By Jude Atupulazi
Let’s face it: the winner of the presidential primary election of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is not the best Nigeria can hope for at this material time. Just like Muhammadu Buhari, the man he is trying to replace in Aso Rock, Atiku is past 70. He is also enmeshed in some of the sordid stories associated with the country’s recent past, just as he is also of the Fulani ethnic stock like Buhari. So why are Nigerians seemingly going over the moon on the emergence of Atiku as the standard bearer of the major opposition party in the country?
The answer may not be far-fetched. Atiku is seen as more accommodating, detribalized (he even has an Igbo wife) and a better politician. Again, given the unmitigated disaster the Buhari Government has turned out to be, anyone, just anyone, can do at the moment, so long as Buhari does not return to Aso Rock. Indeed, this feeling is shared by a generality of Nigerians who have at one point or the other brutally come under the harsh effects of the Buhari Government.
The Benue man, for instance, would not want Buhari back as that would mean the continued massacring of their people by the sacred cows called Fulani herdsmen. So would people in states where similar massacres took place under Buhari’s watch. The Igbo Nation would not want him back so that he would not continue suffocating them through seemingly punitive policies; a perception that was virtually vindicated by Buhari himself when he told those who gave him five percent votes not to expect to get the same amount of favours as those who gave him ninety-five percent.
Indeed, virtually every Nigerian, except, perhaps Buhari’s people and those directly benefitting from him, wants a change; a real change different from the one promised and given by APC nearly four years ago. Thus anyone apart from Buhari who comes up to challenge him will likely be seen as a messiah of sorts. That is the perception of Atiku at this moment by most Nigerians who have already begun to campaign for him everywhere, including on the social media.
Atiku beat eleven other heavyweights in PDP to emerge the winner of the PDP primary election. He not only won, he won convincingly in a process adjudged by all as the best example of how an election should be in a democratic setting. The process was so flawless and transparent that no loser uttered a whimper of protest. Rather than do that, they all came together to declare support for Atiku and to work for his victory in the general elections next year. Compared to what played out in the primary election of the ruling All Progressives Congress, the latter was nothing short of a sham as no one was allowed to challenge Buhari.
But in the immediate aftermath of Atiku’s victory have come permutations as to whom he picks as running mate or from which zone he does that.
On this issue, Nigerians seem divided. While some believe the ”much maligned” Southeast should produce the next Vice President (assuming Buhari is defeated), others believe it should be the West. Both divides have their reasons.
Those who argue that it is the turn of the Southeast hinge their argument on the perceived marginalization of the zone, especially in the present dispensation where they have nothing tangible. The current Vice President is from the West, while the Secretary to the Government of the Federation is from the North. The Senate President is from Kwara, a state that is hard to classify either under the North or the West. The Speaker of the House of Representatives is from the North. Of all the major service chiefs, none is from the Southeast. The plum ministerial positions did not go the way of the Southeast either. While none came the way of the Southeast, a man from the West, Fashola, is sitting on three of the most plum positions.
He is Minister of Power, Works and Housing. Just one man from one zone!
Thus, now that a light appears to shine at the end of the tunnel, the protagonists of something big coming to the Southeast Zone are saying it loud and clear that the second most powerful political position which is supposedly the Vice President (note the word, ”supposedly”. I shall come back to this later), should be given to the Southeast.
And the majority view is that when it comes to the Southeast, the man to be chosen should be none other than the former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi. Indeed, before the last presidential primary of the PDP, it was rumoured that both Bukola Saraki and Atiku had held closed door meetings with Obi and the import was that they met with him to explore the possibility of Obi being their running mate. Such is the high regard many Nigerians have for Obi who led in an opinion poll conducted by a national television on who Nigerians want as Atiku’s running mate.
However, there is a school of thought that fears that should Atiku choose a running mate from the Southeast, regardless of the candidate, the PDP’s electoral fortunes in the West may suffer. This argument is predicated on the belief that the Southeast will always vote against Buhari as they did last time even when they had no plum positions to look forward to.
This school of thought believes also that if the West which currently has the Vice President, does not retain it under PDP, they may well decide to remain with APC in order to retain the seat.
Now, the proponents of this argument believe, the PDP losing the West will already make the Atiku presidency dead on arrival. Thus, they argue, why shouldn’t Atiku pick his running mate from the West to nullify Buhari’s and APC’s strength there? By doing that, chances are that the PDP will have the lion’s share of votes there, being that Nigerians acknowledge that Buhari’s four years have been anything but encouraging. Therefore, with the votes expected to come from the West, Southeast, South South, Middle Belt and the ones to be shared in the core North between APC and PDP, since Atiku is also from the North, victory will be guaranteed for Atiku. This, no doubt, is a very strong argument.
When it is considered that the major aim of the anti-Buhari people is for him to go, one may be inclined to opt for any kind of sacrifice that will really see him leave office, especially when it is very likely that the Southeast will again not vote for Buhari, regardless of what positions they may be promised by PDP should they win.
Of what use, indeed, is a Vice President of Southeast extraction under PDP if Buhari wins again and continues to malign the Southeast? This is the question which those with the above realistic view are posing.
And remember that I earlier described the position of Vice President as ”supposedly” being the second most powerful political position in Nigeria. It is ”supposedly” so because a Vice President, just like a Deputy Governor, is as strong or as effective as the President wants him to be. Thus if the Vice President is rendered redundant, the position will be as useless as a person holding a ten Naira note in a badly inflated economy.
In that scenario, a zone that enjoys a huge federal presence by way of infrastructural development will be far better than the zone having an ineffective Vice President. This is the conundrum facing the proponents of Southeast-for-VP.
For me, I would first and foremost go for any arrangement that will make us see the last of Buhari. If he could treat us the way he did in his first tenure and openly say he would favour zones that gave him more votes above those who did not, only God knows what he would do to us if he returned, knowing that we will not vote for him again.
This is why I have come to the realistic conclusion that if conceding the Vice President slot to the West will make Atiku win, let the West have it. Atiku has already promised to allow the restructuring of the country which is what all neutral Nigerians want. Indeed, a restructured Nigeria will allow the industrious Igbo Nation to develop faster and better than she has ever done since she will do so at her own pace under favourable and equal conditions with the rest of the country.
With the West having the Vice President, we can still be given the position of SGF which can even be more powerful depending on the relationship between the holder and the President. We can also have more powerful ministerial positions than we have now. But the beauty of it all is that the country will have been restructured enough to give fillip to our creative spark as a people, and this, to me, is more and better than other positions we may have had.
But if it turns out that the West won’t mind our having the Vice President slot, all well and good; as long as we also have the country restructured; for, after all, even when we had our people occupying sensitive positions under Jonathan, our lot as Ndigbo did not witness much improvement. It was almost as if we were given an empty bottle of coke to play with after some others had drunk the content.
In the final analysis, the hard reality is for us to be given a level playing ground with the rest of the country to exist and develop at our own pace. That way, our failure will be our own making, just as our success, and no one will point accusing fingers at anyone anywhere. I’m just ATIKUlating.