Delta state Governor and vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, has said it would be wrong of him to reject the offer to become the running mate of the party’s presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
Governor Okowa said this as a response to the attack on him by the Ijaw leader and elder statesman, Edwin Clark, who accused the PDP vice presidential candidate of betraying his colleague-governors in the southern part of the country by settling for northern presidency.
Clark, leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), in a letter to Okowa, dated 2 February, also declared the two PDP flag bearers would lose the presidential election.
The former Federal Commissioner for Information also berated the governor of developing his area of the state to the detriment of others.
But in a reaction Thursday, the governor said Nigerians’ expectation from their senior citizens are basically actions that can unite the nation and not those that could divide it.
The governor, in a statement by the Delta state Commissioner for Information Charles Aniagwu, said there was so much falsehood about the claims of the elder statesman.
Okowa said if he had not accepted the offer to become the running mate, another person would have, noting that he’s not from the same part of the country with Atiku, so there was nothing wrong in his decision to accept the offer.
He said: “We have read with keen interest the open letter to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa by elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark.
“First, we accord him his due respect as an elder statesman and a respected father in our state, but we state categorically that his letter is not a true reflection of the state of affairs in Delta State as the massive achievements in infrastructural and human capital development recorded in the state in the last seven years are visible to all and sundry.
“On the allegation of unaccountability and dictatorship, it is on record that Governor Okowa has been very accountable to the people as he has always briefed Deltans on the state of affairs in the state. He holds quarterly media interaction with journalists in the state where issues across the state are discussed and questions asked and relevant answers provided.
“The governor has had cause to relate with the State House of Assembly on all matters concerning the state finances at all times. How can a Governor that ensured full autonomy for the State’s legislature and the judiciary be said to be dictatorial?
“On the allegation of misuse of N250 billion 13% derivation fund, nothing can be far from the truth because the said fund is being paid in quarterly instalments and as at last record we have only received four instalments totalling N19.6 billion.
“Because of the time value of money and inflationary tendencies we decided to discount N100 billion. On application to the state House of Assembly, we listed some landmark projects to be completed from the fund and some of them including the Ogheye Floating Market, Koka Flyover and Interchange, Maryam Babangida Leisure Park, Film Village and Zoo, Mother and Child Specialist Hospital and Advanced Diagnostics Medical Centre have been completed, inaugurated and currently operational.
“We are also aware that our leader, Chief Clark has made his own political choice by endorsing a presidential candidate of another political party which we agree and respect as his own fundamental right, but we hold the view that it is not democratically nor constitutionally out of place for other persons to also have right to associate with others which is equally legitimate.
“We are all aware that the country is so divided and the rhetoric that tends to divide the country further along the line of North and South dichotomy cannot do the country any good hence we urge that persons of all class need not engage in divisive actions or utterances.
“As well-meaning Nigerians we expect that senior citizens should promote actions that tends to unite the country and not that which would further divide us.
“The Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar won the party’s primary on account of a free and transparent votes of delegates of the party across the country.
“The constitution of our country is very clear that once a Presidential Candidate emerges, he is duty bound to choose a running mate and by tradition from the other side of the country.
“It couldn’t have been the right thing to say that we should have rejected the nomination because if we had, other persons would have also accepted it.
“We will continue to respect Chief Clark despite the recent attacks on Governor Okowa and we also put it on record that the highly respected elder statesman had supported us in the past up to 2019 and had cause to commend the Governor for his sterling accomplishments in the state.
“So we will not begrudge him because he has chosen to support someone else this time around.”
Speaking further in a telephone interview with Blueprint, Aniagwu, who is also a spokesperson of the Atiku/Okowa campaign organisation, said: “We know he (Clark) has made a lot of allegations, we have read through it. We just believe that he is our leader, we respect him, and we don’t want to join issues with him. But he knows that those things he said amounts to politics.
“So if you support another candidate, democracy demands that you also allow others to go to enjoy their rights to work with other people. This is not the time to begin to divide our country, North and South. This is not the time to describe anybody working with the north as a saboteur. That is not the right thing to do.
