Pre-poll rage continues over Atiku's running mate, Mr Peter Obi - SyCtRenDs



Saturday, November 3, 2018

Pre-poll rage continues over Atiku's running mate, Mr Peter Obi

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, PDP Presidential candidate

The acrimony trailing the recent decision to pick a former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, as the running mate of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has changed the initial thinking of handlers of the leading opposition party that the South-East and South-South geo-political zones were no-go areas for the APC and other parties.

Unlike the South-West which opened its gates to different political parties over time depending on political permutations, the South-East and South-South had been the comfort zones of the PDP since 1999, even as efforts by different opposition parties including APGA to make serious inroads remained an illusion.

However, former-vice president Atiku Abubakar has remained in the news in the past weeks not because he defeated 11 other top politicians to emerge the presidential candidate of the PDP, but because he allegedly ‘single-handedly’ picked his running mate from the South-East when forces from the three geo-political zones in the South were all scheming to see that they have a say on who is chosen due to strategic reasons.

Need for running mate with political capital

Before Atiku made his choice, many names were dropped in the media as likely ‘pick’ for the running mate. These included Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, a former CBN Governor,  Prof. Charles Solido, a former Minister of Finance, Prof. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala  from the South East and the Director-General of Atiku Campaign Organization,  Otunba Gbenga Daniel, among others.

Analysts believe that the whole scheming is not just about the 2019 presidential election but where the pendulum would swing to in 2023, in response to the unwritten political zoning arrangement between the North and South.

Shortly after the emergence of Atiku as presidential candidate, the likes of Chief Olabode George from the South-West said Atiku should study the situation well and chose his running mate from where he would attract political capital.

Though Chief George who had vied for the PDP chairmanship position alongside Uche Secondus and others did not say the vice president should come from the South-West, many politicians from that area expected that they would get it.

But Atiku in his wisdom jetted to the South-East and picked Mr Obi, a development that elicited both positive and negative reactions with attendant dust that as yet, refuses to disappear.

A dangerous decision?

Though many people believe his decision was a wise one, recent events indicate that there could be a backlash, considering that the South-East and South-South who ought to have celebrated the decision would not agree.

“This is particularly dangerous for our party,” a senior PDP official told Daily Trust.

The official, who does not want to be quoted, added: “The PDP has already lost the South-West because the people there would rather remain with the APC despite its terrible performance in the last three years so that power will go back to them in 2013.

“And sadly, we have a serious misunderstanding between the South -East and South-South on the choice of Obi, so unless we do something very urgent, the APC has found another window in our differences which it will use to break our hegemony,” he said.

The first criticism over Atiku’s ‘unilateral’ decision came from Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, heightening fears that this might affect the PDP’s chances in the South-East and South-South, the two regions which the opposition party believed it would win with ease.

However, the governor, who is the chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum, condemned the critics, saying there was nothing wrong in what he said.

He said, “Nobody is against Peter Obi, because he is my friend, competent and you must have seen our pictures together on social media.”

Umahi explained that South-East leaders were not consulted in making the decision on Obi’s nomination, while no one from Ebonyi and Imo states made the list of the running mate nominees.

Sources said Umahi and other PDP governors, especially in the South-East, believed that leaders of the party in the South-South which produced Prince Uche Secondus as national chairman of the party with their active support did not reciprocate in like sum.

Though it was visible that Governor Nyesom Wike actually worked for Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal, the likes of Umahi reportedly believed that Atiku could not have picked Peter Obi without the input of the Rivers State governor.

But Wike on October 31 dismissed the insinuation, saying the leadership of the PDP did not sit to take a decision on who should be the party’s vice presidential candidate.

Wike said, “I never nominated Peter Obi.  But the mere fact that the vice presidential candidate is coming from the South-East does not give the zone the sole right to nominate a person since the entire country will benefit.”

Apparently referring to Umahi, Governor Wike added, “When the South-East said they were not consulted before Peter Obi was nominated, where did we meet as a party to agree that the vice presidential candidate must come from the South-East?”  But he said if the presidential candidate believes he has somebody to work with, so be it.

More dissention

Similarly, groups in the South-East had also countered Governor Umahi, saying his claim was self-serving.

Popular among the voices is the coalition comprising the World Igbo Youth Congress, Ohanaeze Youth Council and Igbo Students Youth Forum.

In their joint press briefing in Abakaliki, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzo who stood for Ohanaeze Youth Council, Mazi Alex Okemiri for World Igbo Youth Congress and Mr. Chidera Udutcha as national president of Igbo Students Youth Forum respectively,  described  Umahi’s early stand on Obi as a stab in the back.

The group, however, gave an option for apology which they insisted should be tendered by the South-East governors through their chairman, Engr. Umahi.

“Failure to do that, we will have no other option than to invoke our deity ‘The Great Amadioha’, against him. He who has ears, let him hear,” they said.

Our correspondent reports that Gov. Umahi has since cleared the air on his position.

“When my Chief Press Secretary issued a statement congratulating Obi, the zone’s (South East) leaders started calling me, saying that I had made the VP alone. I had to issue a counter statement telling them that I was not consulted before the statement was released and that it was an honest mistake from the CPS. I cannot endorse Obi alone and am confident that in further decisions, the Igbo man must be consulted. If the position I had was my sin, I cannot repent from it,” he said.

