By Ehichioya Ezomon
The Northern Leaders Consultative Forum’s endorsement of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for the February 25, 2023, presidential election comes as a shot in the arm for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP’s been divided since the Atiku-Okowa ticket emerged, with five governors of Abia, Benue, Enugu, Oyo and Rivers shunning the Presidential Campaign Council and its campaigns.
So, the December 2, 2022, adoption by some leaders in Northern Nigeria’s 19 States and the FCT is a turnaround for the PDP that its PCC spokesman, Kola Ologbodiyan, attributes to a Nigerian consensus.
“This adoption conforms with the consensus by the larger majority of Nigerians that all options weighed and considered, Atiku is the best among those seeking to govern Nigeria,” Ologbodiyan said.
But for other leading parties – the All Progressives Congress, Labour Party and New Nigeria Peoples Party – which the Forum also vetted their tickets, the leaders’ endorsement is self-serving and hypocritical. Recall that leaders in the Christian community, particularly in the North, have rejected the APC Muslim-Muslim ticket of former Lagos State Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu and former Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima.
Accordingly, a section of the polity had expected that with the agitation for a Southern president, the Northern leaders would adopt the LP ticket of former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi and former Senator Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed.
But that didn’t happen, and the reactions were scathing, with former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babacir Lawal, describing the Atiku-Okowa ticket as “the worst form of a Muslim-Muslim ticket.”
Lawal, who endorses the Obi-Datti ticket, notes that the Atiku-Okowa ticket amounts to “a transition from one Muslim Fulani president (Muhammadu Buhari) to another Muslim Fulani president (Atiku),” and that an Atiku presidency “would represent ethnic domination by one ethnic group over others.”
Lawal also talks about his yearly battles with Fulani herdsmen determined to have their animals invade his farms and eat up his crops, and take over his kinsmen’s ancestral farmlands, “as everywhere in the North,” he said, “while their elite kinsmen dominant in the government keep mute.”
Saying he “remains a Peter Obi diehard,” and “any news to the contrary is fake news,” Lawal reaffirms his commitment to actualising Obi’s ambition in the 2023 elections.
To the Obi-Datti campaign, former Reps Speaker Yakubu Dogara, who joined Lawal as arrowheads of the anti-APC ticket, bears the blame for the Northern leaders’ adoption of the PDP and Atiku-Okowa ticket. (Perhaps for “a job well done,” Atiku’s appointed Dogara as a member of the PDP PCC, as announced on December 4 by the council’s Director-General and Sokoko Governor Aminu Tambuwal).
The campaign’s position: “We in the Obi-Datti Media see Hon Dogara’s unpopular stand as a clear measure of double standard and a grave error in seeing same faith ticket in his party as wrong but jump to embrace another injustice of a party that refuses to follow its own constitution and respect for political fairness and accommodation.
“Clearly, the former Speaker knows that he is swimming against the tide by his unpopular decision, which amounts to running from frying pan to fire; from one injustice to another, and claiming to be acting on behalf of his people whose anger for the two wrongs of the two main political parties (APC and PDP) is glaring.
“Hon Dogara knows as a fact that his position does not reflect the heart and mind of majority of Nigerian populace who are already on the (LP) moving train to take back the country from primeval political thinkers like him.
“The former Speaker knows as a fact that his choice is against the tide, as the country stands on two prongs today ahead of 2023; justice and equity on one hand and capacity and competence on the other and not on primordial interest of political party lines.
“The Obi-Datti Media Office, therefore, sympathizes with Hon. Dogara for failing woefully to grab the ample opportunity that every politician looks forward to, standing for their people at a critical time of their abandonment.
“History will certainly place him as a leader who turned his back on his people when they rose against injustice and oppression.”
The APC and Tinubu-Shettima campaign have laughed off the Northern leaders’ action as a huge joke of “PDP endorsing PDP” – a snide reference to the Forum’s many PDP members reportedly loyal to Atiku. Festus Keyamo, Minister of State for Labour and Employment and chief spokesman for the APC PCC, says the Dogara-led action hasn’t altered any political permutation. His words: “My very good and amiable friend and classmate, Yakubu Dogara, should have spared us all the drama. From PDP and back to PDP, nothing has changed; no alteration of political permutations. They were not with us in 2019 when we won. Wishing them all the best, except victory in 2023!
“It is just a case of PDP adopting PDP. A group of PDP members, supporters and sympathisers sat down and purportedly adopted PDP as ‘their best option.’
“That is, PDP adopting PDP, yet trying to pass it off as if there is some major shift in political alignment. All drama, no real content; all motion, no real movement.”
Also reacting, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, who heads the rebellious “Integrity Group” of five governors of the PDP (PDP-G5), blasts Dogara as an unstable character that can’t be pinned down to principles. Wike claims that Dogara had insisted on the presidency returning to Southern Nigeria, and yet reversed and adopted the PDP and Atiku-Okowa ticket. “What I don’t like in life is people that don’t have character. I can’t stand it,” Wike said, adding, “at the appropriate time, I will challenge them to a debate.”
In a manner of mockery, Wike said: “Ask Dogara: What made you leave PDP? Dogara was to see me (but) unknown to me, he gave me an excuse. And (thereafter) I was watching Dogara on TV being received by President Muhammadu Buhari that he has gone (back) to APC. I say, ‘Okay, no problem.’
“The same Dogara said the presidency should be zoned to southern Nigeria for there to be peace. Now, I hear about the same Dogara (backing Atiku from northern Nigeria). Is that how you do things? Can’t you say something and stand by it?”
Similarly, the NNPP, running with the former Kano State Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and Bishop Isaac Idahosa ticket, has expressed disappointment, but not surprise at the Northern leaders’ adoption of the PDP and Atiku-Okowa ticket.
The NNPP National Chairman, Prof. Rufai Ahmed Alkali, says the party “will respond decisively” to the Northern leaders’ action. “We just received the story and the communique by the group,” Alkali said. “We are disappointed but not surprised at what Yakubu Dogara and his co-travelers said. We are going to respond to them decisively in the language they will understand.”
In summary, what the PDP and Atiku-Okowa ticket regard as a major boost may be minimal due to split in the Northern Leaders Consultative Forum, and the presidential campaigns boycott by the PDP-G5 members for the February 25, 2023, poll.
- Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.