The search for a presidential running partner for former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the main opposition People's Democratic Party's (PDP) presidential candidate in 2023, is once again a make-or-break political choice for the party.
Even with the electoral umpire's constant deadline pressure on all political parties contesting the 2023 elections, such a choice is usually difficult.
The Independent National Electoral Commission's (INEC) National Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, recently announced that presidential candidates' names and selected running mates should be submitted on or before Friday, June 17, while the names of gubernatorial candidates from the same democratic primaries and selected deputies should be uploaded via the INEC portal on or before Friday, June 15.
Yakubu also warned, “The portal will automatically shut down at 6.00pm (1800hrs) on Friday 17th June 2022 for national elections and at 6.00pm (1800hrs) on Friday 15th July 2022 for state elections."
However, the pre-condition stated by INEC is an electoral tradition. And the political parties involved have to make progress on the election file.
The selection of vice presidential and deputy governorship candidates is a complex task given the secularity and ever changing demography of the country. It calls for a deft political consideration to be able to get an individual that would be in great demand across the political, ethnic, and religious divides of each state and across the nation.
But the PDP has zeroed in on some possibilities. Available indices showed that those in the realm of consideration as vice presidential candidates of the party are Governors Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, Ifeanyi Okowa, Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, Emeka Ihedioha, former secretary of the Government of the Federation, SGF, and PDP presidential aspirant Senator Ayim Pius Ayim.
In a relative analysis, exploring their personalities, states and zones they come from should not be without bias to the individual’s capacity for electoral value even beyond their state.
Though Wike of Rivers State has his innate foibles of brashness and brazenness that periodically illicit unguarded faux pas, intrinsically, he is a bold, daring, and dependable politician. Yet, as for his odds, the president's etiquette is a lion tamer that can beat the criticized wildness out of him.
Without denial, however, Wike’s political exploits in the PDP have made him a must-consult. Rivers has 23 council areas under Wike’s dominance. The scope of his mobilization and influence transcends Rivers to other states in his South-South geo-political zone and beyond the South East and some states in the north and South-west.
The governor is a political enigma of a sort. He has been exposed to prosecuting daunting political campaigns and elections. Not only in his state but in Edo, Imo, Akwa Ibom, and Cross Rivers States with amazing successes. Even his 2019 re-election and the recent 2022 PDP presidential primaries are testimonies of his tested and demonstrated capacity for electoral value in the country.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Wike is a strategist and pragmatic politician. He has donated about N7.4b to disaster-struck states like Benue, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Sokoto, and Kaduna, which can be a campaign tool to impact on the expected fortune of the PDP in the 2023 general elections.
From the sidelines, Wike can also exploit the political goodwill of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to the overall advantage of the PDP.
Ifeanyi Okowa is unarguably a popular governor in his state and a grassroot politician. He has recorded considerable democratic dividends in his state. The demography of his state impacts on 25 local government areas. Okowa can also leverage on his relationship with former governor James Ibori to widen his political clout. Still, in some political circles, Atiku and Ibori are said not to be enjoying the best camaraderie predicated on their travails and eventual imprisonment abroad while the former served as vice president and the latter as governor under the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency.
Unlike Wike, Okowa’s capacity for political adventures, contacts, and mobilization was said to have not been tested beyond the shores of his state. But he has the right combination of level-headedness and war chest to be a vice president.
Former Imo governor Emeka Ihedioha and Governor Udom Emmanuel are both popular, loyal, and grassroot politicians in their own right. It is, however, little known whether the duo has externalized their political clout beyond their home states to be able to add the political value expected from a presidential running mate.
Ayim, also a former Senate president, had gone through the crucibles of the legislature and executive arms of government. He is an experienced political strategist and stabilizer, but he lacks an established structure of inter-ethnic orientation like Wike.
With the birth of this fourth Republic in 1999, the major national political actors through power rotation have been politicians from the south west and north west extractions, with the exception of the interjection by act of providence from the south-south geo-political zone. It is an existing opportunity through which the states within the benefiting three zones over the years have had an undying attachment to power and an orientation of political unity unlike other agitating zones.
Of the marked possibilities, Wike, Okwa, and Udom are from the more politically organized, stronger, and united South than the South East, where Ihedioha and Ayim come from. Among the trio from the South South, only Wike served the Jonathan South Presidency as Minister of State for Education. He was a trusted kitchen cabinet and political foot soldier, which gave him the edge on others in national politics.
In the contest for the presidency, the south-east may be turned into an open floodgate for compromise, betrayal, and vote-buying. This is because it is the south, unlike the south east, that has not yet got any presidential tickets for the 2023 general elections and it is thus politically propitious to produce a vice presidential candidate.
Also to be considered is the heavily monetized electoral process and the transactional nature of politics in the country, as recently witnessed in the just concluded ruling APC and main opposition PDP presidential primaries in Abuja. No one other than Wike can be fit for this expedient democratic flipside.
The fact is that Wike is a game changer and his personal attributes have made him a necessary evil for the PDP and Atiku as a running mate if the opposition party must be strategic to relaunch itself into mainstream politics or face political extinction in the post-2023 general elections.