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What is PDP selling to wary electorates?

The PDP now finds itself in need of a compelling electoral offering that goes beyond simply being "anti-APC" and can sell to a sceptical audience.
Who would hold on to the 2023 PDP ticket

After eight years in power, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) has emerged as a viable choice in the 2023 elections, owing to the Buhari administration's internal security problems and the APC's inability to consolidate a working party structure. The PDP now finds itself in need of a compelling electoral offering that goes beyond simply being "anti-APC" and can sell to a sceptical audience. It must also strike a balance between immensely powerful ethnic, religious, business, foreign, and other blocs, all of which have the power to build or ruin any national political party. The most recent attempt at this balancing act is by a consensus organization that wants to support a single candidate from northern Nigeria in the PDP flag race.

Atiku Abubakar, the former Vice President; Bukola Saraki, the former Senate President; and Aminu Tambuwal, the former Speaker and incumbent governor of Sokoto State, are among the northern Nigerian contenders around whom consensus is sought. Mohammed Hayatu-Deen, a banker who has never held an elective position before, rounds out the quartet.

Of course, the most threatening candidate is Atiku Abubakar, who previously served as Olusegun Obasanjo's deputy from 1999 to 2003 and is now hoping to lead the country once more. Apart from a brief spell with the APC, Atiku presents himself as a national figure with various enterprises and socio-political networks that he inherited and meticulously cultivated, as well as a strong war fund that has disbursed generosity in four failed presidential runs and counting. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, more than anyone else, save for Nuhu Ribadu, has presented Atiku as a wonderfully corrupt public officer, and this view is unlikely to change. Furthermore, in a political environment where history is frequently forced into service, Atiku's inability to complete his self-orchestrated 2003 PDP Convention coup against Olusegun Obasanjo is held against him; most experts believe his moment of political greatness passed nearly two decades ago. Failed coup plotters in Nigeria are rarely forgiven, and their names are forever tarnished by ill luck. Despite this, many people are betting on him.

Bukola Saraki, a banker before entering politics, is an intriguing northern Nigerian candidate around whom a consensus may be constructed at a time when the phrase "It's the economy, stupid" rings true. The Nigerian economy is in shambles, owing to the Buhari administration's irrational defense of the naira, the central bank's policy contradictions and routine flip-flops, and the Ministry of Finance's poor oversight. Saraki's experience as governor of Kwara State gives him sub-national administrative credentials that can help temper Aso Rock's big picture outlook. He is also young, and as a 57-year-old, he has worked hard to maintain his status. Saraki's expertise, however, was at a bank owned by his late father, which reeks of nepotism, especially because Saraki savagely dismantled his own father's political machinery, on which he rode to power in Kwara State. Saraki, who is always smiling, has an Oedipus complex, which has been exacerbated by revelations from the EFCC that the Board of Société Générale Bank, chaired by his father, 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 other matters in 2003. Saraki was shielded from prosecution at the time by his immunity. Despite this, he was detained by the EFCC in July 2021 for suspected embezzlement and laundering of state funds through a network of cronies and proxy firms. Even though he was a capable Senate President at the time, there were disagreements about improper asset declarations. Saraki is a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and Nigeria. While dual citizens are not legally forbidden from running for office, having a dual citizen in charge of Nigeria's political, defense, and security architecture as President and Commander-in-Chief will undoubtedly cause worry among ordinary Nigerians. It's also possible that the other candidates in the coalition won't forget Saraki's deception and President Muhammadu Buhari's attempt to "steal" the Senate presidency from the other candidates. This is because, in a consensus arrangement, trust and loyalty are important.

Aminu Tambuwal, the current governor of Sokoto State and the Speaker of the House of Representatives since 2011, is without a doubt an extremely intelligent person who will compete with Saraki, broad smile for broad smile, as a representative of the youth in a political climate marked by youth unrest, from #OccupyNigeria to #EndSARS. When he abandoned the PDP—under whose banner he now aspires to run for president—for the ruling APC as Speaker, he earned national sympathy when the IG of Police ill-advisedly removed his protection for cross carpeting. Before defecting to the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) a few months before the 2007 general elections, Tambuwal was a member of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). After being denied a ticket there, he returned to the ANPP before finally joining the PDP's stables, where he was elected Speaker. Tambuwal left the PDP shortly before the 2015 elections and was elected governor of the APC, before returning to the PDP in 2018. Even though he has been dogged by corruption allegations, such as a multibillion naira car purchase scandal in 2013 in which fronts were used to buy 400 official vehicles for House of Representatives members; in 2017, he tangled with the EFCC over the "pardoning" of aides involved in a N15 billion fraud case; and, as recently as two weeks ago, Tambuwal was debunking the alleged diversion of N189 billion belonging to the Nigerian government. These claims were made public in a September 2021 EFCC interim intelligence report that was leaked.

Mohammed Hayatu-Deen is difficult to analyze because he has no experience in the public sector and no record of official corruption, which makes him a poor comparison point for the consensus candidates. He is a technocrat who began his career at the Northern Nigeria Development Company (NNDC), before becoming the CEO of the now-defunct FSB International Bank (now Fidelity Bank) . Hayatu-Deen has spent his whole career as an investment banker in the private sector, having earned a B.Sc. in Economics from Ahmadu Bello University. His tenure at the FSB International Bank included a successful rescue of the formerly government-owned Federal Mortgage Bank, which he transformed from a post office-saving bank to a leading commercial bank. His manifesto is heavily reliant on his credentials.

The PDP has been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to return to power in Nigeria after being booted out by the Nigerian people eight years ago, but it must do more than pitch itself as "not-APC" if it is to succeed. The APC government's massive flaws, which are the sole reason the PDP is a viable option, are deeply entrenched in its ability to present itself in stark "anyone-but-PDP" terms. As a result, the PDP must recall how ordinary people voted against it in principle in the 2023 elections and draw important lessons from its time in Siberia. The main takeaway is that in 2023, it will be about innovative and well-thought-out economic proposals that reverse the current reality, not about social and infrastructure promises. This is already a difficult task. Second, the PDP must abandon the idea of a 2023 triumph based on protest votes since lightning does not strike twice; 2023 will not be 2015. Finally, it will not return to power by fielding suspect or demonstrably corrupt candidates, because it was the issue of corruption, rightly or wrongly, that framed the PDP's disastrous performance in the 2015 general elections; and secondly, candidates who lack conviction and personally stand for nothing will not be rewarded by the electorate this time, as it was done to the entire APC slate in 2015. The truth is that the PDP is not the only viable opposition party, and both it and the APC may be in for a rude awakening come February of next year.

In comparison to Atiku Abubakar, who chaired the National Economic Council as Vice President, Hayatu-Deen is the only one of the four horsemen of northern consensus who lacks political baggage and the taint of corruption. He also appears to have a good grasp of economics and international finance. In other matrices, he also outperforms Saraki and Tambuwal, with the exception of youth (he is 69), but this can be offset if an economic program that can open doors for the youth is articulated with their key buy-in. Being from Borno State, he has emphasized the importance of national healing and reconciliation among Nigeria's diverse ethnic groups as the first step toward restoring long-term peace and security. Hayatu-Deen, assuming he can take the field, is the dark horse of a possible consensus. Of course, none of the northern consensus candidates will emerge victorious in the race for the PDP flag against other geographical consensuses. However, if the PDP is to have a chance in the 2023 elections, it must demonstrate that it has learned the lessons taught, and quickly.

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