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Atiku And The Scramble For Regional Balancing



In this report, CHIBUZO UKAIBE, captures the intrigues arising from the lobby for positions within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) following the emergence of Atiku Abubakar as it’s candidate.

The emergence of former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been causing shockwaves across the political space.

For watchers, besides the shift Atiku’s victory at the primaries sparked in the PDP as seen at the national convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the Atiku PDP candidacy is causing ripples within the geo-political  blocs across the country.

Already permutations and projects are being made over which zone will get what within his administration, a move which smacks of confidence, bothering on the excessive, that PDP will win the 2019 presidental election.

Political actors in PDP from across the six geo-political regions have been positioning and scheming, albeit as a bloc to secure prime political offices against the backdrop of either sentiments or strategic importance to the party electoral fortunes in 2019.

The scramble started with the South-east where the choice of former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, as Atiku’s running mate, elicited an initial unfavorable response from leaders in the zone.

While Obi’s emergence was greeted with measurable acceptance outside the zone, most PDP leaders in the zone, initially felt sidelined from the process of Obi’s emergence.

They, led by the Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, and Deputy Senate President, Sen Ike Ekweremadu, had after a meeting, protested not being carried along in how Obi emerged. Interestingly, besides Obi, Ekweremadu, some other person’s speculated for the position were former finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The grumble by the leaders attracted the prompt intervention by national and party leaders, chief of whom is former President Goodluck Jonathan. They pleaded for calm and urged the party leaders to support Obi.

But there was a backlash to the position of the South-east PDP leaders, particularly on the social media. The reaction became so heated such that other regions started subtle lobby for the position.

Perhaps sensing that their position on Obi’s emergence had become unpopular, the PDP South-east leaders had to redefine their narrative, explaining that they were never against the ambition of Obi but against the process through which he was selected as running mate.

Before long speculation emerged that Ekweremadu was planning to defect from the party to the All Progressives Congress (APC), which he denied.

A party leader from the zone however told our correspondent that the protest by some of the leaders was reflective of concern over their political fate now Obi has emerged not just the leader of the party in the region but the highest ranking Igbo son.

The party chieftain also stated that those who grumbled perhaps did so as a subtle protest to  ensure their interests are secure in the new position arrangement.

As the noise in the South-east petered out, the South-west and South-south  started their clamour.

With the South-west, already occupying the Vice Presidency seat, under Prof Yemi Osinbajo, the PDP leaders from the region, in a bid to secure victory for the party, started agitating for more slots from Atiku.

They have started lobbying for more strategic positions in anticipation of PDP victory in 2019. Leaders from the region are advancing the loss of the national chairmanship of PDP which they hoped would have come to them as a reason why they should be given more attention.

Speaking with pressmen in Lagos the campaign director general of the Atiku Abubakar Campaign Organisation, Gbenga Daniel, revealed that the region will get the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) position under Atiku’s government should the latter win the election come 2019.

Daniel, a former governor of Ogun State, also said that although it remains the prerogative of the presidential candidate to choose who becomes his vice, minister, and other executive members, that based on his interactions with the Wazirin Adamawa, that the SGF is surely going to the South-West.

Still, the South-west Vice -Chairman of the party , Dr. Eddy Olefeso at a meeting of key PDP members across the six South-west states, said though the promise of the SGF slot by Atiku was a good development, the zone deserved more key political and government positions.

Some of those at the meeting are former Deputy National Chairman of the party , Chief Olabode George; the current Deputy National Chairman (South ), Chief Yemi Akinwonmi ; and a former National Vice Chairman of the party , Alhaji Tajudeen Oladipo.

The Vice – Chairman said that the zone had been schemed out in the power arrangement of the party for the past few years.

Olafeso said for Atiku to give the zone a sense of belonging and compensate “ for the years of abandonment” , he should zone key positions like the Chief of Staff to the President and Àttorney-General of the Federation to the South- West in addition to the SGF.

“We have been denied for too long . In 2011 , the country under the control of our party zoned the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives to the zone and it was taken away .

“And from 2011 to 2015 , we were left just like that and the reverberating effect of that abandonment is the reason why we are still having the hangover of neglect till today .

“Now we are here again , the party is working with a zone with 14 million votes , the second largest in the country. We refuse and we will not accept where we finish the job in the next election and for one reason or the other, we will not be considered.

