About 48 hours to the presidential primary election of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), I was in the Enugu town house of Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and for over an hour we had a hearty discussion on the state of the nation. Among other things, he sought my candid opinion on the best foot forward for the PDP in the march towards the 2019 presidential election in view of the current realities in Nigeria. He also revealed to me that a number of presidential aspirants were seeking his support and a particular one of them had gone as far as offering him the vice presidency slot. He pointedly stated that vice presidency was a privilege that wasn’t a priority for him. His greatest interest is that of the “future relevance and benefit of the South-East within a broad pan-Nigerian frame work of socio-economic development.”
I gave a brief synopsis of those I considered as the top four contenders for the PDP presidential nomination among the dozen contestants. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal had the advantage of age, less liability of a corruption baggage, but his electoral asset, as encapsulated in his vision for a new Nigeria, remained vague some 48 hours to the convention. Going forward then, there wasn’t sufficient time to bring whatever Tambuwal represented to the consciousness of the people in such a manner as to cause the manner of upset required to oust a formidable ruling party candidate as Muhammadu Buhari. In the case of Rabiu Kwankwaso, I opined that he did not appear to have outgrown his Kwankwasiya movement, which I regarded as a minus for an aspirant to the highest office in the land. His seemed a politics of provincial proclivity. For Senate President Saraki, I believed that he stood out in his clarity of message and rich nationalist credentials. However, in a society where primordial ethno-geographic sentiments still run deep, Saraki’s chances may be limited by the politics of ethnic identity.
Lastly, I shared my well-publicised opinion with Ekweremadu that among the leading aspirants from the core North (the North-West and North-East) of Nigeria, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was the most liberal-minded, with a verifiable and impeccable nationalist credential that is particularly needed under the current circumstances in Nigeria, to pull the nation back from the brinks of the precipice it is located at presently. In addition, Atiku has demonstrated, through his chains of successful businesses, a fair understanding of economic matters, equally needed to revive Nigeria’s comatose economy. I reiterated my perception of Atiku as the alternative to Buhari’s sectionalism and clear lack of economic management skills. As expected, Ekweremadu listened with rapt attention as my droplets dripped into his ocean of knowledge, with occasional responses to the points I raised, and acting in a statesmanlike manner, as the second highest office holder in PDP, he didn’t betray to an ‘outsider’ like me, his clear preference.
Following the emergence of Atiku as the presidential flag bearer of the PDP, I, like many others, had hoped that Ekweremadu would emerge as the vice presidential candidate. Equipped with the requisite educational qualification, national exposure, as well as a combination of executive (he has been a local council chairman, chief of staff to a governor, and the secretary to a state government – SSG) and legislative (being a fourth term senator) experience, Ekweremadu would have greatly enhanced the quality of the 2019 Atiku challenge. On the passionate issue of restructuring, Atiku has a soul mate in Ekweremadu, who as the chairman of successive National Assembly constitutional amendment committees since 2007, has made considerable efforts to push the frontiers of the devolution of powers and fiscal federalism through legislation. In a constitutional democracy, the National Assembly is an important factor in achieving the fundamentals of restructuring. As a time-tested legislator, who has occupied the second highest position in the leadership of the Senate of the federal republic, Ekweremadu is equipped with sufficient knowledge of the inner workings of the National Assembly to serve as a buffer between it and the executive, and allow for the easy passage of executive bills that aim to restructure the Nigerian federation in line with Atiku’s campaign promises. With a PhD thesis on fiscal federalism, Ekweremadu comes on board with considerable knowledge to help Atiku navigate the thorny labyrinth on the way to the much talked about true federalism.
Equally, Ekweremadu has managed to emerge as a rallying leader-like figure for Nigerians of South-East origin in a manner never seen since the era of Nnamdi Azikiwe. To emerge a leader among the highly educated and republican people of South-East Nigeria, is to be imbued with leadership qualities of sacrifice for the common good, consensus-building, integrity, a rich character and fidelity to agreements. Most fundamental is the fact that in the face of the unprecedented marginalisation of Nigerians of South-East origin, Ekweremadu has stood firm, even in the face of persecution, while consistently demanding for justice, equity and fairness from the federal government, which further legitimised his organic leadership of the South-East geo-political zone.
As has been a recurring decimal in the arithmetic of political horse-trading in Nigeria, a dark horse almost always usually emerges as running mate to presidential candidates. The nomination of Peter Obi as running mate to Atiku, though an equally good choice, came as a surprise to many, including the political leaders of the South-East. In what may be considered an oversight, Obi’s nomination also came to Ekweremadu as a surprise, as he wasn’t consulted.
Ekweremadu wasn’t a contender for the position of vice president but was only a widely considered option. He was offered the position several times ahead of the presidential nomination but he didn’t allow such personal interests to override his role as a leader who must uphold the tenet of having a level playing ground for all contestants, which eventually led to the peaceful, transparent and acceptable outcome of the PDP presidential primary. This is only consistent with Ekweremadu’s effort since 2015, in keeping the opposition PDP afloat since its loss of power at the centre. It was Ekweremadu who charted the course for PDP’s reinvention as a formidable opposition party, strong enough to be considered a potent challenger to the ruling APC, and beginning with his recommendation for the return of power to the north in 2019 on the platform of the PDP.
Beyond just standing firm in opposition, Ekweremadu also skilfully negotiated the return to PDP of the once heavy weights of the APC, who had initially left the PDP in 2014, in protest against the violation of the zoning arrangement within the party. Chief among these personalities is the man who has now emerged as flag bearer of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar. His stabilising role and amiability equally attracted a considering number of senators from the ruling APC to the PDP, prominent among who was Senate President Bukola Saraki. Therefore, as a leading figure in the party, Ekweremadu should have been consulted like other leaders on the issue of a South-East vice presidential nominee, and his suggestion may as well have been the eminently qualified Obi.
For helping to rebuild the party back to reckoning, Ekweremadu can only be rewarded for his steadfastness with at least a minimal consultation on party affairs, post the presidential primary contest and going forward into the election. However, speculation has become rife about the possibility of his leaving the PDP when the initial membership list of the PDP campaign council was announced. Not only was he not consulted on the plan to constitute the campaign council, his name was also conspicuously missing from the list. If this was equally an oversight, it was one that was carelessly taken too far. Ekweremadu’s full participation in the Atiku/Obi presidential effort will help deliver the South-East en-bloc for the PDP in an election that will perhaps be the keenest race in the political history of Nigeria.
Ekweremadu had a choice in the last three years to ditch the PDP and pitch tent with the ruling APC. Like many other leading figures of the opposition PDP, he has been harassed, intimidated with at least one assassination attempt, yet he remained ramrod straight on the path of his political conviction. In the build up to the PDP presidential primary, Ekweremadu had a choice of firmly extracting commitments for vice presidency and in the process compromise an otherwise transparently acceptable outcome for both the party and the flag bearer but he chose to lead by example, by building a consensus of organic support around the eventual winner. Even now that PDP looks set to give APC a good fight in the 2019 general elections, Ekweremadu still has a choice.
- Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.