The Ekweremadu factor

Following recent developments especially on the choice of Atiku’s running mate, there is growing uncertainty over the future of Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu in the aftermath of the PDP presidential primary.

Sources said he has gone far in discussions with the APC, a development that would equally deal a deadly blow to the PDP in the South East if true.

Ekweremadu was reported to have been side-lined by the top hierarchy of the party a few days to the PDP presidential primary and the situation has not yet changed.

Though he had since denied dumping the PDP, sources say entreaties are being extended to him by APC leaders to join their fold and work together towards winning the South-East.

A source at the National Assembly told Daily Trust that indeed, Atiku had through proxies promised to make Ekweremadu his running mate on four different occasions, but that the deputy senate president insisted that whatever was to be discussed on the matter should be left after the PDP presidential primary.

However, after the primary, the source said Ekweremadu was “completely left off the track” by national officials of the party.

“The very people that insulted him because he was supporting Atiku to emerge as PDP candidate are now the people that are calling the shots, taking decisions for Atiku on who to consult.

“But immediately after securing the support of Ekweremadu to emerge, Atiku abandoned him. Since then, the deputy senate president gets to know about all that they have been doing on television just like other Nigerians.

“This is somebody that went through all sorts of persecution because he chose to remain in the PDP. As a matter of fact, he was at some point the highest political office holder of the party in the country. But look at the way they’re treating him now,” the source said.

Even Senate President Bukola Saraki, who contested against Atiku at the PDP presidential primary, a source said, was given a key role as director general of the campaign organization while Ekweremadu who worked for Atiku’s emergence was left aside.

Nothing to lose?

But Ekweremadu, while insisting that he remained in the PDP, said: “Let it be known that my path in politics is in the hands of the Almighty God, who has indeed been very faithful and gracious to me. I’m very grateful to God for this.

“My vision in politics is a system that works for everybody, a social and political environment where everybody, every section, and every tribe not only counts, but is also seen to count. As leaders, we must be mindful of this, for any system built on anything less will not endure,” he said.

However, sources say Ekweremadu’s statement leaves much to be desired as the tone of the statement reflected that of a man whose future in the PDP hangs in the balance.

It was learnt that should Atiku win with Obi as running mate, Ekweremadu would lose relevance politically as the South-East cannot be given the vice president and deputy senate president at the same time.

Thus, it is believed that if he moves to the APC before the period for substitution of candidates elapses, and the party emerges victorious in the 2019 presidential polls, he can negotiate his way to clinch the senate president’s seat.

Ekweremadu who represents Enugu West has been in the Senate since 2003, and has been deputy senate president since 2007, serving for two terms under the PDP government and now under the APC administration.

It was gathered that Ekweremadu is in touch with APC national leader Bola Tinubu so that he would join the APC from a position of strength.

“His chances are brighter in the APC even though he would also have to slug it out with the likes of Godswill Akpabio from the South-South for the senate presidency,” a source said.

Atiku on consolidation mission

While the APC is taking advantage of the recent happenings to penetrate the South-East and South-South, sources say plans are being perfected by the PDP presidential campaign team for Atiku to visit the two regions to calm nerves.

But beyond the visit is the real political dimension and whether the choice of Peter Obi and or picking the VP nominee from the South-East will translate to electoral victory.

“The issue is what each of the zones in the South would bring to the table during the presidential election,” said Mike John, a political analyst.

“Atiku might have done his calculations before picking Mr Obi but from my understanding, he wants to consolidate his grip on the region which is already PDP,” he said.

He added the PDP is still very strong in the South-West and those who like the opposition party would still vote for it.

“Look at how the APC suffered before it found its way in the elections in Ondo, Ekiti and Osun, this goes to tell you that the PDP is still strong,” he said.

But a PDP official in Lagos who does not want to speak on record said Atiku had goofed by going to the South-East to pick his running mate.

“The South-East and South-South are fanatically PDP, nobody can change that so why cajoling them?” he asked.

“Atiku should have gone to the South West to deplete APC’s popularity by picking his running mate from there.

“What he did will now encourage the likes of Asiwaju Tinubu to canvass for votes for the APC in the South-West, they would simply tell the electorate that that is the sure way of the zone getting back power in 2023 after Buhari finishes his second term,” he said.

“With the way things are now, if the South-West substantially votes for Buhari, it will deplete what Atiku will get in the South-South and South-East. And what Buhari will get in the North-West will liberalize what Atiku will equally get in the North-Central.

“But the safety net for the PDP and its candidate is to promise the South-West that Atiku will only do one term, this way, some of the power brokers would change their minds and go for  the PDP,” he added.

Analysts believe that as the presidential election approaches, Atiku would have to make many realizable promises for various regions to navigate his way to the presidential villa.

What S/East governors meant-Obi’s aide

The Media Adviser to Peter Obi, Mr. Valentine Obienyem, told Daily Trustthat what the South-East governors actually said was that they ought to have been consulted, as everybody is desirous of sharing in the glory of being part of his nomination. In a telephone interview, Obienyem said   the overwhelming excitement that greeted Obi’s nomination should be the subject of analyses. On Obi’s closeness to Atiku, Obienyem said it was more of Atiku the wealth creator, the hard worker and lover of education seeing and being attracted to a person that shares the same qualities with him.

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