President Muhammadu Buhari, who has only just returned yesterday after over a hundred days of medical leave, is yet to declare his interest in seeking a second term of office.
The possibility of that happening cannot be ruled out as his loyalists and political associates have continued to fly that kite. But the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was ousted from power in 2015 by the All Progressives Congress (APC), has vowed to make a comeback in 2019.
The PDP’s resolve to upstage the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government was reinforced at its recent mini convention in Abuja where the party’s bigwigs vowed to dethrone the governing APC using the slogan: ‘Change the Change’.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had released the timetable for the 2019 elections in March this year, indicating that the next presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on February 16, 2019. If President Buhari decides to re-contest in 2019, he would certainly face gladiators from the main opposition PDP, many of whom have already started aligning their interests for the presidential ticket ahead of the elections. Daily Trust on Sunday takes a look at seven heavyweights from amongs which, the PDP’s champion may emerge to face President Buhari.
1, Ahmed Makarfi:
Within the eight years that Senator Ahmed Makarfi was governor of Kaduna State (from 1999 to 2007), he was credited with the ability to mitigate religious and ethnic violence in the state and has, through that feat, projected himself as an objective and fair-minded leader. His outstanding performance in the state’s infrastructural development with his focus on rural roads, rural water and rural electrification shot him into national limelight. Makarfi was a senator in 2007-15 where he chaired the committee on Appropriation. Though he lost the bid to return for a third time in 2015, his profile rose further when PDP governors and party members appointed him Chairman of the party at the Port Harcourt convention that held last year. Since then he had been battling for the position with former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff, until recently when the Supreme Court ruled in his favour.
Makarfi is expected to relinquish the PDP chairmanship, which has been zoned to the Southwest, but he is already a likely candidate for its presidential ticket, which was zoned to the North, especially given the trust key members of the party, especially serving governors, have in him. If he eventually secures the PDP ticket, he is likely to face President Buhari in the 2019 presidential race.
2, Sule Lamido:
Alhaji Sule Lamido, a former two-term governor of Jigawa State, has already commenced campaign for the PDP ticket ahead of 2019. In April last year, he reportedly told newsmen in his village, Bamaina in Birnin Kudu Local Government Area of the State, “If my party finds me worthy of the party’s presidential ticket to Serve Nigeria, I will thank God and oblige.”
Two weeks after he was released on bail from prison over allegations of incitement preferred against him by the Jigawa State Government in May this year, Lamido unveiled his 2019 presidential bid during a dinner for the 36 state chairmen of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held in Abuja. Lamido is one of the most experienced politicians in Nigeria today, having been a prominent PRP member of the House of Representatives in the second Republic and also serving as a leading member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the Third Republic. He was also Obasanjo’s Foreign Affairs Minister between 1999 and 2003.
As governor of Jigawa, he earned kudos for executing many worthwhile infrastructural projects including roads, airport and a state university.
Throughout his political career however, Lamido’s reputation is that of a political hothead who is known for controversies and ruffling political feathers.
3, Atiku Abubakar:
A former Vice President for eight years, Atiku Abubakar is a political heavyweight in Nigeria with considerable political machinery especially in Northern Nigeria at his service. Atiku, who never hides his presidential ambition, had contested the 2007 presidential election on the platform of the defunct Action Congress (AC) after realizing that he could not get the PDP ticket because of his frosty relationship with then President Obasanjo. Atiku also contested for the PDP presidential ticket against President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011. He again vied for APC’s ticket in 2014 against President Buhari, finishing third at the Lagos convention. The action, body language and utterances of the Waziri of Adamawa are enough to show that he is prepared to take another shot at the presidential race in 2019. In the past year Atiku became a vocal voice for restructuring, a move seen as a strategy to woo the South-South and South-East, regions where Buhari is less popular. In the North, Atiku’s strategy is to insist on a “power shift” to the North East. He has been saying since 1999 that the North West has marginalised the North East in top political offices. Those strategies are backed by very deep pockets and one of the greatest determinations in Nigerian politics. Atiku celebrated his 70th birthday recently and his renewed determination probably stems from a calculation that 2019, when he will be 72, is his last chance. However, Atiku’s political reputation over the years has been harmed by his frequent change of political parties in pursuit of his presidential ambition. In the run up to 2019, though still an APC stalwart, it is possible that he may again return to the PDP to jostle for its presidential ticket. He is already laying grounds for that because he recently attacked APC as a party without internal democracy.
4, Ayo Fayose:
Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose is largely seen as fearless as a result of his controversial comments and leadership style. His February 21, 2017 declaration of presidential ambition in 2019 was also seen by commentators as a joke, but he seems quite serious about it. Some insiders are already calling him the ‘Donald Trump of Nigeria.’ The 56-year-old Fayose, who is the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, expressed his interest in the presidency during a live television interview saying that in the near future, he will take over the mantle to lead the nation as his future was tied to the presidency. “It is not by power; it is destiny. I did not believe it when I became Ekiti governor. After eight years, I will be the vice president of Nigeria, even the President very soon,” he was quoted as saying.
