By Barnabas Nze
By the time this is published, the vice Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2019 election would have been announced. So, this piece is certainly not to canvass the selection of the Deputy Senate President, Chief Ike Ekweremadu. It is rather a retrospect on the man whose roles in keeping the PDP alive at the most trying time in its history, to a great extent, helped the party to weather the storm of the post 2015 election defeat to emerge the beautiful bride that it is today.
But, first, let me say that the Senate number two man has also benefited a lot from the PDP. He has served as Chief of Staff, Government House in Governor Chimaroke Nnamani administration. He later served as Secretary to State Government (SSG) before heading to the Senate where he has been consecutively elected four times as Senator and thrice as Deputy Senate President.
However, there are also others, who had benefited even far more than Ekweremadu, but turned their backs on the party at the most critical time. I am not talking about those who left the PDP in 2015 over lack of internal democracy and the decision of former President Goodluck Jonathan to run for a second term in 2015, a decision the North saw as an attempt to short-change them.
As the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, rightly remarked recently, the real enemies of the PDP were those who stayed behind to work against the party from the inside in the 2015 election. Let me add to Wike’s diagnosis that the real enemies of the party are also a retinue of people, who benefited heavily from the party as Senate President, Speakers, Ministers, Governors, serving and former Senators and members of the House of Representatives, but dumped it immediately the PDP lost the general elections.
Some left because they are incurable “long throat”, who always want to be where the milk and honey flows, but never ready to rear the cow or farm the bee. Some left because they had skeletons in their cupboards and could not stand the media trial and harassment in a clearly selective “anti-corruption war”. Even some, who have no skeletons know that being an opposition leader is the worst form of corruption and anathema as far as this government is concerned.
Ekweremadu stands out because when it looked as though the PDP was down and out; when it seemed like the end of the road for it; and when it was deserted like an orphan by its teeming fair weather friends and well wishers, Ekweremadu and his comrades- the PDP delegation to the 8th National Assembly pulled a masterstroke at the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly. They did not only become the kingmakers that installed all the presiding officers of the National Assembly, but also ensured that Ekweremadu returned as Deputy Senate President.
Expectedly, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) didn’t take Ekweremadu’s re-emergence lying low, for they well understood the wider implications. One of the APC chieftains that did not hide his feelings and wider implications of that development was the Chief Chris Ngige, who said that it was a bad omen for the APC that a PDP man had become the highest-ranking elected public office holder from the South East.
He said: “The PDP in the South-East will have oxygen to breath from since they now have the highest ranking person in Nigeria coming from the South-East, that disadvantages us and puts us in a difficult position on our aspiration to make the South-East people to join the main stream of Nigerian politics by aligning with the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government.”
Ngige told journalists that Ekweremadu had made the job of the South East APC difficult, but vowed: “You know, there are many ways to kill a rat. You can decide to go and kill it manually, you can go and put it in hot water, and you can use poison – Gammalin. We are back to the drawing table because it poses a problem for us”.
Of course, APC chieftains and Senators took turns bemoan the development, threatening fire and brimstone. In fact, a media reports quoted the President, Muhammadu Buhari, as saying that Ekweremadu’s emergence was unacceptable. The APC spokesperson in Lagos State, Joe Igbokwe, said that the party would stop at nothing to remove the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and Ekweremadu, even if it would require cutting off his their hands from the exalted seats.
But, he had an option- to dump the PDP and defect to the APC. Beside the covert pushes to have him in the folds to take hold of the South East, there were also open overtures. On one occasion, the spokesperson of the Senate Unity Forum, Senator Kabir Marafa, said “The remaining problem is what we do with our Deputy Senate President — my leader and my boss. Let me use the opportunity to call on my leader and my boss, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, to please defect to the APC and that will seal the whole thing and there will never be a problem.”
On his 56th birthday, the Majority Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan even waved the carrot of a possible 2023 presidential ticket at him. While paying tribute to him at plenary, Lawan said: “I will use this opportunity to urge Senator Ike Ekweremadu to see through the mist; this woolly environment and take the right decision. You are an asset. I want to say clearly that you are going to fit in perfectly well. 2023 is here (for you) for the taking”.
Ekweremadu survived an assasnination attempt in November 2015. He was charged to court along with Saraki for alleged forgery of Senate Standing Rule, which they claimed helped him and Saraki to emerge. It was such an idiotic claim, Nigerians knew. They were nevertheless arraigned, even when there was no mention of their names anywhere in the police report. The Federal Government withdrew the case when it became clear it was an effort in futility.
The police stormed his official guest house in Abuja in search of phantom caches of arms, which many saw as a failed attempt to set him up. They also launched attack at him from the Special Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property headed by Chief Okoi Obono-Obla. Not, done, they used the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to come after him when the hostage-taking of himself and Saraki on 24th July 2018 and the siege to the National Assembly for their unlawful refusal did not yield result.
To sum it, Ekweremadu has practically taken the bullet to for the PDP to keep it alive. Apart from his work as the Chairman of the PDP Post-election Review Panel that turned the fortunes of the party around and also recommended the zoning of the presidency to the North, he rallied the South East to unprecedentedly become the hotbed of opposition. They didn’t mind the python dances and marginalisation. I often imagine what could have become of the PDP if Ekweremadu just defected to the APC. PDP would have collapsed patapata.
Ordinarily, you would say that when a man has paid these dues and played such roles, he would have the right of first refusal if the Vice President were zoned to the East. But trust the Nigerian political parties. They don’t give a damn and the ticket could go to the man or woman with the largest war chest to co-fund the election.
–––Nze, a political analyst writs from Lagos