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Choice of Running Mate Could be Game Changer for Atiku

Mojekwu Echezona, PhD, New York – Jan., 15, 2011 – As the acrimonious battle for the PDP presidential primary draws to a climax, my instinct tells me that Atiku Abubakar will nick it. However, winning the primaries will not automatically guarantee Atiku the presidency. He will need something of a game changer to overcome Buhari, generally believed to be the most popular Northern candidate in the North – despite the fact that he will be a tough sale in the political South. If the alliance talks between Buhari’s CPC and the Yoruba-dominated ACN bear fruit, Buhari will become even more formidable as an opponent. With January 15 2011 set by INEC as the deadline for submitting the list of candidates for the various elective offices, if I were Atiku, I will look for this game changer in the choice of my running mate.

In the 2008 presidential elections in the USA, John McCain who was trailing behind Obama in all the major polls suddenly found the game changer in his audacious choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. The choice of Ms Palin, a young former beauty queen and Governor of Alaska, energised both McCain’s campaign and the Conservative base of the Republican Party and led to McCain briefly overtaking Obama in most of the polls. Had Sarah Palin been a little brighter (and not just a complete dunce as her subsequent live interviews revealed), the outcome of that election would probably have been different.

So what type of a running mate would be a game changer for Atiku?

One of the initial fascinations with Sarah Palin in the USA was the mystique of being relatively unknown politically. People simply were both curious and fascinated about her. If I were Atiku, I would take a cue from the Palin phenomenon and look for someone who is relatively unknown politically but who is young, likeable, and with celebrity-like features (tall, athletic-looking and no older than 47 years old). This may sound vane but in reality a candidate’s frame and carriage form a big part of what Americans would call ‘looking presidential’ – regarded as an essential qualification for any one aspiring to lead the country. In addition to physical looks such a candidate must also be articulate, cosmopolitan and projects modesty as his public persona. It would equally help if the candidate has good experience in the private sector. Ekwueme, whom I regard as the most successful Vice President the country has ever had, satisfied most of these conditions when he was chosen as Shagari’s running mate at the age of 46. He was an urbane, dignified, well-to-do architect who brought no baggage to Shagari’s campaign.

So how do the candidates from the South East, variously mentioned in the media as possible choices for Atiku fare using the above criteria?

Senator Ken Nnamani: Senator Ken Nnamani earned the respect of most Nigerians by the very mature manner he handled Obasanjo’s failed attempt to elongate his regime when he was the Senate President. If the Igbos were to produce a President in 2011 and not 2015, Senator Nnamani would have been my sole candidate. As Vice Presidential candidate however he will not have my vote because at 62 (born November 2, 1948) he is rather too old to be groomed to take over in 2015.  It will also be difficult for him to play second fiddle after being the nation’s Number Three.

Chukwuma Soludo: Professor Soludo is a highly accomplished economist. As CBN Governor, he showed admirable courage with his bank consolidation exercise. Unfortunately when he was in office, he failed to manage the human side of power well such that very few of his old friends and associates have any good things to say about him. His notoriety for arrogance, love of the limelight and the controversy that surrounded his tenure as CBN Governor, will not make him a good choice as a running mate. He will however be a brilliant Finance Minister or Economic Adviser.

Senator Ben Obi speaks the English language with a diction you cannot help but admire. As Atiku’s running mate in 2007, he lived up to the bill when Atiku fractured a toe while exercising. Born in January 1956, Senator Obi’s grey beard and large frame make him look older than his age. He also cuts the image of a typical politician. His selection will not be a game changer.

 Sam Egwu: The former Governor of Ebonyi State was born on June 20, 1954, and will therefore be 61 in 2015. As Minister of Education, he courted controversy when he reportedly held a birthday party that cost some N50m at a time University lecturers were on strike over pay and working conditions. There will be nothing inspiring about his candidacy were he to emerge as Atiku’s running mate.

Peter Obi and Chime Sullivan: Though some South East Governors have been mentioned as possible candidates, I believe only Chime Sullivan (born April 10, 1959) and Peter Obi (born July 19, 1961) deserve any discussion. Both Governors have simple life styles and are reported to have done well in their states. Chime’s political stock however seems to have depreciated considerably following his protracted struggle with Okwesili Nwodo, the PDP national chairman, over the control of the party in the State.

Peter Obi, a successful entrepreneur, and  generally respected for his exterior modesty but granite interior, could have been a game changer, were he to be in the PDP.

Nze Chidi Duru:  Born November 11, 1966, and with an Obama-like frame according to those who know him, Nze Duru is a lawyer and an entrepreneur. As a Member of the House of Representatives (1999-2007), he was said to have played a key role in establishing the Pension Reform Act 2004. Internet search reveals he is a director in several companies, including Grand Towers Plc. Though I have not heard him speak, those who know him say he is very articulate and organised and quite influential in the Atiku Campaign. Such a relatively unknown person could also be a game changer – if he does not come with a baggage.  

Chukwuemeka Chukelu: Though internet search does not reveal his date of birth, he seems to be in his early 40s. As Information Minister he impressed many people by his carriage, simplicity and forthrightness. Though some critics say he rarely visits Igboland and is therefore more of an ‘Abuja politician’, his selection will also be a game changer – if he does not bring any baggage to the ticket. 

Ike Ekweremadu: Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, is a lawyer. Though relatively young (born 1962), he lacks charisma, is uninspiring and with a reputation as one of the most inaccessible Senators. His selection will not add any value to the Atiku ticket.

 Echezona is Professor of Political Theory at a University in New York State, USA.





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