As at the time of writing this column, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party for the 2023 election, Mr. Atiku Abubakar had nominated Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, current governor of Delta State as his running mate. The choice is strategic. Under very normal circumstances, it would be a game-changer.
Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa is a brilliant man – a well-trained physician from the University College Hospital, Ibadan, and as PDP’s Osita Chidoka, trying to talk him up on Arise TV notes, he passed in the Division 1 category in the WASC exam in the years when brilliance and hard work were the mark of accomplishment and promise.
His performance in Delta State, as some witnesses would acknowledge, has not been too shabby either. And to add it all up, he is Igbo of the Ika clan, and thus occupies two very distinct spaces as a man from the South-South Geo-political zone and an Igbo of the larger national group which is also the largest ethnic group in what is now called the Niger Delta.
Dr. Okowa is a man the Igbo could vote for and go to bed satisfied, since he checks out on the values which they hold sacred: competence, distinction, and of course, there is the kinship factor. Dr. Okowa goes by the title “Ekwueme” – he on whose words you could place a bet – and the Igbo do like men who live up to the names they choose for themselves.
There is where the trouble lies for Dr. Okowa, otherwise, his choice as Mr. Atiku’s running mate would have been a brilliant, and most strategic choice. It still could be, but the problem is in his words and conduct.
Many are now accusing him of selling out on the Igbo aspiration to be president of Nigeria in 2023, and in that, enact the closure of the history of exclusion. Dr. Okowa was host, it must be noted, of the meeting of the governors of the Southern Nigerian states who met in Asaba and made what is now the inconsequential Asaba Declaration that the next president of Nigeria must be from the South or no deal.
So what happened to the Asaba declaration of which Dr. Okowa is a primary and consequential signatory? How is it that no one can now trust the words of a man who goes by the title, “Ekwueme”?
The simple truth is that the PDP, the party on which Dr. Okowa is running has betrayed the long compact of trust between it, and the South-East and the South-South, where serious campaign has long been, since 1999, for an Igbo president, which many hoped will come through support and fidelity with the PDP. But that is no longer going to happen. And the East feels betrayed. Not only by the party which has continually relied on it for votes, but on the party’s delegations from the South-East and the South-South, who tanked the call for the candidacy of an Igbo President under the PDP.
I listened carefully to Osita Chidoka’s efforts to make excuses for the PDP, and argue for a “next time.” That next time was now and it did not happen. They shifted the landmark agreements entered into by the party itself to rotate the presidency. It came to the turn of the Igbo of the South-East, everybody; every interests in the two parties started speaking in tongues. That is what is called reptilian politics.
The use of underhanded methods, including buying off the conscience of key members of the party with dollars, to change the political aims, agreements, and compacts on which the political party has stood since 1999.
Effectively, the PDP no longer exists particularly in the South East, and among most of the Igbo scattered in great numbers across Nigeria. It is a betrayal one too many. The Igbo have been patient. They have compromised and conciliated. They have endured insults and exclusions and they bid their time for the opportunity to present an Igbo as candidate for the presidency of Nigeria.
Now, it is imperative for Igbo voters to end the political life of those who were part of the great betrayal of the Igbo in both the PDP and the APC. Particularly, those in the PDP. In any case, the APC does not exist in the South East and among the majority of the Igbo nationwide.
Only the handful of the “akalogoli” can be found in their company because from its foundation, the APC has stood on everything the Igbo as people abhor – nepotism, deep corruption, religious fundamentalism, a lack of coherent vision, or plan for the general progress of nation. The APC is a party fueled by a very feudal underbelly.
That is why its current Presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu would have the temerity to say, “Emi l’okan!” That is, that it is his turn to rule Nigeria. As if Nigeria is some game to be divided among hunters. Not that he has any coherent plans to pull this country from the edge of collapse which the current APC administration has pushed it.
As a matter of fact, in more developed political spaces, the All Peoples Congress, should not have the fierce courage to field a candidate for this election, simply because it has been, as a party, the catalyst to the current crisis of nation. But there are many who would argue that Mr. Bola Tinubu is different from Buhari and might bring new dimensions to the governance of Nigeria.
