By OBINNA EZUGWU
The emergence of former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) dominated the political space last week. Many have continued to argue that the former vice president remained the only candidate with the requisite resources, reach and experience to defeat the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC)
However others have dwelt more on what they call his ‘not good enough credentials,’ while insisting at the same time that Buhari still stood a better chance of winning in 2019. Although the claim of Buhari’s expected victory seems realistic they former air of invincibility has largely dissipated replaced now by sobriety that nothing can be taken for granted anymore.
But there is a second leg of that debate, and it has to do with the choice of running mate for the Turaki Adamawa who is making his fourth, and easily his strongest bid for power since the return of democracy in 1999. And that is who his choice of running mate will be, but more importantly, where the person will comes from – precisely whether from the South West or the South East.
There are reasons why the South West is now tipped to take the slot with former Minister of Agriculture, now president of the African Development Bank (ADB), Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina widely believed to be in serious consultation with Atiku and the PDP. Butformer Ogun State governor, Mr. Gbenga Daniel, who heads Atiku’s Campaign Organisation is said to be lobbying intensely for it.
“Adesina is our unequivocal choice,” said Chief Tola Adeniyi, veteran columnist and author. “We have already communicated to appropriate quarters.”
In the course of the week, Atiku was said to have met Mr. Adesina and held consultations with him in line with what has become an emerging pushed for a South West vice Presidential (VP) candidate, which for many is PDP’s best bet.
Also two developments pointed to this fact; namely, Afenifere’s visit to former President Obasanjo to canvass support for Atiku, who he had previously rejected before the primaries, and his demand for a man with economics knowledge as condition for his support. Furthermore Adesina has been his preferred candidate since 2015.
Indeed, for many people Atiku’s fate in 2019 could ultimately come down to his choice of running mate and which of the two southern zones: the South East and South West is to be given the slot.
With President Buhari coming from Kastina state in the North West, and the vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo being from the South West, the natural answer to them would seem to be simply Atiku who is from the North East picking a South East running mate. And indeed, several sources within the PDP high command had disclosed to BusinessHallmark that the party was only considering the South East, but had been compelled to have a rethink.
To that effect, a name like Mr. Peter Obi, former Anambra State governor – a technocrat, successful business man who has been so eloquent of late in analysing and proffering solutions to the contrary’s problems – has been mentioned frequently.
Those mentioned alongside him in that regard have included Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, an economist of global repute, former World Bank Vice President and two time Finance Minister; Chike Obi, former AMCON boss who is also a first class economist as well as Senator Ike Ekweremadu, constitutional lawyer and current Deputy Senate President.
The above names are eminently qualified individuals, whose capacity to deliver on the job can hardly be questioned, but in Nigerian politics, it is not strictly capacity that makes a candidate electable. More often than not, ethnicity and religion play huge roles in determining the outcome of elections in the country.
On that call, some have come to argue that while the South East may seem like an obvious choice, and while the likes of Obi, Okonjo-Iweala and Ekweremadu have proven capacity, picking a vice presidential candidate from the zone could very well mean game over for the opposition party.
Importantly, because with over 18 million registered voters in Buhari’s North West constituency, the president already has a head start. And in the event that there is any arrangement that would tip the South West with second highest number of registered voters, over 14 million, after the North West in Buhari’s favour, which the choice of South East vice presidential candidate would likely achieve, then Atiku may stand little chance in 2019.
With Osinbajo already there as VP, the concern is that if PDP picks a South Easterner to run with Atiku, then 2019 may not longer be a contest between Buhari and Atiku, but a contest between the South East and the South West – a contest for second fiddle. And such contest could become so intense that the failures of Buhari will quickly become secondary considerations.
With the South East, as many of them are doing, campaigning against Buhari on social media, such campaign could easily be misinterpreted as a campaign for a South East vice president by the ruling party.
“It’s necessary that the PDP picks Atiku’s running mate from the South West,” said Aremo (Barr) Oladotun Hassan, President Yoruba Council of Youths Worldwide (YCYW). “And I’m not saying so due to any selfish consideration, but because the present political configuration makes it a necessity.”
Hassan argued that although the APC has failed the country woefully, and everyone is suffering from that failure, it was still critical for the PDP to try and achieve greater acceptability in the South West as it would be key to the party winning in 2019.
“We are facing hydra headed challenges in the country today, and no one is insulated from these harsh conditions,” he said. “Everyone is affected by the relegation of the federal character principle in appointments and the bigotry which has become the character of the Buhari administration.
