The nomination of Peter Obi, though a good choice, as running mate to Atiku came as a surprise to many, including the political leaders of the South East.
About 48 hours to the presidential primary election of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), I was in the Enugu town house of Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and, for over an hour, we had a hearty discussion on the state of the nation. Among other things, he sought my candid opinion on the best foot forward for the PDP in the march towards the 2019 presidential election, in view of the current realities in Nigeria. He also revealed to me that a number of the contenders were seeking his support and a particular aspirant had gone as far as offering him the vice presidency slot. He pointedly stated that vice presidency was a privilege that was not a priority for him. His greatest interest was that of the “future relevance and benefit of the South East within a broad pan-Nigerian framework of socio-economic development.”
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I gave a brief synopsis of those I considered as top four contenders for the PDP presidential nomination among the dozen contestants. Aminu Tambuwal, had the advantage of age, less liability of corruption baggage but his electoral assets as may be encapsulated in his vision for a new Nigeria remained vague 48 hours to the convention. Going forward, there may be no sufficient time to bring whatever Tambuwal represents to the consciousness of the people in such a manner as to cause the upset required to oust a formidable ruling party candidate as Muhammadu Buhari. In the case of Rabiu Kwankwaso, I opined that he did not appear to have outgrown his Kwankwasiya movement, which I considered a minus for an aspirant to the highest office in the land to hold on to such politics of provincial proclivity. For Senate President Saraki, I believed he stood out clearly in his clarity of message with rich nationalist credentials. However, in a society where primordial ethno-geographic sentiments still run deep, Saraki’s chances may be limited by politics of ethnic identity.
Lastly, I shared my well-publicised opinion with Ekweremadu that, among the leading aspirants from the core north (North West and North East) of Nigeria, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was the most liberal-minded with verifiable impeccable nationalists credentials needed under the current circumstances in Nigeria to pull the nation from the precipice. In addition, Atiku has demonstrated through his chains of successful businesses a minimal understanding of economic matters, which is equally needed to revive Nigeria’s comatose economy. I reiterated that Atiku was the alternative to Buhari’s sectionalism and clear lack of economic management skills.
As expected, Ekweremadu listened with rapt attention as my droplets dripped into his ocean of knowledge, with occasional responses on the very points I raised and acting in a statesman-like manner, as the second highest office holder in PDP, he didn’t betray to an “outsider” like me his clear preference.
Following the emergence of Atiku as the presidential standard-bearer of the PDP, I, like many others, had hoped Ekweremadu would emerge the vice presidential candidate. Equipped with the requisite educational qualifications, national exposure as well as a combination of executive (local council chairman, chief of staff, SSG) and legislative (four-term senator) experience, Ekweremadu would greatly enhance the quality of the Atiku 2019 challenge. On the passionate issue of restructuring, Atiku has a soul mate in Ekweremadu, who, as the chairman of successive National Assembly constitution amendment committees since 2007, has made considerable efforts to push the frontiers of devolution of powers and fiscal federalism through legislation. In a constitutional democracy, the National Assembly is an important factor in achieving the fundamentals of restructuring. As a time-tested legislator who has occupied the second highest position in the leadership of the Senate of the federal republic, Ekweremadu is equipped with sufficient knowledge of the inner workings of the National Assembly to serve as a buffer between it and the executive and allow for easy passage of executive bills that aim to restructure the Nigerian federation in line with Atiku’s campaign promises. With a PhD thesis on fiscal federalism, Ekweremadu comes on board with considerable knowledge to help Atiku navigate the thorny labyrinth on the way to the much- talked-about true federalism.
On the political side, Ekweremadu has managed to emerge as a rallying figure for Nigerians of South East origin in a manner never seen since the era of Nnamdi Azikiwe. To emerge a leader among the highly educated and republican people of South East Nigeria is to be imbued with leadership qualities of sacrifice for common good, consensus building, integrity, rich character and fidelity to agreements. Most fundamental is the fact that, in the face of unprecedented marginalisation of Nigerians of South East origin, Ekweremadu stood firm, even in the face of persecution, while consistently demanding justice, equity and fairness from the federal government, which further legitimised his organic leadership of the South East geo-political zone.
As has been a recurring decimal in the arithmetic of political horse-trading in Nigeria, a dark horse almost always usually emerges as running mate to presidential candidates. The nomination of Peter Obi, though an equally good choice, as running mate to Atiku came as a surprise to many, including the political leaders of the South East. In what may be considered an oversight, Obi’s nomination also came to Ekweremadu as a surprise as he was not consulted.
Ekweremadu was not a contender for the position of Vice President but was only a widely considered option. He was offered the position severally ahead of the presidential nomination but he did not allow such personal interests to override his role as a leader who must uphold the tenets of fair play for all contestants, which eventually led to a peaceful, transparent and acceptable outcome of the PDP presidential primary. This was consistent with Ekweremadu’s efforts since 2015, in keeping the opposition PDP afloat since its loss of power. It was Ekweremadu who charted the way for the party to follow to its reinvention as a formidable opposition party, strong enough to be considered
Page 33 a potent challenger to the ruling APC, beginning with his recommendation to return power back to the North in 2019 on the platform of the PDP. Beyond just standing firm in opposition, Ekweremadu also skilfully negotiated the return of APC heavyweights that left the PDP in 2014 in protest against the violation of the zoning- ing arrangement within the PDP, chief among whom is the man that has emerged candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar. His stabilising role and amiability equally attracted a considering number of senators from the ruling APC to the PDP, prominent among whom was Senate President Bukola Saraki. Therefore, as a leading figure in the party, Ekweremadu should have been consulted like other leaders on the issue of a South East vice presidential nominee and his suggestion may as well have been the eminently qualified Obi.
For helping build the party back to life, Ekweremadu can only be rewarded for his steadfastness with at least a minimal consultation on party affairs post-presidential primary and going forward into the election. However, speculation has become rife about the possibility of his leaving the PDP when the initial list of the membership of PDP campaign council was announced and not only was he not also consulted on the plans to constitute it, his name was conspicuously missing. If this was also an oversight, it was one that was carelessly taken too far. Ekweremadu’s full participation in the Atiku/Obi presidential effort will help deliver the South East en bloc for the PDP in an election that will be perhaps the tightest race in the history of Nigeria.
Ekweremadu had a choice in the last three years to ditch the PDP and pitch tent with the ruling APC. Like many other leading figures of the opposition PDP, he has been harassed, intimidated, with at least one assassination attempt, yet he remained ramrod straight on the path of his political conviction. In the build-up to the PDP presidential primary, Ekweremadu had a choice of firmly extracting commitments for vice presidency and, in the process, compromising an otherwise transparently acceptable outcome for both the party and the standard-bearer, but he chose to lead by example by building a consensus of organic support around the eventual winner. Even now that PDP looks set to give APC a good fight in the 2019 elections, Ekweremadu still has a choice.