One read with considerable amusement and amazement the claim by some Southern and Middle Belt leaders that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta state betrayed the divide by accepting to be the running mate to Atiku Abubakar, the presidential flag-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Talk of the chicken that left the knife that slaughtered it to make face to the cooking pot! This claim is a misguided missile, to say the least.
Yes, the Southern and Middle Belt Forum pushed the position that the presidential power must return to the South in 2023. The group however did not pursue their noble intention realistically. They engaged the media to echo their sentiment, which the latter did brilliantly. But candidates are fielded, in all democracies, by political parties, not by the media. The best the media can do is help in political marketing by trumpeting the popularity and desirability of a candidate. But a political party has other factors to consider in deciding who flies its flag; popularity is only one of the many.
The Southern and Middle Belt Forum did not engage the process strategically, especially with the political parties and making the case to the right audience. This is not to say that their media razzmatazz was not good or necessary. It was quite strategic doing so to draw public attention and sympathy.
But engaging the process, especially the political parties, was the most important political action to undertake. This was not be. The group, instead, stayed in the media space and even issued threats. Now that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has turned a deaf ear or paid no heed to their remote request, the group has turned to Senator Ifeanyi Okowa to carry the blame for daring to accept the rare offer of running mate from Atiku Abubakar.
One factor at play here is misplaced aggression. This roaming, unfocused aspect of anger is sometimes referred to as displaced aggression, which psychologists define as retaliatory aggression that is misdirected from an initial source of provocation and turned instead upon an innocent other, in this case, Gov. Okowa. The truth is that Okowa was as much a victim as the rest of the South and was not in a position to impose the wishes of these Southern and Middle Belt leaders. Okowa has chosen to move on rather than dwell on a lost cause.
Come to think of it, Okowa hosted the Southern Governors Forum on the issue of zoning to the South. One or two Southern Governors such as Dave Umahi of Ebonyi state, who is also playing the victim and blame game refused to attend but continued to play their divisive roles. Again, this group made no effort to call such political actors to order.
There is an Igbo adage, which when translated, means that he who does not know where the rain starts beating him will not know where he takes shelter. This intervention is mainly to correct and put issues in perspective. Truth be told, Southern Nigeria leaders frittered away the chance of the South producing the president of Nigeria under the PDP when they failed to take a collective position on the Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi committee on the zoning of party offices and the Governor Samuel Ortom Committee on the zoning of the PDP Presidential ticket.
On both committees, the South failed to present a united position or front, despite their majority numbers when combined with that of the Middle Belt. In the Ortom Committee particularly, Southern and the Middle Belt representatives, numbering over twenty out of 38, voted for the PDP presidential ticket to be thrown open despite having the numbers to vote for the ticket to go South.
By doing so, South Nigeria inadvertently acquiesced that the PDP ticket should go North since the PDP Northern delegates to the PDP presidential primary would be nearly 60%. Okowa was not in that Ortom committee and this group has not called them out for betraying the Southern Nigeria cause.
Furthermore, there was a major tool the South Nigerian leaders failed to deploy. The PDP in 2009 provided for the rotation of presidential power between North and South Nigeria in its Constitution. Though there has been a cacophony of interpretations of this extant constitutional provision by the PDP, South Nigeria did not insist on it and instead headed to the PDP convention as individual Southern states without any genuine efforts made to articulate what could pass as South Nigeria’s strategic agenda. They also failed to arrive at who would be their preferred candidate. Contrasted, the North, despite already enjoying numerical advantage, deferred to Atiku Abubakar and has some level of consensus built around him.
Governor Aminu Tambuwal, despite presenting as a front runner, also stepped down for Atiku Abubakar, thus cementing the latter’s eventual victory. While the North worked together somewhat as a block, the Southern aspirants both in the APC and the PDP, pursued their ambition as individuals, believing they would clinch the tickets all by their power, forgetting that money cannot buy off a people’s strategic interest. As it turned out, none of them was strong enough to go it alone.
Even Tinubu relied upon regional support. First, he was able to inspire almost all Northern APC governors to insist on the Southern APC presidential ticket despite the obvious choice of President Muhammadu Buhari as announced by the APC national chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, who named the Senate President, Ahmed Lawal, as the consensus candidate. This narrowed the fight to just Tinubu and Chibuike Amaechi, and having more extensive networks and a bigger war chest; the former’s emergence became sort of a foregone conclusion. This didn’t happen in the Southern PDP, who instead, voted for the party’s presidential ticket to be thrown open to all sections of Nigeria despite the Southern divide’s inherent numerical disadvantage.
The point being made here is that calling out Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa as a traitor for accepting to be Atiku’s running mate when the Southern and Middle Belt leaders failed to block the ticket from going North is naïve and an emotional black, a clear case of misplaced aggression.
Southern Nigeria and the Middle Belt should recall that Atiku Abubakar offered to step down if it would be agreed that zoning of the PDP Presidential ticket must be made specific to South-East Nigeria, as the only zone yet to produce the President of Nigeria or the Vice since 1999 when the nation returned to the present democratic dispensation. This offer should have been taken up by this group if they are really serious. They should have called on the aspirants from South Nigeria to step down for the South-east for the sake of equity, unity and justice.
Atiku Abubakar nominating Ifeanyi Okowa and Governor Okowa’s acceptance, if not anything, has brought Ndigbo into the ticket to the satisfaction of the campaigners for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. Okowa should be helped to discharge the onerous responsibility of representing the entire South on the Atiku ticket, and not blackmailed and distracted as some of the Southern and Middle Belt leaders are needlessly doing.
• Dr Law Mefor is a Senior Fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought; Tel.: +234- 905 642 4375 E-mail: email@example.com; follow me on twitter:@DrLawMefor.