Did you know Ifeanyi Okowa is running for president in 2023? Well, yes, he is. I was surprised when I learnt the governor of Delta state had been putting coal in the fire in preparations for his presidential bid. 2023 elections will come with thunderbolts and whammies.
Okowa could be the dark horse of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He does not come off as someone with an expansive courage to dip into the turbulence of Nigeria’s presidency. But we are in a time of shockers – the unexpected should be expected.
The presidential hopeful on the PDP side who has been on everyone’s lips is Atiku Abubakar. Atiku has been a recurring feature in PDP’s presidential contest. And he has declared his intention to run for the presidency in 2023 – a fourth time.
Another politician in the PDP who is speculated to be nursing an ambition for the presidency is Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers state. Going by emerging information, we have Atiku, Okowa, and Wike as three PDP presidential hopefuls.
Okowa, I am told, is the preferred of PDP leaders from the north. An influential leader of the party told me former President Goodluck Jonathan is also backing Okowa. He said northern elders and Islamic leaders are predisposed to the choice of Okowa over his antecedents.
‘’Okowa has good records for national politics. He is favoured by northern leaders in the PDP because he is seen as someone who can keep the country together. He is not known for making ethnic or religiously charged comments or taking actions that will prejudice national unity. He is considered detribalised,’’ the PDP leader said.
Another PDP leader told me a private meeting was held where leaders of the party cast their lots for Okowa.
‘’Most PDP governors are behind Okowa. We believe power should go to the south for the sake of equity. And from the south, PDP needs a non-polarising figure as candidate,’’ he said.
Jonathan Supporting Okowa?
Jonathan backing Okowa for president in 2023 does not come much as an oddity. The only surprise is that Jonathan himself has been rumoured to be angling for a return in 2023. But Okowa has been a longstanding ally of Jonathan. He is perhaps among the last of the former president’s ‘’Mohicans’’.
The Delta governor is said to have gone through the mills of public administration. He started from the basic wrung and rose to become governor. He was secretary to the Ika Local Government and then chairman of the Ika North-East Local Government Council from 1991 to 1993. He was elected senator in 2011; governor in 2015 and reelected in 2019.
Jonathan supporting Okowa implies the south-south where the former president wields influence will swing to the side of the governor. Where does this leave Wike? Well, Wike is said to be unelectable. He is considered as brash, uncouth and non-cosmopolitan. He is regarded as a polarising figure whose candidature will spur the revulsion of the north.
Wike has been too abrasive on national matters. His comments and actions have been divisive and downright inflammatory.
As I said in the column, ‘The north will determine Nigeria’s next president’; in Nigeria’s politics, the north is indispensable – and it has always been. One of the reasons is the majority vote which the north confidently wields.
The north-west, for instance, has the highest number of registered voters – over 19 million. Kano, Kaduna and Katsina are reputed to have the highest number of registered voters. Also, the north has maintained the voting lead in every election over the years.
The reason for the north’s obvious advantage is not only because of its robust population, but also because the citizens are more attuned to national politics than those down south. The average northern Nigerian will not mind leaving his business to join a long chain of people seeking to register for the permanent voter card. He will not mind standing in the rain or in the sun all day to cast his vote. And citizens up north vote collectively as a bloc and do not dilly-dally about their choices. They are either for or against you. They do not quiver or vacillate.
Wike has cut a dissentious image of himself as an enemy of the north, and even the south-east and south-west. And he has made himself very unelectable in national politics.
Atiku on the other hand remains a viable contender for the PDP ticket. He has the financial muscle and network to pull a blitzkrieg at the presidential primaries. But the national mood of central power orbiting to the south and the predisposition of political leaders in the PDP to this idea are a mortal challenge to his quest. I believe he knows this and putting together an armada.
But can Okowa give Atiku a good run for it?
By Fredrick Nwabufo; Nwabufo aka Mr OneNigeria is a writer and journalist.