By Barnabas Nze
Last week, I predicted that despite his sacrifices and exploits for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in its darkest hours, Chief Ike Ekweremadu could still be jumped in the choice of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s running mate for the 2019 presidential election. Since the announcement would have been made before my article would be in the newspapers, I made it clear that it wasn’t a campaign for him, but retrospection on his roles in weathering PDP’s post-election defeat storm to turn it into the beautiful bride that it is today.
More so the man was reported to have told Atiku and former President Olusegun Obasanjo well ahead of the Convention that he was more interested in key issues like sacking the present government and restructuring than in vice presidency, which he said should go to any region that could help brighten the chances of PDP victory in 2019.
Although Chief Ekweremadu has benefited from the PDP, serving in many positions, there are also many others, who benefited far more than Ekweremadu, but turned their backs on the party at the most critical time. While some left before the 2015 election or stayed inside to work against the party, the worst, to my mind, were those who dumped the PDP immediately it lost the general elections, even though they benefited heavily from the party as Senate President, Speakers, Ministers, Governors, serving and former Senators and members of the House of Representatives.
Some left because they are incurable “long throat”, who always want to be where the milk and honey flows, but never ready to rear the cow or farm the bee. Some left because of skeletons in their cupboards and could not stand the media trial and harassment of being dragged from one court to another. Even some, who have no skeletons fled for fear of political witch-hunt. There were a few who left out of frustrations, some perceived, some genuine.
But Ekweremadu stood up to be counted when the PDP was down and out, when it seemed like the end of the road for the party, deserted by its teeming fair weather friends and well wishers. Ekweremadu and his comrades- the PDP contingent to the 8th National Assembly pulled a masterstroke at the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly. They did not only become the kingmakers that installed all the presiding officers of the National Assembly, but also ensured that Ekweremadu returned as Deputy Senate President.
Expectedly, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) didn’t take Ekweremadu’s re-emergence lying low, for they well understood the wider implications. One of the APC chieftains who did not hide his feelings and wider implications of that development was the Chief Chris Ngige, who said that it was a bad omen for the APC that a PDP man had become the highest-ranking elected public office holder from the South East.
His words: “The PDP in the South-East will have oxygen to breath from since they now have the highest ranking person in Nigeria coming from the South-East, that disadvantages us and puts us in a difficult position on our aspiration to make the South-East people to join the main stream of Nigerian politics by aligning with the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government.”
Ngige told journalists that Ekweremadu had made the job of the South East APC difficult, but vowed: “You know, there are many ways to kill a rat. You can decide to go and kill it manually, you can go and put it in hot water, and you can use poison – Gammalin. We are back to the drawing table because it poses a problem for us”.
Of course, many other APC chieftains and officials took turns to bemoan the development, threatened that hail, fire, and brimstone would be let lose on him.
But, Ekweremadu had an option- to dump the PDP and defect to the APC. He also had the option of betraying his boss, Saraki. But he chose to fight on faithfully. Beside the covert pushes to have him in the folds to take hold of the South East, there were also open overtures. On one occasion, the spokesperson of the Senate Unity Forum, Senator Kabir Marafa, said “The remaining problem is what we do with our Deputy Senate President — my leader and my boss. Let me use the opportunity to call on my leader and my boss, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, to please defect to the APC and that will seal the whole thing and there will never be a problem.”
On his 56th birthday, the Majority Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan even waved the carrot of a possible 2023 presidential ticket at him. While paying tribute to him at plenary, Lawan said: “I will use this opportunity to urge Senator Ike Ekweremadu to see through the mist; this woolly environment and take the right decision. You are an asset. I want to say clearly that you are going to fit in perfectly well. 2023 is here (for you) for the taking”.
Ekweremadu survived an assassination attempt in November 2015. He was charged to court along with Saraki for alleged forgery of Senate Standing Rule, which they claimed helped him and Saraki to emerge. It was such an frivolous claim, Nigerians knew. They were nevertheless arraigned, even when there was no mention of their names anywhere in the police report. The Federal Government withdrew the case when it became clear it was an effort in futility.
The police stormed his official guest house in Abuja in search of phantom caches of arms, which many saw as a failed attempt to set him up. The Special Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property headed by Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, who, ironically, was accused by WAEC of forging his WAEC result, came after him. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission also launched an attack when the hostage-taking of himself and Saraki on 24thJuly 2018 and the siege to the National Assembly for their unlawful refusal did not yield result.
Rather than surrender, Ekweremadu chaired the PDP Post-Election Review Panel that turned the fortunes of the party around and also zoned the presidency to the North. He rallied the South East to unprecedentedly become the hotbed of opposition. I have often imagined if there could have been any umbrella to shelter the PDP faithful or for the defectors to return to had Ekweremadu selfishly defected to the APC for immediate political convenience and immediate gains. PDP would have collapsed patapata.
He also played key roles in the consultations that rallied block votes for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar at Port Harcourt convention on the premises of restructuring, 2023 South East presidency, etc.
Ordinarily, you would say that a man, who paid these enormous prices and played such roles, would have the right of first refusal. But since he wasn’t as keen in the position as he was in issues like sacking the present government, restructuring, and Igbo presidential project in 2023, you would expect that he would be consulted at least.
But as I rightly predicted, not only was he not picked, Ekweremadu and the same South East PDP leaders who held the party together during the tempest, who gave Atiku a block vote in Port Harcourt were also so disrespected that they weren’t even consulted or pre-informed. They heard it as “breaking news” like every other Nigerian.
They were also denied the right to air their displeasure over the slight and mistreatment. Instead, the real issues were twisted and Igbo sentiments were misled to blackmail them. No genuine effort was made to reach out to him and his name wasn’t even mentioned anywhere in the PDP Presidential Campaign Council. Neither the National Chairman of the PDP or Atiku has made serious moves to assuage feelings. It is only Peter Obi, who is left to begin late visits to the South East party leaders in a manner reeking with afterthought and fulfilling all righteousness.
This is another typical and unpardonable case of use and dump. I suggest to Ekweremadu to seriously weigh his political future with such an irredeemably unjust bunch.
As for we the South Easterners, when this frenzy of vice presidential ticket dies, it will begin to dawn on us that with Obi solely nominated by external forces, he is first answerable to those external interests, then Igbo’s. And obviously, Atiku has shown that he can’t be to his pact with the South East. not when we told him that South East party leaders don’t matter.
Nze, a political analyst writes from Lagos