By Law Mefor
“Clark and the South and the Middle Belt forum members should be reminded that some of them were the ones that prevailed on Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to run in 2015 when it was the turn of the north and brought this zoning crisis upon Nigeria…”
One read with consternation the embarrassing claim by elder statesman Chief Edwin Clark and some Southern and Middle Belt leaders that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta state betrayed the South by accepting to be the running mate to Atiku Abubakar, the presidential flag-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Chief Clark and the South and Middle Belt forum did not even spare a word for Nyeson Wike, the Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi committee, and the Southern delegates to the PDP primary. These are the people and groups who worked very hard to ensure that the PDP ticket was thrown open and not zoned to the Southeast. Talk of the chicken that left the knife that slaughtered it to make face to the cooking pot! This claim is a misguided missile and distracting, 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 as an agenda setter 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 to do so to draw public attention and sympathy. But engaging the process, especially the political parties, was the most important political action to undertake. 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.
As a perfect fall guy indeed, 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 was not a member of the Ugwuanyi Committee that zoned PDP chairmanship to the north without pairing it with the PDP presidential ticket; Okowa was not a member of the Ortom Committee which voted to throw the PDP presidential ticket open; Okowa was not a delegate to the PDP presidential primary that chose Atiku. Okowa only chose 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, also playing the victim and blame game, refused to attend but continued to play their divisive politics. Again, this group did not try calling such political actors to order.
There is an Igbo adage, which when translated, means that he who does not know where the rain started beating him will not know where he took 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 Governor 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 20 out of 37, 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, Southern 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 Ugwuanyi or Ortom committee and this South and Middle Belt group or Chief Edwin Clark has not called them out for betraying the Southern Nigeria cause.
Furthermore, there was a major tool the Southern 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, Southern 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 Southern Nigeria’s strategic agenda. They also failed to arrive at who would be their preferred candidate. Contrasted, the North, despite already enjoying a numerical advantage, deferred to Atiku Abubakar and has some level of elite consensus built around him as evidenced by Aminu Waziri Tambuwal stepping down for Atiku. That is how a region pursues its strategic interest.
Governor Aminu Tambuwal, despite presenting as a front-runner, 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 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 Governor 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 emotional blackmail, a clear case of misplaced aggression.
Southern Nigeria and the Middle Belt should recall that Atiku Abubakar offered to step down in a memo to the Ortom committee if it would be agreed that zoning of the PDP Presidential ticket to the south would 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. Chief Edwin Clark and the South and Middle Belt forum should have taken up this offer/challenge if they were 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 and that would have prevented Peter Obi from leaving the PDP.
Also, recall that an aspirant like Wike visited Anambra state and told the delegates that a vote for Peter Obi was a waste since he cannot win. This means that zoning to the South meant zoning to Wike whose personal ambition had strangely become synonymous with the South’s political interest.
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.
It is also a notorious fact that Wike also spiritedly fought for the VP slot and again lost. Will Clark be asking Wike to step down if he had succeeded in clinching the VP slot? Again, since the South voted that the PDP ticket be thrown open despite the dominance enjoyed by the north, which gave them the ticket, is Clark saying Atiku should be forced to nominate a Northern running mate? If this position is what the elder statesman meant, it is incurably defective as it inadvertently clears the way for the APC to retain power. Clark and the South and the Middle Belt forum members should be reminded that some of them were the ones that prevailed on Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to run in 2015 when it was the turn of the north and brought this zoning crisis upon Nigeria.
· Dr Law Mefor is a senior fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought. He can be reached via 09056424375 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @DrLawMefor