“We don’ t have to wait till after the election before we say what we want . We want to let the party and our candidate know that certain positions are strategic to governance and we want them.

“Yes , the SGF is great , but there is nothing wrong with having the Chief of Staff and Attorney- General on top of it to compensate us for the denials of the past so that all of us can work as a united front.

“We will continue to fight for it , we will speak with a loud voice . We give so much , so the zone deserves a lot,” he said.

Reports however emerged that the zone might get the Speakership of the House of Representatives.

Similarly, a Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators have also given conditions to Atiku if he wants to retain their support ahead of 2019 general election.

The Niger Delta agitators who demanded restructuring, also asked Atiku to pick his minister of Petroleum Resources, Chief of Staff, minister of Works & Power as well as the minister of Education positions from the core Niger Delta.

The agitators included General John Duku for Niger Delta Watchdogs and Convener Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators; General Ekpo Ekpo for Niger Delta Volunteers; General Simply Benjamin for Bakassi Strike Force; General Osarolor Nedam for Niger Delta Warriors; Major-Gen. Henry Okon Etete for Niger Delta Peoples Fighters; Major-Gen. Asukwo Henshaw for Bakassi Freedom Fighters and Major-Gen. Ibinabo Horsfall for Niger Delta Movement for Justice.

Others were Major-Gen. Duke Emmanson for Niger Delta Fighters Network; Major-Gen. Inibeghe Adams for Niger Delta Freedom Mandate; Major-Gen. Abiye Tariah for Niger Delta Development Network; Major-Gen. Joshua Ebere for Renewed Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta; Major-Gen. Jeremiah Anthony for Movement for Actualization of Niger Delta Republic; Major Francis Okoroafor for Niger Delta Freedom Redemption Army; Colonel Nelson Okochi Walter for Niger Delta Liberty Organization; General Ubong Christopher Effiong for City Upland Strike Force and General Ecstasy Samuel for Niger Delta Marine Strike Force.

According to their communique made available to LEADERSHIP Sunday, they said “We demand that the incoming government of Atiku Abubakar should assure the Niger Delta people through a round table discussion with stakeholders in the region that there would be proper restructuring of the country, power devolution, relocation of Headquarters of International Oil & Gas Companies operating in the region to Niger Delta, effective implementation of Ogoni Clean-up including other parts of the Niger Delta region affected by oil spill and pollution; make all the Sea-Ports and Refineries in the Niger Delta operational which shall guarantee a lot of employment opportunity to our people.

“The Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators also demand that the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Chief of Staff to the President, Minister of Works & Power as well as the Minister of Education positions be allocated to the core Niger Delta states by the incoming government of Atiku come 2019. Failure of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his campaign council to (as a matter of urgency) meet with the stakeholders in the Niger Delta region and discuss the above stated demands, we shall withdraw our support.”

So far, little agitation has been heard from PDP leaders in the Northern geo-political regions. Already it is being projected that with the Senate President, Sen Bukola Saraki, billed to return to the Senate, he would retain the seat. Saraki is from the North Central. It is also expected that other key positions would go to the zone.

Atiku is from the North-east, the only zone in that region yet to produce a head of state or president after the late Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. However Atiku’s emergence seems to have put the speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara in an interesting political situation if he returns to the House.

However, it is curious to see what will be zoned to the North-west being the political base of President Muhammadu Buhari. Besides the fact that Buhari is most popular in this region, the region boasts of the highest number of voters in the country. Still, some of the key members of PDP in the North are from this geo-political zone. But what positions will be given to the region will go a long way to sway the votes in the region.

In all, while these schemings and lobbying continue among the PDP members for positions, some pundits are worried that these party members seem more interested in offices than delivering of service.

A political activist, Mike Obiekwe, said “we have seen these lobbying as well as the scuffles taking place within the party even before the elections are held. It is quite worrisome that they seem more concerned about what they will get than all the sloganeering that they have been mouthing.”

Some other analysts aver that while lobbying is part of the realities in politics. Those in this school of thought believe that most of the failings of APC administration are because they couldn’t manage the interests within their fold as they formed government.

“This is the reason why you see all these lobbying going on. The experience of the APC administration has made it quite instructive for most of the political actors in PDP to want to negotiate for their interest, often conveyed through regional interest, before the government is formed,” a lawyer, Nathaniel Shima said.

He however added “but I just hope that they are not putting the cart before the horse. They have to win the election first.”