BREAKING: Wike, Okowa face panel today, camps fight over Atiku’s VP slot
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party will on Thursday (today) screen nominees for the vice-presidential position.
A chieftain of the party, who confided in one of our correspondents on Wednesday, said contrary to reports, three candidates were shortlisted for the position, not one as reported by some newspapers (not The PUNCH).
According to him, those shortlisted include Delta State Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa; his Rivers State counterpart, Nyesom Wike and the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel.
This came to the fore on Wednesday as supporters of Okowa and Wike disagreed over the party’s VP slot.
There were reports on Wednesday that a committee headed by the PDP Deputy Chairman, Ambassador Umaru Damagun, had on Tuesday nominated Wike as the running mate of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar when 13 out of the 17 members voted in favour of the Rivers State governor.
When contacted on Wednesday, the PDP spokesman, Debo Ologunagba, told The PUNCH that the nomination of Wike remained a rumour.
He stated, “The party is going through its processes. When it comes in a name, it will be announced. We don’t rely on rumour, we don’t work on that, in the next couple of hours or probably just before the expiration of the time, we will come out with a position and the name will be announced.”
But a member of the PDP advisory committee disclosed to one of our correspondents on Wednesday that three names were recommended by the panel.
According to the source, the three aspirants who were recommended would face the screening committee of the party before the party’s final decision would be made known to the public.
The source said, “The matter is not in the hands of Atiku yet, When the committee members are done with their job, they will report back to the leadership of the party.
“That committee recommended three people, not just one as is currently being speculated in the media.”
But according to the Coalition of South-South and South-East Youth Forum, Okowa remains the best man for vice-presidential slot.
The Coordinator of the group, Mr Eziwomano Ighoegwu, in an interview with The PUNCH, stated, “Governor Okowa is a man with proven records that can deliver peace and unity to Nigerians, adding that his good work of transforming the state and ensuring peaceful co-existence among indigenes and non-indigenes of the state, can be attested to.
“The decision of endorsing Okowa is to ensure that Atiku has a running mate who would support him in rescuing the country from the insecurity and social vices that have hit Nigeria under the Buhari–led administration.”
On their part, the Executive Assistant to the Governor on Communication, Mr Fred Oghenesivbe, and the Chairman of Warri South Local Government Area, Dr Tidi Michael, said Atiku needed a trustworthy, incorruptible, competent, wise, good listener, intelligent and experienced politician to be by his side as Vice President.
A top government official and chieftain of the party, who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, said Okowa had the population of Christians on his side.
“When you talk of national structures, acceptability, give it to Okowa. The relationship between Okowa, CAN and PFN is very cordial compared to Wike.
“He can woo the Christian community for Atiku. He does not talk too much but thinks faster and his role in national assignments over the years gives him an edge over Wike.
“In terms of voters, there is not much difference between Delta and Rivers’ votes, so it is not an edge for Wike over Okowa. We are talking of acceptability among the six geopolitical zones,” he said
The Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, said the PDP would unveil Atiku’s running mate on Thursday, adding that the report on Wike’s nomination was a rumour.
Also, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mr Olisa Ifeajika, stated, “It is the party and the candidate that pick VP. It is not a contest or race. Nobody buys a form for it rather the party and the candidate take decision who to pick based on good performance.”
But a PDP and former Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Ogbonna Nwuke, said picking Governor Wike as vice presidential running mate would be the right choice.
Nwuke, in an interview with The PUNCH, said Atiku and Wike would make a good pair, as they both had political structures and leadership acumen.
He said, “If we were to look at what transpired during the PDP presidential primaries, we will all agree that Wike ran a strong race for a newcomer.
“Therefore, if Wike and Atiku’s political structures are brought together, it will be in the best interest of the PDP. We are happy that a great majority of people in the party believe that Wike indeed has what it takes to be the running mate to Atiku.
“We are aware a committee has been constituted and a final report will come and we are very hopeful.”
On his part, another party chieftain and Chairman of the Ikwerre Local Government Area, Samuel Nwanosike, said the choice of Wike would be good for the party.
