Journalism of Courage

My take on Atiku’s choice of a running mate

By Sufuyan Ojeifo
All eyes are on the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, following the successful presidential primary election that produced former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as the party’s standard bearer in the scheduled February 16, 2019 election.
The excitement that greeted the victory of Atiku was so sensational that one would think it was the actual presidential election that the Jada-born political warhorse had tucked in his kitty. Regardless, that sense of animation was understandable on two scores.
First was the quality of aspirants with whom he jostled for the ticket. A majority of the twelve aspirants were uniquely qualified to be the party’s standard bearer. The primary election was tension-soaked while the politicking that presaged it was down to the wire. In the corollary, one of them was expected to emerge as the candidate and he did.
Second, although the eventual winner was predictably located among the trio of Atiku, Senate President, Bukola Saraki and former speaker of the House of Representatives and governor of Sokoto, Aminu Tambuwal, the emergence of Atiku would appear to tally with reasonable expectations of the vast majority of the party members and Nigerians, judging by their divergent and nuanced reactions.
Indeed, the dimensions of reactions to Atiku’s candidature from within the party and, more especially, from the governing All Progressives Congress, APC, have not diminished the magnitude of his persona. Rather, there is a sense in which millions of Nigerians have appropriated the Atiku candidature and approximated it as the face of Nigeria’s presidency in 2019.
Evidently, the 2019 presidential election promises to be predominantly a two-horse race between the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku. Both men are ready for the poll. As the founder of Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare, said, “It is going to be a battle of eagle versus eagle.” He had gone ahead to describe Atiku as a “cosmopolitan wazobian”.
Many others had already drawn some comparisons between the two leading candidates for the nation’s plum position: the fact that they are both core northern Fulani Muslims. To that extent, the northern masses would understand that power is not leaving the regional enclave for the southern region of Nigeria. But the divergences in their individualities are potential moot points that could be dilated by the elite for political expediencies in order to achieve some damage. 
However, it would appear that such voyage could become impotent and counterproductive, given the current dispositions of the masses about the hunger in the land purportedly inflicted on them by the administration of President Buhari. The comparative individual divergences do not, therefore, present as a hurdle before Atiku. He appears good to go. Both Atiku and the PDP apparatchiks are happy that they are now capacitated to upstage the applecart of Buhari’s presidency.
What, however, is the only hurdle to cross in the race through the homestretch for the ultimate price is the choice of a running mate. Which zone of the southern region should the PDP look towards to pick a running mate for Atiku? Or put differently, what will Atiku tell the PDP leadership guard and other stakeholders in the Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, working with the PDP for a grand alliance to dislodge Buhari, about a running mate that he expects to work with in terms of qualities, capacities, national visibility and acceptability?
The issue of a running mate is what is presently engaging the attention of the leading opposition party. And, this is as critical as the presidential ticket. If I were to advise the PDP or Atiku on this sensitive matter, I will simply suggest that they look towards the southwest. My reasons may not appear far-fetched, but I believe they deserve some introspective consideration.
Now, this is the rationalisation for my take on the issue: the 2019 presidential election will be keenly contested. The figures of votes cast and won will play a decisive role.  Whoever gets the highest number of votes and the required spread in twenty-four states, representing two-thirds of the states of the federation and the FCT, wins the election.  
Buhari’s northwest zone has registered voters in excess of 18 million while Atiku’s northeast zone has a little over nine million registered voter population. Arguing simplistically, by choosing its candidate from the northeast instead of northwest, the PDP has left the northwest for Buhari and the APC to explore and exploit as much as possible.
Assuming the same goes for Atiku in the northeast, then Buhari and the APC will still have an excess of about nine million votes to, as much as possible, harvest from in order to stay ahead of Atiku. The southwest is next to the northwest with registered voter population in excess of 14 million.  Cumulatively, both northwest and southwest zones account for 32 million votes, leaving the remaining four zones with a cumulative figure of about 38 million registered voters. 
Remember that Buhari’s running mate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, is from the southwest zone.  Besides, he represents Bola Tinubu’s singular most formidable political camp in the zone.  Osinbajo’s vice presidential ticket thus represents a bragging right and a justified basis for Tinubu to flaunt in the faces of leaders and people of the zone as a sense of entitlement to the presidency on behalf of the Yoruba race.
Therefore, I do not think that the PDP and Atiku should leave the southwest open to the APC.  That will be politically dangerous and electorally counterproductive in the circumstance. It is a notorious fact that whoever wants to win the presidential election must lock in the massive votes of the northwest and the southwest. The PDP and Atiku must search for a credible running mate from the southwest in order to up the ante of the presidential contest.
Once that is done, the PDP stands a good chance of running neck and neck or possibly defeating the APC in the zone, depending on how they go about picking the running mate, in addition to some other factors well considered. I expect that the Yoruba leaders, under the auspices of Afenifere, and acting in concert with the CUPP that enjoys the buy-in of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, should play a prominent role in the process so that whoever is picked enjoys groundswell support that will be able to discount the enormity of Osinbajo’s vice presidential candidature in the zone.
The idea of picking a running mate from the southeast should be shelved in the circumstance. The Ibo can be assuaged in the interim with the speakership position, given that the PDP has resolved to retain the senate presidency in the north central zone. And, this is where Atiku’s promise of a single term presidency should kick in forcefully to assure and reassure the Ibo that the presidency will move to the southeast in 2023.  
As someone said, the pledge should be well documented through the instrumentality of a court affidavit and given the widest publicity so that the entire world is aware of the existence of such a pact.  This is to ensure that the southeast, with a voter population in excess of eight million, delivers the votes to the PDP.
The south-south already has the national chairman; and being a traditional stronghold of the PDP, it is expected to lock in massive votes in the zone. The strategists in the PDP may have a superior permutation, but significantly, it is not advisable to allow the APC to use the majesty of its presidential and vice presidential candidates to smoothly dance to victory with bulky votes in the northwest and the southwest zones respectively without deliberately “disrupting” the ballot in Yoruba land through the choice of a running mate to Atiku from there.
  • Ojeifo writes from Abuja via
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