A Vice President for Atiku

EDIFYING ELUCIDATIONS BY Okey Ikechukwu

Two questions are central for anyone who wants the Presidential Candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, to succeed in office. That is in the event that he ends up defeating the financially powerful APC contender, Bola Tinubu, and the people’s candidate, Peter Obi. The first question is, does he want a vice president who will be the product of “political correctness”, or does he want a vice president who will be the quite but effective and efficient engine room of government? The second is, should the subsisting concern about the PDP’s perceived ill treatment of Ndigbo be part of his calculations? The answer to the first question is a yes. We shall try to address the second question later. Much later in today’s intervention.

Atiku needs a VP with capacity, that is confirmed capacity for effective administration, attention to files, the strength of character to face his job and watch his boss’s back. That is why his criteria for choosing a running mate must emphasise anything ability to perform in office. But then, there is the matter of first winning the election. So, should that not be part of the calculation in choosing a running mate? It would be a central consideration in that regards only if the PDP machinery fails to rise to the occasion, and the extant leverage of all stakeholders are not pooled to bridge perceived gaps. The refusal to do this led to the avoidable self-sabotage that cost the party the elections in 2019.

Regarding the second question, it is a matter of record that the South East is also somewhat angry with Atiku for even contesting at all. The logic of the anger is that he should have been in the forefront of driving a national campaign, at least within the PDP, to follow the presumed agreement about a rotational formula that would bring the presidency to someone of Igbo extraction. To that extent, and for that very reason, the presumption is that the least he can do is to choose onye Igbo as his running mate. That said, the matter of a reasonable choice is not made any easier for the man.

First there are many Igbos in contention, some of them by some stranglehold, based on their contributions to the VP’s efforts so far. Others are doing their best to leverage whatever contacts they have in the right places, in order to swing a decision in their favour. There is also the political argument about Wike. He actually won the primaries, if the truth must be told.  It took the combined votes of Atiku, Tambuwal and whatever forces they rallied, to beat Wike by about 100 votes. What does that tell you?

Based on the above, the argument has been advanced, and is being pursued vigorously, that Wike should be Atiku’s running mate; even if in order to assuage his well-advertised indignation over the sordid business of that night at eagle square. But there is a problem. The very qualities I personally admire in Wike, his frankness, his sometimes-blunt way of saying what others are afraid to think to themselves and his consistent battle against the contrived boobytraps of our federation, are the things others fear about him.

I wrote about Wike on this page on January 22, titled, “Governors, Just Look at Wike”, where I hailed the man for doing “what every state governor should endeavour to do”; which is to govern in real terms. As I said then, and as I still do believe: “The beauty of Wike’s intervention does not lie in the mere fact that he has given an ultimatum to LG Chairmen, no! It lies, instead, in the fact that he is calling out politicians who are in office as servants of the people to do their work. He is saying that it must not take a special, supposedly “crack team,” from Abuja to deal with every domestic problem. He is also, metaphorically speaking, asking his fellow governors and their LG Chairmen to do their jobs” and that “they have a duty to identify criminality and propose ways of dealing with same, in their largely closely-knit communities where everyone knows what everyone else is doing”; and that it is wrong for people to “carry official titles/cars and have their names on the government payroll, without actually being on the job”.

But will the north be comfortable with a Wike vice presidency, or a president recommended by him? That is the question. An Okowa vice presidency has been touted for various political reasons, especially with regards to what happened in Atiku’s favour during the primaries. But what manner of vice presidency will that be? One driven by experience at the national level, or one of nominal office holding; wherein the major power players will politely sniff contempt at the vice president as they carry on the business of running Nigeria, and even doing his job?

The Jonathan experience in this regard is of more than passing interest here. He was a barely visible and barely-heard deputy governor. He became a practically non-existent vice president, who was apparently content to just breath unmolested in Aso Rock. Then fortune and circumstance inflicted the presidency on him. It was a sleepwalking presidency. When the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the actual administrative engine room of the presidency, put together the Belgore Committee, assembled extant records of conferences and meetings, extracted issues on which there was already consensus, to be put together and sent as Executive bills to the national assembly, he dithered until the National Assembly snatched the initiative and commenced some constitutional amendments.

Then there is Anyim Pius Anyim, another PDP heavyweight, to be considered for the position of vice president. He is a former Senate President and former SGF. On June 1, 2011, President Jonathan told Nigerians that he would make Anyim his SGF “because of his experience in public administration, especially in the legislature.” It would be recalled that the scramble for that office was particularly tumultuous in a subterranean sort of way under Jonathan. As he told Nigerians on the day he inaugurated his favoured occupant for the position, “The Secretary to the Government of the Federation … is to co-ordinate government policies, ministries, extra-ministerial departments and agencies, including the Cabinet Office. I, therefore, urge you Senator Anyim to bring these virtues and experience to bear on your service as you co-ordinate the activities of the government. Nigeria must have a government that truly prides itself in the service of its citizens.” And Jonathan’s trust was not misplaced. Anyim was detailed, patient, undistracted by vaulting ambition and simply kept to his assigned role.

As SGF, Anyim even took to the papers to present a position on democracy and national transformation, in defence of his boss. In a piece titled “The democracy and transformation we mean”, and which appeared on this page shortly after the Democracy Day celebrations of 2014, advanced some views on sustainable democracy and national development. It was under him, and through his office as SGF, that the idea of a mid-term report by a sitting government emerged. As he said, then, “It is within the context of making democracy a reality for the generality of Nigerians that the administration made a mid-term performance review report a central marker of Democracy Day proceedings. The primary purpose is to enable everyone see the progress made so far in implementing policies and programmes.”

Then there is Emeka Ihedioha, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and Tambuwal’s bosom and loyal friend. In fact, many people immediately began to tout his name as soon as Tambuwal stepped down for Atiku. The claim in the quarters from where this was emanating was that the North had played a big Joker, whereby Tambuwal will be VP, with Ihedioha standing in his name. I consider this laughable at best. Emeka Ihedioha has enough experience and leverage. He was a dependable ally and deputy to Tambuwal. He is also a strong stakeholder in his party – and no less qualified than many others who are desperately jostling for the position as I write.

The other person to consider, even if he would feel outraged at the mention of his name in print on this matter, having inexplicably gone underground after his tenure as Minister for Information and National Orientation, is Chukwuemeka Chikelu. He is urbane, exceptionally intelligent, realistic in concrete terms, thorough, highly respected in political circles and always unwilling to make concession to anything that will not serve the national interest. He will make an incredible vice president. The only problem would be his availability for the job. A person like him, and with his reach and network, would have long been in the hustings. But his aversion for rowdy markets and gatherings where drinking joints are mistaken for policy formulation platforms will be a major impediment.

Then we can speak of Ben Obi. He is a dependable, soberly down to earth, informed, great negotiator and bridge builder. He has been described as a mercilessly loyal gentleman who is not given to vaulting and distracting ambition. His experience in the security community, general public administration, peace-building at the national level and extensive political exposure make him someone Atiku and the PDP may wish to look at.

But, going back to the first question raised at the beginning of this piece namely: Does Atiku want “a vice president who will be the product of “political correctness”, we must now look more closely. Atiku cannot afford to make political correctness, in terms of temporary support during the primaries, an overriding consideration in deciding who should be his vice president. He is inheriting a nation in tatters. There is nothing to share, and little patronage to dispense, from the day he is sworn in and for several years thereafter. He needs someone who understands the issues, is unshaken by passing political fancies and not given to loyalty deficits. Does he want a vice president who will be the quite engine room of his government? If yes, he had better sober up – knowing that he is the only person in the line of fire now.

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