Out of the Box
About 48 hours to the presidential primary election of the PDP, I was in the Enugu town house of Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and for over an hour we had a hearty discussion on the state of the nation. Among other things he sought my candid opinion on the best foot forward for the PDP in the march towards the 2019 presidential election in view of the current realities in Nigeria. He also revealed to me that a number of them are seeking his support and a particular aspirant has gone as far as offering him the vice presidency slot. He pointedly stated that vice presidency was a privilege that wasn’t a priority for him. His greatest interest is that of the ‘’future relevance and benefit of the south east within a broad pan Nigerian frame work of socio-economic development’’.
I gave a brief synopsis of those I considered as top 4 contenders for the PDP presidential nomination among the dozen contestants. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, has the advantage of age, less liability of corruption baggage but his electoral assets as maybe encapsulated in his vision for a new Nigeria remains vague 48 hours to the convention. Going forward, there may be no sufficient time to bring whatever Tambuwal represents to the consciousness of the people in such a manner as to cause the manner of upset required to oust a formidable ruling party candidate as Muhammadu Buhari. In the case of Rabiu Kwankwaso, I opined that he does not appear to have outgrown his Kwankwasiya movement, which I considered a minus for an aspirant to the highest office in the land to hold on to such politics of provincial proclivity. For Senate President Saraki, I believe he stands out clearly in his clarity of message with rich nationalists’ credentials. However, in a society were primordial ethno-geographic sentiments still runs deep, Saraki’s chances may be limited by politics of ethnic identity.
Lastly, I shared my well-publicised opinion with Ekweremadu that among the leading aspirants from the core north [north west and north east] of Nigeria, former vice president Atiku Abubakar is the most liberal minded with verifiable impeccable nationalists credentials needed under the current circumstances in Nigeria to pull the nation from the brinks of precipice. In addition, Atiku has demonstrated through his chains of successful businesses, a minimal understanding of economic matters that is equally needed to revive Nigeria’s comatose economy. I reiterated Atiku as the alternative to Buhari’s sectionalism and clear lack of economic management skills. As expected, Ekweremadu listened with rapt attention as my droplets dripped into his ocean of knowledge with occasional responses on the very points I raised and acting in a statesmanlike manner, as the second highest office holder in PDP, he didn’t betray to an ‘’outsider’’ like me, his clear preference.
Following the emergence of Atiku as the presidential flag bearer of the PDP, I, like many others, had hoped Ekweremadu will emerge as the vice presidential candidate. Equipped with the requisite educational qualification, national exposure as well as a combination of executive [local council chairman, chief of staff, SSG] and legislative [4th term senator] experience, Ekweremadu will greatly enhance the quality of the Atiku 2019 challenge. On the passionate issue of restructuring, Atiku has a soulmate in Ekweremadu, who as the chairman of successive national assembly constitutional amendment committees since 2007, has made considerable efforts to push the frontiers of devolution of powers and fiscal federalism through legislation. In a constitutional democracy, the national assembly is an important factor in achieving the fundamentals of restructuring. As a time tested legislator, who has occupied the second highest position in the leadership of the senate of the federal republic, Ekweremadu is equipped with sufficient knowledge of the inner workings of the national assembly to serve as a buffer between it and the executive and allow for easy passage of executive bills that aims to restructure the Nigerian federation in line with Atiku’s campaign promises. With a PhD thesis on fiscal federalism, Ekweremadu comes on board with considerable knowledge to help Atiku navigate the thorny labyrinth on the way to the much talked about true federalism.
On the political side, Ekweremadu has managed to emerge as a rallying leader like figure for Nigerians of south east origin in a manner never seen since the era of NnamdiAzikiwe. To emerge a leader among a highly educated and republican peoples of south east Nigeria, is to be imbued with leadership qualities of sacrifice for common good, consensus building, integrity rich character and fidelity to agreements. Most fundamental is the fact that in the face of unprecedented marginalization of Nigerians of south east origin, Ekweremadu stood firm, even in the face of persecution, while consistently demanding for justice, equity and fairness from the federal government, which further legitimized his organic leadership of the south east geo-political zone.
As has been a recurring decimal in the arithmetic of political horse trading in Nigeria, a dark horse almost always usually emerges as running mate to presidential candidates. The nomination of Peter Obi, though an equally good choice, as running mate to Atiku came as a surprise to many including the political leaders of the south east. In what may be considered an over sight, Obi’s nomination also came to Ekweremadu as a surprise as he wasn’t consulted.
Ekweremadu wasn’t a contender for the position of vice president but was only a widely considered option. He was offered the position severally ahead of the presidential nomination but he didn’t allow such personal interests to override his role as a leader who must uphold the tenets of level playing ground for all contestants which eventually led to a peaceful, transparent and acceptable outcome of the PDP presidential primaries. This is only consistent with Ekweremadu’s effort since 2015, in keeping the opposition PDP afloat since its loss of power. It was Ekweremadu who chatted the way for the party to follow to its reinvention as a formidable opposition party, strong enough to be considered a potent challenger to the ruling APC, beginning with his recommendation to return power back to the north in 2019 on the platform of the PDP. Beyond just standing firm in opposition, Ekweremadu also skilfully negotiated the return of APC heavy weights that left the PDP in 2014 in protest against theviolation of the zoning arrangement within the PDP, chief among whom is the man that has emerged flag bearer of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar. His stabilizing role and amiability equally attracted a considering number of senators from the ruling APC to the PDP, prominent among whom was senate president Bukola Saraki. Therefore, as a leading figure in the party, Ekweremadu should have been consulted like other leaders on the issue of a south east vice presidential nominee and his suggestion may as well have been the eminently qualified Obi.
For helping rebuild the party back to life, Ekweremadu can only be rewarded for his steadfastness with at least a minimal consultation on party affairs post presidential primaries and going forward into the election. However, Speculation has become rife about the possibility of his leaving the PDP when the initial list of the membership of PDP campaign council was announced and not only was he not also consulted on the plans to constitute it, his name was conspicuously missing. If this is also an oversight, it was one that was carelessly taking too far. Ekweremadu’s full participation in the Atiku/Obi presidential effort will help deliver the south east en-block for the PDP in an election that will be perhaps the tightest race in the history of Nigeria.
Ekweremadu had a choice in the last three years to ditch the PDP and pitch tent with the ruling APC. Like many other leading figures of the opposition PDP, he has been harassed, intimidated with at least one assassination attempt yet he remained ramrod straight on the path of his political conviction. In the build up to the PDP presidential primaries, Ekweremadu had a choice of firmly extracting commitments for vice presidency and in the process compromise an otherwise transparently acceptable outcome for both the party and the flag bearer but he chose to lead by example by building a consensus of organic support around the eventual winner. Even now that PDP looks set to give APC a good fight in the 2019 general elections, Ekweremadu still has choice.