The politics of running mate selection in the major political parties have given an inkling of how the 2023 Presidential contest would be fought. Governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and its rival main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have shown in more ways than one that they represent the two sides of the same coin.
During the 2015 general elections, APC handed down a shocking defeat to the ruling PDP, displacing it not only at the Presidential level, but also overtaking its majority holding in the number of seats occupied at the bi-cameral federal legislature in Abuja.
Three years ago, APC confirmed its superior electoral clout by narrowly defeating PDP again and also occupying majority seats in the Senate and House of Representative chambers of the National Assembly. Despite the challenged outcomes, the 2019 poll threw up fresh concerns in both APC and PDP about the next election that would usher in the post-Buhari era.
Nothing exposed the similarities between the two parties than the processes leading to the emergence of their presidential standard bearers, namely, the use of American currency to beneficiate convention delegates.
Intriguingly, both parties’ straw polls yielded two former allies, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. But, while Alhaji Atiku and Tinubu shared platforms like the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and APC, they differ on Atiku’s membership of PDP, where he served as Vice President and presidential candidate for the second time.
However, having emerged standard bearers of APC and PDP for the 2023 presidential poll, the fact of both political leaders’ religious persuasion and ethnic background have thrown new challenges in the selection of their running mates.
It is this search of running mates that brought back the internal politics, especially the issue of zoning, which preceded their emergence. Within the governing APC, the popular mood in the party, prior to the June 6-8 special convention that threw up Tinubu, was the plot to support a Southern Christian candidate.
Conversely, PDP had to introduce sophistry to rationalise its decision to focus on the ability and capacity to win the election rather than obeying the party’s constitutional provision for zoning and national convention of power rotation between the North and South.
Consequently, the politics of Vice Presidential candidate selection, which roiled the two parties, seems to stem from the variation of the original idea that defined conversations leading to the parties’ primaries. For instance, had APC produced a Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Rotimi Amaechi or Governor Kayode Fayemi as its presidential flag bearer, the issue of whether the ticket would not have elicited the Muslim/Muslim controversy.
Then, for PDP, had Rivers State governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, taken up Atiku’s challenge to drop his presidential aspiration on the basis of zoning if only it is micro-zoned to Southeast, Peter Obi, the 2019 Vice Presidential candidate would not have not left the party. Choosing a presidential running mate would have been easier.
Political Sagacity Versus Political Arithmetic
THE flamboyant Southeast politician and former President of Senate, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, it was that stated: “It takes political sagacity to fathom the political arithmetic.”
At the build up to the 2003 general election, when he was chosen as General Muhammadu Buhari’s running mate, Okadigbo delivered that historic speech in a bold attempt to underscore the criticality of rotational Presidency or zoning to Nigeria’s unity and stability.
At the point, then President Olusegun Obasanjo had repudiated efforts by some 16 PDP governors to have the second Republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, on the Presidential ticket with Vice President Atiku Abubakar as his running mate.
According to the 16 governors, led by the then Delta State governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, the plan was to ensure that after Southeast occupies the Presidency for four years, the baton would be handed over to Atiku from Northeast. From there, the Northwest will occupy the next four years before it moves back to South/South and then to North Central geopolitical zone.
The Ibori group believed that within a space of 24 years, all the six geopolitical zones would have produced the country’s President, thereby limiting the allegations of marginalisation by some geo-political zones to enthrone peace and stability in the nation’s polity.
Okadigbo’s statement was intended to douse the rage of his fellow Southeasterners, who castigated him for accepting to deputize the former military head of state, whose ideas were seen as antithetical and diametrically opposed to the liberal democratic ideals he propounds.
Nonetheless, Okadigbo proved that the balance between North and South was not only needed to win elections, but also a necessary nation-building convention to guarantee a sense of belonging, especially through the office of Vice President.
It could be recalled that the issue of Presidential running mate was part of the silent factors that militated against the election of Chief M. K. O Abiola in 1993, when he reportedly spurned then military President Ibrahim Babangida’s counsel to a pick a Christian, Comrade Pascal Bafyau, as his running mate instead of Atiku Abubakar or Ambassador Babagana Kingibe.
It was possible that the military with the level of intelligence available to it, in addition to patriotic concerns, knew how delicate the issue of religious sensibilities is in the country and tried its best not to inflame passions.
Jumping The Hurdle
ALTHOUGH on paper, it seems the 2023 Presidential election would be a straight fight between the two parties, it is only in APC that the issue of Muslim/Muslim ticket has become an issue.
For the two other platforms, which presidential candidates are laying claims to a competitive outing, Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP) and Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), the challenge of selecting presidential runingmates does not seem acute.
For instance, the NNPP standard bearer, Kwankwaso, disclosed that his running mate, who is expected to come from the South, would be a Christian. Kwankwaso disclosed that his party had been engaged in consultations to choose his running mate, adding that a committee was set up to “help get the best Nigerian, who will be a Christian from the Southern part of the country as the Vice-Presidential candidate of our party.”
