• How 2023 considerations stoke opposition against Obi
Not minding that the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s emergence as Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) standard bearer for the February 16, 2019 presidential election was hatched in an atmosphere of a transparent primary, it resonated with the quiet agitation for the return of power to the Northeast.
In matters of national politics and leadership selection, the northern part of Nigeria seems to have an edge over its southern counterpart. This trait played out not only during the recent PDP Special Convention in Port Harcourt, but has been amply demonstrated in previous presidential nominations. During the second republic, the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was on the verge of conducting a runoff between Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Dr. Maitama Sule, only for Sule to concede, stressing that unlike the southern politicians, “we in the North believe that power comes from Allah.” That sealed it and Shagari, who became NPN’s standard bearer, picked Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who had lost the governorship primary in Anambra State to Chief Christian Chukwuma Onoh, as running mate.
In the Fourth Republic, the popular sentiment was that the Southwest should be allowed to produce the president in a national effort to mitigate the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election believed to have been won by Chief Moshood Abiola,But while the former leader of G-34 that metamorphosed into PDP, Ekwueme, did not repudiate the emergence of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo based on the national sentiment, the situation within the Alliance for Democracy (AD) was explosive.
Former Oyo State governor, Chief Bola Ige, was nonplussed that a former Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, was preferred. Much bad blood was spilled, just as the political understanding between AD and the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) failed to give Falae victory at the polls.A similar scenario played out in 2014 after some political parties came together to form the All Progressives Congress (APC). As soon as General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) was nominated, other presidential aspirants lined up behind him and successfully prosecuted the 2015 general election.
Foolhardiness of the South
AFTER its defeat in the 2015 election, PDP went through a lot of upheavals in an effort to regain its stature and composure. While it took the former Special Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Ahmed Gulak’s litigation to interrogate the status of acting national chairman of the party’s leadership, the overriding influences of outgoing Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, and his Rivers State counterpart, Nyesom Wike, led to the imposition of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as another acting national chairman, without considering the inputs of northeast stakeholders.
No politician from the North or even specifically the North-East attacked Sheriff. Rather, they waited for the PDP national convention to address the issue in line with the party’s constitution. Expectedly even when Sheriff wanted to play the absolute leader by truncating the national convention midway, the party caucus set up the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee.
Conversely, when the Supreme Court delivered the final verdict on the leadership tussle and PDP fixed December 9 and 10, 2017 for its elective convention, the zoning of the post of national chairman to the South stoked intense political divisions and agitations.
Despite their agitation that the post be micro-zoned to the Southwest, the plethora of aspirants in the race vitiated the potency of the zone’s case. All entreaties on the aspirants to settle for a consensus choice so as not to reduce the chances of South West getting the major votes were not heeded.Close to the convention day, it dawned on the aspirants that the South-South, which paraded only two aspirants, was on the verge of clinching the party’s top job. However, the belated decision by some of the chairmanship aspirants from Southwest to step down for Prof. Tunde Adeniran at the convention ground failed to yield maximum effect. Angered and feeling cheated by the outcome of the election, Adeniran and his supporters quit the party. But the harm had been done.
WHEN the PDP released modalities for primary elections to select candidates for the 2019 general election, most Nigerians and party members expected that as happened during the chairmanship election, the issue of micro-zoning would rear its head and scuttle the crucial exercise.With quiet diplomacy and overwhelming sense of group interest, politicians from the North East started talking to themselves with a view to ensuring there was no surge of presidential aspirants. Based on such discussions, the last man standing, Governor Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, was adopted in principle as the possible consensus candidate.
However, along the line the incumbent, President Buhari, announced his intention to seek a second term in office. And viewed against the background of the president’s decision to withdraw his support for Chief John Odigie-Oyegun in preference for the immediate past governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, the permutations within the PDP changed.