“But we will continue to refer to him as our leader and we do not begrudge him for supporting any other candidate.
“All the allegations are political, they have seen that Atiku/Okowa’s profile is rising, the acceptance is moving very fast and all this trying to put some plug in the will of progress is not good for anybody”.
Step down, Clark tells Okowa
But speaking at a press conference Thursday in Abuja, the elder statesman said Okowa’s choice as Atiku’s running mate was contrary to the resolution of the ‘South-south Forum’ that the presidency must shift from the North to South in 2023.
He said: “Mr. Okowa has betrayed his colleagues in the Southern Governors Forum and the south generally.
“This man has betrayed us by accepting to be the running mate of Atiku. Without me, it would have been difficult for him to become governor of Delta.
“What shocked me was that our governor without discussing with anyone of us, was working with a presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, without our knowing.
“This man has betrayed us. We all agreed, we held a series of meetings that this man had betrayed us. We can no longer trust him.”
While accusing the governor of using the resources of the state to fund his campaign, he said: “Today, I say with certainty that you are more dictatorial than any other military administrator that has administered Delta State since its creation in 1991.
“I can therefore understand why you have deliberately and immorally betrayed your colleagues of Southern Nigeria and the people for your own selfish ambition by wanting to land on safer ground by accepting to serve as running mate to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
“No, by God’s grace your prayer will not be answered. Perhaps, you have forgotten the gravity of the offence you have committed against the people of Southern Nigeria.
“In order to cover your nefarious plot, you voluntarily induced everyone to host a meeting of the 17 Southern governors in Government House Asaba on Tuesday 11th May 2021. You gave them a very good reception and provided them a secretariat that drafted the communiqué under your supervision, which was read by the Chairman of the Southern Governors Forum, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State.
“It was indeed a bombshell, as you collectively demanded for the Southern Presidency and insisted that none of you should accept to be a Vice President.
“Shortly afterwards, the Southern and Middle-Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), which I lead, gave the governors declaration 100% support and declared that no Southern serving governor, legislators or politicians should accept to be running mate, particularly to Atiku Abubakar.
“The 17 governors later met again in Lagos and Enugu to affirm the decision taken in your Government House Asaba. Little did we know that you were using this to perfect your secret plan to be running mate to Atiku Abubakar from the very beginning.”
“We are therefore not surprised that you directed all the delegates from Delta State not to vote for Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State or Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State who are your neighbours but instead, they voted massively for Atiku Abubakar during the PDP Presidential Primaries last year.
“It would be recalled in 2007, that Delta State finances were used in funding part of the election of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua through the directive of President Olusegun Obasanjo. We were therefore not surprised when you too have decided to finance Atiku Abubakar with Delta people’s money because; there is nobody to challenge you. I repeat, you will not succeed.
“It is therefore in your own interest to openly apologise to your colleagues of both APC and PDP whom you deceived in taking a decision you never believed in. After your unreserved apology to your people and Southern Nigeria, you should step down your ambition of becoming Vice-Presidential candidate of the PDP. There your honour lies,” the letter further reads.
In a related development, the Clark-led Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) has endorsed Mr. Peter Obi, the Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate.
The position was contained in a communique read by Chief John Nwodo, the immediate past president-general of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide.
The body comprises leaders from the middle-belt area, as well as groups including the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, and the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF).
In a communiqué issued Thursday at the end of its meeting, the SMBLF resolved: “That we give our unalloyed vote of thanks to our father and leader, Chief Edwin Clark, for his boldness, his sagacity, his tenacity, and his relentlessness in pursuing the aims and aspirations of this organization.”
It further said: “That we warn all those who want to change the hands of the clock of Nigeria by doing anything that will derail a peaceful transition to the next civilian government of this country, that we shall rise like one man in defence of the ballot box and that Nigerians must go to vote.
“This we have resolved today and we enjoin other Nigerians who do not belong to our organisation to join us in realising this for the betterment of Nigeria: Peter Obi is your son and he is the rock upon which Nigeria will stand.”
Also in attendance at the SMBLF meeting were Ayo Adebanjo, Afenifere leader; and Bitrus Pogu, president of the Middle Belt Forum.