The race for the 2023 presidential election has begun in earnest with the conclusion of the presidential primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Congress (APC), and those of the possible ‘third force’ platforms of Labour Party and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) which have thrown up the familiar contenders of Peter Obi and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso as candidates respectively.
Though there is a growing movement around the candidacy of Peter Obi powered largely by the youth demographic of the nation’s population, history of elections in the country and reality of nationwide political structure may have already narrowed the February 2023 presidential election to a straight fight between former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, who is the candidate of the PDP, and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC. Whether history holds firm in the forthcoming elections may, however, be tested by the surge of possibly foretelling political enthusiasm sweeping through the country.
With the conclusion of party primaries, the next and very important hurdle for both the PDP and APC is the choice of running mate for their presidential candidates. The hurdle for Atiku even becomes much more precarious given the quality of opposition he is confronted with in Asiwaju Tinubu, and of course, the many interests of the blocs currently angling for attention in the PDP. Atiku and his team are now sweating it out and considering all options open to them.
Top on the criteria for Atiku’s running mate would definitely be national appeal, good electoral value in the geopolitical zone of origin, ability to bring qualitative ideas to the table and to contribute to national development.
Though a running mate, when elected, has limited constitutional role in the government, and majorly relies on responsibilities delegated to them by their principal, it is, however, a given that such a person must be someone with proven ability and a track record of performance in his or her previous endeavours. This is more so because the Vice President is essentially a President-in-waiting. It is also almost certainly an important criteria that such a person to be picked must not be overly controversial or contentious.
One other factor that influences the search for Atiku’s running mate is the need for a balancing effect among the geological zones in the southern part of the country. The current vice president, Yemi Osinbajo is from the South-West. The same goes for the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. This may have already excluded the South West zone from the search, leaving the South-East and the South-South to slug it out. The argument for the possible exclusion may be that it would amount to expending enormous resources without commensurate return, a bad political investment.
Bearing the above in mind, recent names that have been associated with the search for Atiku’s running mate make the search even more tricky and the exercise potentially herculean.
Notable names mentioned so far include those of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa and a former Governor of lmo State, Emeka Ihedioha. Aside these established party stalwarts, there is also the possibility of the emergence of a Dark Horse, a young Nigerian with the intensity, vigour and burning enterprising spirit Nigerian youths are known for.
Some have even suggested the possibility of a Peter Obi entering into some kind of alliance with the PDP to return as running mate to Atiku like he did in the 2019 election. This idea has been mooted by some PDP officials, prompting response from Doyin Okupe, Obi’s campaign director. Okupe had dismissed a claim that Obi had been approached but had rejected the offer. He said no such offer had been made. Could this swift dismissal of the claim signal a willingness to accept such an offer? Time will tell.
Any of the above names would likely fit the bill. It must, however, be noted that they all have their individual strengths and weaknesses as to how much they can contribute to the PDP ticket and governance.
Below is an x-ray of those being popularly touted as Atiku’s potential running mate.
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike is no stranger to Nigerians as he is almost daily in the news. Starting as a local government chairman, Wike went on to serve as a chief of staff before he became a minister of state for education under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, from where he contested election and won as governor.
The second-term governor also contested for the PDP presidential ticket, losing to Atiku Abubakar.
Wike has proven to be an election winner in Rivers State, winning two consecutive governorship elections against candidates promoted by his former boss, Rotimi Amaechi, another former governor of Rivers State and immediate past Minister of Transportation. This may however be limited to Rivers State, as his influence in other states in the South-South geopolitical zone has not been adequately proven. The case of the last Bayelsa State governorship election where despite his support for the PDP candidate, the APC went on to win, before the Supreme Court handed the governorship to Governor Duoye Diri, based on technicalities, is one such case against his geopolitical influence. Sadly, only Rivers votes in the zone will not deliver PDP the presidency.
Read also: Let’s kick out this ‘borrowing and sorrowing’ APC, Atiku urges in Democracy Day message
In the area governance, Wike has done his bit, especially in the area of infrastructural development. Governance, however, does not consist of only infrastructural development. It is a total package consisting of statecraft and inclusive dividends of democracy. It involves people management, and the ability to provide balance among contending interests. How well Governor Wike has done in this area may be a subject of serious debate.
The Rivers State governor, to his credit, is also a strong character and someone that cannot be easily pushed around. These are some traits of great leaders, especially when applied to positive ends. His boisterous and spur-of-the-moment outbursts may however be a minus in the eyes of those conducting the search for Atiku’s running mate.
Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa is another strong contender for running mate to Atiku Abubakar. Like Governor Nyesom Wike, Okowa, a medical doctor, started his political career from the grassroots, when he served as Secretary to the Ika North Local Government where he would later become chairman. He served in three different ministries— Agriculture, Water Resources and Health— as commissioner in Delta State before becoming the Secretary to the State Government.
In 2011, he was elected Senator representing Delta North Senatorial District at the National Assembly. He went on to contest and win election as governor for his first and second terms.
