Politics

2023: Okowa’s emergence and PDP’s chances

Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, the Delta State governor, emerged the running mate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. ONYEKACHI EZE examines his likely contributions to the success of the party in the February 2023 general elections

 

The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, last Thursday, picked Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, the Delta State governor as the preferred running mate candidate. This was after nearly three weeks of search, which, according to him, involved consultations with the party’s elected governors, National Working Committee (NWC), Board of Trustees (BoT) members, as well as other party leaders.

Before Okowa was finally unveiled by the candidate, Rivers State governor Nyesom Wike was rumoured to have been unanimously voted for, as the running mate, by the 17-member select committee set up by the PDP leadership for that purpose. Despite this recommendation, Okowa emerged the candidate’s choice
Atiku said Okowa possessed the traits he wanted from a running mate. According to him, his running mate should have the potential to succeed him “at a moment’s notice, that is, a president-in-waiting. In other words, the person must have the qualities to be president.

“The person must have an appreciation of the deep rot which our country has been put into by the rudderless APC government; understands the great suffering that most of our people are going through and the urgency of relieving them of that suffering; understands the critical importance of economic growth and development to provide our young people with jobs, hope, and a pathway to wealth.

“The person must appreciate the critical importance of education in the development of modern societies so we can prepare our young people to be able to compete in the increasingly competitive and globalized world.

“My running mate must understand that without security, development will be very difficult because local and foreign investors who have been scared away already, would not return to invest in our economy. Thus, my running mate will be a person who will stand by me as I confront the frightening level of insecurity in our land.”

In the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the party’s presidential candidate Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, has chosen Kazeem Masari as his running mate. The party is still dogged by religious controversy – Muslim-Christian or Muslim-Muslim ticket. This is a delicate line for the candidate to tread on, because this the first time since the annulled 1993 presidential election, that a Muslim from Southern Nigeria is emerging a presidential candidate of a major political party.
The electoral umpire had stated that its portal, the INEC Candidate Nomination Portal (ICNP), would shutdown automatically by 6 pm on June 17, and there would be no physical interface between the commission and political parties for the purpose of submitting candidates for the elections.

INEC also explained that for a presidential or governorship candidate to qualify to be nominated, the list must be accompanied by the name of his or her running mate “(i.e. vice presidential and deputy governorship candidates) without which the nomination is invalid.”

The Labour Party presidential candidate Mr. Peter Obi has Dr. Doyin Okupe as running mate.

Since it is a joint ticket, the strength or weakness of every aspirant is mirrored in capacity and capability ofhis or her running mate, to attract votes during the election and secure victory for the party. That is why the candidates, and by extension, leaderships of the parties are taking time to choose the would be running mates. As it is now, only the candidate of the PDP could be said to have solved this issue.

The PDP Vice Presidential Screening Committee (VPSC) headed by former Minister of Foreign Affair, Chief Tom Ikimi, which evaluated the suitability and qualification of the running mate to run with the party’s presidential candidate, declared Okowa “fit, healthy and level headed”.

Also, his colleagues, the PDP governors, said Okowa has what it takes to be an effective vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, because he “has cognate legislative experience as a former senator. Chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, was optimistic that “With the Atiku/Okowa ticket help is on the way. We shall overcome.”

Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Anyim Pius Anyim, who was one of the presidential aspirants, described the vice presidential candidate “as a cool-headed gentle man  and a brilliant and focused leader who has, over the years, devoted his time and energy to the service of our dear country in various capacities.

 

“I have no doubt that Senator Okowa will effectively compliment our presidential candidate, H.E Atiku Abubakar for the urgent task of rescuing, reuniting and rebuilding our dear country”.

 

Okowa, a two-term governor of Delta State, was at various times, a local government Chairman, Secretary to State Government (SSG), a commissioner in about three different ministries and a Senator who represented Delta North in the National Assembly. Atiku during his unveiling, described him as ” a fighter” who “has both legislative and executive experiences,” adding that “He personifies not only the seriousness the current moment represents for our country but also the future that our young people yearn for and deserve. He is a serving state governor who has demonstrated, in his state and through his conduct, that governance is about service to the people.

“I know that he will not only add excitement to our already energised ticket and campaign, but will also help to bring focus, discipline and stability to our government, come 2023.”

Some factors might have influenced Okowa’s choice, among them security and economy.

