2023: Atiku, Okowa, and a heartbeat away to the Igbo presidency
The choice of Okowa as Atiku’s running mate is in a way a fulfilment of Igbo quest for presidency. Okowa is from the Ika ethnic group, a subgroup of the Igbo tribe found in both Delta State and Edo State. So, it makes sense to say that his nomination answers the Igbo presidency question, since, to borrow an American metaphor, a Vice President is just a heartbeat away from the President’s chair.
Political jobbers and war hawks are back on the swing. Many people had hoped that with the choice of the debonair governor of Delta State, Dr Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa as Wazirin Atiku Abubakar’s running mate, the party was set for a smooth ride to the villa, without any turbulence. However, the reports in the media purporting Governor Nyesom Wike’s romance with the ruling party suggest the presence of fifth columnists in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) bent on throwing spanners in the works.
In a way, ThisDay newspaper’s lead story of Friday, July 1, hinting of a possible alignment between All Progressives Congress (APC)’s presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and Wike has confirmed the potency of a self-fulfilling prophecy − that those who do not mean the party well would foment crisis, following the choice of Okowa over Wike. Therefore, it is in the interest of all of us (lovers of Nigeria) that the ensuing drama is contained. And well contained too.
Many of us were so shocked for words when on Wednesday the governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, faulted the process that led to the choice of Okowa, alluding that the “widening cracks” in the party posed a threat to Atiku’s presidential ambition.
If Ortom’s doomsday prophesy sounded like a bad joke, then all I could think of the ThisDay report of Wike’s romance with Tinubu was Samuel Beckett and his theatre of the absurd. I am sure that even Beckett would have been so confounded by the script issuing from Governor Wike, whom Vice President Atiku Abubakar is said to have tremendous respect for.
But as said above, this is one phase in the chain of events leading to VP Atiku’s ascendency to the nation’s highest office that has been well foretold. I belong to the Atiku campaign inner circle and at least six out of every ten key movers and shakers I spoke to told me that an Atiku presidency is a done deal and the current turbulence in the party is at best a bargaining power play by some leaders to secure comfort zones in the impending Atiku administration.
The PDP top shots that I interacted with gave me two interesting reasons for their conclusion. One is APC’s dismal performance, especially in the area of insecurity currently ravaging the country and the second reason is the impending implosion within the APC because of the party’s attempt to run on a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
To ensure that the PDP takes advantage of the looming crisis in the APC, Atiku has commenced fence mending moves with a clear message that he remains a listening leader and would ensure that all grouses are addressed going forward. Atiku said on Thursday in a series of tweets, “Focus on our actions. We are taking action to address the feelings of all party members. The unity in our community is my priority. Our resolve to unify Nigeria starts in our party and moves to the community, then on to society.
“Every Governor, Legislator, and other elected officials produced by our party, and party members and loyalists, are much loved and respected by me.
“When they speak, I listen. I do not only listen. Appropriate actions have been taken, are being taken, and will continue to be advanced,” Atiku said.
This explanation is a forerunner to a series of engagements that will offer convincing explanation as to the altruistic reasons why the party picked the Delta State helmsman as running mate to Atiku. To be sure, the reasons are straight forward: Okowa is widely respected among the party elite and the larger political class, which is a reason why it is easy to draw an elite consensus around him. He’s gentle, calm and comes with barely any baggage. With seven years on the saddle as governor, Okowa hardly ever grabbed the headlines for any bad reason.
Okowa has had an unblemished career in the politics and public service of Delta and at the centre. He became secretary to the Ika Local Government and later chairman of the Ika North-East Local Government Council (1991–1993). He was Delta North coordinator of the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM). He joined the PDP in 1998, and assisted in Governor James Ibori’s campaign in 1998/1999. He served as a commissioner in the Delta State government for Agriculture and Natural Resources (July 1999 – April 2001), Water Resources Development (April 2001 – May 2003) and Health (September 2003 – October 2006).
Okowa resigned to contest in the 2007 Delta State PDP governorship primaries, but did not win the governorship primaries. In June 2007, he was appointed Secretary to the Delta state Government. He was elected Senator representing Delta North Senatorial District in 2011. Okowa won the Delta State Gubernatorial elections 2015 in April 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 and has demonstrated through his conduct, that governance is about service to the people. The point is: If he did all these with patience, perseverance and uncommon humility, then he is fit and proper to work as Atiku’s vice president.
Again, the choice of Okowa as Atiku’s running mate is in a way a fulfilment of Igbo quest for presidency. Okowa is from the Ika ethnic group, a subgroup of the Igbo tribe found in both Delta State and Edo State. So, it makes sense to say that his nomination answers the Igbo presidency question, since, to borrow an American metaphor, a Vice President is just a heartbeat away from the President’s chair. It is therefore understandable that Okowa’s nomination by the PDP is well received by stakeholders from the South-South and the South-East as well.
But perhaps Okowa’s main qualification for the nation’s vice presidency is his sterling qualities that have translated into impeccable performance both as a senator and now as a governor. Atiku himself echoed this point while unveiling Okowa as his running mate in Abuja on Thursday, June, 16. On that occasion, Atiku said, “You know him to be a fighter; you know him to care about winning; you know him to care about good governance; and you know him to care about our people. Now, my dear friends, let’s do the disciplined hard work necessary to win this election. Let’s go.”
Wholly taken, it is easy to see that Atiku is deft when it comes to decision making, which is at the heart of those key attributes that mark him out as a foremost leader of contemporary Nigeria. These include a keen insight, a forceful imagination, a firm conviction of purpose, a clear sense of direction, an infectious capacity to inspire others, courage in the face of adversity, a steely will, an uncanny ability to anticipate the future and act proactively and strategically towards overcoming obstacles.
With the reproachment commenced by Atiku, victory is already in sight for the PDP in next year’s presidential election as a new Nigeria beckons.
Phrank Shaibu writes from Abuja.Join our Conversation forums