From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, last Thursday, named Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa as his running mate for the 2023 general election and effectively brought to an end the jostling for the opposition party’s vice presidential slot.
In the aftermath of the May 28/29 national convention of the PDP, attention had shifted to whom would be a suitable running mate to Atiku, who scored 371 votes, to emerge the opposition’s party’s standard bearer. The jostle for the vice presidential ticket, expectedly, was characterized by intrigues, horse-trading and subterfuge, as party leaders tried to outwit one another.
Nevertheless, it was clear to all that Atiku’s running mate would emerge from among the governors. But what was not clear until last week, was which of the eight southern governors, was going to be selected. Unlike in 2019, when the former vice president chose former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, as his running mate, the PDP candidate, prior to his emergence, had conceded the vice presidential slot to the governors.
Consequently, the party raised a panel to shop for a vice presidential candidate. The panel, which consists of five members of the National Working Committee (NWC), three members of the Board of Trustees( BoT) and three members of the PDP Governors Forum, was chaired by the PDP Deputy National Chairman (North), Umaru Damagum.
The special panel at the end of its assignment shortlisted Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike; Okowa and Akwa Ibom governor, Udom Emmanuel. Wike and Emmanuel had participated in the PDP presidential primary and scored 273 and 38 votes respectively.
However, Atiku told members of the PDP National caucus, at a meeting, held at the Wadata Plaza, in Abuja, last Thursday, that he has settled for the Delta governor as his running mate for the 2023 polls. The former vice president noted that though the three governors recommended for the vice presidential slot are all qualified, only one person can be chosen.
He explained that his choice was guided by Okowa’s antecedents as a former member of the national assembly and two time governor, as well as his appreciation of the nation being in dire straits among others.
Okowa, who is currently in his second term as Delta State governor, is a former local government boss, former member of the National Assembly and had at various times served as commissioner for health and Secretary to the Delta State Government (SSG).
Atiku noted that the Delta governor “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. 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 experiences.
“You know him to be a fighter; you know him to care about winning; you know him to care about good governance; and you know him to care about our people. Now, my dear friends, let’s do the disciplined hard work necessary to win this election.”
The PDP candidate added that he had made it clear to party stakeholders, in his various consultations, that whoever would be chosen as his running mate must possess certain qualities.
According to him, he had told the party leaders that “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 globalised 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.”
Analysts say since a presidential ticket is incomplete without a vice presidential candidate, a Okowa is expected to complement the candidate, especially in making up for his lapses, in every way possible and attracting votes during the main election, so as to secure victory for the party.
Therefore, the question is what value can Okowa add to the PDP presidential ticket? And what exactly is he bringing to the table?
Pundits say the choice of Okowa as PDP vice presidential candidate “is strategic in many respects, just as it is a bit controversial.” The nomination of the Delta governor as Atiku’s running mate had elicited excitement among party stakeholders, with many describing it a square peg in a square hole.
Pundits say, being a serving governor and former member of the National Assembly, Okowa’s nomination is expected to win the support of the PDP governors and that of serving and former members of the National Assembly for the opposition party’s presidential ticket.
The PDP Governors Forum, in a statement by its chairman, Aminu Tambuwal, said with his nomination, Atiku has kept his promise to the governors. Tambuwal noted that the “ great task of recovering, rescuing and rebuilding Nigeria begins with the Atiku/Okowa ticket.”
The statement added: ‘the PDP-GF notes in particular that the PDP Presidential Candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, promised to select a serving PDP governor as his running mate, ostensibly not just because of the contributions of the governors to the effective running of the party and its stability, but because of their experience and executive capacity. He kept his word.
“Governor Okowa has distinguished himself as governor of Delta State. He also has cognate legislative experience as a former Senator. He has what it takes to be an effective Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Besides, the Delta governor as an Igbo man from the South South, is expected to serve as a bridge between the South South and Ndigbo of the South East. Analysts say perhaps Okowa’s emergence would help to assuage the feelings of the people of the South East, who feels marginalized in the scheme of things in the PDP.
The vice presidential candidate, while featuring in a television programme, last Friday, noted that
“I fit into all the divides. My brothers in the South-East, I am part of them. I am also part of the South-South. I am an Igbo man from South-South. But this does not stop the agitation in the future for the Igbos to have the presidency of this country.”
But the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF) described the Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as a traitor for accepting his nomination as vice presidential candidate to Atiku in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
In a statement signed by leader of Leader SMBLF/PANDEF, Edwin Clark, Leader of Afenifere, Ayo Adebanjo, President-General, Middle Belt Forum, Dr Bitrus, and President-General, Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide, George Obiozor, the forum said it was unspeakable and quite disappointing that Okowa, who is currently chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum, and a native of Owa-Alero in Ika North-East Local Government Area (one of the Igbo-speaking areas) of Delta State, would exhibit such barefaced unreliability.
Part of the statement reads: “It bears recalling that the 17 governors of the Southern States of Nigeria, both of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), under the Chairmanship of the Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, met in Asaba, the capital of Delta State on May 11, 2021, and took far-reaching decisions, including that, based on the principles of fairness, equity and justice, the presidency should rotate to the South, at the end of the statutory eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure. And this very Governor Okowa was the host of that historic meeting. The Southern governors later met again in Lagos, on July 5, where they reaffirmed their decision, and again in Enugu, on September 16, to restate the call that the presidency should rotate to the South in 2023.
“It is essential to underline that the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), applauded the meeting of the governors, given its significant representation and the gravity of the outcome; we followed up and issued a similar statement after our meeting in Abuja on the 30th of May 2021, asking that the presidency should rotate to the South. And went further, on several other occasions, to caution political stakeholders from the South, including serving and former governors, ministers, senators, etcetera, not to, on any account, allow themselves to be appointed or nominated as running mate to any presidential candidate, if the presidency is not zoned to the South and that we will work against such person or persons.
“It is, therefore, most unfortunate that the Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, who should know better, accepted his appointment as running mate to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. We do not have anything personal against Ifeanyi Okowa, but his action is treacherous and tantamount to a despicable pawning of the political future of the people of Southern Nigeria.”
Also, some stakeholders in the party expressed misgivings over the Delta governor’s emergence as PDP vice presidential candidate which it was gathered, were predicated on media reports that majority of the members of the panel set up by the party to shop for a suitable running mate to Atiku, had voted in favour of Wike.
Nevertheless, the PDP chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, while addressing the party ‘s caucus, said it is not true that the panel voted in favour of any particular person. He explained that all the decisions of the committee were by consensus. He added that the choice of a running mate is purely the exclusive right of a candidate.
According to him, “the committee recommended three names to us. And we transmitted those three names to the candidate; contrary to all the speculations in the social media, the NWC did not select one name for the candidate.
“The choice of running mate, who will be working with him is largely his. But he graciously consulted the party, which is how it should be. And the party has made inputs and narrowed it down to three people for him to select. Also, I want to clarify one misrepresentation in the social media. Through out the committee meeting, there was no voting. The committee did not vote through out their sitting. It was all by consensus.”
Besides, while critics say Okowa is not loud and aggressive enough, his supporters are of the view that his calm mien is actually a strength. Those in this school of thought are quick to point to the success of the PDP in two general elections in Delta State, as well his ability to superintend over two national conventions of the opposition party in 2018, without controversies, as evidence of his political dexterity.
However, in the coming days, all eyes will be on the Delta governor to prove his mettle and justify his nomination as the PDP vice presidential candidate.