Delta State, which he has superintended upon in the past seven years, is one of the most peaceful states in the country. Though he acknowledged, during the inauguration of state security outfit, ‘Operation Delta Hawk’, that Delta State has its own fair share of  kidnapping, banditry, cultism and clashes between herdsmen and farmers, he was able to stem down the tide. Since ‘Operation Delta Hawk’ was inaugurated in December 2020, insecurity have been banished from the state.

Okowa was also credited of growing the state’s economy by 51 percent in the first four years of his administration. Delta State economy reportedly, grew from N2.961 trillion, in 2015 when he took over, to N4.471 at the end if his tenure in office, in 2019.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) ranked Delta State as the second least poor among the 36 states of the country in 2020. This was a huge leap, from 12th in 2010.

A commentator described it as “another testimonial of his prosperity for all Deltans’ vision buoyed by meticulous planning, sound fiscal discipline, efficient public resource management as well as youth-targeted job and wealth creation programmes.”

 

One remarkable achievement to Okowa’s credit is in non-oil sector, where he was said to have recorded a growth in gross domestic produce (GDP) of N2.356 trillion in 2019, from N1.74 in 2015.

 

This, more than any other variables, might have won the heart of Atiku, since economy would be under the purview of the vice president.

Apart from these achievements, Okowa’s contributions to PDP’s internal democracy might have attracted the candidate’s attention. He served for two consecutive times, as Chairman of the party’s national convention planning committees, one of them was where Atiku emerged as PDP candidate for 2019 presidential election.

 

Okowa chaired the 2018 Port Harcourt convention that was adjudged most credible despite the disagreement over the venue, as well as the tension the number of aspirants seeking the party’s ticket, generated. One of the delegates was quoted as saying that “Okowa’s insistence on a fair process seems to be the game changer.” Former PDP National Chairman Prince Uche Secondus suggested that INEC should understudy Okowa on how to conduct credible elections.

 

Perhaps, Okowa’s emergence might assuage the people of South East who felt abandoned and denied acceptability by the PDP despite huge support to the party since 1999. Though Okowa is Ika in Delta North, South-South, he is of Igbo extraction.

 

Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-political organisation, in its congratulatory message to him on his choice as PDP running mate, described the governor as “an Igbo prodigy with special grace.”

 

Dr Alex Ogbonnia, Ohaneze spokesman, said the body cherished Okowa’s steady rise in political arena. According to Ogbonna, this
“is a veritable tribute to humility, sincerity, simplicity, hard work, perseverance and centrality of morals in the dynamics of power.”

He added that “It is only grace that explains the mystery behind the profound achievements by a few in various areas of life which paradoxically present enormous challenges to many others.

“Perhaps, this explains why Okowa ennobled the various offices he held with remarkable skill, exceptional diligence, elegance and panache.

 

“We are optimistic that your candidacy will add enormous electoral value to your political party, the PDP.”

Paradoxically, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), declared him a “betrayer of the trust reposed on him.”

 

The group in a statement jointly signed by Chief (Dr.) Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, SMBLF/Pan Niger Delta Forum; Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Afenifere; Dr. Dru Bitrus, Middle Belt Forum and Ambassador (Prof.) George Obiozor, Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide respectively, said it is disappointing that Okowa who is Chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum, as well as a native of Owa-Alero, an Igbo speaking area in the state, could accept to run with Atiku as vice presidential candidate.

 

They noted that 17 southern governors, comprising those of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and PDP, on May 11, 2021, resolved that the presidency should rotate to the south on expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure, for “fairness, equity and justice.

 

“And this very Governor Okowa was the host of that historic meeting. The Southern governors later met again in Lagos, on July 5, where they reaffirmed their decision, and again in Enugu, on September 16, to restate the call that the presidency should rotate to the south in 2023.

 

“It is essential to underline that the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), applauded the meeting of the governors, given its significant representation and the gravity of the outcome; we followed up and issued a similar statement after our meeting in Abuja on the 30th of May 2021, asking that the presidency should rotate to the south.

 

“And went further, on several other occasions, to caution political stakeholders from the South, including serving and former governors, ministers, senators, etcetera, not to, on any account, allow themselves to be appointed or nominated as running mate to any presidential candidate, if the presidency is not zoned to the south and that we will work against such person or persons.

 

“It is, therefore, most unfortunate that the Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa who should know better, accepted his appointment as running mate to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

 

“We do not have anything personal against Ifeanyi Okowo but his action is treacherous and tantamount to a despicable pawning of the political future of the people of Southern Nigeria.”

 

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