In a hard to predict presidential election such as the forthcoming polls, choosing a running mate was always going to be tough. Pundits argue that picking the wrong vice presidential could weigh heavily on the outcome of the votes for any of the candidates.
Mindful of this reality, parties and their candidates took a hard long deliberation before picking running mates, even though some are yet to finalize the process. While Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidates, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has settled for Delta State governor, Sen Ifeanyi Okowa, his main rival, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has used a ‘place holder’ named Ibrahim Masari.
Besides, the debate over the Muslim/Muslim ticket, it is learnt that the choice of incumbent governor from the North East, has caused a fresh issue among the set of APC northern governors who were hoping to one of them would whose tenure would be end as governor next year would get the slot.
Also, the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi, has also adopted former presidential aide, Doyin Okupe, also as place-holder. This is amid discussions over an alliance possibility between Obi and the New Nigeria Political Party (NNPP) ahead of the polls.
While the vice presidential candidacy in APC and LP remains unresolved, that of the PDP, which seems resolved, has raised fresh hurdles for the party and other stakeholders.
Rivers State governor Nyesom Wike was recommended by a 17 member advisory committee last Tuesday to emerge Atiku’s running mate. But Atiku settled for Okowa.
Wike had won over most of the advisory committee members who were more interested in the political sagacity of the Rivers State governor.
Pressure from some other PDP stakeholders helped to convince Atiku to settle for Okowa, it was gathered.
Besides Okowa and Wike, the Akwa Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel, was also in contention for the vice presidential ticket which was unofficially zoned to the South South.
It was learnt that the leaders preferred Okowa because he was considered more acceptable to the Northern political bloc than Wike. They also leveraged on his candidacy being appealing to the South East zone. What’s more, his measured disposition and above average intellect worked in his favour.
It was however learnt that Wike’s obstacle was his “perceived aggressive disposition which most party elders especially from the North were not disposed to,” a source told LEADERSHIP.
However, Atiku in his speech last Thursday said the Delta State governor possessed the quality traits he wanted from a running mate.
According to him, his running mate should have the potential to succeed him “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.
“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,” he said.
While it remains unclear what action Wike will take, considering the anger coming from his camp over his being looked over for the number two job, Okowa’s choice has attracted, expectedly, opposition from the Southern and Middlebelt Leaders Forum (SMLF) led by Elder Statesman, Edwin Clark.
The group, which had opposed any southerner from taking the Vice Presidential slot, noted that Okowa had hosted a southern governors meeting where they insisted that the zone must produce the next president after President Muhammadu Buhari.
Interestingly, Ohaneze Ndigbo, a member of the SMLF had congratulated Okowa’s emergence, describing the governor as “an Igbo prodigy with special grace.”
Though Okowa is Ika in Delta North, South-South, he is of Igbo extraction.
Nevertheless, the refusal of the party to throw the ticket open made the prospect of the southerner emerging party candidate slimmer.
Dismissing claims that he let the South down, Okowa said during a TV programme, said “having agreed to that and also submitted myself to be a politician in the Peoples Democratic Party, I am ruled by the policies of the party as they are.
“And, since we have all agreed that we wanted to throw the presidential candidacy open and Atiku Abubakar emerged, the onus is on us to support him.
“We are not expecting that he would be the candidate from the North and also have a vice presidential candidate from the North. That would lead to further division.”
But, beyond the dynamics of how he emerged Vice Presidential candidate is the debate over what he will bring to the joint ticket beyond votes.
His capacity for the task ahead would be key. Some of his supporters point to his performance in his state particularly in security and economy.
Delta State, under the governorship of Okowa has been largely peaceful in the past seven years, a pundit, Micheal Obiechina stated.
“Though he acknowledged, during the inauguration of state security outfit, ‘Operation Delta Hawk’, that Delta State has its own fair share of kidnapping, banditry, cultism and clashes between herdsmen and farmers, he was able to stem the tide.
“Since ‘Operation Delta Hawk’ was inaugurated in December 2020, insecurity was drastically reduced in the state.
“Okowa was also credited with growing the state’s economy by 51 percent in the first four years of his administration. Delta State economy reportedly grew from N2.961 trillion, in 2015 when he took over, to N4.471 at the end of his tenure in office, in 2019.
“The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) ranked Delta State as the second least poor among the 36 states of the country in 2020. This was a huge leap, from 12th in 2010,” he said.
This, more than any other variables, might have won the heart of Atiku, since the economy would be under the purview of the vice president.
He is also perceived as a strong party man going by his contributions to PDP’s internal democracy. He served for two consecutive times, as Chairman of the party’s national convention planning committees, one of them was where Atiku emerged as PDP candidate for 2019 presidential election.
He chaired the 2018 Port Harcourt convention that was judged most credible despite the disagreement over the venue.
Perhaps, Okowa’s emergence might assuage the people of South East who felt abandoned and denied acceptability by the PDP despite huge support to the party since 1999.
For what it is worth, his candidacy has gained measurable acceptance within the party structure, as the Board of Trustees (BoT), PDP governors forum, and party stakeholders like Prince Uche Secondus, former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyi, former deputy Senate president, Senator Ike Ekerenmadu, had pledged solidarity to him going forward.
Nevertheless, the days ahead would be tough even as the party begins the process of assuaging frayed nerves. How the party engages the Southern leaders would be instructive.