• Okowa: Atiku has answers to Nigeria’s challenges, Wike won’t be disappointed
• Atiku had the final say, Ayu clarifies • Secondus congratulates Atiku, Okowa
• Okowa betrayed ‘Asaba Accord’ of Southern governors, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afegbua react
Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar’s decision to pick Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as his running mate, was long in coming despite the several detours to yesterday’s official proclamation.
At the party’s national caucus meeting attended by three other governors and other prominent leaders of the party, Atiku said Okowa’s choice was a very difficult decision in view of the fact that the other two persons whose names were submitted to him were equally qualified.
On Tuesday, a committee set up by Iyorchia Ayu-led National Working Committee (NWC) met and voted 16-3 in favour of the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike.
After receiving a report from the Umar Damagum-led committee, the PDP leadership submitted the names of Wike and those of Okowa and Akwa Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel, back to Atiku.
Making the clarifications, yesterday, Ayu said though the party submitted the names of the three governors, only the presidential candidate had the power to choose from among the shortlisted list.
It was gathered that after the media published the report that the vetting committee favoured Wike, the pressure was brought to bear on Atiku by party leaders opposed to the Rivers governor to reject the report.
Those opposed to their recommendation of Wike argued that he would not be a good sell to the North because of his hard stance against the Buhari administration, particularly, the court case against the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) regarding the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT).
But in selecting Okowa, Atiku noted that the support of every party leader would be required to keep the PDP united. He said: “Party unity is critical not only for us to prosecute a winning campaign but also to provide good governance that our country seriously deserves and our people earnestly yearn for.”
On why he chose Okowa, Atiku said after his wide consultations with various stakeholders and party stalwarts, it was made clear that his “running mate would have the potential to succeed him at a moment’s notice, i.e a president-in-waiting.”
According to him, Okowa possesses the admirable attributes for the position of Vice-President and has the appropriate experiences in both legislative and executive arms of governance.
Okowa, according to Atiku, is someone who will remain part of his everyday life, as they navigate the leading of a complex country such as Nigeria.
“He personifies not only the seriousness the current moment represents for our country but also the future that our young people yearn for and deserve.
“He’s a serving governor who has demonstrated in his state and through his conduct, that governance is about service to the people. I know that he will not only add excitement to our energised campaign but will also help to bring focus, discipline and stability to our government come 2023,” Atiku stated.
The former Vice President noted, “today in Nigeria, we face huge challenges, which leave us little room for drama. We have to win the elections and get to work immediately.
“My running mate has to be ready to start working with me, from day one, in addressing our country’s challenges. Nigerians will not accept anything less. That is why I promised the governors of our party that my running mate will come from among them. Our current challenges call for a government that is highly focused and disciplined,” he said.
An insider source with Atiku team noted that while Wike’s candidacy was very strong and highly spoken of, talks of his hard sell to the North were a disapproving factor.
“His courage and strength were highly recommended. Atiku would have needed someone of his caliber to be on the ticket but between Tuesday and yesterday, Wike’s virtues and value to the party were overshadowed by talks of his being highly toxic, which would not only affect acceptance of the joint ticket in the North but across other regions as well. It was a big minus.”
When asked what effect the eventual choice would have on Wike and the party, the source said: “Waziri may have reached out to the Rivers governor before he made the announcement and going forward, he will be seriously engaged as well as the Southeast to minimise protest votes from Rivers and Southeast next year. The point should, however, be made that Waziri and Okowa have come a long way with a deep personal relationship that will berth thoughtful and deep-thinking strategy for the campaign.”
MEANWHILE, the Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, has condemned the emergence of Okowa as the running mate of Atiku.
In a statement released by the group’s Secretary-General, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, Ohanaeze claimed that the PDP and Atiku would lose the 2023 general elections for neglecting the Southeast.
Ohanaeze alleged that Okowa, who sabotaged the Southern Governors’ agenda, would never be trusted for the votes of Ndigbo.
“Southeast knows the political direction to go in 2023, but certainly not the PDP. Ndigbo will decide the political direction to go but not the PDP. For shunning the region, Atiku will face the consequences of his actions,” he said.
