The Port Harcourt convention: Swings that landed in Atiku’s basket

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Atiku Abubakar 2011 President campaign Photo by www.mortenfauerby.dk ©mortenfauerby 2010 - all rights reserved

* Did Obj endorse him in PH or Abeokuta?

(Culled from BD Sunday)

By Ignatius Chukwu, Innocent Eteng, Favour Ichemati, Fortune Okorie, Kelechi Anozie, Peace Elemuo & Miracle Iboko

Introduction:

Former Vice President, 74-year-old Abubakar Atiku, eventually picked up the ticket at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) convention in Port Harcourt to do battle with incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari. Many have wondered if that within the run of play (expected) or a twist in expectations. What may be true is that the pendulum was swinging in two directions all through the long wait at the 40,000-capacity Adokiye Amasiamaka Stadium built by the administration of the man many in the PDP love to hate, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, former governor of the oil-rich state and now minister of Transportation.

Atiku survived in a strong field of 12 contestants to grab the mace that would propel him to his destiny; his quest to rule Nigeria. Come February 2019, he would face another man of destiny in a desert rumble that would decide which of the two northern Turks would lead Nigeria into the 2020s. It may be the first time only the north would lead the two main political parties to a presidential challenge where none is favourite. It may be the second time since 1999 that there would be no clear winner in any presidential election after the Goodluck Jonathan versus Buhari encounter in 2015.

Most political analysts have been trying to piece together the bits that formed the outcome, but, most of the bits lacked confirmation because all chips were kept very close to the chests of the players. As events unfold thereafter, some of the chips get confirmation or rejection.

Earlier factors:

Some of the factors that were being bandied about when the chips were not yet down included the following, though in the last minute, the ex-Generals seemed to have the final say, and it was still hinged upon one of the factors mentioned below;

Force of power

The PDP was considering who had most capacity to face anything the APC-led FG and Buhari would throw at the PDP. Most persons in the party believe Atiku was such a man, but the party did not also want someone with obvious fraud investigation file that could be used against the party.  Now, the fear seems to be real because the APC has opened that tank, though the Atiku camp seems ready for this.

Funds:

The party is also said to be considering the size of funds available. In this consideration, Atiku and Saraki were said to be highly favoured. It was also this same factor that seemed to be their drawback in terms of vulnerability to investigations.

In this aspect, sources had said a former president had warned Wike to allow Atiku pick the ticket because state funds would not be enough for this one. The source said the man reminded Wike that Atiku could pump one month revenue to fight the elections while the state treasuries now highly watched by the EFCC may not be able to do much.

Decency:

The party is said to be eager to avoid someone with many obvious political injuries such as fraud investigations, many enemies from the past, etc. This factor was said to be working against Atiku and Saraki at the early stages. This was said to be where Tanbuwal had an edge. Many however worried that weak disposition on the part of such a candidate could help Buhari to crush the PDP, a prospect many big wigs never wanted to see.

Ultimate factor

The likes of Gov Wike and majority of the leaders of the party did not want the prospect of a loss because it carried obvious consequences. Those with many battles in the EFCC and the courts still want victory at any cost, not just to give good governance to Nigeria, but to save their necks from perceived oppression and intimidation. On this score, they wanted and still want the most forceful candidate. This pointed to Atiku but some felt they could add that force to Tambuwal and get the best of two factors, less vulnerability and force of power. This did not work out as soon as the ex-Generals struck.

Did Obansajo endorse Atiku in PH or Abeokuta?

Atiku led a large entourage to Obasanjo’s Otta Farm on October 11, 2018, and a long meeting followed. Many waited in anxiety for the outcome of the meeting; would Obj endorse Atiku, his arch-rival or not? Many may not have known that the meeting was not to secure Obj’s endorsement but to work out how the stakeholders that made it possible for Atiku in Port Harcourt would play henceforth especially if or when Atiku would win. The uninitiated waited for endorsement and got the words, but the initiated knew that endorsement may have been given in the Garden City when it was most crucial. Abeokuta may have been to work out the details of the PH accord.

Obasanjo had always fought against Atiku, using corruptions bullets. These were te same pellets that Umoru Musa Y’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan borowed for use, and it seems Buhari would use them. Mmany have wondered why Obj would swallow all of that and endorse Atiku. Does it mean the accusations were not true in the first place, or sins of years do not fell pains anymore? The truth may lie in the fact most Nigerian leaders know everything but seem to use it only when they are fighting with the accused. The essence of disclosing the ‘sin’ may never be for public good but to get even. this reduces the anger of the masses. Whatever the case, obj would have a lot of explaining to do in the coming years, especially if in the future he quarrels with Atiku, which may not be ruled out.

