. . . Bishops Ezeokafor, Okoye, Ohaneze, Stakeholders Hail Obi's VP Nomination
The nomination of the immediate past Anambra State Governor, Mr Peter Obi, as the running mate of the People's Democratic Party, PDP's presidential candidate, Ahaji Atiku Abubakar, has thrown Nigeria into a buzz. From all over the country, Nigerians seemed to rise as one to hail the development, a clear indication of Obi's popularity and general acceptance in the country, writes Jude Atupulazi with additional reports from Ikeugonna Eleke, Abuchi Onwumelu and Chioma Ndife.
Last week, Abubakar, a few days after emerging as PDP's presidential standard bearer for the 2019 general elections, had announced Mr Obi as his running mate. Although the choice of Obi did not come as a complete surprise to many, it was nevertheless widely cheered, both in public and in online media where it trended for days.
The seeming general acceptance of Obi by Nigerians, many believe, is borne out of his perception as a progressive minded politician with high integrity who has refused to be tainted by the country's negative brand of politicking.
Indeed, the history of recent political events in the country cannot be written without a copious mention of Obi's contribution. The first man to unseat a serving governor, he caused the introduction of staggered elections in Nigeria after he successfully sought for and obtained an interpretation of his tenure with the nation's apex court ruling that his tenure began from when he swore to the oath of office. This followed the conduct of a governorship election in Anambra State by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in 2007, barely a year after Obi recovered his stolen mandate in the courts. That election ushered in Senator Andy Uba whose stay in power however lasted only 17 days following Obi's successful interpretation of his tenure.
Since then some other aggrieved candidates who reclaimed their mandates in court began their tenures on the day they took over from those that usurped their positions, rather than completing what remained of the tenures of the usurpers at the point they were sacked by the courts.
Before then Obi had made history as the only governor to upturn an impeachment. Obi, it will be recalled, was illegally impeached by the then House of Assembly led by Hon Mike Balonwu, over ridiculous charges. But he challenged it and returned to take over from his then deputy, Dame Virgy Etiaba.
Despite leaving office and leaving his state richer than he met it, Obi had remained in the national consciousness by his contributions on national issues as a resource person and through his donation of money to schools across the country. This is against the general norm where former governors either disappear from the public radar or seek other political offices.
It was clear that from the way Obi had been comporting himself, and the way Nigerians regarded him as Nigeria's Mr Clean, he was destined for higher heights. He got to that height when Abubakar nominated him as his running mate. It was a nomination many applauded.
Despite what initially seemed as an opposition of his nomination by the Southeast PDP governors, a development that attracted the wrath of Nigerians against the governors, the issue was finally resolved, with the chairman of Southeast Governors' Forum, Gov Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, being appointed to head Abuakar's campaign organization in the Southeast. The governors had complained that Abubakar did not consult them before nominating Obi as his running mate.
Since then, a cross-section of Nigerians had been reacting to Obi's nomination, as well as to the initial stand of the PDP governors in the Southeast.
In his reaction, the Catholic bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, described the emergence of Obi as the running mate of the presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as a blessing to all Nigerians, even as he urged Igbo political leaders to shun personal interest and support the Atiku/Obi project.
Bishop Ezeokafor who stated this at St Gabriel's Catholic Church, Ifitedunu, in Dunukofia Local Government Area of Anambra State while reacting to the state of the nation, thanked the former Vice President for choosing Obi, noting that with Atiku as a politician and Obi as a great manager of resources at the helm of affairs, Nigeria's economic and administrative challenges would be adequately tackled.
The Catholic prelate noted that he had no doubt that the duo, if given the opportunity to lead the country, would deliver. He emphasized that the Atiku/Obi combination would put smiles on the faces of the masses, adding that he was more than convinced that the two people he described as job creators and renowned human capital developers would place Nigeria on the path of progress.
'I think these two great men will salvage this country. Not because Peter is from Anambra State, but because of his outstanding performance in governance. I was in Sokoto sometime in September this year; you need to see how people were talking about Obi's visit to various northern schools. He offered educational materials and monetary support to every school he visited.
This is even as the bishop maintained his stance on restructuring, noting that restructuring remained the only way through which every part of the country would be proud of what they had as a race.
