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PDP: Much ado about picking a VP

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
05 July 2022   |   2:58 am
More details have continued to emerge about the behind the scene manoeuvres within the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that preceded Vice President Atiku Abubakar

Wike. Photo/facebook/GovernorNyesomEzenwoWikeCON

More details have continued to emerge about the behind the scene manoeuvres within the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that preceded Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s selection of Governor Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa as his running mate.

It would be recalled that since the PDP presidential standard-bearer settled for the Delta State governor as his choice Vice Presidential candidate, the party has continued to haemorrhage. Efforts by Atiku to ensure the buy-in of PDP stakeholders in the search of his running mate culminated in the setting up of the Chief Tom Ikimi-led Screening Committee.

Although there was a claim that the committee voted 16 to 3 in favour of Rivers State Governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, it was gathered that the committee merely recommended three prospects, including, Wike, Okowa and Governor Udom Emmanuel.

At the end of collation and counting of ballots during the May 28 presidential primary, Wike had trailed Atiku by 237 to 371 votes of the 767 total accredited delegates votes. Akwa Ibom State governor, Emmanuel, who was the second runner-up polled 38 votes.

Consequently, when the search for Atiku’s running mate began, the popular sentiment among PDP stakeholders was that the Rivers State governor or his Akwa Ibom State counterpart, Emmanuel, should emerge as his running mate for the February 25, 2023 poll.

But, in a bid to avoid the mistake of 2019, when he selected former Anambra State governor Peter Obi, Atiku set up a compact team made up of General Aliyu Gusau and Senator Ben Obi, to zero in on some candidates and run background checks on them.

However, not long after, the All Progressives Congress (APC) held its Special Convention and presidential primary, which threw up the former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. This threw up fresh concerns in the fold of the opposition PDP. It was against this backdrop that the Ikimi-led committee was empanelled to further screen and recommend a candidate that would add value and enhance the party’s competitiveness in the presidential contest.

As part of the wide consultations embarked upon by the PDP presidential candidate, the forum of PDP former governors had a series of meetings, during which the former governors made their inputs.

Nonetheless, despite the Ikimi committee’s shortlist of three possible VP candidates in their ranking order, Atiku, perhaps relying on the prior intelligence and background matching by the Gusau team, settled for Governor Okowa, who was ranked next to Wike. And, given that Okowa did not campaign around the country or participate in the presidential primary, many party leaders, especially those who queued behind Wike, felt betrayed and spurned.

For instance, former Plateau State governor, Senator Jonah Jang, wondered why the screening process was embarked upon if Atiku had a particular candidate in mind without bringing up his choice for public appraisal.

Speaking to journalists on the implication of the Ekiti State governorship poll, in which PDP trailed a distant third place, Jang said efforts should be made to resolve the lingering animosity and feeling of disrespect among some leaders.

The former Plateau State chief executive said, “it has become apparent that we must urgently put our house in order, if we are to make an impact” in the 2023 elections. His words: “The governorship election in Ekiti State has shown us that we cannot go to the general elections with a divided house. It is instructive that we must return to the drawing board, make right the wrong decisions we have taken and begin to ensure that we are prepared to go to the field without any baggage from the decisions we have made.

“As one of the founding fathers alive today, one who participated in the processes that set the background for our primaries, I am compelled to add my voice to that of prominent members of our great party who have expressed dismay with recent happenings, particularly with the emergence of the Vice-Presidential candidate.

“While it is no longer news that the presidential primaries have come and gone and a candidate emerged, it is disheartening that the manner in which the vice-presidential candidate emerged is nothing but sheer disregard for processes. We all are aware of the fact that the party, in consultation with the presidential candidate, set up a committee to select a running mate.

“To turn around and throw away the outcome of the exercise is clear proof that the work of the committee was either not appreciated or was not going to be in consideration ab initio.”

Quoting Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, who was a member of the 17-member committee, Jang stressed that, “14 of us in the committee said the person should be Wike, unfortunately, Atiku picked Okowa in his wisdom. You cannot ignore a decision of a committee you set up yourself and expect people to be happy.”

While insisting that the whims of a few should not be allowed to override the choices of many, who believe in the PDP to return Nigeria to its glorious days, Jang declared: “We cannot disregard people who have dedicated themselves to building the party and expect to make meaningful progress. That such people are treated the way the party is currently doing is a pointer to the fact that more is to come.