He said Kano, Lagos and Rivers are three important states anyone wishing to pilot the affairs of the country must win.
Nwanosike stated, “You must win Kano, Lagos and Rivers. If you look at our sister party, the APC that has brought us the worst state of insecurity and destruction of lives and property as well as the destruction of our resources because of their inability to understand the Nigerian nation and lack of capacity to deliver the dividends of democracy, you will see that the candidate they choose has a hold on Kano because of his relationship with the Governor, Ganduje.
“Because of that relationship, you can take it to the bank that the APC will win the Kano votes.
“In Lagos, you don’t need to be told that Tinubu has a stronghold there. So, the only state left is Rivers State. So if the PDP didn’t take this decision, the answer is what you and I know,” he stated.
Efforts to reach Mr Kelvin Ebiri, the Special Assistant on Media to Governor Wike, proved abortive as his mobile telephone was not connecting as of the time of filing this report.
In a related development, the PDP NWC led by its Chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, on Wednesday received the report of the advisory committee.
The NWC was handed the report on Wednesday during a meeting with the Vice-President Advisory Committee in Abuja.
It was learnt that the party had presented the report to a committee headed by a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi, who would screen the three nominated candidates at the party’s headquarters on Thursday (today).
Meanwhile, Wike on Wednesday said he would not leave the PDP, saying a viral video suggesting that he was threatening to defect to the APC was manipulated.
Wike in a statement issued by his media aide, Kelvin Ebiri, on Wednesday night said the video being circulated was intended to mislead members of the public.
Ebiri said the video was an excerpt of an old interview the governor granted a popular television station while reacting to the defection of the Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, from the PDP to the APC.
He said the ‘manipulated video’ which was now being circulated as if it was new was the handiwork of unscrupulous persons and should be disregarded.
The statement read, “Our attention has been drawn to a manipulated video circulating on social media, purporting that the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, intends to defect from the Peoples Democratic Party.
“It will be recalled that in June 2021, Governor Wike was interviewed on Arise Television, following the defection of Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, from the PDP to the All Progressives Congress.
“During the interview, Governor Wike while reacting to the reason given by Ebonyi State governor for his defection, dismissed it as untenable.
“The excerpt of the interview in circulation has been deliberately manipulated by some desperate and unscrupulous persons with obnoxious agenda.
“The intent of the video being circulated is intended to mislead the unsuspecting public, particularly members of the PDP.
“We, hereby urge the public to disregard the manipulated video.
“Governor Wike has repeatedly maintained that he will never under any circumstances defect from the PDP, which has offered him the platform to excel in his political career.
“We urge the public to ignore the distorted video. Those behind it are desperately wicked and intend to mislead the public. Governor Wike remains a faithful, committed member of the PDP and will never leave it for cancerous APC.”
Muslim-Muslim ticket controversy
The All Progressives Congress was still battling the Muslim-Muslim ticket controversy that has surrounded the choice of vice president slot for the 2023 presidential election.
Groups including the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Catholic Society of Nigeria had on Tuesday warned political parties against fielding a Muslim-Muslim ticket in the 2023 presidential election.
CAN, in an open letter addressed to all political parties on Tuesday, said it would take a Muslim-Muslim ticket as a declaration of war and would mobilise against political parties that adopted it.
However, some APC chieftains remained committed to the Muslim-Muslim ticket and expected the party’s presidential candidate to run with a Muslim deputy in order to get votes from the north. Northern APC governors had supported Tinubu to clinch the ticket of the party at a presidential primary held in Abuja recently.
The Senate whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, in an interview with journalists in Abuja on Wednesday, lent his support to the Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Uzor-Kalu told Christians that there was nothing to fear as Tinubu’s wife is a pastor who would always have the interest of the people at heart.
He said, “If I am in Ahmed Bola Tinubu’s position, the wife is a pastor in a Pentecostal church. I will go for a Muslim-Muslim ticket. The most important thing is for the party to win. We should stop this rubbish about religion.”
He added that it wasn’t about a person’s religion but the person’s conscience and more importantly for the party to win.
