FIRST IN PRESIDENTIAL SERIES… THE ROAD TO ASO ROCK…
• Considers presenting medical certificates to douse concerns over his age
By Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
With the 2019 electioneering season about to kick off in the next few months, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, whose ambition remains undiminished to rule Nigeria, has opened secret discussions with some leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to return to the party and contest on its platform in the 2019 presidential election, THISDAY has learnt.
The discussions are coming on the heels of the pressure mounted recently by the Adamawa chapter of the PDP asking Atiku, who is currently a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), to return to the PDP now that its leadership crisis has been resolved.
Atiku, who has contested for the presidency, once as a candidate of the defunct Action Congress (AC), and made two unsuccessful attempts to secure the presidential tickets of the PDP and APC, has chosen to throw his hat into the ring for a fourth time. During the Ibrahim Babangida years he was a presidential aspirant in the then Social Democratic Party (SDP) losing to late MKO Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe.
PDP sources informed THISDAY that some of the governors and past governors of the party, including other leaders of the PDP, are amenable to his return and would most likely back him in his bid to secure the ticket of the PDP.
However, Atiku, in the discussions with the PDP leadership, is not leaving anything to chance and has asked for a guarantee that he would secure the ticket of the party for the 2019 presidential election before jumping ship.
According to one PDP source, “The secret discussions are ongoing with a wing of the leadership of the PDP and this has encouraged the former vice-president to start consultations with critical leaders in the northern and southern parts of the country.
“However, Atiku has informed the PDP leaders who have approached him to guarantee him the nomination of the party for the presidential election before he can leave the APC, as he does not want to be messed up for the third time.”
THISDAY learnt that several governors and governors of the party, including Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, who at the weekend declared his intention to contest for the presidency in 2019, would most likely be receptive to an Atiku candidacy.
Another source in the party explained that despite Fayose’s declaration at the weekend, the Ekiti governor was most likely positioning himself to secure the vice-presidential ticket of the PDP.
He explained that the reason Atiku may already have the backing of PDP chieftains stems from the fact that he is widely regarded as the most prepared for the presidency and is also considered acceptable to several constituents in both the southern and northern parts of the country.
When the issue of Atiku’s age was raised and the fact that many Nigerians, following from the uncertainty surrounding President Muhammadu Buhari’s advancing age and health concerns, might reject the former vice-president who will turn 73 in 2019, the source said the focus should not be on his age but his health.
“We had the late President Umaru Yar’Adua who was in his mid-fifties but he had health issues which led to his demise midway into his presidency.
“Also, President Muhammadu Buhari had health issues which we warned against during electioneering in 2015, but it was dismissed as hate speech.
“Then we have persons that are the same age or much older but are healthy and physically fit. So Nigerians should be more concerned about a persons health than his age,” he said.
The source added that Atiku was not unaware of the question surrounding his age, adding that the former vice-president is prepared to make his medical certificates for the last ten years public to allay any concern about his health.
He also revealed that now that Atiku had been approached by PDP leaders to return to the party, the former vice-president was seriously considering the proposition, but is awaiting Buhari’s return to the country to enable him meet with the president before taking a final plunge.
“Right now the former vice-president is waiting for Mr. President to return. He wants to hold discussions with him, presumably to ascertain if Buhari will contest in 2019.
“Once he gets a clearer picture on the direction of things, he will take a final plunge as to whether to return to the PDP or remain with APC,” the source said.