“No one who intends to go against the APC, which has failed in its promises, but thrives on propaganda will go with a divided camp. This explains the urgency with which the party ought to retrace its step in the right direction with the hope of salvaging the already bad situation within the shortest time.”

Jang maintained that whatever the party or Atiku agreed with Wike should have been followed through as a mark of honesty. He noted that since the PDP Board of Trustees and National Working Committee (NWC) are aware of the emerging cracks, they must do all that is “within their powers to stop further dissonance arising from the treatment of ranking members of the party, especially Governor Nyesom Wike.

“It is unfortunate that the very man who, admittedly, has been a pillar of the party at a time the repressive tendencies of the governing APC was to send the PDP into oblivion will be treated in the manner the party has.

“Until we correct the mistakes, which we deliberately made, the future is bleak and the PDP may be caught in a trap it has set for itself. That PDP governors have started distancing themselves from the activities of the party and other influential members making public statements indicating their displeasure is not a good sign.”
MEANWHILE, as the angst over the shabby treatment meted to Wike lingers, a source close to Atiku blamed Southeast governors for the rumpus over the selection of the PDP presidential running mate from South-south.

He disclosed that at the point when it was resolved that the presidential ticket would be thrown open to all the geopolitical zones, governors from the Southeast hinted at their rejection of any scenario that could throw up the former Anambra State governor Peter Obi as running mate.

“Then, I do not know if you remember that the Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo declared that nobody from Southeast should take up the position of running mate. But, the governors decided to support Wike while other stakeholders showed solidarity with Wazirin Adamawa.

“Again, after the screening committee was set up and former governors made a case for one of them to be selected, the serving governors maintained that the VP must be from among them. That was when some people were pushing for a former Enugu State governor. In that situation it was difficult to consider southeast,” the source stated.

But, a close ally of General Gusau, confided in The Guardian that there was no way Atiku would have accepted Wike as running mate, pointing out that even during the 2018 presidential primaries in Port Harcourt influential northern leaders rejected the godfather posturing of the Rivers State governor.

“General and his fellow veterans that are sympathetic to PDP made inputs to Atiku’s emergence and when the question of compensating Wike with the VP slot arose, they shot it down. The idea that an enlarged committee would support the rejection of Wike was what led to the setting up of the Screening Committee.

“Even Atiku was not well disposed to having Wike, as his running mate. You heard what Alhaji Babangida Aliu said, Wike has made strong positions against northern leaders and interests that there was no way of accommodating him in the Presidency because he would make trouble,” the source highlighted.

However, he disclosed that there were influential PDP leaders who wanted a candidate that could help win the election, stressing that they argued that winning the election should be paramount more than the loyalty or otherwise of the Vice President.

It is evident that the Wike spurn had elicited so much discontent that was not anticipated within the main opposition party. Consequently, if the fear of alienating powerful northern leaders or losing northern votes informed the choice of Okowa over Wike, it has become apparent that the Rivers State governor appears to weld more influence in South-south more than his Delta State counterpart.

Apart from the high voting population of Rivers State, the unexpected voyage of political discovery by Peter Obi as the Labour Party (LP) candidate has made Okowa’s ability to secure Igbo votes very debatably.

Worse still, PDP faithful from Akwa Ibom and Cross River are also wailing to be appeased. They too expected that Governor Emmanuel possesses qualities that are diametrically opposite to Wike’s and therefore, should have been considered by Atiku for the position of VP.

No doubt, the PDP is going into the 2023 presidential poll with a divided house. It is not known whether the former Anambra State governor, Obi, could have garnered similar momentum his emergence as LP presidential contender has generated if he was supported as a PDP candidate.

But, the fact that the same Obi, who was Atiku’s running mate in 2019, is engaged in political collaborative talks with Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who contested the PDP presidential primary in 2018, leaves the impression that part of PDP is considering being part of the third force agglomeration.

With the Southeast geopolitical zone left open for Obi and the Northwest available for Kwankwaso, should the two leaders and their various platforms-LP and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) -pull through their unification talks, PDP would be left with finger-pointing and blame sharing.

However, despite that worrisome scenario, especially the possible damage to its South-south voting bloc, the immediate past PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbodiyan, who appeared in Arise Television programme, dismissed it as, “a turbulence that would soon be over.”

That optimism was also buoyed by Wike’s declaration that his determination to join in sacking the APC administration from power is still strong, assuring that he is going nowhere outside PDP.