Also, a former Commissioner for Information in Edo State, Kassim Afegbua, has given notice that he would be leaving the PDP over the choice of Okowa. Afegbua, who was also a former spokesperson to the former military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, said Wike deserves the nomination ahead of Okowa.
Wike came second in the PDP presidential primary on May 29 in an election in which Okowa led his state’s delegates to vote for Atiku.
Afegbua described Atiku’s choice as a reward for treachery, noting that Okowa had hosted the meeting of the Southern Governors’ Forum in Asaba last year, where the governors demanded that the next Nigerian president should be produced by the Southern region.
The outspoken Afegbua had also rebelled against the PDP in 2020 for handing Governor Godwin Obaseki its ticket for reelection after the governor was disqualified from the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship primary for alleged forgery of an academic certificate.
Obaseki went ahead to win the election on the PDP ticket and the party suspended Afegbua for alleged anti-party activities.
However, in apparent exultation at the rejection of his former political godfather, former national chairman, Uche Secondus, praised the choice of Okowa as Atiku’s deputy, remarking that “PDP’s journey back to Aso Rock” has begun.
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Ike Abonyi, Secondus congratulated Atiku and Okowa for emerging the presidential and vice-presidential flag bearers of the party.
Secondus described Atiku and Okowa as experienced politicians, “who brought maturity into the contest, which must have been responsible for their eventual victory.
“Atiku’s choice of Okowa as his running mate says it all about his knack for picking good heads to be around him for the gargantuan task ahead. With the picking of a running mate, the candidacy is complete and PDP is now set for the inevitable journey back to Aso Rock come 2023,” the former chairman declared.
OKOWA has, however, assured that his Rivers colleague, Wike, wouldn’t be disappointed by his emergence.
In a brief interview with journalists shortly after his selection, Okowa said: “I know Governor Wike is a very strong party man, he has a great love for our party and I believe he is also a good democrat and he understands that when several brothers are in the race for a particular position, only one person will be at the front.
“I want to assure you that Governor Wike is a very good man and his interest for this country and party is high. I do not feel he is going to be disappointed,” he said.
Okowa, in his acceptance speech at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja, asserted that Atiku has solutions to the numerous challenges bedeviling the country, as laid in his (Atiku) book, ‘My Covenant With Nigeria.’ He urged party members and all Nigerians to join hands with PDP to rescue the nation from maladministration.
While stressing the need to create a new approach to political issues, a new commitment that he believed all yearn for, the former Senator said: “It will require a lot of commitment and unity from each and every one of us in our various wards, local governments and states.
“We need the PDP to return to power; we have answers to the questions because I have the opportunity of going through our candidate’s book. It’s something worth studying and something put together that other presidential candidates of other parties have not been able to put together. When you go through it, you will find solutions to our problems in that document and I must appreciate our presidential candidate publicly for making this happen early enough.
“Many people are out there speaking to Nigerians, based on social media reports, but he has taken time to understudy Nigeria, because of the experience that he has had in the past and has been able to proffer solutions, and I believe that by the grace of God, we will definitely take on the elections and win a landslide.”
Okowa appreciated the party and his colleagues for finding him worthy to be on the ticket, saying: “I thank the national chairman and his team and the chairman of the convention committee for giving us a convention that everybody could definitely say was free and fair and we came out more united.
“Mr. President-in-waiting, I must truly thank you for finding me worthy to be on this ticket. I know that it was a very tough decision, even as you have spoken, but I thank God that among my very qualified colleagues, even those more qualified than myself, I found favour and I am here today as the vice-presidential candidate of the party.”
He called for the support of all party stakeholders and Nigerians to rebuild the nation, noting: “While thanking you sir, I do understand that there is a great work ahead of us and requires that all of us must come together.
The rebuilding process is going to be collective and we are trusting that all our party members would want to be part of that story at the end of the day.
“The story, which will be positive at the end of the day, will require that all of us must support our principal, as we move forward in the next few months and that we will in the end win the elections with a landslide victory.”