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Southeast governors still sulking over Atiku’s choice Of running mate

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
02 December 2018   |   3:55 am
The conspicuous absence of governors from the Southeast, especially those of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the turbaning ceremony of their Presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, last week, clearly signposted that they are still in dilemma over their party’s presidential choice and that of the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari. While…

[FILE PHOTO] Atiku Abubakar of PDP

The conspicuous absence of governors from the Southeast, especially those of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the turbaning ceremony of their Presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, last week, clearly signposted that they are still in dilemma over their party’s presidential choice and that of the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari.

While this impasse continues, perhaps, one thing that has gone unnoticed since the Supreme Court recognised the Ahmed Makarfi-led executive as the authentic party leadership, and the various consultations that followed the return to peace and stability in the party, is the attitude of Southeast governors towards the party.

This becomes obvious from their continued absence at party meetings, their role during the crisis and support for President Buhari, which soon fuelled rumour that the governors: Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Dave Umahi (Ebonyi) and Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) have concluded arrangements to plant one leg in APC and the other in PDP.

The feeling that their hide and seek game would end with Atiku’s emergence at the party’s convention last October in Port Harcourt was not to be, as they started raising issues when he (Atiku) chose one of their brothers, former Anambra governor, Peter Obi as his running mate.

Obi’s choice was in line with the party’s decision to zone the Vice Presidential slot to the Southeast. After an independent investigation, which was said to have taken into considerations certain party members that could play the supportive role, Atiku decided on Obi.

But no sooner was the announcement made public than an intense opposition from the governors, allegedly backed by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and others greeted it.

In an emergency meeting held at Ekweremadu’s residence on October 13, 2018, and attended by Governors Ugwuanyi, Umahi, Ikpeazu, former Deputy Speaker, Emeka Ihedioha, Chief Chris Uba, southeast zonal chairman, Austin Umahi and others, they insisted they were not consulted before the choice was arrived at.

Umahi, who addressed reporters after the meeting, emphasised their anger, when he said: “We heard about the choice in the social media. We are waiting for him (Atiku) to come and brief us and until that is done, we cannot confirm that what we are hearing is true.”

Since that meeting and other consultations that had taken place, Obi had taken it upon himself to visit the governors individually in their various states. He also visited Ekweremadu. However, these visits seem not to have doused the governors’ anger.

On November 14, there was a well-attended meeting of Igbo leaders in Enugu, where the Atiku/Obi mandate was adopted, but none of the governors attended, and they didn’t send representations, even though the event would impact PDP’s drive in the zone.

The gathering, chaired by Constitutional lawyer, Ben Nwabueze was loud that the support for Atiku/Obi and victory at the polls would be in the best interest of Ndigbo. It was stressed that the duo’s restructuring mantra was heartening.

Presenting what he termed a “last wish” for the people of the zone to deliver Atiku/Obi in 2019, Nwabueze said it would make him rest peacefully in his grave, as their victory would launch the zone back into political prominence.

While many savoured the success of that meeting, which went down in history as the largest gathering of Ndigbo in recent times, the governors, apparently trying to extricate them from it, suddenly came up with the idea of visiting President Buhari in Abuja in what they described as continuation of campaign for attention in southeast.

Abuja Meeting And Southeast Governors’ Fidelity

Since last week, when the Southeast governors, Ekweremadu and other APC ministers visited Aso Villa, tongues have been wagging over their fidelity to their own project and party.

Although the governors claimed the visit was to continue their campaign for Federal Government’s attention to challenges in the Southeast, the pledge to boost votes for Buhari in the coming elections in the zone is viewed by many as sabotage.

Credence to the suspicion about their not-too-keen stance on the Atiku/Obi project was in their speech at the occasion, where they assured the President of their continued support; as well as their absence last Sunday in Yola, Adamawa State, where Atiku was turbaned the seventh Waziri.
Notable Nigerians, especially from PDP, were present at the event.

