Road to 2023: Atiku set to settle for…

As the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) finalises on the running mate to its presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, today, the party may be considering picking a sitting governor for the Vice President slot ahead of the 2023 presidential election.

After clinching the ticket, Atiku was expected to nominate a running mate who will be acceptable to all segments of the party, one with the capacity to mobilise resources and sell the party in regions where he has influence.

Since the presidential convention of May 28, 2022, many had expected that naming a running mate would be as easy as walking into a grocery and picking items off the shelf so long as cash is in the pocket, but it has proved daunting for the party and its candidate, just as it is with other parties because of what is invested in the process to get it right.

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While the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is walking on tenterhooks over the delicate prospect of a Muslim-Muslim ticket amid the avalanche of opposition to the move, in the PDP, a source close to the process told The Guardian that the choice is narrowing to serving governors in the Southeast and South-South regions.

The party has nine governors in the South: Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, Godwin Obaseki (Edo), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Douye Diri (Bayelsa), Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom) and Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia.

Of the lot, the governors of Rivers and Akwa Ibom contested the presidential primary alongside Atiku, former Senate President Bukola Saraki, former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim, former Speaker and Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal.

Top contenders in the race were: Atiku, Wike, Tambuwal and Saraki, but in the last bend on the way to rounding off the race, Tambuwal stepped down and surrendered his delegates to Atiku, thus, altering the balance and yielding centre stage to the former Vice President, who gained momentum and coasted home to a resounding victory. Wike came second and he bellowed his misgivings, suggesting betrayal.

Efforts have since been on to assuage ill feelings arising from the primary, part of which is to ensure that the party seizes the opportunity to repair and heal bruises. On that note, the committee put in place by the party to assist Atiku in selecting a running mate is working on the broad template to take onboard all segments, particularly to search among serving governors.

A source told The Guardian that PDP does not want to repeat the mistake of 2019, when it went for a VP, Peter Obi, who had long left office as governor and was at loggerheads with his incumbent, Willie Obiano.

Apart from Obiano’s matter, the first set of opposition to the emergence of Obi as running mate was from Southeast governors, who openly showed antagonism towards that joint ticket and refused their usual blanket support for the PDP.

This time, the source said they were narrowing down to three governors – Wike, Okowa and Emmanuel. Besides Makinde, who is about to prosecute his second term in office, Diri, who is in his first term and Obaseki, who still has more time in office, the rest of the governors from the region have already opted to go to the Senate and have secured the party’s Senatorial nominations.

It was gathered that the party is not too keen on going Southeast despite cries of marginalisation. The Southeast has sounded a note of warning that it will not accept playing second fiddle this time around, but that position may not be cast in stone when intense negotiation is reached.

A further narrowing showed that Wike and Okowa may be in the front row, with Wike gaining upper hand despite his rambunctious style. In both Wike and Okowa, the party hopes to redeem the Southeast debt because the two are marginally Ibo if they are not core.

It appears the party leaders have seen intrinsic capacity in Wike to mobilise, apart from his strong loyalty to the brand. The party may also have considered his financial support of the past and what he could muster in the task ahead.

But members of the PDP caucus of the House of Representatives are looking beyond Wike. At a parley in Abuja yesterday, the caucus included Anyim and Senator Ken Chimaroke Nnamani as potential running mates to Atiku.

The group had earlier planned the meeting for the endorsement of Wike, but it was gathered that they had to shift grounds after two members of the caucus, Iduma Igariwey and Nnolim Nnaji made case for the inclusion of Anyim and Nnamani.

The lawmakers, who deliberated on their inclusion, subsequently conveyed their stance to Atiku for his consideration.

MEANWHILE, talks are ongoing towards building a political collaboration between the Labour Party and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) that could unite both parties’ presidential candidates, Mr. Peter Obi and Alhaji Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso on a joint ticket.

Sources privy to the behind the scene schemes being spearheaded by the National Consultative Front (NCFront), confided in The Guardian that various models are being examined to ensure that “patriots rescue Nigeria from impending socio-political fiasco.”

One of the sources disclosed that apart from the level of a presidential candidacy, members of the Nigeria Movement are interested in the calibre of persons to be supported for governorship and legislative positions.

He noted that although the June 17 deadline for the submission of candidates’ names to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has placed enormous stress on the issue of a presidential standard-bearer and running mate, efforts are being made to achieve results timeously.

However, another source from the Southwest confided in The Guardian that some influential statesmen, including a former President, was involved “in an advisory position to encourage the political understanding aimed at building a new Nigeria.”

While stressing that some of the notable elders were taken into confidence before the exit of the LP and NNPP presidential candidates from PDP, the source said talks have reached an advanced stage.

