By Albert Oyibo
SINCE his emergence as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has been in the vortex of a crisis threatening to tear the party apart and consequently undermine his much-coveted victory at the 2023 presidential election. Of particular concern is the stiff opposition to his emergence being spearheaded by a bitterly aggrieved Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, who has also succeeded in mobilising four other PDP governors to join his quest to derail the Atiku presidential campaign train.
Wike, it will be recalled, embarked on a rebellion immediately he lost out to Atiku in the PDP presidential primaries and his subsequent rejection as a running mate to the former vice president to protest his being shortchanged by the leadership of the party. With his comrades in arms made up of PDP governors, Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State and Seyi Makinde of Oyo State in tow, the highly embittered Rivers State governor has continued to put the Atiku presidential campaign on edge through sustained opposition pressure, thus making it vulnerable, a situation being readily exploited to their advantage by Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Peter Obi, the candidates of the All Progressives Congress, APC and the Labour Party, LP, respectively.
Two major issues are believed to have triggered Wike’s anger against Atiku and have continued to fuel his trenchant opposition against the outcome of the PDP presidential primaries. The first is the belief that the process was rigged by the PDP chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, to favour Atiku. And in the estimation of the fire-spitting Rivers State governor, this amounts to an unforgivable betrayal which must not go unpunished. Hence, his single-minded campaign that Ayu must resign as chairman in line with the prevailing North-South zonal arrangement based on the understanding among party members that the party’s presidential candidate and chairman cannot come from the same geopolitical zone. Both Atiku and Ayu, it must be noted, hail from the North, thus reinforcing Wike’s uncompromising argument and demand.
The other issue believed to have further fuelled Wike’s famous volatile temper and rebellion is his rejection as running mate by Atiku in preference for Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa. Indeed those in the Wike camp have repeatedly questioned the rationale behind the choice of Okowa whom they perceive as having little to offer in terms of electoral value compared to their principal. Wike, they argue, deserve to be chosen based on his performance during the presidential primary which he was reportedly poised to win before Tambuwal and Ayu allegedly played the ethnic trump card to scupper Wike’s chances, thus paving the way for the emergence of Atiku as the winner.
So for them, Okowa is an ‘undeserving beneficiary’ of Atiku’s choice of a running mate, and have on account of this put him on the firing line. Apart from that, some have made the point that Okowa, given his perceived low profile and sedate personality does not qualify for the tasking job of a presidential running mate, especially with the formidable opposition threat posed by the candidates of the APC and LP who had carefully made their choices of running mates based on certain strategic considerations bordering on tribe, political connection and mass appeal within the geopolitical zones promising high votes count.
Also in the front burner of considerations are the more contentious issues of tribe and religion with some arguing that the emergence of Atiku, a Fulani Muslim from the North, has effectively robbed the South-East or the Igbo of the opportunity of producing the president in 2023 after eight years of Buhari, another Fulani. The clamour for an Igbo president to succeed Buhari has been a long-drawn and sustained one among the Igbo. Some Wike supporters have tried to leverage on this to discredit the Atiku/Okowa presidential campaign, implying that the emergence of the Rivers State governor at the primaries would have fulfilled this Igbo aspiration.
But this is where Okowa’s detractors got it all wrong. Okowa, by all available parameters and every possible consideration, adequately fits the bill as a worthy complement to Atiku. For those in a position to know, Okowa comes highly recommended based not only on his demonstrable competence as evidenced by his legislative and executive experience, but also by the strategic importance of his geopolitical origin and religion. As Atiku’s running mate, Okowa represents a true balancing factor in the whole presidential equation. With Atiku, a respected and influential Fulani Muslim holding sway in the North, Okowa brings to the table the unique advantage of being a Niger Deltan with a strong Igbo root and a popularly acknowledged Christian.
Though soft spoken and seemingly self-effacing, this belie the fact that he is a veritable man of steel when it comes to leadership as the people of Delta State, including his opponents and supporters, can very well testify. He obviously understands the dynamics of power and how to use it to achieve envisaged goals without noise, fanfare and flamboyance. And the truly discerning can only but vouch that he is without doubt a tried and tested political strategist as evidenced by his sterling records of performance over the years.
It is a fact that Atiku recognised and attested to in choosing him as a running mate, a reason why in spite of undue pressures from certain quarters he has continued to tell whoever cares to listen that he made his choice of running mate purely on merit. According to Atiku: “I held wide consultations with various stakeholders in our party including our governors, National Working Committee, Board of Trustees, and other leaders to seek their inputs and their wisdom. 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. The person must appreciate the critical importance of education in the development of modern societies so we can prepare our young people to be able to compete in the increasingly competitive and globalized world.
“My running mate must understand that without security, development will be very difficult because local and foreign investors who have been scared away already, would not return to invest in our economy. Thus, my running mate will be a person who will stand by me as I confront the frightening level of insecurity in our land. In addition, my running mate has to be someone who is not afraid to speak his mind and give honest advice, and, be by my side as I work very hard to reverse the destructive impact of the past seven years of the APC government. I have sought for 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 surpasses these qualities.
“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.”
As governor of Delta State, Okowa has amply lived up and has continued up to this vote of confidence. For instance, in over seven years as the helmsman of the state, he has accomplished so much in different areas of need, including skills training and entrepreneurship development programmes which have gone a long way in empowering the youth, with a resultant growth in human capital development.
Oyibo, a political analyst, wrote from Lagos