A word from the ex-Generals

Many kinds of people were moving about in the Garden City all of Friday and Saturday of the convention. Many of the over 500 journalists that besieged PH were on their feet, driving from one hotel to the other in the city, all to scratch out some reliable information on how the day or night would play out. In Jos in 1998 where Obasanjo had emerged as PDP presidential candidate against the highly favoured Alex Ekwueme, uncertainty had ruled the nights just like in PH on October 5, 2018. Some Generals had allegedly taken a stand and the moment they communicated it to the key leaders that controlled the delegates, Obasanjo’s fortunes began to climb while that of Ekwueme began to dwindle. State leaders began to inform their delegates where the ‘nation’ was drifting to, warning them not to waste their votes because the new government to be formed would dish out patronages according to such votes. This was how the likes of Alabo Graham-Douglas from Rivers State lost ground when the likes of Peter Odili hinted their states of the new decision. Ekwueme lost and remained out till he died.

In PH, some of the top journalists making the rounds picked up hints that some security operatives who had links with a retired National Security Adviser (NSA) were moving frantically in the city. They would not disclose much but it was enough that the ex-Generals had made a decision and the problem was how to communicate it to all the major camps. What could be gleaned was the anxiety to stop the obvious person because he would be easily defeated by Buhari.

The Obj factor

It was gathered that the ex-Generals needed to forge a common ground and the Obj factor was the only one not in place. There was need to appease Obj and harmonise the camp. A retired general from the Middle Belt who had spoken out against the use of the Army to kill the Middle Belt and how the people needed to resort to self defence was said to be the link to all ex-Gens.

Obj had sworn that God would not forgive if he endorsed Atiku. That was after his former VP had been made to visit and plead with him. The brains behind this had wanted to fulfill a major Yoruba and Hausa culture of making an offender to personally apologise so that when the kings would join in the apology, it would be impossible for the offended person to say no and keep to it to the end.

It was gathered that the inability to get all ex-Gens camps in one basket delayed many things, but the moment this was obtained, the voting was good to go, and it was easy.

Consensus without consensus

Journalists making rounds to camps picked up hints that a long-lasting meeting was going on, all aimed at choosing a consensus candidate. It became clear at that point that Waziri Aminu Tambuwal would be the Consensus One. As if to confirm this, his camp began to jubilate. Some of his aides decided to stay put in their hotels since voting may not be necessary. Filing into the Stadium was not a serious matter anymore. Time for kick-off continued to shift till 7pm.

Many felt that if the contestants allowed themselves to be in one room for negotiations, that the game would be over; that Gov Nyesom Wike would surely get them to give nod to his choice, which them was known to be Tambuwal. That was not to be.

When voting finally commenced, many observers felt Tambuwal would pick it to humiliate those opposed to his emergence as consensus one, but later, the hints emerged that it was rather the opposite. Tambuwal’s camp had started preparing a statement. Journalists in and out of PH who picked the hint felt it was his acceptance speech to be sent ahead of his certain victory. When it came, it was a mere commendation of the organization of the convention, something that would hugely give credit to Gov Wike who was chief host and the Gov Ifeanyi Okowa-led organizing committee. It left the crucial issue many expected. When the result came, the news told itself.

How Tambuwal picked Wike’s enemies

For most of Friday, the nation got hint that Tambuwal would win. Anxiety grew in the circles that fear another four years for Buhari. Most political dynasties had realized that they may not survive another four years if Buhari remained on the throne. The Single Treasury Account (TSA) is biting harder even as the over 3000 accounts previously run by ministries and government agencies (MDAs) no longer function. Many government appointees helped themselves to these accounts and helped to win favours to the principal from them. This is no more, and even some of those in positions come out to cry and go back to smile. The Biometrically Verified Number (BVN) enforcement, though not a Buhari initiative, is biting hard; tight control at the borders is an issue to many; locking up the NLNG vaults is not good to many privileged persons, freezing free wells in NNPC is causing problems, recovery of loot is not popular to many, one sided war against corruption is not a laughing matter, clampdown on judges who had been sacred for decades is no funny development, etc.

