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By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Dapo Akinrefon, Sam Oyadongha, Festus Ahon, Gabriel Enoghalease, Dennis Agbo, John Alechenu, Ike Uchechukwu, Chioma Onuegbu, Ochuko Akuopha & Ozioruva Aliu

GOVERNOR Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, yesterday, emerged as the running mate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Presidential Candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, following intense horse-trading of party bigwigs that knocked off Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, who had been the front runner for the slot for two weeks.

“The person I have chosen as my running mate 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 energized ticket and campaign but also help to bring focus, discipline and stability to our government, come 2023. He has both legislative and executive experience,” the PDP presidential standard-bearer, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, said while unveiling Senator Okowa as his running mate.

Accepting his nomination, Okowa said the PDP presidential candidate has answers to Nigeria’s numerous challenges, adding that Wike is a good party man and will not be disappointed that Atiku Abubakar did not pick him.

Okowa’s emergence drew cheers from many sections of the polity, yesterday with Second Republic governor of old Anambra State, Senator Jim Nwobodo, saying the Delta State governor will represent the South-East and South-South geo-political zones in the Atiku administration.

Immediate past National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, who lost the chairmanship after a fall-out with Wike, said with the Atiku-Okowa ticket, PDP’s return journey to Aso Villa had begun.

Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, also hailed Okowa’s emergence just as Afenifere Leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo Okowa’s described acceptance of his nomination was a betrayal of trust.

Factors that worked against Wike

Wike was close to being selected but Vanguard gathered that last-minute politicking and some crucial factors swayed Atiku Abubakar to pick Okowa as his running mate.

Although the selection committee set up to assist Atiku to pick a running mate was predominantly and favourably disposed to Wike, the presidential candidate opted for Okowa, who he felt is level-headed and had the right temperament to add value to the ticket. A reliable party source told Vanguard that Atiku held meetings which lasted into the early hours of “this morning (yesterday).”

The source said: “The candidate has to prove very early enough that he is his own man. The decision for him to pick Okowa was made easy by the fact that he was on the list of those short-listed. There were also pressures from powerful interests who cited Wike’s hard stance on issues of taxation, especially concerning the Rivers State court case against the Federal Government, on Value Added Tax, VAT. 

“Because the Vice-President will be in charge of the economy, several people felt it would be too risky to have someone with Wike’s temperament in charge. There is also the issue of legislative liaison. The candidate (Atiku) explained and rightly too that Okowa, who was a senator, is better placed to build synergy between legislators and the executive.”

It was also gathered that members of the panel had voted in favour of Wike with the firm belief that choosing him would further unite the party. 

Why I chose Okowa — Atiku

However, Atiku promised not to shy away from taking tough decisions to move the nation forward when voted into office in 2023.

While unveiling Okowa as his running mate for the 2023 presidential election, in Abuja, Atiku appealed for unity within the party’s rank and file as it prepares for the electioneering campaigns and elections proper.

He said: “It is a difficult decision that I am called upon to take. But, as someone hoping to lead a complex country such as ours, tough decisions would remain a part of my everyday life.

“Let me, therefore, start this momentous journey with a crucial decision about who, among the eminently qualified shortlist, would be my running mate. 

“Accordingly, 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 energized ticket and campaign, but will also help to bring focus, discipline and stability to our government, come 2023.

“I am pleased, therefore, to announce here my choice of   Running Mate who will help to lead us to victory next year not only in the Presidential election but also in the governorship and legislative elections. And he will be by my side as I work hard every day to provide our people with security, revive our economy, improve education and unite our country.

“He has both legislative and executive experience. 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.”

Wide consultations

Atiku further explained that in arriving at the decision, he held wide consultations with various stakeholders within the party including governors, The National Working Committee, the Board of Trustees, and other leaders to seek their input and wisdom.

He said, “In these consultations, I made clear that my running mate would have the potential to succeed me at a moment’s notice, that is, a President-in-waiting.

“In other words, the person must have the qualities to be president.  The person must have an appreciation of the deep rot which our country has been put into by the rudderless APC government; understands the great suffering that most of our people are going through and the urgency of relieving them of that suffering; understands the critical importance of economic growth and development to provide our young people with jobs, hope, and a pathway to wealth.”

He added: “In the United States of America from where we borrowed key aspects of our current presidential system, a running mate is used to balance the ticket, complement the candidate and, after victory, assist the President with governance. 

“Sometimes a candidate is chosen who generates a buzz and adds huge excitement to the campaign.”

“I have sought the support, guidance, and counsel of the PDP in selecting a befitting running mate who meets all or most of the qualities enumerated above.

“The wise men and sages of the party, put together by our NWC, have gone fishing and brought home an enviable group of awesome politicians that surpass these qualities.

“Every one of the recommended persons is a fit and proper individual to hold this office. While this makes me marvel at the bundle of talents that abounds in our party, it also compounded my task of choosing a single person from among them.”

