South East PDP governors’ opposition to Obi’s appointment as running mate to Atiku Abubakar is surprising and odd. It is bizarre… and spiteful.
There is something patently wrong and bizarre about the nature of politics in the South East zone of Nigeria. The presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, last week appointed former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, as his vice-presidential running mate in the 2019 election. You would expect the appointment of Obi would be commended by politicians and governors of the South East zone.
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Unfortunately, Obi’s selection has polarised the South East. Some PDP governors and political leaders in the zone have expressed profound outrage over Atiku Abubakar’s choice of Obi on the ground that they were not consulted before the decision was made. Other sources claim the governors were angry that Obi was picked as Abubakar’s running mate over their preferred candidate, Charles Chukwuma Soludo, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Atiku Abubakar is now being pelted with rocks and insults over his impeccable and widely acclaimed choice of Obi. This has prompted the question: What do South East PDP governors and politicians want for their people?
South East PDP governors’ opposition to Obi’s appointment as running mate to Atiku Abubakar is surprising and odd. It is bizarre, mean-spirited, uncharitable, traitorous, erratic, impulsive, irresponsible, small-minded, and spiteful. Obi’s appointment as running mate represents an opportunity for Igbo to have a presence at the topmost level of government, if the PDP wins next year’s presidential election.
For many years, Igbo leaders complained about marginalisation of their people. The last Igbo politician in the position of Nigeria’s Vice-President was the late Alex Ekwueme, who served in the government of President Shehu Shagari, from 1979 to 1983. That was during Nigeria’s Second Republic. For the past 35 years, no other Igbo man or woman has risen to, equalled, or exceeded the vice-presidential position held by Ekwueme. It is in this context that many people believed and still hold the view that it is about time an Igbo man or woman was elected to the position of President, not just vice-president.
Regardless of the grudge the PDP governors and political leaders in the South East might have with Obi or Atiku Abubakar, it can never justify their opposition to Obi’s selection. I am not persuaded by arguments made by the self-appointed Igbo political leaders. Obi and Soludo have impressive curriculum vitae. Both have extraordinary track record of achievements. Both are qualified to serve as vice-president or president. In terms of management of people and financial resources, Obi and Soludo have exceptional records. Obi is a former state governor and Soludo is a former governor of the CBN. Both of them are Igbo and both originate from Anambra State. Against this background, the PDP South East governors’ opposition to the nomination of Obi must be deemed mindless, nasty, fickle, fastidious, and a self-inflicted pain.
There is one way to interrogate the PDP South East governors’ unwillingness to endorse Obi. The governors want to play godfather to Obi. They want a candidate they can manipulate, someone who would easily accede to their whims. Unfortunately, Obi does not appear to fit the character sketch of the man who would serve the interests of the governors rather than the interests of ordinary people. It is ironic that the same governors who impose their choice candidates to succeed them now want to push Atiku Abubakar to select their own preferred candidate. They must know that, in Peter Obi, they have hit a dead end.
In an essay I wrote in 2011, I made the following observations about the nature of politics in the South East zone. In the article, entitled “South East: In search of credible leaders,” I wrote: “The South East zone is in dire need of credible leaders with guts. What exists at the moment is a cacophony of voices that do not reflect a united front of governors seeking to improve the living conditions of the people in the area. The South East governors’ forum is an inchoate organisation whose goals are non-binding on members. The governors meet only when it suits their convenience, not to advance strategies on how to lobby federal authorities to allocate funds that would enhance the socioeconomic circumstances of the people who reside in the zone.”
Paradoxically, governors in the South East are still disorganised. While politicians in the South West agree most times in advancing the interests of people in their region, the situation in the South East remains stunted. Political leaders in the South East cannot agree on anything. They cannot acquiesce on who should lead their people. They cannot articulate a common position to advance the interests of Igbo, particularly in an increasingly competitive Nigerian political environment. They allow petty sentiments and selfishness to override the interests of their region.
The South East zone is still in desperate need of a credible and trustworthy leader. The governors’ forum is a dysfunctional organisation that is heavily fractured along nonsensical ideological lines, each group proclaiming to be the altruistic champion of Igbo economic and political interests. The leaders prefer to brawl with one another rather than push for the security and economic wellbeing of Igbo.
Let me be clear here. It is the responsibility of the South East governors, regardless of the political party to which they belong, to lobby for appointment of their own people into federal positions and to attract federal projects to the zone. This is why they should embrace the appointment of Obi as running mate to Atiku Abubakar.
By opposing the selection of Obi as vice-presidential candidate, PDP South East governors have abdicated their responsibility to campaign for the larger interests of their people. Opposition to Obi’s nomination is additional evidence that the governors play politics from a very narrow prism. Whether the governors’ position on Obi’s nomination is a politically naïve move or wise strategy remains to be seen. Their failure to endorse Obi portrays the governors’ forum as a politically unsophisticated group.
During his time as chairperson of South East Governor’s Forum, Peter Obi once said: “The struggle for political positions is the responsibility of the PDP members from the South East who ought to raise questions concerning what comes to their zone” (Daily Sun, Tuesday, 17 May 2011). That statement was as appropriate seven years ago as it is today.
What the PDP South East governors have done by opposing Obi’s nomination is a silly brand of politics that reflects disunity rather than unity that could rob the zone of an excellent opportunity to be recognised and rewarded through the appointment of Obi as vice-presidential candidate. Atiku Abubakar has recognised and reached out to Igbo. Igbo must never allow the blind politics of the PDP South East governors to deprive them of a significant lifetime opportunity to serve their fatherland.
Unity is the key reason why other zones in Nigeria continue to do better in terms of attracting federal grants and projects, and appointment into top government positions. South East PDP governors and federal parliamentarians should work collaboratively to get the highest amount of federal benefits for the highest number of people in the region. Anything short of this is political folly elevated to a pre-eminent position.