“We would get someone that is widely accepted in the Southern part of the country as my running-mate. I am sure they would come with their own benefits to be added to the NNPP for the success of the party. And, when we come together, no candidate of the APC or the PDP would be able to defeat us,” Kwankwaso declared.
The selection of Atiku’s running mate, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, did not come easy, even though sources disclosed that the Delta State governor was promised the position, which led him to shelve his presidential aspiration. Atiku was said to have concluded that in the light of demands by Southeast that it was their turn to produce the PDP presidential candidate, if he wins the primary a person from South/South would be his running mate.
There are concerns that Okowa’s emergence could spark new recriminations within the party given the elaborate screening processes that preceded his unveiling by Atiku. Various committees were set up to zero in on a befitting candidate to pair up with Atiku on the PDP presidential ticket.
Intriguingly, after the committee members voted 16 to 3 in favour incumbent Rivers State governor, Wike, who came second during the presidential primary, the Presidential candidate announced Okowa as the one that met the criteria set for the position.
Some stakeholders have criticised the method adopted in selection of PDP running mate, just as Wike’s supporters allege that it was all a set up to disgrace the Rivers State governor, especially after creating the impression that a genuine search was being made when the candidate already knew his running mate.
But, PDP national chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, denied that there was a balloting that favoured Wike, stressing however that the party recommended three candidates to Atiku for his consideration.
Earlier, while unveiling Okowa, Atiku noted, “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.”
He stated: “With the convention behind us, we have arrived at the stage for me to pick a running mate, because this is a joint ticket. I am very happy to announce today that I have reached a decision on that.
“In arriving at the decision, I held wide consultations with various stakeholders in our party, including our Governors, National Working Committee, Board of Trustees, and other leaders to seek their inputs and their wisdom.
“In these consultations, I made clear that my running mate would have the potential to succeed me at a moment’s notice, that is, a President-in-waiting. In other words, the person must have the qualities to be President.”
Yet, no sooner had the PDP presidential candidate made his remarks than some stakeholders grumbled, recalling how he (Atiku) not only promised to serve for just one term, but hand over to somebody from Southeast.
Speaking on Arise Television programme, the chairman of United Nigeria Airlines, High Chief Obiora Okonkwo, explained that there was need to reach an understanding with a South/South PDP Vice President to commit to one term without desiring to contest the Presidency in 2027.
Opinions are divided on why Atiku decided to pick his running mate from South/South after he had chosen his deputies from Southeast in his two previous contests. While some said the former Vice President was irked by Southeast politicians, others held that it was a strategy to undercut the Labour Party’s candidate’s vote bank.
Chairman of the PDP vice presidential screening committee, Chief Tom Ikimi, said Okowa was selected because “he is intelligent, physically fit and level-headed,” just as the party’s National Organising Secretary, Mallam Umar Bature, disclosed that Okowa was screened instead of Wike, because of the need to guard against the Bayelsa State experience, when the lack of qualification led to invalidation of the governorship ticket.
However, in a remark, the chairman of PDP BOT, Senator Walid Jibrin, said Atiku’s choice of Okowa “must be generally accepted as the act of God, who gives life to who He wants.” While contending that PDP is greater than any party in Nigeria, especially APC, the BOT chairman urged all party faithful to accept the decision in good faith.
He said both Muslims and Christians must come together to give all support to Atiku and his running mate and unite for PDP to take over from APC and President Muhammadu Buhari.
“All Muslims and Christians must come together and forget any religious differences, regard Nigeria as one entity and vote for PDP to ensure that Atiku and Okowa are fully accepted and voted for,” Jibrin stated.
Okowa in his acceptance speech addressed Atiku as Mr. President-in-waiting and thanked him for “finding me worthy to be on this ticket. I do know that it was a very tough decision, even as you have spoken this afternoon. But, I thank God that amongst my very qualified colleagues, even those more qualified than myself, I found favour and I’m here today as the vice presidential candidate of the party.”
For APC, the decision to submit the name of Katsina State governor, Aminu Bello Masari as Tinubu’s deputy, was seen as a clever design to beat the deadline set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Yet, amid the Muslim/Muslim clamour that is agitating the stakeholders, some party stalwarts are blaming the Northern governors for listening to the voice of US dollars instead of a workable strategy to make APC win with ease.
Some of the Northern governors are also said to be peeved by Tinubu’s acceptance speech after the party’s presidential primary. The former Lagos State governor had stated: “Shame on those who were already building the coffin of APC. Shame on them. Our party is alive. They said we won’t be able to do the convention, but here we are.
“To you, the legislature, the Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan, I would have been a little upset, because you competed with me, but that is over now since you can easily lick your wounds.”
For gloating against Lawan, APC leaders from the North insist that Tinubu, who indicated in Ekiti that his running mate would be a Christian from Northeast, must run with a Muslim, arguing that since he recommended Muslim/Muslim ticket to Buhari, nothing stops him from traveling that route.
From the look of things, until the substation window closes, it is not easy to fathom how far the politics of VP selection will go to hurt or help the four frontline Presidential contenders.