These two scenarios exposed the underbelly of the kind of politics the three PDP governors want to play in 2019.

There is a strong suspicion they would trade off the Atiku/Obi ticket, if it would help them retain offices in 2019, as none of them has publicly solicited the support of their party’s Presidential candidate anywhere.

Umahi, who was made the Coordinator of the campaign in the zone, has not hidden his preference for Buhari over what he termed his “sterling achievements.”

Reacting, however, to allegations that the governors shunned the turbaning ceremony, so as not to be seen as supporting his election, Chairman of Southeast Governors Forum, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, said it was not a boycott.

Responding through his Chief Press Secretary, Emmanuel Uzor, Umahi said he had to attend a function in Lagos, organised by Ndigbo Lagos Foundation.

Uzor said his boss attended the function on behalf of the zone, adding that the Vice Presidential candidate, Obi, also attended the event.

He said: “Other governors were represented, and if anyone boycotted, it should be personal because I know Southeast is not fully controlled by PDP. There are other states controlled by APC and APGA, and there is no way Southeast governors could be said to have boycotted it.”

On his part, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State said his absence was due to previously scheduled appointments.

“Far, far from it, we are working with him. Our governor was at his event last week. He could not come for this one because he has two engagements today, and in fact, I am talking to you from a ceremony,” Mr. Enyinnaya Apollos, Chief Press Secretary to Ikpeazu said.

But Investigations indicated that the desire to retain their offices after the 2019 general elections is responsible for the hide and seek game of the governors.

The fact is that though PDP claimed it is in control of southeast, the level of inroad APC has made since the last general election with these governors in charge in their various states is such that has seriously weakened PDP’s foundation in the zone.

The fear is that with the support APC has received, it would require PDP governors going the extra mile, if they must retain their seat in next year’s elections, and one way of doing this is to continue supporting President Buhari.

Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, President Emeritus, Aka Ikenga Cultural Association, on the alleged governors’ betrayal to Igbo cause, said: “I am perplexed at this seemingly lackadaisical attitude of the governors towards the emergence of Peter Obi. The game in town is to have your party man in Aso Rock. To be seen as ambivalent about supporting publicly your own party presidential candidates is suicidal.

“The governors should know Ndigbo are watching keenly. That Ndigbo are in support of Peter Obi will never be in doubt. We love Peter Obi. Yes, there are amorphous groups gallivanting about as Igbo, but like K.O Mbadiwe said, ‘when the come comes to become, then we shall know who is who.’ Ndigbo are never in doubt where we stand. The governors who are seen as capable of betraying us may find themselves holding the short end of the stick in politics.”

Mr. Ikem Uzo, a political scientist, said time had come for the governors to make their position public.

He said: “It is a crime for them to belong to a political party and from inside, be working for another political party. So far, the governors’ attitude has not helped the cause of PDP in the southeast, otherwise why would they be panicking about their second term, if they had used their first term to serve the people?

“I think it is still that same mentality of poor service, which they have collectively delivered in the last three years that is pushing them against their own party. But they will be disappointed, because APC is not ready to compromise its chances in the zone.”

Ekweremadu’s Grouse

A source said Senator Ekweremadu’s grouse over the Atiku/Obi project might not be unconnected with the party’s failure to consult with him before arriving at the choice of running mate, especially with the role he played in restoring peace and stability in the party.

Sources said apart from midwifing the committee that zoned the presidency to the north and vice to the Southeast, he was instrumental to Atiku returning to PDP to contest the presidential ticket.

Another source, however, said his midwifing the committee and piloting Atiku’s return was to chart a course for becoming the running mate, being the highest office holder in the zone.

Although he had won his party’s ticket to vie for Enugu west senatorial seat, it would appear his enthusiasm for the party has seriously diminished. He was said to have been disappointed when Atiku chose Obi, and jolted by the development, has enlisted the governors’ support against it.

