Election campaigns like they say is a marathon, and currently, the Atikulate agenda is enjoying a huge momentum, a surge that is closely linked to the announcement of former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi, as his running mate.
Surprisingly, the choice of Obi is currently generating an unfriendly reaction from the South-East governors who lamented the “lack of consultation” in picking Obi as the running mate by Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential candidate for the 2019 elections.
While the debate continues on the legitimacy of consultation, Obi, being a former governor understands how jealously the governors guard the concept of consultation, and erring would be viewed as a slight that must be dealt with.
While Peter Obi is unarguably popular across the country, the powers of governors, especially during the general election, is tremendous and specifically in the area of mobilization of voters.
It’s no doubt that the South-East region is in the hands of the opposition, and also, the region has strategically positioned itself for the Vice President slot, as the region abstained from the struggle for the chairmanship position of the PDP during the 2017 convention which the South-West and South-South slogged out.
The surge in the popularity of Peter Obi started on October 1, 2016, after a lecture he delivered at the Platform, an annual programme organized by the Covenant Christian Center in Lagos.
At the programme, the former governor spoke about financial management and was quoted as saying that he had “one watch in eight years and as a governor, I was flying economy class.” The statement which, to many, was self-adulation, caused a trend on the social media while a cross-section of Nigerians began to take him seriously because of his prudence and financial management while he was a governor.
Calculations behind the choice of Obi
Shortly after the emergence of Atiku Abubakar as the Presidential Candidate of the PDP, all sorts of names were mentioned and flooded social media as a possible running mate. The speculation also followed the usual regional alignment, with Atiku being from the North (North-East) and a Muslim, the choice of running was restricted to the South and Christian to balance the equation.
The South-South was also left out of the VP slot with the party chairmanship under Uche Secondus from River State. This left the South-East and the South-West for consideration and with the knowledge that the incumbent Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo, is from the South-West, it was only natural for Atiku to settle for a South Eastener to balance the equation.
It is also noteworthy to state that since the return of democracy, the South-East has not produced either a President or a Vice President and the opposition also needed someone to match Osibanjo both in popularity and as a technocrat.
The political map of the country is pretty clear as President Muhammadu Buhari enjoys a phenomenal cultlike followership in the North-East and North-West. His alliance with Bola Tinubu, coupled with Osibanjo’s South-West affiliation also ensures he has a respectable following in the region.
The South-East and South-South remain the fortress of the opposition party, leaving the North-Central as the battleground or simply put, the dining table that welcomes everybody.
Hurdles against Peter Obi
The choice of Obi is expected to fire up the base and, given his background in the financial sector, he fits into the message of economic revival that the Atiku/Obi campaign will be about.
However, despite his pedigree, there are political hurdles that the governors alone can fix. If Atiku or anyone should contest against Buhari, he will need to win the South-East even with a very little campaign.
Poor voting number
In 2011, then President Goodluck Jonathan won Anambra State with over 1.1 million votes, but in 2015, the total votes he got from the South-East geopolitical zone was less than 2.5 million with Abia State dropping from 1.1 million to less than 400,000.
The noticeable decline also continued during the Anambra State governorship election, the home state of Obi. During the November 2017 election, the total valid votes were 422, 314; and if this is juxtaposed with the 298, 058 votes cast in the Katsina North Senatorial district, then popularity has to be translated to mobilization.
This translates that if the 2015 election projection is used as the yardstick, Kano State could cancel out three states in the South-East. Whilst Atiku may not suffer the hammering handed out to Jonathan, voters’ apathy in the zone would rubbish all his efforts in the north.
This is where the governors are most important as they are the deciding factors in this area and bringing out people to vote is a trump card they are banking on. Most of them, apart from Willie Obiano of Anambra State might not have any issue with Obi, but not consulting them could cost the campaign greatly if measures are not taken to mend fences immediately.
Relationship with former godson
While it will be difficult for any governor from the South-East to campaign for President Buhari, the full-blown war between Obiano and estranged godfather, Obi, could also affect the fortunes of Atiku.
Although many pundits are arguing that nationalism would triumph over personal ego, the emergence of Obi as Vice President could be viewed by Obiano as “empowering your enemy”; the man many believe he has been trying to send into political exile.
Managing this would be critical, and it’s going to be dicey. In 2015, Obiano supported the PDP, an alignment that allowed the PDP to sweep all the House of Representatives seats in the state leaving the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) with only one House of Representative member and one Senator.
This is an occurrence the governor would want to avoid at all costs.
Kingsley Moghalu and Oby Ezekwesili
These two presidential candidates are the major individuals that are tapping into the demography that the Atiku/Obi camp desperately need.
While the impact of this two would be minimal, but in an election that would be keenly contested, every vote means a lot.