July 03, (THEWILL) – As a concept, ‘Big is beautiful’ has been promoted in business to debunk the myth that a small business is the champion of prosperity and the foundation of democracy and job creation.
Politics, as a contact sport, may do a lot to conform to that business idea as the two biggest political parties in Nigeria, the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are grappling with the choice of a running mate for their presidential candidates ahead of the 2023 general election.
The PDP, which had since concluded the process of electing a presidential candidate at its convention and picking its VP after a selection exercise, is currently reeling in the aftermath of the conclusion, while the APC is trapped by tough forces in finding a suitable VP.
The emergence of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State as the VP to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar initially unsettled some interests in the party. Two weeks after, issues surrounding the party’s choice of a vice presidential candidate have festered into a crisis as aggrieved parties openly voice their grievances, thereby threatening the party’s unity.
For the APC, the clash of interests over the choice of a suitable running mate for its presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has polarised the party.
ISSUES AT STAKE
For both political parties, the raging issues vary. Generally, personal and group interests are clashing with geo-political considerations mixed with heavy doses of religious and ethnic concerns.
For Atiku, the selection of Okowa was based on competence and capability because he wanted a potential president who is capable of standing-in for him. Explaining further, party chieftains like former PDP National Chairman, Usman Baraje and Segun Sowunmi, spokesperson of Abubakar, said the choice of Okowa, who is Delta Igbo, also fulfils the party’s plan to addresses the demands of the South-East for the presidency and the need to have a strong foothold in the South-South. But the naysayers think their interests are being treated with contempt. This aggrieved group belongs to Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, who believed he was cheated out of the race for the party’s VP.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has best articulated the cause of this group all through last week.
“The problem some of us have and are complaining aloud is that taking many of us from our states as governors, ex-governors, Senate Committee members, former ministers and BOT members to be members of a committee and 14, out of the 17-member committee voted for Wike as VP, yet he went on to pick Okowa, who was second, was unfair. Okowa is qualified but bringing all us to do a job and you ignore it is bad. Atiku had the final say in who becomes his VP, but why did he not do so as he did in 2019 when he chose Peter Obi as his VP? Nobody would have complained if he went ahead to do so again without consultation,” Ortom said.
Explaining further, he said since politics is a game of interests and conflict management, he is bothered that Atiku is yet to do enough to address the fall-out of his choice of Okowa, arguing that the presidential candidate has to personally reach out to Wike.
Alarmingly, while Ortom was addressing the post-VP selection issues, another storm broke. Other aggrieved party chieftains have dredged up other lingering issues that the party battled with and settled before the presidential convention was held on May 29, 2022. It was the issue of zoning.
Former PDP Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State (who was a member of the 37-member Committee of the party that recommended that the presidential contest of the party be thrown open, following an earlier recommendation by the Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed-led committee that zoned the plum position to the North-East and South-East as two zones that are yet to have elected presidents) tweeted that he would support the emergence of a President from the South-South in 2023 because the party had chosen a northern presidential candidate. Fayose is a known supporter of Wike and he defers to Tinubu in the South-West.
It is widely believed that he has used his grievance over the Wike issue to plan for a working relationship with Tinubu, if not to defect to the APC soon.
Wike has travelled to Turkey along with one of his supporters, Governor Ikpeazu Okezie of Abia State. He is said to have travelled to get some rest, but political pundits think he travelled to re-strategise, prompting a Lagos APC chieftain, Joe Igbokwe, a Tinubu ally and aide to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to insinuate via a tweet that Wike was visiting Tinubu in France.
Although the tweet had since been pulled down and Igbokwe failed to answer a phone call to him, one of his close friends who chose to remain anonymous told THEWILL on phone that the tweet was “pulled down because we realised that these things are an internal subject matter,” adding, “But developments in the coming weeks will confirm the truth in the tweet.”
Tinubu, through his Media Adviser, Tunde Rahman, has however denied media reports that he met with Governor Nyesom Wike in France.
Responding to Igbokwe’s tweet, Rahman said; “We have seen a viral social media post made by one of the chieftains of All Progressives Congress in Lagos State and media reports emanating from same about a supposed meeting in France between APC Presidential standard-bearer, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and His Excellency, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State.
“It has become imperative to set the record straight. Although Asiwaju Tinubu is presently in France, he didn’t have any meeting with Governor Wike whether in that country or anywhere whatsoever.
“This, however, does not detract from the fact that the APC presidential candidate holds Governor Wike in high esteem.
