the South-west, his stronghold, is a strong signal ahead of 2019.

Tinubu, who had backed Segun Abrahams ahead of the APC primaries, fell out with the party’s leadership in Abuja over the emergence of Akeredolu as candidate of the party.

Faulting the primaries that produced the APC candidate, the former governor of Lagos State, had called for the resignation of the national chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, a call which enjoyed the support of Atiku Abubakar.

Tinubu was however alleged to have supported the Alliance for Democracy (AD) candidate, Olusola Oke, who decamped from the APC in protest of Akeredolu’s candidacy.

For some pundits, APC’s victory in Ondo State, without Tinubu’s contribution, smacked of a tactical demystification of the former Lagos State governor, particularly in his political enclave.

What’s more, the refusal of Akeredolu to acknowledge, Tinubu, (his estranged political benefactor during the last guber election four years ago) in his victory speech was as instructive as it was suggestive that the influence of the Asiwaju has been whittled down.

Still, less than 24 hours after the APC national leader congratulated Akeredolu on his victory, the presidency issued a statement, praising Tinubu’s influence in the party calling him a “priceless asset” to the party.

A statement by senior special assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, dispelled insinuations that there was rift between Buhari and Tinubu, adding that they were constantly in touch all through the period of the guber polls.

The statement further added that insinuations that the President and party machinery were working to destroy Tinubu politically were false, just as they exonerated him of allegations that he worked against APC in Ondo.

Already the praise showered on Tinubu has been interpreted differently. While some analysts perceive the accolades showered on the former governor as an vista to salvage what is left of his ego, others believe that the presidency was mindful of the damage he could cause the party if he is allowed to leave.

While talks of the new party involving Tinubu, Atiku and Makarfi’s PDP won’t peter out, the former governor last week, attempted to shut down the speculations.

From his Twitter handle, @AsiwajuTinubu, the former governor said “This is a party I laboured with others to build. We would not abandon it for another. Millions of Nigerians who voted are watching and praying.

“This government, APC, is for the betterment of the people and the national purpose is bigger and more important than any individual’s desires.”

Earlier, Atiku had repeatedly denied planning to either leave APC or form a new party ahead of 2019. He had reaffirmed his pledge to the APC.

While the Makarfi-led group is yet to comment on the issue, the Board of Trustees (BoT) Chairman of PDP, Senator Walid Jibrin, last week declared that their party was not in talks with Tinubu and others over the formation of a new party.

Jibrin stressed that PDP under the leadership of Sen Ahmed Makarfi, never considered forging an alliance with Tinubu and other APC chieftains.

In statement in Abuja last Tuesday, Jibrin said, “I salute Tinubu’s courage for coming out to speak frankly about his position regarding this unfounded rumour and for setting the record straight.

“In Tinubu’s own reaction denouncing the report, he condemned the PDP and I can’t understand why anybody would think that we are going to form a new party with somebody who is condemning us.

“The PDP is a golden name, a party formed by respectable and dignified Nigerians dead and alive, like Alex Ekwueme, Jerry Gana, Solomon Lar, Adamu Ciroma, Aminu Wali, Sule Lamido and many others.

“It is therefore ridiculous to think that anyone would abandon a well organised party like the PDP and join another party. There is nothing wrong with the PDP, except for some characters within the party”.

While most political watchers consider the denials cosmetic, the new found romance between the Presidency and Saraki remains significant.

A recent fence-mending move by the APC governor’s, under the leadership of the Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha and series of Saraki’s visits to Aso Villa, had culminated in a warm reception for the senate president at the APC national secretariat last Wednesday’s when he led the Senate Caucus of the party to meet the party’s National Working Committee, (NWC).

The NWC had initially backed actions to remove him from office for first going against the “party’s choice” for senate presidency and subsequently humiliating the party by forging an alliance with PDP senators and allowing them have the deputy senate president’s seat.

Interestingly, Tinubu had been at the fore against Saraki’s senate presidency, just as senators loyal to him, had made the upper chamber almost unbearable for the former Kwara State governor.

Party source told Leadership Weekend that the presidency and the party is hoping to leverage on the support of all its elected and appointed members across to consolidate ahead of 2019, hence the “drive to ensure we are on same page with the federal lawmakers”.

But pundits await to see how the new romance between Saraki and the APC would affect the PDP senators, who have remained his major support base.

Evidently, the senate president could not risk losing that base, hence his hurried attempt to mend fences with them after they staged a walk out during plenary over handling of the defection of an Ondo State Sen. Yele Omogunwa, to the APC.

The Ondo State guber has put some issues in perspective, yet, the outcome of the legal tussle over the leadership in PDP would be another major decider on whether an alliance would be formed or a new party would be floated all together.

While the outcome of the rerun polls would boost PDP’s electoral confidence, the permutations, ahead of the court judgements on the leadership crisis, could see Makarfi leaving the party for a new party, if they lose, or see PDP forge a new alliance based on the influx of new members.

It might still be early days yet as 2019 is still about 900 days away, but in political cycles, time is never enough when defining moves are inevitable.

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