The party started rethinking about its presidential aspirants against the backcloth of ability and capacity to beat President Buhari. PDP stakeholders also discovered that the campaign for youth takeover was not cutting much ice in the electoral environment, which dictated that Dankwambo’s education and youth were not sufficient enough to trounce Buhari.
In the midst of the search for essential qualities needed from the ideal PDP presidential candidate, many aspirants from the North West joined the race. But the dynamics changed when former Vice President Atiku Abubakar left APC and again pitched political tent with PDP.Although he rejoined PDP shortly before the party’s elective national convention, and as such could not substantially influence the outcome of the chairmanship election, one of the first things Atiku did in the light of his presidential ambition was to meet with Gombe State governor, with a view to making Dankwambo to scale down on his presidential ambition.
It should be noted that Atiku made similar shuttle visits to other presidential aspirants, including the North West political giant, Sule Lamido and former caretaker chairman, Senator Ahmed Makarfi. And while the discussions lasted, the idea of micro-zoning to the North East remained mute.
Picking a candidate
But for the decision of former Kano State governor, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, to leave PDP for the APC, the situation at the PDP Special Convention and presidential primary in Port Harcourt would have presented 11 aspirants from North West against two from North East.At the convention, the aspirants were allotted three to five minutes to address delegates and make the last pitch for votes. The common strain in their speeches was that power comes from God, with appeals on the consciences of the delegates without employing trigger words or subtle threats.
At the end of balloting and collation of votes, the announcement of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the winner received the unanimous approval of both the contestants and ordinary members of the party. Without knowing it, the cause of micro-zoning was served elegantly in the capsule of merit and credibility of process.Three days ago, the party completed the last lap of choosing its presidential standard bearer. The beneficiary of the party’s mandate, Atiku named former Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi, as his running mate.
Unwittingly the choice of Obi satisfied the age long desire for a Northeast/Southeast vertical alliance that was last witnessed in the first republic under the late Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) respectively.
In a chat with The Guardian on the development, Information Commissioner for Ebonyi State, Dr. Emmanuel Onwe, agreed that the evolution of Nigeria into two parallel political blocs has hovered over the national political firmament for at least a decade. He observed: “The Northwest/Southwest axis has been on the ascendancy since General Obasanjo handed over the reins of civilian power to a scion of Sokoto in 1979. But, it never calcified into a recognised political bloc that could weigh significantly in the equation of civilian power domiciliation until 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari rode on its crest to State House. To retain his presidency he needs to sustain this historically unlikely coalition.”
On the other hand Onwe remarked that the Northeast/Southeast parallel political line, which stands in opposition to the former has a much longer, but chequered history, recalling, “The premiership of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa was only made possible through the eastern alliance. The eastern political hemisphere drew the first blood.”
While expressing the view that “this early promise was aborted and no civilian head of the Nigerian government has ever emerged from the eastern political hemisphere, so to speak till this day,” Onwe, an alumnus of the London School of Economics described the emergent Atiku-Obi combination as an intriguing political event that excites any historical mind. “Let’s wait and see how it will turn out,” he added.
Enter the Southeast folly
SURPRISINGLY, the filling of the flipside of the presidential ticket let loose the divisive tendencies, which have over the years defined the politics of the south. The delay in selecting Atiku’s running mate, part of which had to do with considerations for the 2023 presidential race, as earlier reported by The Guardian, sparked needless controversies.
The outrage expressed by Southeast stakeholders of PDP over the choice of Obi was predicated by the schemes from some politicians and first term governors that want to preserve their interests in the 2023 poll.Some of the major characters in the attempt to revise the hand of history in the emergent Atiku/Obi presidential ticket include, the Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi and former 2017 Anambra State gubernatorial candidate of United Progressives Party (UPP), Mazi Osita Chidoka.
Chidoka, a corps marshal has some scores to settle with Peter Obi. Apart from hailing from the same Anambra Central Senatorial District as Obi, Chidoka became the Aviation Minister at the tail end of President Jonathan’s tenure when Princess Stella Oduah was forced to resign following public outcry over the purchase of bullet cars for a federal parastatal under her ministry.