That his first sally as governor of Lagos is demonstrable evidence of his abilities. I should only bring in some caution: Lagos is, in sheer economic and infrastructural terms, the easiest state to govern in Nigeria.
It was already highly built up before Tinubu arrived in office. It was a federal territory from 1914 to 1992, and in that period, the resources of the federation were poured into it. Lagos is a great homeland to every Nigerian group, as it drew people, right even before its cession in 1861 when it was a key epicenter of the slave trade, to it.
I bet that if the DNA test of the descendants of that patriarch Eletu Odibo, whose family is foundational in the evolution of Lagos society is taken today, they will be shocked and gobsmacked by their original links to the Igbere people of current Abia state. But that is a different story for another day. In any case, Bola Tinubu’s APC is already detained by a critical question of whether or not to field a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
As at writing this, the issue is still in contention. Would a Muslim-Muslim ticket fly in this election? There are many who say, why not? It did work with the Abiola-Kingibe ticket, and it did not bruise Abiola’s chances in 1993.
But many also quite correctly point out that the political landscape has changed very radically since Abiola, and Tinubu is not Kashimawo, a Zikist, who had a far larger pan-Nigerian network. There is no doubt that a Muslim-Muslim ticket will alienate a vast, often silent force of Nigerian politics: the Christian community of the North. Standard demographic calculations often call the Christians, minorities in the North. But the numbers surprisingly say different.
There is a huge Christian belt which has often been ignored and rendered invisible by the ways we tell the Nigerian story. This election might rouse that number to the fore. There is also the Kwankwaso factor in the North, which should never be taken for granted. It is driven by large scale peoples anger against the established parties. It is this anger and frustration against the established parties that is changing the Nigerian political landscape and narrative in favour of Peter Obi and the Labour Party.
There is clear indication that the Labour Party is bulging with new enthusiasm. Let us be clear: this election season is going to contend with four factors. That is, it is a four-way run. If this is so, then Peter Obi is in a very good position to pull off one of the great surprises of Nigerian political history. Three factors are in his favor: one is that there is a great momentum for a president from the South-East, and Obi has the weight to carry that banner. He is philosophically trained. He is young and astute.
He understands the language of the young generation, being himself a bridge between the young and the old. His message of hope and possibility resonates with a most alienated generation who see in Obi, the possibility of a great re-set for Nigeria. They also have the votes. They are computer literate and savvy.
They are natural inhabitants of the virtual world and that is why the social media is their medium. Many of them do not buy newspapers. But they are highly informed, because they operate mostly in on-line platforms. This has confused the luddite operators of the so-called “big” or “established” parties, who do not understand the brave new world. This generation is primed to use the Labour Party, rallying around Peter Obi, to enact the “Green Revolution,” and change the narrative of political organizing in Nigeria. I think the signs are out there.
It is true that Peter Obi is not running on the steam of an Igbo candidacy. In fact, the sign is that the washed-out and highly compromised, and more familiar Igbo political actors, used to the “Agbata-Ekee” politics have refused to openly align with him. Which is good. They are irrelevant political deadwood.
But he has massive support among the Igbo -particularly the educated professionals and the regular Joes. The Igbo occupy the South-East and the South-South in dense numbers. But here is the key: the highly urbanized Igbo who are scattered in their numbers across Nigeria. They constitute an electoral force which combined with other key outliers are creating a political tsunami.
In the bell-weather cities of Kano, Lagos, Abuja, and Port-Harcourt, careful analysis will show the Igbo political factor, when properly mobilized and motivated, will create surprising results. Then is the pan-Nigerian youth factor.
Peter Obi, after a long time, is one politician that is cutting across the national boundaries, and addressing the question vital to the survival of the young generation of Nigerians across old tribal fault lines. It is actually shocking. There is a new nationalist movement, and once one, it is a Peoples Movement and it is driven by the new Nigerian – the youth of he nation.