The Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubarkar on June 16, 2022, unveiled the Delta State Governor, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa as his running mate for the 2023 presidential election. While many saw the tag team as a perfect one for the rescue mission of our dear country from its present chaotic state considering his antecedents and political trajectories over the years; some were angered by the choice of Okowa, insinuating that he betrayed the South. In a publication signed by Chief (Dr.) Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, Leader SMBLF/PANDEF, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Leader, Afenifere, Pogu Bitrus, President-General, Middle Belt Forum, Ambassador (Prof.) George Obiozor and President-General, Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide, the group disparaged the personality of Governor Okowa accusing him of betraying the Southern resolution that the presidency is zoned to the south. In an interview, the Head of Politics Desk, Rosemary Nwaebuni featured a Political Analyst/Public affairs commentator and former Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC), Delta State Chapter, Comrade Fred Obi. He faulted the actions of those opposing Okowa’s Vice President Candidacy especially, the SMBLF/PANDEF, saying that it was unnecessary. He is of the opinion that other Southerners were equally interested in the VP slot and as such, singling out Okowa for attack was unfair and suspicious of those elders.
Excerpts of the interview below:
Last week, the PDP Presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, unveiled Governor Okowa as his running mate in the 2023 general election. What does that mean to you?
The decision of Atiku Abubarkar to pick Governor Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa as his running mate is a perfect decision considering Okowa’s political trajectory, contributions to nation-building, calm disposition and leadership capacity exhibited over the years and above all, his intelligent quotient really distinguished him among his peers.
Some schools of thought especially the SMBLF/PANDEF are of the opinion that Governor Okowa betrayed the resolution of the Southern Governors, tagged ‘Asaba Accord’. Do you think so?
I completely differ from their views as it relates to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s acceptance to be a running mate to the PDP Presidential candidate. In trying to respond to some of the critical issues as we make our political journey for a better Southern Region of Nigeria, it will also be better that we put things in proper perspectives to avoid misleading the gullible.
Records have it that the much-talked-about Asaba Accord was basically on issues relating to the general insecurity and the controversial open grazing and not on power shifting to the South. Again, it was on record that seventeen Southern States Governors, including the PDP, APC and APGA attended the Asaba Accord meeting. So if the understanding of that meeting was on Power shifting to the South, what platform was agreed to be used for the actualization of that decision?
If you also want to disagree with me on that, I will argue further that some other Political Parties like APC, ADC, ACCORD, APGA and the Labour Party may have toed the line of SMBLF/PANDEF by presenting Southern Presidential Candidates.
Are the elders saying that these Presidential candidates from other Political Parties mentioned above are now less important, or are they arguing that their Sons and Daughters who are also from the South do not possess the requisite qualifications to be President of Nigeria, or are the elders telling us that these other Political Parties are not recognized by the electoral umpire? I, therefore, do not see the justification of the vituperations on Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and the arguments of my highly respected Southern elders.
The SMBLF/PANDEF came down heavily to disparage Governor Okowa for accepting the running mate position to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Is it right to do so and how will you describe their actions?
While I respect the views and concerns of our Regional Leaders under the auspices of ‘SMBLF/PANDEF’, my response is not in any way trying to join issue with them. In answering some of the questions especially as to why Governor Okowa accepted the Vice Presidential Position, I will try to address some salient areas which in my view, our highly respected elders may not have noticed before going to the press.
As respected elders and leaders of the People of Southern Region and by extension Nigeria, records are replete with their meaningful sociopolitical contributions to the development of the Southern Region and by extension Nigeria. But in this regard, I think that their actions were unnecessary, rather Governor Okowa should be commended for accepting and not condemned. It should be a thing of pride to them to have a son who possessed such enviable qualities and credentials. So, I will urge the elders to continue their good work and quest for the betterment of the Southern Region and Nigeria in general.
The South East felt that the two big political parties in the country, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) betrayed their quest for Igbo presidency. What is your view on this?
Following the Political calculations before the Primary elections, you will notice that PDP as a Political Party did not Zone its Presidential Position to any part of the Country. This was why the likes of Governor Nyesome Wike, Ayim Pius Ayim and Emmanuel Udom were able to contest the primary election.
The leadership of PDP in their wisdom threw the contest open as they were so determined on getting a Presidential candidate with the required political clout to wrestle power from the APC. Do not forget that this power was taken from the PDP under controversial circumstances in 2015. So, the PDP’s viewpoint was superior to any regional plan. Indeed it was beyond Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s power to determine where the pendulum would swing to. They needed to get this power back.
