Nigerian former Vice President Atiku Abubakar . (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)
As a veteran presidential contender, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar put his experience into good use when he selected Governor Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa as his running mate, last Thursday.
It could be observed that the 2023 Presidential fixture has thrown up, more or less the setting for a three-horse race of front row candidates, including Atiku, former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and former Governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi. The search for their running mates has added drama and changed focus of the competition.
Although, the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are well known rivals, the emergence of Obi on the Labour Party (LP) platform has rearranged the entire calculation.
It could, therefore, be in the bid by these three frontline parties to get their political arithmetic right that the issue of selecting potential Vice Presidents became topical.
But, in his remarks while unveiling Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa as his running mate to beat the June 17 deadline set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the PDP presidential standard bearer, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, captured the challenges of picking a potential Vice President.
Atiku stated: “It is a difficult decision that I am called upon to take…Let me state that the person I have chosen as my running mate possesses all those identified qualities.
“He personifies not only the seriousness the current moment represents for our country, but also the future that our young people yearn for and deserve. He is a serving state governor, who has demonstrated, in his state and through his conduct that governance is about service to the people.
“I know that he will not only add excitement to our already energised ticket and campaign, but will also help to bring focus, discipline and stability to our government, come 2023.
“He has both Legislative and Executive experiences. Please join me in welcoming to the ticket the next Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Governor Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa.”
Based on Atiku’s, it is obvious that experience, value addition to the ticket and suitability for the main office were considered side by side with the electoral worth of the prospective VP, which would not only boost the political arithmetic, but also ensure balance of socio-economic interests.
Knowing the self-imposed challenges his rivals were encountering in their search for fitting prospective Vice Presidential candidate, Atiku noted that the Presidency was not for those who lack clarity in making decisions.
Alluding to Tinubu and Obi, who had settled for pro-tem running mates, the former Vice President declared: “Those who are prepared should be ready. And, they ought to have made a decision of who their permanent running mates would be ahead of the deadline given by the electoral umpire.”
However, while Atiku was gloating over the challenges his rivals were confronting, echoes of the process adopted in arriving at the choice of Okowa continued to agitate the party. In the build up to the presidential primary, the former Vice President had promised PDP Governors that his prospective running mate will be one of them, even as he assured them that mistake of 2018, when he unilaterally chose Mr. Peter Obi, would not repeat itself.
In keeping with that promise and working in concert with the party’s leadership, Atiku involved various stakeholders to assist him in connecting to a viable vice presidential candidate that would meet the criteria he outlined. The criteria included being able to appreciate “the deep rot which our country has been put into, understand the great suffering of our people and the urgency of relieving them of that suffering.
“My running mate must understand that without security, development will be very difficult…In addition, my running mate has to be someone who is not afraid to speak his mind and give honest advice…”
But, no sooner than the processes were completed, words started making the rounds within PDP that the presidential standard bearer had earlier assured the Delta State governor that he would deputise him (Atiku) on the presidential ticket.
It was gathered that after getting a clue of what was to happen, the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, who was on front row for the job, left Abuja by Wednesday so as not be in the city when his Delta State counterpart was to be unveiled.
Some notable Northern leaders were said to have stonewalled attempt to field Wike as VP. They were said to have countered the VP screening committee, saying that not only did Wike make the primary very contentious, his previous bluster against the party did not recommend him for the position.
Also, in a television programme, immediate past Niger State governor, Dr. Babangida Aliu disclosed that Wike was rejected because of his belligerence and trigger words. Yet, given the way the Rivers State governor stormed out of Abuja and the fact that he was subjected to a wild goose chase, PDP and Atiku are said to be considering ways of appeasing the first runner-up in the party’s special convention.
While efforts are being made to pacify Wike and other governors that are sympathetic to him, especially against the backdrop of the alleged deal between Atiku and Okowa, The Guardian gathered that Southern stakeholders are moving to demand the resignation of the national chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu.
It could be recalled that prior to the PDP national convention, Ayu, backed by Northern stakeholders of the party, had promised to resign from office if a Northern candidate emerges as PDP presidential standard bearer.
In a bid to avert any untoward backlash, the former Vice President was said to have put together a small committee of influential PDP stalwarts that would iron out any differences with the Rivers State governor and his supporters.
The committee, which is being kept low-keyed, is expected to reach out to Wike and other Southern leaders that are sulking about what they called the short shrift from the North over “the party structure and recent developments over the choice of presidential running mate.”