He stated: “With the position of Northern APC governors on zoning, a political understanding similar to what obtained between APP/AD in 1999 is being worked out. What remains to be hammered out is whether it is still possible to go for an outright merger at this point or adopt an accord like the one that was obtained between Chief Olu Falae and Alhaji Umaru Shinkaffi of APP on a joint AD ticket.”

In a chat with The Guardian, the national chairman of NNPP, Prof. Rufai Alkali, said his party was prepared to make the difference, adding, “the whole thing is that when the chips are down, people’s eyes will be opened.

“They will know the reality. In the history of this world, national movements, even revolutions, have been led by individuals and they succeeded. It is normal, it is common, for opposition political parties to downgrade or underestimate their opponents.”

The NNPP boss, a Professor of Political Science, declared that Nigeria’s political space has changed, remarking, “Nigerians have been waiting for something fresh, something new, something different, something that we can trust again because it was based on trust that PDP was elected in 1999 and it was based on the hope that APC was elected in 2015. But, these have been dashed.”
HOWEVER, what seems to have occupied the minds of the average Igbo as the 2023 presidential poll draws closer is the best option for the people of the region after the two leading parties, PDP and APC refused to grant their earlier request for their tickets to be zoned to the region.

Investigations by The Guardian showed that amid deep rumours and prodding, allegedly by the PDP to cede their Vice Presidential slot to the region, the people seemed unperturbed and may have made up their mind to produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor from a political party outside of the big two.

Torn in-between the decision, however, are fears that the outcome of the election could be annulled should Obi, whom the zone has vowed to give all the support, win the election.

Elder statesman and first Minister of Aviation, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, who raised concerns that the exercise could be cancelled should it turn out in favour of Obi, however, insisted that it would not deter Ndigbo.

He told The Guardian yesterday that the contest for presidency in 2023 has “now been mirrored along three ethnic lines of Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo”, stressing, however, that the Igbo will not consider a second option “because Obi is not an Igbo candidate.

“He is a candidate of the youths who is attempting to take over their country. His acceptability is even beyond the shores of the country and we are not worried even if the PDP cede the Vice Presidential slot to the region,” he said.

Apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, had earlier ruled out a Vice Presidential slot for Ndigbo “until the political parties conclude their primaries.”

National Publicity Secretary of the group, Dr Alex Ogbonnia, insisted that it was the turn of the zone to produce the next president, stressing that it was satisfied by the fact that “other Igbo sons have picked the presidential slot of other political parties.”

Reacting to insinuations making the rounds, Emeritus President General of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, who, however, doubted that the Ambassador George Obiozor-led Ohanaeze Ndigbo placed such restriction on Ndigbo, stated that it would not affect the move to produce President Buhari’s successor from the zone.

He stated that accepting the choice of running mate by any politician from the zone was “a personal choice that has nothing to do with the people.

“Ohanaeze Ndigbo supports an Igbo man becoming the president of Nigeria. We know that Obi, who is in the race, will win but that shouldn’t stop anybody who wants to be a running mate. Bola Tinubu is running today and that should not stop another Yoruba man who wants to be Vice President, or because Atiku is contesting, it does not foreclose a Northerner from being the running mate of another party. That is politically incorrect.

“As far as I am concerned, it is a personal decision. Anybody can go for it, it is an open business. Obi’s chances will not be affected by that development because he is running for the presidency of the country and his votes will not come from the Southeast region alone,” he said.

A governorship candidate of the Action Alliance (AA) in the 2023 general elections in Enugu State, Henry Chibuzo, roundly disagrees that Southeast accepts VP slot.

According to him: “Instead of seeking a VP slot from the two parties that rejected the Igboman outright, I think every Igbo person should reject the two political parties, otherwise the political advantage that the Igbo have will be lost. Let that advantage be given to another political party that has the interest of the Igbo.

“There is nothing that stops Labour party from going into an alliance with AA, which has Alhaji Hamza Mustapha as the presidential candidate. Obi represents the face of economic rejuvenation while Mustapha represents a security solution to the country and these are the two major problems that Nigeria is faced with. I will seriously suggest that the two of them should come together and let the Igbo man and Hausa man this time around demonstrate their numerical strength.”

On the side of Biafra agitators, the Movement for the Actualisation of State of Biafra (MASSOB), the people of the Southeast have nothing to do with the PDP and APC any longer.

Its National Coordinator, Uchenna Madu, said: “The issue of Obi is not about being Igbo. He represents the millions of oppressed and marginalised people across the nation. He represents new hope and future for Nigeria and everybody is clamouring for him.”

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