It was, however, gathered that the Deputy Senate President’s anger was not because he wasn’t consulted on the choice, but in the fact that he has nothing to show for his efforts should the party come on stream at the centre in the next dispensation.

An Atiku victory will mean the Southeast producing the Vice President, while other zones will be compensated with Senate President and Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), among others.

Then, Ekweremadu would have to return to Senate as ordinary member and would not be retained as Deputy Senate President, a development that may whittle his support base and influence in the zone.

PDP And Atiku’s Peace Shuttle

THE Guardian gathered that the position taken by Ekweremadu might wreck the party and in the long run, negatively impact the 2019 general elections, especially in the Southeast, should nothing be done to placate him going by his present influence.

This was said to have prompted the meeting of Wednesday at his Apo residence in Abuja by the party’s national leadership with Atiku in attendance. It was gathered that at the meeting, party leaders asked

Ekweremadu to support the choice of Obi in the interest of the zone and Nigeria.

A source in the meeting was quoted as saying: “He was told that Obi does not have any corruption case against him and that he does not belong to any faction of the party.

“He was also told that Obi’s emergence has further raised the acceptability of PDP across the country.”

Whether this visit succeeded in healing the wounds and disenchantment will be seen in due course.

Enters Chekwas Okorie

The National Chairman of United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, whose party is not featuring at the presidential election appears to have been enrolled into the contest to play the role of a spoiler.

Okorie, who visited President Buhari last week in Aso Rock to “adopt” him as his party’s Presidential candidate criticised Igbo leaders that gathered in Enugu to adopt the Atiku/Obi ticket.

Okorie, who has reactivated the moribund Igboezue Cultural Advancement Initiative he founded, told reporters in Enugu that he would mobilise all extant Igbo associations nationwide to ensure that Ndigbo did not vote for a particular party in 2019.

He told a press conference in Enugu how for 16 years, PDP ensured that the entire Southeast became one large area of abandoned construction works, stressing that allowing the party to return to power would be a reminder of days of political servitude.

He said: “If this is not deliberate, then what is the explanation for the very painful fact that in 16 years, there was no project that was started and completed by PDP government in any part of Southeastern geo political zone? We are aware that PDP has an unwritten policy that no Igbo person will ever be President of Nigeria until 150 years after the Nigeria-Biafra war.

“The manner with which the military junta of Abdulsalam Abubakar presided over the massive deceit of the entire Igbo people by PDP in short-changing the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme in his bid to become the party’s presidential candidate in 1999 was an unprecedented and biggest political 419 ever perpetrated against any race in Nigeria by a political party and its military sponsors.”

Reacting to the development, however, a former Minister of health and one of the Igbo leaders that called the Enugu meeting, where Atiku/Obi ticket was endorsed, Prof ABC Nwosu, insisted that Buhari and APC pushed Ndigbo into supporting and endorsing the aspiration of Atiku/Obi.

He stated that the total rejection and exclusion of the zone from the scheme of things in the current administration was responsible, and that noting was being done to remedy the situation.

He, however, called on those still opposed to the choice of Obi to start learning to live with it, as according to him, “It is Atiku’s prerogative to choose a running mate and he did so. I think the declaration of Igbo leaders at Nike Lake Hotel on November 14 2018 was clear evidence that Ndigbo appreciates Atiku Abubakar and the PDP for assuaging the feelings of people of the Southeast.

“The message from that one-day summit was loud and very clear. The simple truth nationally and internationally is that the choice of Mr. Peter Obi has been well received and generally, Ndigbo are very unhappy at the way APC government has completely excluded them, especially in the security agencies in the past four years.

“Even Igbo ministers know this. So, the endorsement of Atiku/Obi by Ndigbo should come as no surprise to anybody, especially given the 97 to 5 percent policy of this administration.”

As it is, unless something new develops otherwise, what is on ground does not suggest that Ugwuanyi, Umahi and Ikpeazu are ready to work for Atiku/Obi victory in 2019.