There was intense horse trading for the most part of last night going into the early hours of today, as the 12 presidential aspirants of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) throw mouth-watering baits to delegates from across the 36 states of the federation and Abuja, who will, today in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, elect the party’s flag bearer in the 2019 presidential election.
The National Convention of the party, which culminates with the emergence of a presidential flag bearer, is a major step in the bid of the party to return to centre stage of governance in Nigeria, which it lost in 2015 to the All Progressives Congress (APC), after an unbroken 16-year hold on power.
There are 12 contenders jostling for a chance to lead lead the PDP’s charge in the 2019 general elections.
They include former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki and the governors of Gombe and Sokoto states, Ibrahim Dankwambo and Aminu Tambuwal respectively. Others are former governors of Jigawa, Kano, Sokoto, Plateau and Kaduna States, Sule Lamido, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Attahiru Bafarawa, Jonah Jang and Ahmed Makarfi. Also in the contest are former Senate President David Mark among others.
Riding on the heated horse trading going on, Port Harcourt, last night, came alive with the aspirants moving from door to door, laying bare their proposals in addition to inviting delegates to unusual largess.
Initial forecasts by political pundits was a three-horse race, largely involving Atiku, Saraki and Tambuwal.
Barring any upset, these leading contenders are expected to make a testy and interesting duel.
The winner of the PDP presidential primary will square up to APC’s President Muhammad Buhari in the general electionin February,2019.
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike who is the host governor has been upbeat in preparations leading to the convention, even threatening dire consequences against the party should the event be moved out of his state.
The city centre of Port Harcourt and the major streets were jammed with traffic as a result of siren-blaring VIP movement.
The city appeared tensed as the presence of heavily armed security personnel was noticeable everywhere.
All major hotels in Port Harcourt Metropolis are fully booked with the influx of delegates and other visitors to the state on account of the convention while the capital city is witnessing an increased traffic build up on the eve of the convention.
An incident involving a tanker laden with diesel at the Garrison Junction along Aba Road did not help matters as it created additional traffic situation along the major road.
Government House, Port Harcourt has become a Mecca of sorts as presidential aspirants throng to the palace to pay homage to the governor, who has become the Czar of the party.
Governor Wike welcomed all the delegates of the party to the state, assuring them of a memorable stay.
Wike said:”The good people of Rivers State are most delighted and honoured to play host to the distinguished National Delegates of our great party as we elect our Presidential flag bearer this weekend and collectively work towards rescuing our nation from the brink of collapse.
“As we gather for this all-important national convention, I assure all delegates of our great party of their security before, during and after the convention. Working with the security agencies and other stakeholders, we will ensure that your stay in Port Harcourt is memorable.
“Once again, I welcome all delegates, journalists, observers and other visitors to Rivers State, the Treasure Base of the Nation. While you are here, enjoy the peace, love, cuisine, heritage and hospitality of Rivers State and her people.
“I pray for journey mercies as you return to your respective destinations. I welcome you.”
In the midst of it all, Senator Mark has said he would not step down for anybody, while Tambuwal, has alleged a gang-up against him by other presidential aspirants.
Mark, in a brief statement issued yesterday in Abuja by his Media Assistant, Mr. Paul Mumeh, denied insinuations by one of the presidential aspirants that he and two others have stepped down for the said aspirant.
The statement said: “This is serious business. Those who have nothing to offer should honourably quit from the race instead of degenerating to purveyors of fake news and rumour peddlers.
“Those who are afraid of contest have no business in the race. I came into the race well prepared after due consultations with various groups. The positive outcome of my consultations across the country and the overwhelming endorsements encouraged me to vie.
“The PDP is a big family. Nobody should insinuate what does not exist. I’m not aware of any meeting where it was discussed or agreed that any one should step down for another. What I’m aware of is that delegates should vote and let the votes count”.
Mark therefore urged delegates to be steadfast with him because saying he has a clear road map on how the nation can get out of the woods and restore the pride and dignity of Nigeria before the global community once more.”
Also stating that he is still in the race is a former governor of Jigawa state, Sule Lamido, whose Personal Assistant on Social Media, Mansur Ahmed, denied media reports that he had stepped down from the race.
“We are in the race to win Insha Allah. Issue of withdrawing does not arise. It is those who are afraid of contest that are behind such reports.
“We urge all our teeming supporters to disregard the misinformation,” he said.
On the alleged gang up of other aspirants on Tambuwal, the Director-General of his Campaign Organisation, Dr. Mike Omeri, told journalists in Port Harcourt yesterday that the governor’s intimidating credentials were responsible for the gang-up.
Omere said: “The others are up against our candidate because he is the most qualified. There are candidates and there are candidates. Our candidate has the credential of being one of the very few that have served in public office and is yet to be invited by any of the investigative agencies for talks.
“Our candidate is young and appeals to the leaders of the moment because that is the direction the world is going.
“Our candidate is the one who believes that the future of our country is now and we should begin to create the space for people to begin to achieve their destinies. Our candidate believes that we have passed that stage of He expressed the hope that the PDP national convention would be transparent in line with established processes, which produced former leaders of the party.
Omere said: “The party always has a process; an established process of conducting its businesses and affairs. Like transparent processes that produced former leaders of the party, this will be done in full glare of the media and the public.
“Everyone who is an accredited delegate will be free to cast his vote according to his will. I cannot see how interference will take place in the process. The others are up against our candidate because he is the most qualified.”