Obi, who had just served out his second term as governor was being speculated as the likely occupant only for Chidoka, whose tenure at the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) was yet to expire, to be announced. Chidoka is a political godson of former PDP national secretary, Chief Ojo Maduekwe. Madukwe was also until his sudden death a staunch ally of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
Recall that Obasanjo had even before the emergence of Atiku hinted at the possibility of having a presidential running mate in the person of Chidoka. But smarting from Chidoka’s hurry to grab the ministerial appointment, when former President Jonathan sounded him out on the possibility of supporting Chidoka for Anambra governorship, Obi disclosed his preference for Prof. Chukwuma Soludo.
But as attempts to bring Soludo failed, Chidoka left PDP and moved over to UPP when it became clear to him that Obi had settled for another candidate in the person of the former Secretary to Anambra State Government (SSG), Mr. Oseloka Obaze. Even at that, when Obi took Obaze to Jonathan to introduce him, the former president asked him why Chidoka was not considered to which Obi told him that the Catholic sentiment was a powerful one in the state.
Umahi’s volte-face after his chief press secretary had released a congratulatory message supporting Obi’s selection is revealing. First, the governor has not hidden his preparedness to work for Buhari electoral victory in 2019 at the expense of a PDP presidential candidate. He actually declared last year that Buhari deserved a second term.
With the return of Atiku, Umahi is said to be one of the PDP governors that entered into a political arrangement with the Presidency to ensure that the party throws up a weak candidate. At the Port Harcourt convention, most Ebonyi delegates confided in The Guardian that the governor enjoined them to vote for his Sokoto State counterpart, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal.
Not that alone, Umahi has eyes on the possibility of contesting the 2023 presidential election, by which time he would be rounding off a second term. It was also gathered that the APC promised to throw up a weak governorship candidate in 2019 in Ebonyi to reciprocate “his good gestures.” Ekweremadu started nursing ambition to be president long ago. When the former governor of old Enugu State, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, emerged National Chairman of PDP, Ekweremadu did not hide his distaste, believing that in Enugu only the Nwodos have the reach, clout and financial strength to cut short his ambition. He sided with former governor Sullivan Chime to ensure that Nwodo was disgraced out of office.
Even while the search for PDP presidential candidate lasted, Ekweremadu was said to nurse the secret hope that Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, would clinch the ticket and settle for him as running mate. Although he did not show surprise at Atiku’s emergence in Port Harcourt, it was clear that somehow he believed that being the highest-ranking political office holder in South-East the choice of running mate would still come his way. It was against this background and other minor issues made about Obi’s puritanical style of governance that the South-East stakeholders met over the weekend in Enugu to discuss the nomination of Peter Obi as the running mate to Atiku. The question that roiled many a stakeholder immediately the meeting was summoned was what is the need?
Signs that it was going to be a divided house emerged shortly after the meeting kicked off. Anambra State governorship candidate of PDP in the November election, Obaze, in his written remarks, said: “Mr. Vice Chairman, we have been summoned here to deliberate on a very important issue. Although my understanding is that we are gathered to articulate the way forward for Nd’Igbo, I suspect that as always there are some of us here, who will display their skills of pulling their relatives and friends down. What I’m about to say comes from the heart and from my personal experience. In 2017, I ran and lost a governorship election, not because I was a bad or unqualified PDP candidate, but because some within my PDP family in Anambra and beyond worked against me.”
Obaze recalled how the stakeholders, led by Ekweremadu and Olisa Metuh, on October 6, 2014, visited Obi at his residence at 22 Niger Drive, Onitsha, to ask him to join PDP. Obaze rhetorically asked them what has changed since then that the same people appear to be disowning Obi now.Going down memory lane, Obaze narrated: “We are talking of zonal consultation on the vice presidential ticket. When did it start? Or is this meant to be a first? In 1979, Shehu Shagari did not consult South-East NPN before choosing Alex Ekwueme as his running mate. In 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo did not consult the North-East PDP leaders before he selected Abubakar Atiku. In 2007, Umaru Yar’Adua did not consult the South-South PDP leadership before picking Goodluck Jonathan.