There seemed a united anxiety to ensure that only bitter contestants should pick up the ticket because equally bitter stakeholders were behind matters. It became a clarion call to ensure that certain persons must win, and certain other must not. Tambuwal began to drop out of top order. Atiku and Bukola Saraki began to climb in value.

The biggest factor could be the underlying determination to educe Wike to size. Many factors played out on this score. First, some said Wike produced the national chairman; allowing him to also produce a president could make him too powerful. This is a party that was already scared of a powerful president. On this score, Tambuwal became a target.

Wike was said to have suffered a meltdown and allegedly threatened the party. This reverberated to no small ends. Many delegates and leaders turned this to a refrain or greeting slogan. Many of them now found the passion to vote against his choice, despite all efforts to prove it was not so.

Analysts and journalists also found that some PDP governors who did not like the name being given to Wike as the pillar of the opposition, the voice of the voiceless, the only man giving Buhari sleepless nights, the CEO of the party, etc, may have prepared to cut him to size. One particular governor, mobbed along by many aides and others, hissed to newsmen, “I am a two-time governor, we will show him we are higher in status”. He mentioned no name, but Wike is still doing his first term. When they succeeded in ensuring that Wike did not give them a candidate, signs of anger appeared in the fold. Ayo Fayose of Ekiti, a Wike strong ally, threatened to leave PDP.

Signs that there could be sabotage appeared obvious to Tambuwal who cried out against what he called gang-up against him. It proved real.

On the convention day, many of the governor broke tradition by driving straight to their hotels instead of first driving to Government House to pay homage. They were expected to all sleep in the Government Lodge or better, Presidential Lodge. This would have afforded closer physical closeness for the chief host to achieve more.

The eastern governors have revealed how they were approchaed to vote Tambuwal and that it was to be finalized in PH on the Friday, but that when they arrived and sought to see Gov Wike, they reaslised that the Gov was sure Tambuwal would win without further alliances. The eastern governors went their way and probably fell into Atiku’s basket. They claim this was why Wike tried to hit back at them by sideling them in the choice of a running mate.

The place of Dollars

Many said Dollar was shown in 2014 when the APC held its convention in Lagos and Atiku was a front runner. They did not say if the money was collected or not. Buhari rather won. Others also said Dollars showed up at the PDP convention in Abuja where the party chairman was elected. So, many came prepared for Dollar rain. Some said it rained but some said they did not feel it. The issue may be that contestants chose where to concentrate in pressing for votes. No contestant prepared to shake hands with the 4000 expected delegates or the 3,272 that were later accredited.

The problem was that with the EFCC harassing Wike and some other state governors, monitoring their campaign spend, not much must have come from the host government. Many warn that this may be the pattern in 2019. This may have affected Tambuwal.

The nation had witnessed two previous PDP convention attempts in PH, and the party seemed to be getting weary of PH as venue, thinking it was to please Wike. The one of May 24, 2016 at the expansive Obi Wali International Conference Centre on Ada George Road, also built by Amaechi, was stopped by an Abuja High Court. The one of August 18, 2016, was scheduled at the Alfred Diete-Spiff Civic Centre near the police headquarters on Moscow Road but was once again stopped by the same Abuja High Court presided over by Abang Okon. When efforts began to be made again to scuttle the October 6 2018 one, Wike may have lost his temper, though many said he would have maintained his cool and work within the party ranks, just like most northerners wee known to do.

At last, Atiku

As sorting went on, the Atiku camp exploded in jubilation. They seemed to be counting the ones handed to their representative and knew when to be sure they had won. A national newspaper (online version) ran to town with the alert that Atiku had won. Tension grew and fell. Pictures have emerged claiming to show how ferocious Wike looked and how sad some of his lieutenants appeared.

Atiku switched on his charm and went to the Brick House to hand the victory to him, just like some great footballers would hand the trophy to the captain of the team they just trounced in a match, all in the name of fair-play and to reduce the pains of defeat that often breed apathy, if not sabotage. It is being said that Wike was persuaded to congratulate Atiku, but no confirmation to this has been available. What is on record is that the host governor issue immediate congratulations to Atiku and has gone ahead to demand for all hands on deck to defeat Buhari. Wike cannot forge this because like most other PDP big wigs, he too wants Buhari and Wike out o power fast.

