By Ananyo James Eneh
FORMER Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, won a well-deserved victory at the Peoples Democratic Party’s, PDP, presidential primary of May 28, 2022. With this victory, he would be reprising his 2019 role as the PDP’s presidential flagbearer in an election that promises to be as challenging as the 2015 election in which General Muhammdu Buhari (retd), on his fourth attempt at the presidency, defeated incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.
There are undoubtedly several critical decisions Atiku would have to take in the next few weeks, which could make or mar his chances at the election next year. One of those decisions is that of a running mate. The former Vice President must get this decision right by putting on the PDP ticket someone who would complement his strengths.
The most effective way to choose a vice presidential pick is by getting one who ticks several crucial boxes. The year 2023 is when the Southerners wished that power should return to the region. Leaders like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Afenifere leader Pa Ayo Adebanjo, Ijaw leader Chief Edwin Clark, former Secretary to the Federal Government Chief Olu Falae, and other foremost ethnic nationalists, political leaders, and political activists have zeroed in on the South-East as the next region to take the presidency.
Prior to the eventful PDP presidential primary, several arguments were put forward by the camps of Atiku, Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwa, former President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, and Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed. One of the arguments suggested that as a party out of power, the PDP could not afford to zone its presidential ticket but instead needed to be pragmatic about positioning the party to win. It appears that that argument won the day.
By choosing Atiku, the PDP has left a lot of dashed hopes and opened old wounds in the South, particularly the South-East. The hurt on the streets in the South is real. The former vice president has positioned himself as a unifier in his campaigns. There is an urgent need for him to take bold steps toward healing those who feel shortchanged by his emergence in his party and the entire country.
The sentiments and emotional engagements with zoning as a factor for power rotation and power-sharing is a front-burner issue, particularly in this election cycle. There has been a strong call for power to shift to the South-East, which has not served as president or vice president since the Fourth Republic began in 1999.
Also, considering the PDP’s Governor Bala Mohammed report on zoning, which earmarked the South-East and the North- East as the two zones which should be given priority as the zones to produce the next president. With Atiku Abubakar coming from the North-East, it is only proper that the South-East be given the vice presidential ticket.
A VeePee pick from the South-East would go a long way in showing the restive region that, indeed, Atiku, the Northern politician with the most affinity for the South-East, puts his money where his mouth is and that he truly cares about giving the people of the South-East a sense of belonging.
The opponents to Atiku’s emergence had knocked his septuagenarian status as one of the reasons why the party should not pick him. His critics point to out-going President Muhammadu Buhari’s ineffectual governance has been attributed to his old age. While, Atiku’s supporters showcase the example of American President Joe Biden and some more senior world leaders as a counter-narrative. None of these arguments are faulty, but none of them are sufficient either.
Atiku would do well complementing himself with a younger person who would bring in the needed youthfulness and zest for life to the ticket. The right VeePee pick should be in their early 50s and below to bring in this benefit properly. They should have a youthful appearance and energy that will energise the ticket and inspire younger voters and the youth demographic to the ticket.
This brings us to the second issue used to counter the age factor – the issue of competence, capacity, and credentials. An effective vice-presidential pick for Atiku should be a sound technocrat with a good track record and evidence-based track record for performance. They should be a high performer with intimidating credentials and a clean, zero corruption record. His pick should be scandal-free, and to achieve this aim, it might be necessary to look away from the traditional political class and look into the business world or private sector.
Atiku is perceived as a seasoned government person and politician. He needs a complement who would attract the interest, capture the imagination, and win the business community’s confidence.
Given the bright chances of the PDP to win and take power in 2023, the party must also plan like winners. Atiku needs a running mate who would assist him in driving his ambitious plans for policy and economic turnaround.
The task before the PDP presidential candidate is enormous to rescue, repair, and restore Nigeria, beginning with our battered economy. So therefore, the PDP needs an experienced leader with knowledge in turnaround processes and management on its presidential ticket.
In consideration of the tough battle ahead to win the hearts and minds of Nigerians in what will be an epic battle for the soul of the country in the 2023 general election; and the atrocities and divisiveness of the out-going Muhammadu Buhari regime, the PDP and Atiku Abubakar must be properly positioned to win the upcoming election.
I strongly believe that my recommendations above will go a long way in simplifying the decision for Atiku and the party, and picking a vice-presidential candidate who ticks all boxes would put the PDP ahead of the rest in the 2023 elections.
Eneh, a legal practitioner and public affairs, commentator, wrote from Enugu.