A source within the party said the entire South/South leadership caucus of the PDP feels aggrieved by the way they have been treated, especially in the way Governor Okowa was chosen after Wike, Okowa and Governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, were made to appear before the screening panel.
In a chat with The Guardian, Chairman of PDP Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jibrin, said the party would do everything possible to ensure that Atiku gets the support and solidarity of all stakeholders.
Jibrin said there should be nothing like North or South, Christian or Muslim at this point of the nation’s political journey, stressing that PDP needs to be united behind Atiku to rescue Nigeria from its current failed leadership.
He remarked that Atiku understands that he has what it takes to lead, stressing that with the primary election over, “everybody should be brought together so that we go to the main battle as a united army.”
Atiku’s spokesman, Mazi Paul Ibe, told The Guardian that the process of establishing the campaign council has taken root, pointing out that consultations are going on to ensure that no one is left out.
Ibe said that at the end of the day, everybody, including winners and losers, would have a role to play, even as he stressed that the entire process is geared towards an inclusive council.
AS if giving back to Atiku, Tinubu’s camp disclosed that the PDP candidate has a more serious challenge in his hands, remarking that it was pathetic for Atiku to have thrown shades at the process of nominating Tinubu’s running mate.
In a statement by his spokesman, Tunde Rahman, Tinubu declared that he has selected his running mate, adding that unless the candidate, Kabiru Masari, decided to withdraw from the position, nothing that he has complied with the INEC requirement.
However, although the Tinubu camp accused Atiku and his camp of spreading the propaganda about Muslim-Muslim ticket, it was gathered that APC governors who supported the former Lagos State governor to win the presidential ticket are insisting that one of them should be chosen as running mate as obtains in PDP.
The governors, who were said to have accompanied the APC standard bearer on his return to Lagos after the special convention, reminded Tinubu of how he pleaded with President Muhammadu Buhari to run on a Muslim/Muslim ticket.
“They (the governors) told him that as a progressive he should go ahead and pick a Muslim running mate among them. The governors are saying that the only way APC could gather support in the north is by having a Muslim Vice Presidential candidate, which should be one of them,” a source close to one of the governors confided in The Guardian.
Yet, sources within the governing party said Tinubu was determined to pick his ultimate deputy from Northeast among a short list of Simon Lalong, Senator Kashim Shettima, Hon Yakubu Dogara and Boss Mustapha.
However, pressures are said to be mounting on him to look towards Northwest instead based on the voting population from the geopolitical zone.
The challenge before Tinubu is that in the event that he considers the Northwest, which boasts of many APC governors, he would be pandering to proponents of the sensitive Muslim/Muslim ticket, which they push forward as condition to campaign for him.
Based on the lobby by Northwest governors, it was gathered that the Plateau State governor and chairman of Northern Governors’ Forum, Lalong, went for a Senatorial ticket, knowing that when push gets to shove, his constituency does not stand much chance.
SIMILAR jostling is affecting the choice of Peter Obi’s ultimate deputy on the ticket of LP, which like Tinubu put forward a place holder in the person of Dr. Doyin Okupe. But, while Tinubu’s placeholder could be retained on the ticket, because he hails from the Northern part of the country, it is obvious that a Southeast/Southwest pairing on the presidential ticket is not only unrealistic, as it brazenly alienates the entire north and runs counter to the power sharing arrangement between North and South.
Former Kano State governor, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa Service that his party, the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) was engaged in collaborative discussions with LP.
Although Kwankwaso did not expatiate on the nature of the collaboration, NNPP’s National Publicity Secretary, Dr. Agbo Major, declared that Kwankwaso would not accept to serve as running mate to Peter Obi on the LP ticket.
But, a source close to the former Kano State governor confided in The Guardian that an influential elder statesman is reaching out to the leader of the Kwankwasiya Movement to accept the position of running mate to help defeat APC and PDP at the February 25, 2023 presidential poll.
However, while legal opinions are being awaited, on the manner of fusion between the two former governors, it was gathered that leaders of the National Political Consultation Front (NCFront) are working at the possibility of propping up the immediate past chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, as the consensus choice of the collaborating parties in the third force movement to serve as Obi’s running mate.
All indicators point to the fact that until the substitution window closes, APC and LP are yet to have the settled Presidential team for the 2023 electoral contest.