The crisis over the choice of a vice-presidential candidate is serving as the first major test for Peoples Democratic Party as it strategises to return to power after its defeat by the All Progressives Congress in 2015, LEKE BAIYEWU writes
The decision by the presidential of the Peoples Democratic Party for the 2023 election, Atiku Abubakar, to prefer the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, to Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, has been likened to the case of a chicken that perches precariously on a rope and creates a world of unease for itself and the rope; both the bird and the rope will be uncomfortable.
All eyes have been on the ruling All Progressives Congress and the PDP – Nigeria’s biggest opposition party – those who will become their presidential and vice-presidential candidates. The parties have crossed some hurdles, while others seem difficult to cross.
The APC seems to have crossed the moral hurdle of power rotation by electing its candidate from the South, after the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), a northerner, would have served eight years of two terms in 2023.
However, the PDP had chosen another Muslim northerner, Atiku, from the North, who had two major options – Okowa and Wike, both southern Christians – to pick as his running mate.
Although the ex-vice-president picked Okowa, who was criticised by southern leaders who accused him of betraying the South. The APC, especially its candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is shopping for a running mate in the North and there are indications that his choices are in the North-East geopolitical zones.
While the search for a vice-presidential candidate seems easier – though with some controversies – for the APC and Tinubu, there is a big brouhaha in the PDP where Atiku picked Okowa and sparked protests from the camp of Wike, who came second in the presidential primary.
Presently, there are Wike’s loyalists including members of the National Assembly, who are threatening fire and brimstone, and there are fears that the imbroglio might frustrate the chances of the PDP if it is not well managed and the aggrieved side pacified.
Wike’s followers and loyalists have used many glorious and dignifying adjectives to describe the governor, and there seems to be a consensus that even among the PDP leaders, Wike has been loyal to the party and he is one of those who have prevented the party from collapsing after it lost power to the APC in 2015.
In fact, Abubakar’s choice of running mate seems to have divided the ranks of governors and leaders of the PDP, with the likes of Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State and former Governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, coming out to hail Wike and then cautioning the party on how it should handle the situation.
Nevertheless, some leaders of the PDP still believe that the crisis won’t cost the party its chance to win the presidential election and that Wike will continue to work for the party. One of them is a member of the PDP Board of Trustees, Adamu Waziri, who, while downplaying the issues in the party, blamed the media for “making Nigerians believe” that the party is in “tumultuous disarray.”
According to him, the press should douse tension rather than arouse it. He said, “Our party has its challenges, There is no political decision you take that has no ripple effects.”
Waziri noted that the PDP had a presidential primary at a special national convention “where the results stood out for two people: a winner in the person of Atiku Abubakar and a second loser who is a highly placed governor, Nyesom Wike.”
He stated that that settled the emergence of a presidential candidate. He added, “The next issue is who is going to be the running mate, and looking at the backdrop of what happened in 2019, the presidential candidate, this time around, decided to widely consult and deepen the process of choosing who is going to be the running mate.”
He did not abdicate his right to pick the running mate, but he decided to allow input from stakeholders in the process. What people are glossing over is that the committee recommended three people — three candidates — whom he reserved the right to choose any of them, or none at all. I want to tell you, in my honour, there was no voting.
Waziri faults Ortom
Waziri faulted Ortom on the claim that the majority – 14 of 17 – members of the committee voted for Wike.
In an interview with Channels Television, the PDP BoT member noted that he was accompanied by the chairman of the committee to the studio. “They did not take any votes,” he insisted, while noting that “in the cause of the deliberation, members were allowed to express their views.”
Whatever the number, some people had opinions about Mr. A and some people expressed their views on Mr. B.
When asked if the majority spoke for Wike,” Waziri said, “I think so.” He, however, pointed out that the committee did not specifically recommend Wike, stressing that only Abubakar had the right to pick his running mate.
One of the founding fathers of the PDP, Professor ABC Nwosu, however, posited that the crisis was foundational, attributing it to the decision by the National Working Committee of the party to jettison the zoning formula of the party.
“Let them resolve it in their normal manner, taking a cue from the PDP constitution. It was a violation of the PDP constitution that led to the problem. The constitution of the PDP talks about zoning (of the presidency) to the south.
It is specific – quite specific – and it arose from the Abacha Constitutional Conference, which led to the formation of the PDP. So, let them resolve it as amicably as they can,” the professor said.
Nwosu, a former Minister of Health and member of the PDP BoT, pointed out that the choice of a running mate is the prerogative of a candidate. He said, “I was there when (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo was taking his decision on Atiku Abubakar. He was advised as he consulted widely, but in the end, the decision was his. “
Though the candidate could pick anybody as his running mate, Nwosu was asked if the choice should be someone who would add value to the ticket and help the candidate win an election. The elder statesman responded, “How do you know who will win and who will not win?”
That was the consideration and decision that led them to flout the PDP constitution.
Even with all the candidates now (across the parties), how do you know who will win and who will not win? If we knew who would win, everybody would have gone for that person.”
On the report that Abubakar consulted widely, leading to the setting up of a committee to short list the vice-presidential aspirants, Nwosu retorted, “Which committee?” If he had consulted very well, it means he would have consulted A, B, C, D, and all the way through. The ex-minister said the PDP candidate had not done so while the committee had less than 20 members. He asked. “How can it be? He knows those who he consulted and some people made their recommendations. “
Although the party has set up a committee to meet and pacify Wike, there are strong indications that reconciliations have not started as the Rivers State Governor was reported to have travelled out of the country.
Analysing the matter, Prof Emmanuel Onyebuchi of the Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria Nsukka, states that the 1999 Constitution is very clear about selection of a running mate. “It is the presidential candidate that chooses whoever he thinks he can work with,” he stated. The university lecturer recalled how Abubakar stepped down for MKO Abiola to emerge as candidate of the Social Democratic Party for the 1993 presidential election. He also recalled that Abiola eventually picked Babagana Kingibe as his running mate, over Abubakar.