The question of who becomes the running mate of the Peoples Democratic Party's (PDP) standard-bearer, Atiku Abubakar, has thrown the Igbo nation into a dilemma.
While some political stakeholders in the southeast are angling for the position, saying it would bolster their demand for restructuring, others disagreed.But even while the debate rages, some prominent PDP members from the region have reportedly begun underground moves to clinch the seat. Sources said the jostling assumed feverish pitch before the party's national convention with the appointment of business mogul, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, as the director of Atiku's campaign council. Posters emerged yesterday purporting to show the party's former national chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, as Atiku's running mate.
Nwodo, however, denied eyeing such an ambition. "Nwodo has not seen those campaign posters. I have not also discussed with anybody about aspiring to become vice presidential candidate to Alhaji Atiku," he said.Other names from the region trending in the rumour mill are former Senate Presidents Adolphus Wabara (Abia State) and Anyim Pius Anyim (Ebonyi State), former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi and Senator Ben Obi.
But a source in Atiku's camp said consultations are ongoing with key players in the country's political scene. He said the PDP wants to hold broad discussions with the stakeholders backing Atiku's candidacy, so that they also can make input. He stressed that a final decision may not be expected this week.The immediate past secretary general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nworgu, said: "Our objective is that Buhari must go next year, so that nation building will recommence. How to achieve it is to go back to the strategy we have always adopted by voting against Buhari. We are not fighting for position; it is not relevant right now. We are looking for who will restructure the country. This is what is more relevant to us, and this will depend on who becomes the senate president.
"The choice of vice president will pit us against the Yoruba. But we can neutralise it if we think towards getting the senate presidency and bringing on board an Igbo senator with a strong character as senate president to embark on restructuring. We don't care about any gain now. Restructuring is the mantra in 2019 and Igbo must know that the only contest in 2019 is about pro or contra restructuring."
On its part, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council Worldwide (OYC) warned that there would be consequences if Atiku does not field a running mate from the southeast.
"We insist that any betrayal in denying Ndigbo the vice presidential slot of the PDP will make Ndigbo dump the party in the presidential election but still vote the PDP in gubernatorial polls in Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu. We have better personalities like Peter Obi, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Ike Ekweremadu and Enyinnaya Abaribe," the group said in a statement by its leader, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro.
OYC said only a running mate from the region would give the PDP the perfect combination to win the presidency. It congratulated Atiku, describing the party's primaries as credible. It also expressed satisfaction with his plan for restructuring.
But the national chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, held a different view. He said: "I have not been able to separate restructuring and the vice presidency. We have always looked at the position of vice president as something that is not attractive. But if you have a vice president that is influential enough to get the ears of his principal, it will help push the case for restructuring faster. I can't separate the two because you cannot talk about restructuring without power and the backing of the president. It is the president that will come up with the funding and send the executive bill to the National Assembly."
He said the position of running mate is not an Igbo but an individual question, regretting that the prominent Igbo sons in the PDP jostling for the slot are not consulting with Ndigbo. Asked if the pursuit could pit Igbo against Yoruba, he explained that the struggle for political power has always been contentious.
Also, a former president of Igbo think-tank, Aka Ikenga, Mr. Goddy Uwazuruike, said going with Atiku would hasten the actualisation of restructuring. "Atiku believes in it. Having someone from this zone that believes in it also is a win-win situation. It is only those who are angry about Nigeria that will not vote for him (Atiku). But others will because he thinks restructuring. APC has restructuring in its manifesto. The vice president is always talking about it but the president said he is not interested. That is a problem. Let us pray that Atiku will offer the zone the opportunity and we will realise our long-term desire for the good of the country."
But the APC dismissed entirely the prospect of an Atiku presidency, saying a contest between the former vice president and Buhari is akin to choosing between light and darkness. The exalted seat of the presidency is not for sale, it declared.Acting national publicity secretary of the APC, Mr. Yekini Nabena, said the electorate deserves a choice laced with decency, integrity and honour, not dirt, corruption and infamy.
The party's statement reads: "In assessing candidates to be voted for during elections, Nigerians will normally consider background and antecedents. The pertinent question to ask about Atiku is what his scorecard in public office was? "Regrettably, Atiku's scorecard is abysmally low and he has proven to be an untrustworthy and unreliable character. A case in point is Atiku's revealing altercation with his former boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, which exposed the level of corruption Atiku was enmeshed in.
"At the international level, Atiku has been reportedly placed on the global watch list of the United States of America and has avoided travelling to the U.S., to avoid arrest and prosecution over a money-laundering and corruption case in that country. Really, is this the character and antecedent of a candidate Nigerians will be proud to vote for as our president in 2019?"
Furthermore, Broom Platform, an online group affiliated with the APC, disclosed how it would halt Atiku's ambition. Its national coordinator, Dr Tom Ohikere, told reporters in Abuja that the APC would take the candidate to the cleaners on issues of corruption while showcasing the achievements of Buhari in the last three years.
"The APC can never be jittery or shaken by the final choice of the presidential candidate of the PDP because the choice has reduced the volume of work we are going to put into the campaign. Atiku, for example, lifted the corrupt elite class that corrupted the national political system. When the chips are down, we know where to take ourselves," Ohikere said.
But a PDP chieftain and former acting governor of Kogi State, Clarence Olafemi, disclosed that as president, no cabal would hijack Atiku. Olafemi, who is also a member of Atiku's presidential contact committee for the northeast, described the candidate as an independent person, who would work for the interest of the country, irrespective of religious or ethnic considerations. "We must create a Nigeria where people can work and do business in any part. Atiku Abubakar is the man who can do it because he is a detribalised man," he said.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) meanwhile has warned political parties and their candidates against the commencement of campaigns. It insisted that the law prohibits campaigns earlier than 90 days before elections. According to the provisions of the Electoral Act and the timetable and schedule of activities issued by the commission, campaign for presidential and National Assembly elections would commence November 18, 2018, while that of governorship and state Assembly elections begins December 1, 2018.INEC boss, Mahmud Yakubu, gave the reminder in Abuja yesterday at a workshop on "Strengthening Electoral Democracy in the Commonwealth African Region." He also reiterated the commission's resolve to improve the standards of elections in the country.