While admitting that the task of winning the coming elections will be a tough one, he said the party must not take anything for granted.

Atiku has answers to Nigeria’s challenges, Wike won’t be disappointed — Okowa 

In his acceptance speech, Governor Okowa gave thanks to God and appreciated the party for conducting a very successful convention, saying: “Mr President in waiting, I must truly thank you for finding me worthy to be on this ticket. I do know that it was a very tough decision, even as you have spoken this afternoon.

“But I thank God that among my very qualified colleagues, even those more qualified than myself, that I found favour and I’m here today as the vice-presidential candidate of the party.

“While thanking you, I do understand that it’s a great work that is ahead of us. By the special grace of God, we will work hard to ensure victory for the party.”

“We need the PDP to return to power. We have answers to the questions because I’ve had the opportunity of going through our candidate’s book, and I hope every one of us will take the time to go through ‘My Covenant with Nigeria.’

“It is something worth studying. It is something put together which I don’t think other presidential candidates have been able to put together. You need to go through it. You will find the solutions to our problems in that document. I also appreciate our presidential candidate publicly for making this happen earlier.”

He pleaded with all members of the party to join hands with the candidate and the party leadership to ensure that the party wins the 2023 elections with a landslide.

Asked how he thought Wike would feel about Atiku’s choice, Okowa said: “On the winning side, I know Governor Wike is a very strong party man, he has a great love for our party, and I believe he is also a good democrat and he understands that when several pluckers are in the race for a particular position, only one person will be at the front in time.

“I want to assure you that Governor Wike is a very good man and his interest for this country and party to be able to rise to the challenge at the moment is strong. I do not feel he is going to be disappointed.”

Okowa’ll represent S-East/ S-South in Atiku Presidency — Nwobodo

Igbo leader and elder statesman, Chief Jim Nwobodo, gave the PDP and Atiku pass marks for picking Okowa as the vice-presidential candidate.

Nwobodo said that Okowa was a perfect and double barrel choice as an Igbo man by ethnicity and a South- southerner by geopolitical zone.

In a statement, Nwobodo said that by the choice of Okowa, Atiku Abubakar has shown his consideration for the Igbo. His words: “Atiku’s choice of Dr Ifeanyi Okowa as his vice presidential candidate is a demonstration of his commitment to fairness, equity, and justice.  Ifeanyi Okowa is an Igbo man by ethnicity, and geo-politically, he is from South-South. Ifeanyi Okowa represents two very strong and big regions of South-East and South-South in Atiku’s Presidency.

“The name Ifeanyi is an undiluted Igbo name, so my message to Igbo worldwide is to rally round one of their own, all the way to victory.”

Secondus congratulates Atiku, and Okowa, says PDP’s journey back to Aso Rock begins

Former National Chairman of the PDP,   Prince Uche Secondus, congratulated Atiku Abubakar and Ifeanyi Okowa for emerging the presidential and vice-presidential flag bearers of the party for the 2023 general election.

Secondus, in a statement by his Media Adviser, Ike Abonyi, commended the duo for the maturity they brought into the contest which he said must have been responsible for their eventual victory. He described Atiku as a square peg in a square hole whose pedigree in the nation’s political space remains outstanding and speaks for itself.

“Atiku’s choice of Governor Okowa as his running mate says it all about his knack for picking ga ood head to be around him for the gargantuan task ahead,” adding that with the picking of a running mate, “the candidacy is complete and PDP is now set for the inevitable  journey back to Aso Rock come 2023.”

Okowa’s  acceptance is a betrayal of trust—Ayo Adebanjo

In his reaction, the leader of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo faulted Okowa’s acceptance to be Atiku’s running mate saying it is a betrayal of trust.

Adebanjo said: “You know my stand. No Northerner should come again after Buhari. It is an insult to us and a negation of the constitution of Nigeria.

“If you want peace in the country, the presidency has gone to the South-East. The argument of a Yoruba man contesting from the South does not arise. It is a question of equity and justice. That is my stand. For Okowa to have accepted to be running mate to Atiku is a betrayal of trust in Southern Nigeria.

It is a betrayal of the confidence that the Southern people have in him.”

Okowa‘ll make good VP — Obaseki, PANDEF, others

Governor of Edo State,   Godwin Obaseki, National Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF,   Senator Emmanuel Essien, and other leaders of the South-South region, yesterday,  said the choice of the Governor Okowa, as running mate to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is a divine mandate that will catalyze the development of the oil-rich region.

Obaseki in a statement congratulated Okowa, who he described as “an energetic grassroots mobilizer. Okowa, a two-time governor, senator and commissioner, has the needed experience that would guarantee victory for our party in the 2023 elections in our bid to rescue the country and place it on the path of progress and prosperity.

“As we embark on this all-important mission to rescue Nigeria, we must now all work together in unity, as a people and party, to reclaim our country,” the governor charged.