Again, in getting this power back, another big consideration was membership strength in a particular region because politics is a game of numbers. Out of the five South-East States, PDP has control in only three having lost some to defections. So, how do you justify ceding such a high position to the region where party members are leaving in droves? Politics is all about being very calculative.
The SMBLF/PANDEF view Okowa’s VP candidacy acceptance as treachery and accused him of betraying the South resolution. Is there any form of treachery or betrayal somewhere?
Candidly, I did not see treachery or any sort of betrayal. This is a case of calling a Dog a bad name in order to hang it. Were the elders expecting Governor Okowa to reject or jettison the VP offer? If he rejected it, won’t other persons from the south accept it? The President’s position has gone to the North; it was natural that the VP slot for equity’s sake goes to the south. Another southerner would have grabbed it fast. You’re aware of other southerners both former and serving Governors that appeared before the PDP Screening Committee for the VP slot. This confirms my assertion that anyone apart from Governor Ifeanyi Okowa would have grabbed the Vice President position.
You see, primary elections for Political Parties have come and gone. The winners of various Party Primaries have since emerged. Campaigns will soon commence, so the need to close rank for a better outing is very necessary. The most important thing here is reaching out and forming alliances with concerted effort to oust the APC-led National Government of maladministration.
To oust the All Progressive Congress from power, what does it mean to Nigerians?
It is the general view of every citizen that the country is at the brink of collapse. So, there is an important and urgent need for synergy at this point in our Nation’s history for a drastic rescue operation. In doing so, competent persons must be identified to drive this process. In this case, the choice of Dr Ifeanyi Okowa at the helm of affairs for this rescue mission is unarguably imperative because lots of work are involved here. It’s not going to be a tea party.
The APC zoned Presidency to the South, don’t you think it would have been wise for the PDP to do the same considering the fact that a northerner, President Buhari is about to conclude his eight years of two terms?
If we were to go by the Southern Elders’ statement that it was agreed that the Presidency be zoned to the South, one wonders why they did not specify the area in the South where the Presidency should go, considering that the South is further divided into South West, South-South and South East.
If the elders are still insisting on their position, I will then say, wouldn’t it have been better if the query was directed to all the Southern Governors who appeared before the Vice Presidential Screening Committee. They should have all stayed away from the PDP Vice Presidential Screening Committee to drive home their resolve for Southern President but they jostled the position of Vice Presidential candidate with Okowa. Singling out Governor Okowa for attack just because he accepted to be a vice-presidential candidate that others had also wanted is unfair and suspicious.
Do you think Atiku made the right choice by choosing Governor Okowa as a running mate?
Yes of course! In the Nigerian context, the Vice President is usually in charge of the economy. The PDP Presidential candidate may have seen that Governor Okowa is capable of handling the complexity of the Nigerian economy and not a profligate person.
Many can attest to the fact that Governor Okowa is a good manager of men and resources having successfully navigated Delta State in 2015 during a period of scarce financial resources with measures of dexterity.
As we all know, Delta State is a microcosm of the bigger Nigeria. It is a State with a multiplicity of tribes and languages. So, anyone who can make a success out of this diversity won’t find Nigeria too complex to govern.
Again, the position of the Vice Presidential Candidate who of course will later become the Vice President is a Position that is befitting to a character like Governor Ifeanyi Okowa. You do not need a special lecture to know this. The choice of Okowa as the PDP Presidential Candidate for the 2023 elections was apt and should be respected.
Do you have any advice for the SMBLF/PANDEF regarding their castigation of Okowa as PDP Vice President Candidate?
Indeed, I am of the opinion that our respected elders at PANDEF should review their position on their assessment of Governor Okowa as a betrayer of the South simply because of his acceptance to be a Vice Presidential candidate. Again, it is a known fact that two Zones are yet to have a shot at Presidency. That’s the North East and South East. The SMBLF/PANDEF should have honourably from the onset, insisted specifically that Presidency be zoned to the South East.
My advice on a final note to our elders: this Country is bleeding from all sides. The need to rescue her should not be sacrificed on the altar of blame games and unnecessary politicking hence, my appeal is that they jettison anything that will divide us further and focus on concerted synergy to rescue our country from the doom orchestrated by the APC-led National leadership.