“Most Nigerians are waiting to breathe a sigh of relief, but we will also advise the PDP, because they still have a measure of acceptance mostly because the APC has failed and the confidence of Nigerians in the party is depleting day by day.
“But be that as it may, we wish to state that the South West is most suitable in the current political arrangement to produce the vice presidential candidate of the PDP, because that will help the PDP to achieve wider acceptability in the zone, given that the present administration is working on the same template.”
Even so, Hassan opined that the vice presidential candidate should not be just anybody from the zone, but someone who has the capacity to match Osinbajo in the zone.
“It shouldn’t just be any South West person, but a technocrat or a high flying legal practitioner who is eloquent enough and can counter whatever narratives Osinbajo who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria might come up with.”
Although one could argue that while the five states of the South East has only less than 10 million registered voters, people of South East origins represent significant voting populations in almost every other zone, and especially in the South West and particularly Lagos, the fact for many remains that Nigerian politics is a lot more complex.
The point thus, is that the combined voting strength of a little under 20million votes for the South East and South South which are apparently PDP zones, and therefore, Atiku’s main voting bloc will cancel out the North West’s 18million. And the nearly even voting strength of the North Central and the North East which stands at about 11million and 10 million respectively, will balance out between both candidates, with Atiku doing better in the North Central and Buhari in the North East.
Therefore, the South West will be left as the coveted bride whose votes could determine the outcome of the election.
“Atiku has the right to choose his running mate from anywhere,” Said Comrade Adeniyi Alimi Suleiman, convener, Save Lagos Group (SLG). “But the zonal configuration of the country compels him to choose from one of the Southern zones; be it South East, South West or South South. And if the South West should insist on having the slot I think that in the overall interest of the party, they should give it to them.”
Comrade Suleiman noted that the overall interest of Nigerians should be to remove the incumbent administration, which according to him, has failed.
“The post of vice president is just one of many, there is also the Secretary to Government and the Senate President which can go to the South East or South South. The most important thing is that someone with capacity like Atiku, who has run successful business and is liberal minded enough to run an inclusive government be elected to succeed Buhari. Anything that can make that possible should be done,” he said.
He described Atiku’s emergence as PDP candidate as a relief for the masses.
“The candidacy of Atiku Abubakar is a relief for the masses. I’m not a member of any political party; I’m a neutral person who is only interested in the good of the country.
But because we have tried the incumbent president, Baba Buhari, and he has proven that he lacks the capacity to govern this country, other people should try.
Suleiman’s idea is one that had since been bought and sold by several online activists of South East origin, who say that they are aware of this political configurations, because they are determined primarily to ensure the incumbent does not return for second term on account of what they see as general poor performance, overt nepotism and condoning of killings by herdsmen, they are calling on the PDP to cede its vice presidential slot to the South West.
“Strategically speaking, PDP does not need to worry about placating the South East with VP slot,” wrote popular social media commentator, Charles Ogbu. “That will amount to wasting scarce resources marketing an ally of one who is already your ally.
“The Igbo have no intention of voting Buhari for obvious reasons. So, giving them VP slot won’t bring any extra value to the PDP. The party needs to focus on splitting Yoruba votes by all means possible.”
There are however, others who insist that it would be costly for Atiku to make the mistake of neglecting the South East, given that the zone has its population spread across the country.
“My view is that Atiku should not make the mistake of neglecting the South East,” said Barr Okey Ilofulunwa, former secretary of Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga. “He should consolidate on his political strength and try to see how he can get some votes from the South West.”
Ilofulunwa argued that the traditional South West APC members would still vote for the party, not minding where the PDP vice presidential candidate comes from, and that the liberals in the zone, as well as PDP members alongside non Yoruba population will vote for the PDP either way.
“We should also understand that the APC controls South West states and even if PDP pick VP candidate from there, APC supporters will still vote for APC.
“The truth of the matter is that the impact of the bad governance we are experiencing now is not restricted to any one group or region. Even the North where Buhari comes from is not better off. We are talking about bad governance and incompetence. Anything that can ensure that the government is voted out should be done.
“But my point is that most traditional South West APC people will still vote APC. If we are talking about the liberals in the South West and the traditional PDP members and the non Yoruba living in the South West, these are sure votes PDP whether or not the party has someone from the zone as running mate.
“My point is that anybody who believes in good governance should ensure that APC is voted out of power.
“Then, there are other positions of relevance like the senate president and speaker of the House of Reps. If you look at it, VP is more like a ceremonial position, it doesn’t have any effective executive power, it’s for symbolic significance.” he concluded.