Not controversial–  Essien, PANDEF chair

National Chairman, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Senator Emmanuel Ibok Essien, said: “For me, Okowa is a PDP man. From inception, he has shown consistency and stability in the party, and he has experience having been a commissioner, Secretary to State Government, senator and a two-term governor.”

“He is not a controversial person. They will make a good pair. He is currently the Chairman of, the South-South Governors’ Forum and he has been working amicably with all the governors of the South of PDP extraction.

The elder statesman, however, advised that there was a need for the pair to start working now to reconcile members of the party, especially all aggrieved contestants at various nationwide.

Divine proclamation – Aguariavwodo

Former Managing Director, Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Senator Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, said: “The emergence of Okowa as the vice-presidential candidate of PDP is divine and orchestrated by Almighty God.    So, God takes all the glory.”

“Senator Okowa brings to the table his wealth of positive experience in achievements in the development of Delta state in many areas,    which include: the transformation of Asaba and the entire Delta state capital territory, the establishment of a technical college in each local government across the state, building and construction of enduring roads in the difficult riverine terrain in the state, empowerment programmes which have transformed hundreds of thousands of lives (youths and women),    new state secretariat and many more.”

Very competent – Aziegbemi, Edo PDP chair

Edo State chairman of PDP, Hon Tony Aziegbemi Okowa, stated: “I think that he is eminently qualified, he has the qualities of    a vice president, I think he will bring a lot to the table in terms of quality, in terms of policy thinking, in terms of running an efficient and corrupt-free government and Delta state has quite a several registered voters and I think he will bring all those votes for our ticket and don’t forget that his hands are stretched unto the South-East and those votes will come from that end too.”

‘Intelligent choice’

Also, Edo North senatorial leader of PDP, Hon Samuel Shegun Saiki, asserted: “I believe that PDP is one, Governor Okowa is PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is PDP, Governor Nyesom Wike is PDP and I believe nobody will want his party to lose an election and I am very sure we are going to deliver and we will win the presidential election come 2023 so there is nothing new about whoever the party has picked.”

“I would have been shocked thinking they were going to go out of the party to bring a running mate, for instance, somebody like Peter Obi who has already left the party that is when we would have been complaining. So I am happy about the choice and the party will win.”

Square peg in a square hole – Makbere, ex-PDP spokesperson

Ex-publicity secretary, PDP, Bayelsa  state chapter, Asom John Makbere, asserted: “The emergence of Okowa is no doubt a reward and endorsement for the imminent benefits of party loyalty and humility.”

“And, as a region holding the economic spine of the nation, there is by this a wholesome alliance between the political and economic zones of the country in what might accord the PDP a huge electoral advantage.

The South is enjoined by this development to quickly repair all conflicting strata and mobilize aggressively across grassroots lines ahead of the general elections.”

In his reaction, a PDP chieftain and member representing Sagbama/Ekeremor federal constituency at the National Assembly, Hon Fred Agbedi, said: “Simply to congratulate him and pray it enhances our winning chances.”

Industrious – Hon Ogor, Delta

The member representing Isoko Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Mr Leo Ogor, who noted  that Okowa’s nomination was a result of years of hard work, diligence and fidelity, lauded Abubakar “for finding the resourceful Delta governor worthy to be chosen as his running mate.”

Not surprising – Oguma, PDP leader

One of the prominent leaders of PDP in the state, Olorogun John Oguma, said Okowa’s nomination is well deserved, adding: “The news of the nomination of our governor, Okowa did not come to some of us as a surprise. We have been praying to God to put those who were trying to stop his nomination as the vice-presidential candidate of the PDP to shame.”

Good choice- Hon Atu, C-River

On his part, a House of Representatives candidate doe Abi / Yakuur Federal Constituency, Hon Eko Atu said: “The party and candidate have taken a decision since they could not go to South- East, but Governor    Okowa is from the Igbo- speaking part of Delta State, so his name is sellable.

“Also, even though he seems quiet he has so much experience, he has been SSG, Senator, and a two-time governor and he has enormous contact, especially with his governor colleagues too.”

Richly deserved – Paul Oweh, DESOPADEC

Also speaking, a member representing Isoko ethnic nationality on the board of Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commissioner, DESOPADEC, Dr Paul Oweh said: “My immediate reaction is that of congratulation to him and l feel it is well deserved. Governor Okowa has been a key promoter of PDP in the entire South-South and the country at large. His emergence is well deserved and l believe it will improve the fortunes of PDP in  the general elections.”

Not aggressive — Hon Egbodor, C’River

However, a former lawmaker representing Ogoja/ Yala, Mr Peter Egbodor, who differed from others,  said:    “Governor Ifeanyi Okowa is a good politician but he is not aggressive at all. What  the party requires us is not only experience but a charismatic politician at this point.”

“I do not think Governor Okowa has the mass appeal to pull the numbers for the PDP. Leaving Wike has its implications, even though he has said that he does not want the vice president position, but all that could be political. With that said Okowa is a good politician.”

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