“And given the national and across-party lines appeal of Asiwaju Tinubu’s candidature, he will not hesitate to meet any important national leader when desirable.
“As made public earlier, Asiwaju Tinubu is in France for some important engagements. He will return to the country shortly.
“We would like, once again, to advice journalists to always cross-check their information with appropriate officers before rushing to press to avoid unintended errors.”
THEWILL investigation shows that Wike has been holding talks with Tinubu. In return for monetary contribution and votes for campaigns, Wike is said to be looking for a commitment from Tinubu on granting him immunity from prosecution should the former Lagos governor win the presidency. Wike is said to be working with Fayose. Moreover, he does not believe Atiku would honour any agreement with him. What is also clear is that the Rivers governor would remain in the PDP, more so when he has a governor and National and State Assembly members to deliver on the platform of the party.
Reacting to these developments, National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, told THEWILL that what the mainstream “media, refers to as crisis in the PDP exists in the imagination of those saying so,” as he insisted that there is no crisis in the PDP.
Asked how he would react to Ortom’s outbursts, Ologunagba replied, “I speak for the party. There are differences, which is the case within democratic politics. If, for some reasons, there are grievances, the party has a robust mechanism for addressing them. I can assure you that within the next 48 hours things will take a better turn for the party. Differences are being resolved, I can assure you.”
Ologunagba dismissed Igbokwe’s tweet on Wike meeting with Tinubu in France. “That is an information I cannot deny or confirm because I am not in France. So I can say that it is in the realm of conjecture and we are capable of responding to it.”
Referring to Igbokwe’s tweet, Ologunagba’s immediate predecessor, Kolo Ologbodiyan, said,”What do you expect? The APC people are masters of fake news since 2015. That is how they got into government. They know their man cannot stand Atiku, who has no sides identifying him with any religious bias and has a nationwide spread, which will make it easy for him to take decisions, unlike President Buhari who took sides. That is the mistake Tinubu has made with his now popular statement that it is the turn of the Yoruba.”
With about two weeks left to pick its VP and meet the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) July 17 deadline, the APC is mired in high-wired politics as negotiations have opened up on many fronts to confuse the presidential candidate, Tinubu, who had to relocate to France for further consultations, away from the noise.
On one hand lies the issue of religion. Investigation shows that the cabal wants Tinubu to pick a Muslim as his VP, while the Christians within the party are kicking against it.
The current ethnic mistrust and fear of domination heightened by the current administration’s inclination to nepotism has made that proposition a dangerous one as religious groups, such as the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Prof Isaq Akintola-led Muslim Right Concern (MURIC) have warned political parties against taking that route to picking candidates and to refrain from inflaming passions.
The cabal is insisting on its demand, probably to pick a VP from the North East but Tinubu is said to have his eyes on the North West.
This geo-political consideration that the cabal is using to cover its group interests is said to have ignited a counter- reaction from party officials from the North-West zone. They insist that having given the largest block vote of 39 per cent to the party during the 2015 and 2019 general polls, it should be considered in the choice of VP.
There is also the fear that has put every other consideration in disarray, which is the possibility that President Muhammadu Buhari may be unable to command the block votes from the North in 2023, more so with the growing influence of the Kwankwasiyya Movement driven by a former Governor of Kano State and currently presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Rabiu Kwankwaso.
Asked to respond to some of these constraining issues, National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka , initially demanded to be given one hour for an interview. When he was called for the appointment, he refused to answer his call and then placed the phone on hold.
MOVES TO ADDRESS CRISES
For the PDP, Atiku has said the party would address all lingering issues before the campaigns to the interests of all party members and stakeholders. Okowa on Friday echoed Atiku by saying the process has already begun.
Ologbodiyan told THEWILL that he had personally called Governors Ortom and Wike and the prospects were bright.
“Somebody of Wike’s calibre should not be angry and I know he is a party man to the core. He has put his money, time and efforts into sustaining the party,” Ologbodiyan told THEWILL.
Going personal, he said when the party’s Zoning Committee recommended that the North-East and South-East geo-political zones be considered for the presidency, he did not like it because his North-Central zone had also not produced a President.
“But when the party agreed to the recommendation initially, before another one sat on it and recommended that the contest be thrown open, I had to fall in line. The party is supreme,” he said.
For the APC, those pushing the Muslim-Muslim ticket appear to be winning in line with Governor Nasir el-Rufai’s position that competence and character should be considered above religion in the consideration for the choice of the VP. The final say rests with Tinubu as he has to bite that bullet soon when he arrives from France before the expiration of INEC’s deadline.