According to Bishop Ezeokafor, if Obi could replicate what he did in Anambra State as a governor for Nigeria, Nigerians would be better for it. He said that the Church would continue to pray for Atiku and Obi.
In his reaction, the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka Catholic Diocese, Most Rev. Jonas Benson Okoye, declared support for the choice of Obi as the running mate of the PDP Presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 general elections. He described Atiku's choice of Obi as key to the effective repositioning of Nigeria.
Bishop Okoye, while declaring support for Obi, said Obi's achievements as the Governor of Anambra State showed that Obi had the capacity, intellectual acumen and administrative foresight to assist in the recreation of a Nigeria that would offer her citizens equal opportunities to develop their potentials. He expressed belief that the Atiku/Obi emergence would be key to the repositioning of Nigeria to give every zone a sense of belonging.
The Catholic prelate, who had consistently advocated for good governance, said that his major concern was not just for the welfare of Ndigbo but the welfare of the general public. He said that the Igbo agenda being propagated by the people in the Eastern part of the nation was creating unnecessary sentiments for Obi, saying that Obi's personality qualified him, not his tribe.
In a similar vein, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohaneze, has thrown its lot behind Obi, saying the group would not abandon its own.
The president of Ohaneze, Anambra State Chapter, Ichie Damian Okeke-Ogene, said that they would not abandon the former governor of Anambra State who was appointed by the People's Democratic Party presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as his running mate.
Chief Ogene who declared the organization's total support for the choice of Obi, in a press briefing in Awka, said it was a right choice as Obi was a worthy son of Igbo land and had global acceptance.
Ichie Okeke Ogene noted that the organization believed in restructuring of the country to give every zone a sense of belonging, having made its stand clear at the Southeast Summit held on 21st May 2018 at Ekwueme Square, tagged "EKWUEME SQUARE DECLARATION".
He expressed optimism that the 'so-called dissenting voices on the choice of Mr Obi will definitely work with entire Ndigbo to achieve the set agenda.
The Ohaneze chieftain, who maintained that the organization was not partisan, advised Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the PDP to ensure that other key political positions were evenly distributed across the political zones of the country to carry everyone along., even as he thanked Nigerians for voicing their acceptance of the joint ticket.
For his part, a frontline politician and former guber aspirant on the platform of Progressive People's Alliance, PPA, who is now in PDP, Mr. Godwin Ezeemo, called on those condemning the nomination of Obi as Atiku Abubakar's running mate in the forthcoming presidential election to desist from fanning the embers of disunity in Igbo land.
Ezeemo stated this in an interview with journalists within the week in his country home, Umuchu in Aguata Local Government Area of the state.
He said that anybody from Igbo extraction who condemned Obi's choice was simply hurting the Igbos and urged such persons to stop such mistake which he said was nothing short of political gains.
Ezeemo said that every Igbo man should place the interest of the Igbo Nation above self and fight as a body with one voice no matter who was chosen.
'I was pained to read through the pages of national dailies that some people from the Southeast Geo-Political Zone were against the nomination of Obi by Abubakar for the upcoming presidential election of 2019.
‘Where is the Igbo love for one another? Can we not sit in our closet to discuss the problems? Why washing our assumed dirty clothes in public? No, we must outgrow self ego on issues affecting the generality of Igbos and posterity,' he said.
Ezeemo advised Igbos against toying with any given opportunity, especially given their cries of marginalization.
He noted that Obi was known for his outstanding leadership in governance during his administration and his competence in managing both human and material resources, which he noted, were the prerequisite for such position.
'Obi changed the narrative of governance in Anambra State as a governor and had given quality representation of the state whenever the opportunity presented itself,' Ezeemo said, noting that Obi had a resounding national curriculum that qualified him not only as a Vice President, but a president. He therefore called on those agitating against his choice to eschew all ill feelings for the common good of the lgbo Nation.
For Barr Okoli Akirika, a commissioner in the Obi Administration, Obi's nomination was a consummate choice predicated on soundness of reason, sagacity and in tandem with the expectations of the average Nigerian.
