Politics

Okowa In, Wike Out? Atiku’s Burden Of Choice As Deadline Looms For Running Mate Pick

Picking a vice-presidential candidate is just as important as electing a flagbearer for any political party. A running mate must also possess the ability to contribute massive votes for the ticket he or she is running on.

Even though the constitutional powers of the vice president are limited, much care and strategising still needs to be put in place before a running mate is selected. With the deadline of June 17th set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) drawing closer, political parties and presidential candidates must pick a running mate. Presidential candidates and their political parties expected to name their running mates include: Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar; All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Labour Party (LP),  Peter Obi; New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; and others. The 2023 general election might be a straight fight between the PDP’s Atiku Abubakar and APC’s Bola Tinubu, with the main opposition party looking to cross the most important hurdle of selecting a running mate. With the pedigree and political sagacity of Tinubu, Atiku and the PDP has to pick the right choice as a running mate in other to challenge the former Lagos governor’s strength in the South. Atiku and his team have to pick a running mate with national appeal, good electoral value in the geopolitical zone of origin, ability to bring qualitative ideas to the table and also contribute to national development. Such an individual must be controversy-free, a cool-headed individual, a deep thinker and a master strategist. Atiku, who is from the North East, must balance his ticket by picking someone from the South and with the South-West producing the current Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, and the APC candidate, the Waziri of Adamawa should select someone from the South-South or South-East. Choosing to pick a running mate from the South-West to counter the power of Tinubu in that region may end up being a failure and Atiku would do his campaign a lot of good by trying to take advantage of the South-East or South-South. This political calculation has thrown up notable names which include; Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa and a former Governor of lmo State, Emeka Ihedioha. All of the above have their unique strengths, advantages and weaknesses they will bring to the table, but Atiku and his team have their work cut out for them in picking the best among the lots. Governor Wike and Okowa have been touted as the two contenders favoured by various power blocks in the main opposition party.

Wike vs Okowa

Nyesom Wike Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, also known as ‘Mr Project’, is popularly known to Nigerians across all regions. Wike, who hails from Ikwerre from Rumuepirikom in Obio-Akpor, Rivers State, started out as a local government chairman, before serving as chief of staff to then governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. He was later appointed Minister of State for Education by President Goodluck Jonathan, from where he contested the election and won as governor after defeating Dakuku Peterside of the APC. Despite losing the PDP presidential ticket to Atiku, Wike, a lawyer, is a proven election winner after he twice defeated Amaechi, his former boss and secured massive votes for the PDP in Rivers State in 2019. But is he politically strong enough to get block votes from the South-South or the South-East. Recall that despite leading the PDP’s campaign in Bayelsa, the party lost the election before it was handed victory by the Supreme Court. Wike who was given the nickname ‘Mr Project’ for doing well in the area of infrastructural, is popularly known as someone with a strong character, aggressive, outspoken and cannot be easily pushed around. He is perceived to have the financial power that would come handy in the PDP’s campaign across the nation. However, Wike’s spur-of-the-moment outbursts may be a minus to stakeholders. With many describing his behaviour as ‘unpresidential’. His tendency to verbally attack colleagues and political foes have resulted in many kicking against his presidential bid. One should not be surprised by the alleged moves behind the since to thwart his presidential ambition at the PDP special national convention. Wike, who had denied being an Igbo man, may also find it difficult convincing people from the Eastern region to vote for the PDP. The PDP as a party already faced backlash from Ndigbo after it refused to zone its presidential ticket to the south and producing Atiku as its candidate. Ifeanyi Okowa  Another contender who is reportedly highly favoured by Atiku to emerge as his running mate is Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa. A medical doctor, Okowa is renowned for his humility, strategic thinking and his political clout mostly in the southern part of the country. He started his political career as Secretary to the Ika North Local Government where he later become chairman. He also served as commissioner in Delta State in three different ministries – Agriculture, Water Resources and Health. Okowa was appointed the Secretary to the State Government in June 2007 and was later elected Senator representing Delta North Senatorial District at the National Assembly in 2011. Already boasting an impressive curriculum vitae, Okowa contested and won elections as Delta State governor for his first and second terms. Filled with experience at the grassroots, state, and the national level, Okowa has been able to build strong relationships, influence and contacts. The Delta State governor, who reportedly worked silently for the emergence of the former Vice President as the party’s 2023 presidential candidate, is seen not just as a politician, but an intellectual leader as evidenced by the various lectures he has delivered. He may not be seen as very outspoken when compared to Nyesom Wike, but Okowa has never hesitated to dabble in conversations of national interest. The governor has also been able to balance the ethno-religious interests in the state, an advantage Atiku and his camp could jump on in selling their presidency. Nigeria has never been this divided along religious lines, the combination of Atiku who prides himself as a unifier, and Okowa may be just what the nation needs to heal. Delta State is geographically located in the South-South but Okowa, being from Ikah North, could resolve the tussle for the PDP VP candidate between the South-East and the South-South. Okowa, who is from the Igbo speaking part of Delta, has the cultural appeal to swing votes from both regions and may just be PDP’s joker in next year’s election. Will Atiku be willing to tap into these advantages? Things should become clearer after Friday.

This article was originally published on Naija News

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