By Sufuyan Ojeifo
Even before voting got under away at the recent presidential primary election of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Port Harcourt, Atiku Abubakar was looking every inch the man to face President Muhammadu Buhari in the scheduled February 16, 2019 election. His gait, his deportment and his delivery within the three minutes allotted to each aspirant to address party delegates were demonstrably presidential.
Atiku spoke with knowledge, candour and self-belief. He spoke with gravitas and certainly won for himself some more votes at the PDP’s elective convention. He is rest assured that much more votes would come his way in the forthcoming presidential election.
To be clear, it was not that the other aspirants, who addressed the delegates on the night of October 6, were not as good; it was just that Atiku, enjoying a backend endorsement, majestically hugged the limelight as he spoke with the confidence of someone who knows what the issues are about and how to deal with them.
Now, in the race for the presidency of Nigeria, the former vice president brags about his understanding of the reasons the Nigerian economy, which was touted to be among the fastest growing in the world just four years ago, is now gasping for breath. He claims to comprehend how some wrong-headed choices had plunged the economy into recession within months of the APC government and, more importantly, how the prostrate economy can be resuscitated and grown to create wealth through private sector participation and leadership.
The level of youth unemployment in the country as a result of the poor economy is rightly identified by Atiku as a ticking bomb waiting to explode. At the level of private individual, he has been in the business of creating jobs in several sectors of the economy and, perhaps, more than any other candidate in the presidential race, he can illustrate practically how he will create jobs for the army of unemployed youths in the land.
Recall that Atiku also spoke at the primary election on the most crucial issue in Nigeria today, which is the apparent disunity in the land. The truth which he acknowledged is the fact that Nigerians have never been as divided as they are today with nepotism elevated to the level of official state policy by the present government. President Buhari’s disposition to govern on the basis of “97% versus 5%” of those who voted for him has served to exemplify that egregious leadership flaw. Perhaps to reinforce his nepotistic tendency, the president had been either rightly or wrongly accused of appointing people who share filial relationship with him into key public positions, especially in the presidency.
But Atiku believes that time is running out on our country hence there is an urgent need to get Nigeria working again. He is, however, not the only presidential candidate who believes that Nigeria can work again with the right attitude and leadership in place. This is clearly the position that has been taken by former Ondo state governor and presidential candidate of the Zenith Labour Party, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko. In his declaration speech, Mimiko, like Atiku, shares the same sentiments on what could be done to get our country working again.
One of the central themes running through both the Atiku declaration and the Mimiko declaration is the need to restructure Nigeria for effective governance. “As governor of Ondo State for eight years, I saw firsthand what limitations the federating units are confronted with in the unitary system of government that we operate, which we wrongfully refer to as federalism,” Mimiko had stated.
Both agree that the structure of the federation, as it is, cannot do much in helping to deliver good governance and dividends of democracy to the longsuffering Nigerians. They consent that the current system, which is only federal in nomenclature, needs to be rejigged to allow the states take greater control of the life chances of their people by greater devolution of powers from the centre to the states.
In the corollary, better quality health care services can be provided with greater ingenuity like the Abiye, the Safe Motherhood Programme, which Mimiko envisioned and successfully implemented as governor of Ondo State. As a matter of fact, “it (Abiye) became a global reference point in good governance; and a demonstrable path to universal health coverage, attracting laurels at home and abroad.”
Besides, Mimiko shares with Atiku a commitment to the social democratic ideology. Both agree on the specific role of the state in providing the salubrious conditions for private investments to thrive and boost the economy by creating jobs. This is unlike what appears to be happening now when the President seems to favour a centrist monetary policy while the vice president is a known advocate of the market place principles. This ideological misalignment questions the tentative economic interventions of the Buhari government.
Overall, and this is worthy of interrogation, is Mimiko’s engagement in what I consider to be disruptive politics. Knowing full well that, among the leading parties, there is an agreement that the presidency be zoned to the Northern region for another four years, Mimiko, a southerner, decided to take up the gauntlet. But who can put down a man whose political conviction is indeed overwhelming?
Mimiko is a former member of the PDP. Even then, there is an alliance between the PDP and other parties towards cooperation in the 2019 presidential election under the aegis of Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP). Mimiko’s Zenith Labour Party is a member of that coalition. Therefore, as Atiku carefully searches for his running mate, he must necessarily take a long hard look at Mimiko whose capacity for grassroots mobilisation is legendary.
Mimiko had moved against the tide by winning election on the Labour Party platform in Ondo at a time the PDP was in control of the state and the Federal Government. Imbued with political savvy to know when to and not to engage a desperate party in government down to the wire in contestation for the local Ondo governorship election as witnessed in 2016 where he was encumbered from installing a successor, Mimiko has lived to embark on another political voyage and exertion.
As it stands now, all manner of names dressed in the robe of technocrats are being thrown on Atiku’s face as potential running mates. Unfortunately most of those names, as competent as they can be, are not known to be vote mobilisers. This is where Mimiko, a technocrat in his own right,a rugged politician, former commissioner and former minister, is different. He is a confirmed vote mobilisers with grassroots appeal. He is an Omoluabi (thorough-bred) and a respected Yoruba leader who belongs to the Afenifere tendency.
Indeed, coming from the Southwest where over 14 million votes will be battled for in the forthcoming presidential election, Atiku and the Afenifere leadership must do well to put down the name of Iroko in the shortlist of potential running mates.
- Ojeifo writes from Abuja via firstname.lastname@example.org