“Rather, after Peter Odili was blocked as presidential candidate, it was James Ibori that Yar’Adua wanted as his running mate. It was the trio of Ahmadu Ali, Olusegun Obasanjo and Tony Anenih, who decided, without any consultations with the region, on Jonathan in order to block some PDP governors, who were scheming to nominate another person after the rejection of Peter Odili as presidential candidate.”
The former SSG lamented: “A historical opportunity beckons; an opportunity to actualise the mainstreaming of the Igbo nation, and we are bickering as to which of our sons will lead the charge. Our disposition, I dare say, is myopic and defeatist!” Although Atiku has promised to meet with the South-East stakeholders, the leaders have succeeded in exposing their political rudderless-ness and lack of group interest. Umahi and Ekweremadu are being pilloried for their nepotism and clannishness. While Umahi is said to have imposed his younger brother as PDP South-East zonal Chairman, Ekweremadu is accused of severally nominating his elder brother, late Emeka Ekweremadu, to the board of TETFUND on three occasions.
No doubt, angry denunciations have continued to trail the attempt by the South-East PDP stakeholders to repudiate the choice of Obi as presidential running mate. In Ebonyi a member of the party, Aisha Edward, wrote a scathing letter to the governor titled, “Displeasure On Your Recent Embarrassing Statement On the Choice of Mr. Peter Obi As Running Mate.”
Edward reminded the governor that his ticket for a second term was an automatic gesture from the party, regretting that while encomiums and applause continue to trail the selection of Obi as Atiku’s running mate, “worrisome and disturbing utterances were emanating from your office. Your recent insensitive and provocative statements is very capable of causing bad blood between both sister states, and not only that, it has ridiculed the Igbo nation before the eyes of Nigeria and portrayed us in bad light as divided and selfish.“Your reason that Igbo leaders were not consulted before the choice of Peter Obi as VP was reached is not only politically naïve, but misleading. Please sir, who and who are the Igbo leaders to be consulted?”
Also, the leadership of National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) described the move to challenge Obi’s nomination as “a childish move against the collective interest of Igbo youths in particular and Igbo in general.”In a statement signed by Nonyelu Williams Onyibor, (South-East Vice President), Chukwuemeka Isidore, (Chairman, Chairmen Forum, South-East) and Smart Uwakwe, (South-East Organising Secretary), NYCN declared: “This useless plot is being hatched by the Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, who has severally shown that he is working for Buhari. It is on record that Dave Umahi is the only governor in the South-East who has invited Buhari severally to Ebonyi, even to the extent of naming a project after him.
“It is quite disheartening that at a time like this, when Nigerians from all walks of life are clamouring for change, someone from South-East, out of his selfish interest, is trying to become a cog on the wheel of progress of the nation by mobilizing his cohorts to fight against a divinely guided choice in the person of Mr. Peter Obi.”
While condemning the gang up as a re-enactment of dichotomy politics that defined Igbo politics in the days of Anambra State, International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), said the politics of ‘wawa’ versus ‘agbaenu’ has been allowed to rear its ugly head again in national politics. In a statement signed by Emeka Umeagbalasi, the group said notwithstanding that the issue of running mate should not be subject to zonal contemplation, “it is also on irrefutable record that Imo and Ebonyi States have respectively produced Senate President of Nigeria in recent years.”Intersociety regretted that the politics of pecuniary interest is also to blame, saying, “politics in the South-East or Igbo heartland is roundly monetised or utterly transactional to the extent that stark illiterate moneybags and questionable billionaires are now in charge.”