Governor Okowa, no doubt, comes with vast experience at the grassroots, state and the national stage, both in the executive and legislative arms of government. Such an exposure comes with a lot of cultivated relationships, influence and contacts that will no doubt come in handy as a vice presidential candidate and eventually as vice president.
In Delta State, the unassuming Okowa has continued to carry on as a shining example of steady governance, one that reflects deft management of diverse interests, especially in a state with notable contending ethic and political blocs.
The Delta State governor is also seen not only as politician, but an intellectual leader as evidenced by the various lectures he has delivered, where he espoused ideas geared towards deepening democracy, expanding the frontiers of good governance and engendering quality service delivery to the people.
Though unassuming in nature, Governor Okowa has not for once shied away from making his voice heard on issues of national interest. He has constantly spoken out, sharing his ideas on how best to advance the Nigerian nation, even when controversial.
It is on record that despite the very glaring division in the country along tribal and ethnic lines, one of Okowa’s strong attribute has been the delicate balancing of the ethno-religious interests in the state. Could this be a strong decider to his favour in the search for a competent running mate? What is sure is that it can’t count against him.
An Atiku presidency will no doubt require the services of a nationalist as the number two man to help heal the gaping wounds the Nigerian nation and its people have unfortunately had to endure
As a Deltan from Ikah North, Okowa could as well be the bridge between the tussle for the PDP VP candidate between the South-East and the South-South. Though Ikah North is South-South by geography, it is also true that the Ikah people, who form part of those referred to as Delta Igbo, share cultural ties to the Igbo in the South-East.
If the PDP is looking to have a running mate with a cultural appeal to both zones, as well as a national appeal, then Okowa may just be the joker.
But can Okowa’s appeal deliver the electoral fortunes the PDP so desperately needs, especially within the context of strong contending forces represented by the APC and the growing third force? Well, we may have to wait to find out.
Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel is another potential vice presidential candidate of the PDP, and like others being touted, may be a good choice.
For the almost eight years Emmanuel has been in the saddle in Akwa Ibom, he has largely stayed away from controversies, carrying on as a fine gentleman and silently developing the oil-rich state.
It is also to the credit of Governor Emmanuel that he was able to effectively clip the wings of a former governor of the state, Godswill Akpabio, who facilitated his first term election as governor.
On the flip side however, Governor Emmanuel seems to shy away from engaging in national discourse and have over the years remained largely reclusive when matters of national importance are being discussed. This may have accounted for his less than impressive showing at the presidential primary of the PDP, which he contested.
Not being controversial cannot be an excuse for docility when matters of national importance, especially those that have to do with the lives and wellbeing of the people, are in focus.
The temperament of Governor Emmanuel may actually be a fine requirement for a vice president, as he will not rock the boat or become overtly antagonistic and contentious. His national appeal and acceptability in other regions may, however, just be a major minus. It is also yet to be seen what level of influence he can bring to bear on the electoral fortunes of the PDP in the South-South, especially with the growing influence of the APC and a possible third force in the zone.
Emeka Ihedioha, a sacked Governor of Imo State and former Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, is another fine politician under consideration as running mate to the PDP presidential candidate.
As Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ihedioha maintained a dignified presence, while in his brief stint as governor, he was determined to change the face of Imo State for the better, especially regarding substandard infrastructure that was a major source of concern for the people of the state.
Though a fine politician who has been in the game for some time, Ihedioha’s seeming inactiveness and almost total silence since the Supreme Court sacked him may be a cause for concern for those promoting him. The former lawmaker has failed to join the national discourse or weigh in on the insecurity that has almost taken the South-East to the edge.
As stated above, he is a good material who is not exactly known to be given to pedestrian politics, neither does he have unnecessary baggage that can weigh him down. However, Ihedioha’s aloofness and lack of visibility on the national scene may be too much to ignore in making a choice for a running mate for Atiku.
The Dark Horse
Youths, according to statistics, constitute about 60 percent of the Nigerian population, a percentage no serious politician will want to take for granted.
Nigerian youths, since the #EndSars protests, seem to have realised the enormous power they wield as a major bloc in the country, hence the current massive campaigns going on on social media for young people to get their PVC in readiness for the 2023 general elections.
From all indications, Nigerian youths are poised to make a statement with the elections, and the PDP and Atiku may just want to cash in on that by choosing a Dark Horse, a relatively unknown young Nigerian in the political circle as his running mate, who will appeal to the massive youth population.
This idea, though a tough one as it will mean running against the establishment in the PDP, especially state governors who wield enormous power and influence in the party, may just be what is needed to checkmate the onslaught that the APC and its candidate, Tinubu may unleash, and the growing third force movement as represented by Peter Obi.
The choice of a young Nigerian who represents the enterprising spirit of today’s youths— a young population that is both idealistic and forward-looking— who understands the yearnings of this tech-crazy, disruptive demographic, will no doubt be some sort of game changer.
Nigerian youths have been making great moves in the world of technology, entertainment, business and sports, making them the most productive segment of the population. A choice of one of them can only motivate them to do more, as they will see it as an endorsement of their achievements. And what’s more, there is an abundance of options to consider!