Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, examines the campaign styles adopted by key presidential hopefuls of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the national convention of the party in Port Harcourt, declaring that while the styles worked for some, it gave the others insignificant in roads.
The national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) might have come and gone but the story of that convention is not one that would go in a hurry. Like the proverbial elephant in the market place, there are different sides to different persons. But there appears a consensus that the 2018 convention came with some unique characteristics, besides its outcome which has been adjudged unimpeachable even by the greatest critic out there.
The fact that a dozen aspirants were on hand was a unique point, but another unique selling point of the convention was that different aspirants adopted different strategies for wooing the over 3, 000 delegates. The styles were as ubiquitous as the faces of the dozen aspirants.
Vice President Atiku Abubakar
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was the longest standing presidential aspirant going into the October 6 and 7 convention in Port Harcourt. Having entered the race in the build up to the 1993 presidential election, which he lost at the primaries stage to the late Chief MKO Abiola, Atiku had been on that stage, 25 years on. He had tried all manners of styles and strategies but in 2018, he also adopted a new campaign strategy. One of the styles that caught attention was his decision to launch the campaign out of the glare of all in Abuja. He took the launch of his campaign to Yola, Adamawa state, his home base and later established the Abuja office, a well-structured campaign secretariat.
But besides starting early, which made him to reach all states delegates in good time; he also relied on his old allies, many of whom had been with him since his first foray into politics. His trust in the old veterans showed clearly in the composition of his reach campaign team. However, his decision to package particular messages for each of the geopolitical sectors made him a bride of many. He campaigned with the restructuring agenda, which was well received in the South West, South South and South East. The possibility of picking a Vice President from the South East was also said to have excited many delegates from that zone who believed that his candidature would take the zone closer to the centre of Nigerian power. The result at the end of the day showed that Atiku’s old allies didn’t fail him as they were able to project him as the fighter the PDP needed going into the 2019 elections.
Senate President Bukola Saraki
Though he came into the race quite late, the Senate President was trying to pull the ‘small but mighty’ strings when he zeroed his campaign strategy around the youth. He launched his campaign in a different way on August 30, when he addressed a youth platform at the Transcorp Hotel, Abuja.
Contrary to the usual style Nigerians were used to whereby the aspirant would call out his supporters at a venue where loyalists and supporters would pour encomiums on him and declare him the best President Nigeria should have; Saraki chose a different platform to launch his campaign. It was a gathering of the #Not Too Young To Run campaigners.
At the event in Abuja, Saraki shocked leaders of the youth-based Not Too Young To Run campaigners who had invited him to the programme when he announced he was joining the presidential race.
At the event with the Theme: “Youth Candidacy and the Future of Nigeria Beyond 2019,” Saraki shocked the audience when he said: “Your generation does not deserve to live in the poverty capital of the world.”
“I am determined to grow Nigeria out of poverty. We will stimulate the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as one of the ways of energizing the economy and to create wealth for our people, especially the youth.”
“I have decided to answer the call of teeming youth who have asked me to run for President. Accordingly, I hereby announce my intention to run for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the coming General Elections in 2019 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“I do so with the firm conviction that I have what it takes to secure inclusive growth for Nigeria and Nigerians.”
Even the organisers of the event were more than taken aback but the Saraki camp explained later that it was to underscore his decision to rest his campaign on youth, energy and growth.
Throughout the campaign, the Senate President made the issue of youth and growth the key elements of his campaign. While speaking at the convention in Port Harcourt, he made reference to a young man on the podium with him reminding the youth that the future is no longer assured as the economy has continued to nosedive under the watch of the incumbent regime.
“Your generation does not deserve to live in the poverty capital of the world,” was Saraki’s consistent message as he waltzes through the 36 state capitals in hunt for delegates who would give him the presidential ticket of his party. Outside the talk at the campaigns, he also demonstrated youthfulness by combing the entire Nigeria within a short space, visiting three states per day.
While declaring his ambition, Saraki left no one in doubt as to his determination to turn things around and make the difference. He said: “The choice we face in the forthcoming election is either to keep things as they are, or make a radical departure from the old ways – to find a better way of doing things or keep repeating the mistakes of the past. To fix the problems or keep compounding them.”
“My plan for Nigeria has inclusion in all aspects of the country’s affairs as a central pillar. Every citizen has the inalienable right to feel a sense of belonging, no matter their background or creed, or what part of the country they come from; no matter who you voted for or what your convictions are, government must work for you,” he added.
He specifically targeted the youth saying: “It is no longer an issue of how we got here, but how do we get out of this situation? I promise you that I will lead the fight and employ every God-given resource available to us in turning things around. I am determined to grow Nigeria out of poverty. We will stimulate the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as one of the ways of energizing the economy and to create wealth for our people, especially the youth.”
“I want to see the youth play major roles at all levels, not only in government but also in the private sector and indeed in every area of Nigerian life,” he further said.
On the campaign train and at the convention ground, Saraki’s youth-targeted campaign did not change its tone. He believed that the youth can make the difference and that with a population largely dominated by their class, the votes would trickle in.
His target might not have been misplaced. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reported earlier that some 10 million new voters have joined the voters register at the close of registration in August. With no fewer than 60 percent of that population falling in the bracket of young and first time voters, the Senate President appeared to have got his focus right. Maybe the focus of the campaign earned him the 317 votes he got despite the late entry into the race.
But besides the actual figures, the campaign style propped up Saraki far ahead the Sokoto state Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, whose candidature was being pushed by a number of governors. The opinion of delegates from many zones of the country showed early on Saturday that their votes would be split between Atiku and Saraki. The North Central, South East and North East were the zones that came up with initial candidates’ preference, favouring Atiku and Saraki. It was gathered that the delegates decided to largely harness the votes for Atiku as the most experienced on the beat that day in order to ensure clear victory. The fact that Atiku won big was likened by delegates to the fact that the Atiku voters were also largely Saraki voters. They claimed that if the battle was to be without Atiku, Saraki would easily have inherited the votes.
Aminu Waziri Tambuwal
The Governor of Sokoto state relied largely on the influence of the Governors, a fall back on the old strategies of the PDP. The Governors have always in the past nicked it through imposition and adoption. But the convention of Port Harcourt refused to give way to adoption of any aspirants, leaving the stage open to all aspirants and enabling the delegates to make their conclusions on a geopolitical basis.
Senator Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso
The Senator decided early to go solo through his Kwakwansiyya Movement. He launched the group in all states, believing it would deliver his the votes. But little was achieved with him garnering only 111 votes at the end of the day.
Besides there is the admixture of styles adopted by the eight others including early start by Tanimu Turaki, SAN; party loyalty by the likes of ex-governor Sule Lamido as well as Senators David Mark; Ahmed Makarfi and Jonah Jang. Governor Ibrahim Dakwambo of Gombe state also relied on the power of Governors Forum like Tambuwal while, ex-governor Attahiru Bafarawa and Dr. Datti Baba Ahmed relied on harnessing the crumbs that would fall out from the knockout games by the other big wigs.