He added, “But you can also play Christian-Christian tickets depending on the scenario. Because if we don’t play the Muslim- Muslim ticket, we are in trouble, and it will be difficult to win the election because the only thing left for Ahmed Tinubu today is to play a Muslim-Muslim ticket.”
Bello wants merit
On his part, the Kogi State Governor and presidential aspirant in the just concluded presidential primary of the APC, Yahaya Bello, said the party must prioritise merit while choosing Tinubu’s running mate.
Bello said this in an interview with State House correspondents after a meeting with the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd,) in Abuja.
He stated, “Whether Muslim-Muslim ticket or a Christian, whether from North-East or from wherever, I am confident that the party is going to come up with someone who will assist in the already victory that we are envisaging ahead of us. So whether you’re Muslim or Christian, we’re all Nigerians.”
The immediate past chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress in Lagos State, Chief Henry Ajomale, hinted that Tinubu’s running mate would be announced on Thursday night.
In an interview with The PUNCH, he stated, “By tomorrow night (Thursday), the party will announce the VP candidate because we have to deliver the name to INEC latest by Friday,” he said.
He warned those distracting the party with the noise of Muslim-Muslim to redirect their energies into picking a competent candidate to complement Tinubu’s presidency.
He said, “If you ask me, I don’t think Atiku can pull this country out of its present mess. To put food on someone’s table doesn’t require you to be a Christian or Muslim. I am a Christian myself. The major problem really is who will give Asiwaju the votes. We have no problem about his competence because we know he can deliver and do what he promised the electorate.”
The Chairman of North-East APC Youth Stakeholders Forum, Haruna Sardauna, also confirmed to one of our of correspondents that the party had yet to take a final decision on the issue.
He stated, “I am certain by the midnight of tomorrow (Thursday), they will announce Tinubu’s running mate.”
According to him, If the party decides to run with the Muslim-Muslim ticket, which many of the governors have anticipated, two people have been shortlisted – Kashim Shettima and Mai Mala Buni.
When our correspondent reached out to Tinubu’s campaign director, Bayo Onanuga, he confirmed that the discussion on the running mate was still ongoing.
“I am just arriving in Abuja this afternoon. I really don’t have much information on that now. Let’s just wait till tomorrow,” he said.
As of the time of filing this report, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka, too could not be reached for comment.
The Spokesperson for the Christian Association of Nigeria, Adebayo Oladeji, insisted that the choice of the ruling APC to opt for a Muslim-Muslim ticket would incite violence in the country.
He said the association would act accordingly should the APC go ahead with the ticket.
Oladeji said , ‘’We will all see it together, if anyone thinks they can Islamise this country or they are going to persecute Christians, it is a lie. We have stated our mind that it is an invitation to chaos , we know they are going to do it, let them go ahead and we are going to take the right actions at the appropriate time.”
A political scientist, Dr Adekunle Akinola, said the emergence of Tinubu, who is a South-West Muslim, had put the party at a tight corner.
Akinola, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “Since 1999 till date, this has brought a new phenomenon into our political system in which people are frowning at a Muslim-Muslim ticket, this is because Nigeria is a highly religious country but does that enhance good governance? No. We need to question whether Buhari having Osinbanjo helped the incumbent to deliver on his campaign promises?
“But the politicians themselves introduced religion and ethnicity into our political system to get votes, now it is working against them. It has made it difficult for Tinubu to pick a Northern Muslim. But politically speaking, Tinubu, based on the way they view religion in the North, a Northern Christian may work against him. Atiku will sweep the votes of Muslims in the North. It is a dicey situation for the APC.”
On his part, the Head of Department, Political Department, Obafemi Awolowo University, Osun State, Dr Olugbenga Afolabi, said, ‘‘There are several dynamics with same-religion ticket. It is more balanced to have a mixed ticket. It will sure we have a balanced team in the office.”
A lecturer, Anchor University, Ayobo, Lagos, Prof. Olusola Oyero, explained, ‘‘I believe that if the APC is going for a Muslim-Muslim ticket, they should be able to convince people that Christians will not be short-changed.”