By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor; Dapo Akinrefon, Dirisu Yakubu & Umar Yusuf
ABUJA — South East governors and other major political office-holders, yesterday, stayed away from the installation of former Vice President and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, as Waziri Adamawa in Yola, Adamawa State, sparking fears of apparent disaffection within the party.
There had been mutterings over the approach of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar to South-East political office holders in the choice of his running mate, Mr Peter Obi.
The ceremony was graced by President Muhammadu Buhari by proxy; former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former President Goodluck Jonathan, five PDP governors among others.
Ex-president Obasanjo, at the ceremony nevertheless, projected Atiku’s capacity to lead, saying he would not disappoint Nigerians.
Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu; all three PDP governors and other prominent political leaders from the South-East were absent at the ceremony yesterday.
The only notable South-East leader was the one-time Atiku aide, Chief Emeka Ihedioha, who served as deputy speaker of the House of Representatives after a stint as an aide to Atiku as vice-president.
The Wazirin Adamawa is the prime traditional office only next to the Lamido, who as the traditional ruler of the Yola emirate, is one of the paramount traditional rulers in Northern Nigeria.
Among other dignitaries present at the installation of Atiku as Waziri Adamawa were former Vice President Namadi Sambo, Senate President Bukola Saraki, Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Governors Ibrahim Dankwambo, Seriake Dickson, Darius Ishaku, Abdulfatah Ahmed and Udom Emmanuel of Gombe, Bayelsa, Taraba, Kwara, and Akwa Ibom states respectively.
Also present were PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus; PDP Board of Trustees chairman, Senator Walid Jibrin; two-time governor of Kano State, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso; former Chief of Army Staff, General Kenneth Minimah (retd); ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi; the lawmaker representing Bayelsa East, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce; immediate past governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu and erstwhile governor of Adamawa State, Boni Haruna among others.
Absence of S-East govs
The absence of the South-East governors came in the wake of concerns by senior officials of the party over the perceived disrespect Atiku had allegedly shown to the region’s political class since his emergence as the presidential candidate of the party.
That perceived disrespect was first pronounced last month when Atiku announced Mr. Peter Obi as his running mate after consultations with some governors and prominent party officials without any South-East politician involved. An attempt to make up for the gaffe penultimate Wednesday stoked further controversy when Atiku met with South-East leaders in Enugu but without the political class.
Neither Ekweremadu nor any of the PDP governors attended the meeting that was mostly graced by leaders of thought but who the politicians allege cannot deliver the votes.
Yesterday, some of the governors pegged their absence on previous commitments. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State said his absence was due to previous scheduled appointments.
“Far, far from it, we are working with him. Our governor was at his event last week. He could not come for this one because he has two engagements today, and in fact, I am talking to you from a ceremony,” Mr. Enyinnaya Apollos, Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ikpeazu told Vanguard, yesterday.
South-East political leaders had been peeved that Atiku sat with political leaders from other geopolitical zones to decide on the choice of Obi and that they heard of the pick just as every other person.
Remarkably, a number of the political leaders expressing the opinion are those who had associated with the former vice-president.
“I am shocked that Atiku has not changed. His sense of entitlement can rob the PDP of this victory that everyone is expecting. The idea that he would go out to consult and relate with the feelings of people is not there,” a long time associate of the former vice-president told Vanguard.
Moved by the development, Vanguard learned that some interested political associates have commenced moves to reconcile Atiku with the South-East political leaders. A meeting to that effect Vanguard gathered, is being planned between him and the political class in the coming week.
Why we did not attend Atiku’s installation — S-East Govs
Meanwhile, governors of the South East said they did not attend Atiku’s turbaning for different reasons that were neither coordinated nor on purpose.
Responding to the allegation that the South East governors intentionally boycotted the function, Chairman of South East Governors Forum, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, denied that it was a boycott.
Umahi, who responded through his Chief Press Secretary, Emmanuel Uzor, said: “There is nothing like boycott. His Excellency, Governor Umahi, is currently (last night) in Lagos attending Ndigbo Lagos Foundation.
“He didn’t boycott it, rather he is attending South East assignment. His Excellency, Peter Obi, is also here. Other governors are represented and if there is anyone boycotting, it should be personal because I know South East is not fully being controlled by PDP.
“There are other states controlled by APC and APGA and there is no way South East governors could be said to have boycotted it.”
S-East govs should gauge their people’s mood —Afenifere
Reacting to the development, last night, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, urged the South-East governors to gauge the mood of their people before embarking on the game.
The National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said: “When the candidate of their party went to Enugu State, they were not there. A week after they went to the Villa to ask the President to do for them in three months what he could not do for them in three and half years. Now, they have an event in Yola and they were not all there. The advice to those governors is for them to gauge the mood of their people because there are some of them seeking re-election for a second term. Before they start this game, they should try and gauge the mood of their people properly.”
Atiku won’t disappoint Nigerians — OBJ
Meanwhile, Obasanjo has affirmed that Atiku would not in any way disappoint, if elected president of the country in 2019.
Speaking at the Lamido Fombina Palace, Yola, where Atiku was turbaned the 7th Waziri Adamawa by the Lamido Adamawa, Alhaji Muhammadu Aliyu Barkindo Mustapha, Obasanjo, whose remarks were punctuated with humour, lauded his former deputy for his strong cultural orientation, stressing that Atiku never forgot where he came from when he served as vice-president.
He said: “No matter the issues today, I know you will not disappoint. When we were in Abuja dealing with national and international issues, you did not take lightly the cultural heritage of your people.
“I am sure you will bring honour to this position, and I want to thank you, Waziri for doing all of us proud.”
Humorously charging Atiku to get used to his new designation as Waziri, Obasanjo said: “Get used to it when I call you Waziri. You did not respond quickly when I called you Waziri. You are used to Turaki, throw that away. Give it to someone else,” he added amidst laughter from the capacity-filled crowd.
Making reference to his three years stint at the Yola prison which shares a perimeter fence with the Lamido’s palace, Obasanjo expressed his readiness to accept a traditional title from the Lamido Adamawa provided he is deemed worthy of one.
“I did not live in the palace, but only a wall separated us. If you give me a turban, I will take it,” he added.
Buhari wishes him success
President Buhari, who was represented at the ceremony by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Alhaji Muhammed Bello wished the Waziri a successful reign.
According to Bello, the president has high regard for Atiku saying it is the wish of the first citizen that the former Vice President’s reign will bring about peace and prosperity in the Adamawa kingdom.
He said: “The president sent me here as a show of the respect he has for you (Atiku) and the Fombina kingdom. He wishes you and the entire Adamawa kingdom good health and prosperity.
“The President wishes you a successful reign as Waziri Adamawa in peace and prosperity.”
The palace located in the heart of the ancient city played host to a huge crowd of people made up of politicians, traditional rulers, military and paramilitary personnel, local musicians, the diplomatic corps, vendors of various items and more. One of the early callers at the Lamido’s Palace was the former national chairman of the PDP and a political associate of the celebrant, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur.
As early as 8.00 am local time, men of the Nigerian Police and the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, teamed up to control the flow of traffic to and from the Jimeta-Yola residence of the PDP Presidential flag bearer.