By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Mr. Peter Obi’s emergence as vice-presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP last Friday was immediately laced with controversy arising from political intrigues from within the Southeast geopolitical zone.
Mr. Obi had faced many odds during his brief but eventful political career. And almost every time with one notable exception, he had overcome the odds. Last weekend, he overcame another challenge after he was announced as vice-presidential candidate of the PDP by Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the party.
It was not as if Obi’s name came as a surprise to many Nigerians. He had almost consistently been mentioned as a possible running mate to any presidential candidate that emerged from the PDP.
The reason was not too far-fetched. His period as governor of Anambra State between 2005 and 2013 proved to be one of the best testimonials that the country’s democracy could present.
In his time as governor of Anambra State, roads were given a top priority that led to a network of motor able roads that linked all the major towns in the state.
Even more, Mr. Obi’s legendary prudence set him out as a good manager of public resources. When he left office he left as much as N75 billion for his successor contrary to the narrative in nearly every other place where governors burden their successors with debts.
Even more, he was able to clear the N35 billion pension debt he inherited and by the time he was leaving he was neither owing salaries nor pensions.
However, his politics had not always been a fairy tale. After reclaiming his mandate through the courts in 2005, Mr. Obi had sought to stamp his political authority in the state through his All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA.
While he succeeded in taking control of the State House of Assembly from 2011 he, however, failed in replicating the feat at the national level with his failure to project APGA in the National Assembly.
The PDP with its disparate forces on ground was still able to maintain a commanding hold on the Senate seats and the majority of the seats in the House of Representatives.
Before he died, Dr. Alex Ekwueme passed on to Obi the need for him to cross over to the PDP. However, having a successful berth in the PDP was bound to be a difficult venture for Obi. The multitude of hawks in the party who had divided the party along personal interests was not something that anyone envisaged Obi could relate with.
However, beneath the veneer of the Mr. Nice Guy that Obi espoused, those who had dealt with him in the past also claimed that he could also be a brutal politician.
His repeated success in caging Chief Chris Uba throughout the time he was governor was one fact that was referenced to underline his political prowess.
So, when last Friday Atiku announced Obi’s emergence as his running mate, the announcement elicited mixed reactions.
To the general public, it was seen as the killer blow that the PDP needed to tie up the Igbo vote in the run-up to the presidential election.
However, among the political elite within Anambra and the rest of the Southeast, Obi’s emergence was like a killer joy for some of them. While some on account of their personal dealings with the former governor expressed their reservations, others who wanted the position either for themselves or for others, the nomination was a provocation.
Indeed over the night last Thursday, several political gladiators reached out to one another and the consensus of the elite class was that the insult would not be taken.
The insult they claimed was not because of Obi but rather what they claimed to be the process that led to his emergence.
Whereas Governor Dave Umahi, chairman of the Southeast Governors Forum was quoted to have issued a press statement lauding the nomination through his chief press secretary that Thursday, within hours the same statement was retracted.
The insinuation in some quarters was that Umahi who had been positioned as a possible running mate was angry. But he was, however, not the only one that was considered for the position of running mate.
Others considered included the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, erstwhile Corps Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, Osita Chidoka and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
By the eve of the decision on the decision on who to choose as a running mate, Vanguard gathered that the choice had narrowed to two persons, Ekweremadu and Obi.
For Ekweremadu, little is known of who he supported during the presidential convention given the conflict for him among the presidential aspirants. Senate President Bukola Saraki was his paddy in the Senate and it was generally expected that he would support him. However, the consensus for many in the Southeast had been Atiku.
Even more was the last minute bid by Governor Nyesom Wike to lobby votes for Governor Aminu Tambuwal from the Southeast delegation.
However, Obi was known to have been an unflinching supporter of the Atiku project and had helped to canvass support for Atiku at home and abroad.
“Who best can manage a country like Nigeria if not somebody who has managed a business like Atiku,” he had once said months ahead of the PDP presidential nomination convention.
In fact despite entreaties from some other presidential aspirants before the convention to Obi to work for them with the quid pro quo of the vice-presidential seat, Obi is said to have stuck with Atiku.
However, when it came to the issue of choosing a running mate, political fidelity even while an essential ingredient, other factors were brought into focus. It was for that reason that Dubem Onyia, arguably Atiku’s closest political ally in the Southeast was not a shoo-in.
So when last Thursday some of the party’s leading figures gathered in Atiku’s Asokoro, Abuja residence, all the variables were brought into play.
Among those that were gathered according to Vanguard sources were Atiku, national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, Senate President Bukola Saraki, Speaker Yakubu Dogara and Governor Wike. While Wike was present of all the governors is not known.
Based on political and age considerations, the list of those touted for the position was narrowed down to Obi and Ekweremadu. Vanguard gathered that the final clincher which put it in Obi’s way was his exposure to business.
“What is needed is someone who can push forward the interests of business and help Nigeria work again,” a source familiar with the process revealed.
Atiku’s decision not to first inform Southeast political leaders including Chief Emmanuel Iwanyanwu who helped to mobilise support for him became a weapon for those who were against Obi to raise their grievance.
“This man is starting on a bad note and I hope we are not replacing one man who marginalises us with another one who does not think us important,” a senator from the region told Vanguard last Saturday.
“Imagine, Iwanyanwu and our governors all heard of the choice from social media.”
Beyond the issue of lack of consultation was also the unsettled matter of a major beef between a South-South governor and Igbo leaders who he was alleged to have accused of betraying him. The South-South governor it was gathered had sworn that he would pay them back by foisting a vice-president candidate on them that they would not like.
However, the irony for the governor and even the Igbo political leaders is that Obi is well liked by the majority of Nigerians among whom his illustrious example in public service continues to shine.
So after the Southeast leaders mobilised themselves to Enugu to discuss what they raved as the insult, Atiku was said to have called them to apologise over the perceived slight promising to meet with them after returning from a trip abroad.