The maverick governor may however have to contend with an array of other interests within the PDP, some of who are seen as having brighter chances.
He has also echoed his resolve to be president in May this year when he met with political office holders at Government House, Ado Ekiti. “I have a penchant for taking powers. That one in Buhari’s hand, I will take it. I’m going straight to that villa. I’m the next president. I want to be the next president of Nigeria. My own won’t be this change that has brought nothing, we are going to represent the people well and tell them the truth,” he said.
5, David Mark:
Senator David Mark, a retired military general, was military Governor of Niger State from 1984 to 1986. He later became a minister of Communications in 1987. He went on self-exile from 1993 to 1998 following the annulment of the June 12 1993 election. With the return to democracy in 1999, he contested for the Benue South Senatorial seat on the platform of the PDP and won. He was re-elected to serve from 2003 to 2007 and re-contested and won. He became Senate President from 2007 to 2011 and got re-elected for a fourth tenure from 2011 to 2015. When the curtains fell on the 7th session of Nigeria’s National Assembly, Mark who was one of the most prominent characters of that era, retreated backstage as a member of the 8th session after his party became a minority. As senate president, Mark was known for his ignoble role in deepening and institutionalizing the culture of secrecy at Nigeria’s federal legislative body.
While the leadership crisis in the PDP between Makarfi and Sheriff festered, Mark, initially maintained silence until last April. In a statement by Paul Mumeh, his media aide, Mark reportedly said the problem with the party had persisted because the major actors in the peace talks were not coming with open minds.
Mark, however, vowed to remain in the party despite the challenges while also criticizing those who have left the party. Mark became relatively passive in the Senate, maintaining a posture of ‘siddon look’ in the 8th Assembly, which brought him under verbal attacks from many Nigerians. Mark later attributed his silence to the defeat suffered by his party in the 2015 elections.
Although he has not openly indicated his interest to run for the Presidency, campaign posters of the former Senate President have started flooding some parts of the country, including on social media. If the posters are anything to go by, it means Mark would also be seeking the PDP’s presidential ticket to slug it out with Buhari in 2019.
6, Donald Duke:
A former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke entered into public service for the first time in 1991 when he was appointed as a member of the Board of Directors of Voice of Nigeria (VON). In 1992, he was appointed a member of the Cross River State Executive Council where he held the portfolio of Commissioner for Finance, Budget and Planning.
He created the idea of Obudu Ranch International Mountain race which became one of the most lucrative mountain competitions in the world under his stewardship. Duke also started the Tinapa Resort project as a way to boost business and tourism in the state.
As Governor of Cross River State, Duke was praised for his contributions to the fields of Agriculture, Urban Development, governance, environment, information and communication. It was through his efforts that Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, is being seen today as the ‘cleanest city in Nigeria.’ Duke first announced that he would run for president in 2007 but later stepped aside for the eventual winner, the late Umaru Yar’ Adua.
In May this year, the former governor declared that he wants to be Nigeria’s President at a programme, “The Nigerian Symposium for Emerging Leaders,” held in Lagos.
Duke said though he once aspired to the position but did not emerge the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, he would still contest for the highest office in the country at the appropriate time. He explained that it was because of his preference for the presidential seat that he did not vie for any federal legislative seat after serving out his terms as governor.
“I do not have the flair for the legislature; standing up and sitting down at the chambers to raise a point. That was why I did not contest for the Senate but the presidency, after serving out my term as governor. I have contested the presidency before; I will still give it a shot when the opportunity presents itself. I believe I still have the energy in me,” he said.
With the passage of the Not Too Young to Run bill into law, Duke who is relatively younger may want to take advantage to make history as Nigeria’s youngest elected president. And if he emerges the PDP’s presidential ticket bearer, he would one of the youngest candidates to contest.
7, Ibrahim Dankwambo:
A former Accountant General of the Federation, Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo was elected governor of Gombe State in 2011 and was re-elected on the platform of his party, the PDP, in 2015.
As one of the two PDP governors in the North who had made himself a national figure, he has reportedly commenced moves to secure the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential ticket for the 2019 general elections. Dankwambo’s interest is largely predicated on the zoning of the PDP’s Presidential ticket to the North.
It is believed that he would seek the support of Nigerian governors who have always endorsed one of themselves for the presidential slot to actualize his ambition. However whether Dankwambo has the financial wherewithal as well as the political clout to slug it out with other gladiators for the PDP presidential ticket remains to be seen. Should he emerge the ticket bearer, Dankwambo would then have to face President Buhari if he decides to seek re-election in 2019.