'Bearing in mind, the precedent and pedigree of Mr Peter Obi, without doubt his Excellency has remained the best governor to have attended to the affairs of Anambra State.
'Coming to the stance taken by the Southeast governors, I would say with all due respect, that inasmuch as they are entitled to their views and opinions, their views, I would say, were unwarranted, untenable, and even deluded. In the first instance, it is on record that the governors never personally, jointly or severally sat down with Atiku in the course of the PDP presidential primaries to discuss who should be their vice presidential candidate.
'Otherwise, the issue of who shall be the vice presidential candidate was never put in place, was never canvassed in the course of the primaries. So it becomes worrisome, it becomes infantile, it becomes unwarranted, it becomes untenable, for somebody, a group of persons, who did not make an issue in the course of campaigns, to now turn round to make that particular matter an issue after or at the end of the campaigns.
Obi's nomination was also said to have received a standing ovation during a conference of Anambra State Association in Chicago, USA.
In an opinion poll conducted by Fides in Awka, the people and groups spoken to all supported the choice of Obi, saying that his candidacy was apt and fitted the expectations of members of the party and other Nigerians who wished the country to move forward.
A lawyer, Mr Okwuchuku Orji, said, 'Just see the happiness on people's faces. Who in the Southeast and the Southwest would have been so acceptable? Nobody.'
Barr Orji further expressed happiness for the choice of Obi, adding that his sterling performance while he was governor was the main reason for his being nominated.
Another respondent, Mr Christian Udo, a member of those referred to as Free Readers Association, at Aroma Junction, said no one was better than Peter Obi in terms of what Atiku wanted in his vice president.
'As a governor here in Anambra, he left a big achievement which the present administration is struggling to meet,' he offered.
An uncle of Mr Peter Obi, Chief Hon Sylva Nwobu Alor, while speaking as national president of the People's Advocate of Nigeria, a political interest group, said the Igbo had been clamouring for adequate representation in the governance of Nigeria, but when Atiku magnanimously offered the opportunity to the Igbos by nominating their son, 'a microscopic quantity represented by Governor Umahi rejected the noble offer.'
He wondered what made such people to see themselves as spokespersons of the people of the Southeast, as well as the powers they had to choose who would be the vice presidential candidate of the party.
Some non-political Igbo interest groups also condemned the recent statement by leaders of PDP in the Southeast that they were not consulted by the party's presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, before picking Mr Peter Obi as running mate.
The groups, Igbo Ekunie Initiative and Anambra New Generation Vanguard, in separate press releases, warned Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State; Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; and other leaders of the party to desist from toeing such line.
Anambra New Generation Vanguard in a press release signed by its convener and spokesperson, Hon Chinemerem Oguegbe, and Dr. Nonso Okoye, respectively, lauded Alhaji Abubakar for settling for Obi, while calling on leaders of the PDP in the zone not to spoil the fun of the people of the zone.
Part of the release read, "We the younger generation of the entire Igbo Nation, wish to congratulate Alhaji Atiku Abubakar for finding a young Igbo son worthy to be his running mate in the 2019 presidential elections.
'By this singular act, Atiku Abubakar has once more reiterated his firm belief in One Nigeria where all ethnic groups have same and equal opportunities.''
The group insisted that choosing a running mate from the Southeast was an Igbo affair and not a Southeast PDP affair. It said the PDP Southeast leaders were not in good standing to speak for the entire Igbo Nation. The group therefore said the PDP leaders' call for consultation remained void, while Obi's choice as a running mate stood.
'We identify with Mr Peter Obi, given his tremendous achievements as Governor of Anambra State, his love for the youths and his strive to empower young people through quality education and mentoring programmes since leaving office,' they said.
In their own release signed by its president and secretary, Tochukwu Ezeoke and Lawrence Nwobu, respectively, Igbo Ekunie Initiative stated that the Southeast PDP leaders acted shamefully and in a pedestrian manner when they went to press, questioning the nominaton of Obi on grounds of alleged non-consultation instead of congratulating both Mr Obi and Atiku.
It added that "Their shameful behavior only reinforces the much-peddled stereotype that the Igbo are disunited and often their own worst enemy.''
Fides also gathered that some pro-Biafra groups had also thrown their weight behind Obi's nomination.