The ‘Atikulation’ process

Atiku indeed is a candidate with a force, a force many opponents have feared for decades. It is not clear how much force he garnered as a customs officer but from the moment he became a member of the late General, Musa Yar’Adua’s organisation, Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), he instantly acquired political relevance. Later, he became the head of the body that had strong national structure which sought to take power from the military. Atiku was to take over this movement as its prefect, with visible presence in every state.

When Obasanjo came out of prison in Yola and was shadow-picked as the next president over Ekwueme, Atiku was made to lend the PDM structure. In compensation, he was made to leave his governorship slot he had already won to run with Obasanjo as VP. It was obvious that a future president was born. The understanding was that each zone would rule for one term and power would rotate and also revolve between north and south. Many said Obasanjo saw to the death of that understanding by going for second and almost third term. This caused a fight between president and vice, something that now requires forgiveness from the offender, according to analysts in the Garden City.

Atiku’s formidable political structure inherited from the late Yar’Adua was complimented by his growing but burgeoning business powerhouse. Obasanjo said his VP used this position to capture many shares and full access to a lot of government assets and funds. Whatever the case, Atiku found the funds and heart to do favours to many persons and groups, hoping it would pay back to support for presidential bid. This has almost clicked from election year to election year, till now.

He brought this to bear during the PH convention. He had huge contacts in every state, and when he saw that the PDP governors had been made to adopt someone else, he moved to the APC states that had no governor to pick their bills. He became the father of the fatherless. These states were more in number. He also polled in all the contacts he has had over the years, from business, from politics, from the security, etc and used it to break the unity of the governors. He needed just over 1000 votes. He knew how to share out power to every section because he had rehearsed it over the years. The problem was how to get Obasanjo and few other camps. Others were mere starters and had no national structure. Some relied on other small godfathers.

Political campaign was nothing new to Atiku, and he started early, simply dusting up old templates. While others seemed to run primary campaigns, he simply ran full presidential campaigns as if he had won already. All he needed to do was to break the resolve of the PDP governors and penetrate every region. For logistics, he allegedly used his Intels headquarters in PH as campaign strategic planning centre, getting in touch with every power broker in the land. It was not all about money but structure, power, contacts and quality of offer made to each person. It was all ‘Atikulated’, observers said.

It was believed that Atiku paid for 2000 hotel rooms in PH to accommodate delegates. This must have given him direct access to such number of delegates. Candidates use hotel room politics a lot in presidential primaries. Peter Odili used it in 2006 and it almost paid off until Obasanjo and the EFCC broke up the iron-cast arrangement. Whoever controls the sleeping bed of delegates, their food and now their pockets, often controlled their votes. It is also easy to buy off some delegates from their agreed voting pattern.  People love private deals and the extra money that comes from it.

It is clear he also has his presidential campaign strategy all lined up and fashioned out. He has one person to deal against now, Buhari, a man he has avoided for decades. Now, the ultimate fight has come. There would be a victor and a vanquished. It can never be a draw. The loser would be permanently retired in Nigerian politics. Corruption charges may not be the deciding factor, though it could pump enough evidence to public records about each candidate. In future, it may mean something. Two forces would clash and the one that appeals to Nigerians more would overcome. For Atiku, it is what happens after his victory that may matter, if he would win. Evidence of wrongdoing gathered over the decades by successive presidents most of whom are now his supporters would surely be put out. There may be no hiding place anymore.

This could be why Gov Wike was trying his best to avoid putting Atiku up. Wike was a caucus member of the Jonathan team that prepared to fight Atiku in 2015, thinking he would pick the APC ticket. The weapons were rested when it was not Atiku. Wike may have felt that the weapons are still available to Buhari and it could be used maximally. He felt a man with less obvious injuries should be put up against Buhari, but many thought otherwise. Here now is Atiku, well ‘Atikulated’.

Conclusion:

Obasanjo may be the last visible reconciliation ceremony Atiku would pull off because most others may not want such open ceremonies. The Obasanjo angle was said to be the most important to the ex-Gens and pulling it off must be more important to them. Most others do not need open acknowledgements like Obj would. The likes of IBB, Danjuma, etc, may want to remain faceless especially because they had given hope to many other contestants too. Besides, the bull is still in the shop, Buhari is still on the throne. It may not be advisable for most of them with very sensitive business interests to be seen to be those who midwifed Atiku’s emergence to battle Buhari, who still has enough ink in his en to sign deadly fiats and executive orders before his enemies get him down. To these silent killers, caution still remains the better part of valour.

Ends/