Home Blog The Politics of Running Mates in Nigeria by Chukwuemeka Oluka

The Politics of Running Mates in Nigeria by Chukwuemeka Oluka



The presidential primary elections of political parties in Nigeria may have come and gone, but surely, the gimmicks and fireworks witnessed are yet to wane. The drama may seem to have faded now that the primaries have been concluded, but the heat is on, the pressure is high and the intrigues are starting to unfold following consultations, permutations and horse-trading over whom the presidential flagbearers of the major parties will pick as running mates. The search is on and indeed, it has reached fever pitch.

Recall that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Thursday, June 9, 2022, gave Friday, June 17, 2022, as a deadline for political parties to submit the names of their Presidential candidates and running mates or face disqualification. It also issued Friday July 15, 2022 as a deadline for the parties to submit names of gubernatorial candidates and their running mates. Submission of names will be via INEC’s portal, and names must be uploaded on or before the deadline, after which the portal will automatically shut down.

According to the electoral umpire, the idea was established to avoid physical meetings that might occur between party officials and the commission’s staff to submit the list of Party Presidential and gubernatorial candidates as well as their running mates for the 2023 general election.

In the search for the Vice President (VP) slot for the leading opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), some governors elected under the party are scheming to be picked. They are believed to want to play a major role. Events in the party suggest it’s a battle between Nyesom Wike and Ifeanyi Okowa of Rivers state and Delta state respectively; both from the South-South region. It appears no one is thinking beyond governors. None is thinking the way of bringing a technocrat on board. Could this be why Aminu Tambuwal, governor of Sokoto state suggested that a former governor or a current member of the National Assembly will also be a good pick?

Going down some memory lane between 1999 and 2015 when the PDP held power, the party had maintained some political power balance between the north and the south, with presidential candidates and their running mates emerging from the two regional divides. However, not everyone from the PDP feels that the power balancing between the north and south has been fair enough.

For some, they are concerned that the national chairman is from the north, the board of trustees chairman from the north and the Presidential candidate of the party from the north. Yet for them, the surviving adrenaline of the party is in the south. For others, they felt the PDP has not been fair to the southeast region that had continually thrown their weight completely behind the party. For this reason, some political observers say the region may be unlikely to accept the VP position.

Though some southern candidates were lobbying for the VP, the choice of who becomes the running mate to Atiku Abubakar remains another critical decision the party’s leadership must carefully consider.

Moving to the camp of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), many people are celebrating Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s emergence as the party’s flag bearer. It means the power according to the party shifting to the south. For the APC, it makes sense to have the president emerge from the south; unfortunately, not the part of the south many had expected it to be. Expectations were that the APC will demonstrate fairness if they believed in one Nigeria; if they believed in the unity, progress and development of the country as they preached. If they truly believed in equity, the opportunity to prove that to people in the southeast would’ve been taken by the party by micro-zoning the Presidency to the southeast.

One may ask how this is related to the search for the party’s presidential flagbearer’s running mate.

But then, ask no more because this portrays the APC as a party willing to take risks in the race to retain power in the coming 2023 general elections. As the permutations intensify for who Bola Tinubu’s running mate will be, the party is believed to be willing to damn certain consequences.

It is no brainer that the APC’s searchlights will be beamed towards the north since their presidential flagbearer is a southerner. But that is not just all; Bola Tinubu is a Muslim and the possibility of a Muslim-Muslim ticket is a puzzle the APC must solve as fast as possible. Is the APC ready to damn another consequence? Will the party be insensitive to pick a ticket that will further polarize the nation along religious lines? Have they looked in hindsight to the outcome of the MKO Abiola/Kingibe Muslim-Muslim ticket in 1993?

While political party members are kicking against a Muslim-Muslim ticket, Nasir El Rufai believes competence is vital for a running mate, not religion. However, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has warned the two leading political parties to bury the thought of a Christian-Christian or Muslim-Muslim ticket in the 2023 elections. Will the major political parties then ignore the big elephant in the room as their search for running mate intensifies? Time will tell.

If they decide not to ignore the big elephant in the room, this will mean that the presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar will be in search of a Christian Southerner since he is from the north, while the candidate of the ruling APC, Bola Tinubu a southerner, may be combing for a Northern Christian. For Peter Obi, the Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate flagbearer, analysts believe his running mate will be from the northern part of the country, probably a Muslim, given that he is from the southern region and a Christian. Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) is believed to be contemplating picking the party’s vice-presidential candidate from the south of Nigeria while following similar conditions with the PDP.

But unlike other presidential flagbearers, Obi has the power to choose his Vice. He will nominate his vice but will be based on the approval of the national convention of the Labour Party.

In the meantime, there is a clear constitutional provision that assigns duties to the VP of the country. She or he is the head of the economic management team; in this case, the National Economic Council, (NEC). Therefore, whoever emerges in terms of the general consideration the political parties should look at, must be somebody who is mentally cerebral, someone who has the mental stability, and who understands the general economic world-view. Political parties should be looking at all the indices

Yes, a lot of the job the VP does is assigned to him by his principal, the president. The VP is to provide a lot of administrative, economic, intellectual and political support to the president from the background without actually being in front. But part of the deal is that the VP should be as good as the president, such that in the event something happens to the president, the VP must have the same capacity to deliver where it becomes necessary. He must not be a second-class administrator. Does this probably explain why Nigeria has had a history of producing VPs that are many times brighter than their bosses? In terms of academic qualifications, they were matchless. The difference was like day and night.

How about situations where most presidents and most governors hardly work well with their deputies? Most times, this is because deputies are selected by the party based on certain factors like expediency, political calculations or settling a particular zone or region. When such happens, the selected candidate may not be best of friends with the presidential candidate or may not be the presidential candidate’s choice of a favourite either. So, when you see a man the president or governor loves is when he picks chief of staff. This explains why the president works closely with the chief of staff.

There is the proclivity of mutual suspicion between the President and his vice because the president knows that if he dies in office, the vice will be the first replacement. So, deputies are the first suspect and they are kept sometimes at arm’s length. Everything is very formal. There is limited cordiality because you don’t lose your guards with a man you know will take over when you die and nobody wants to die.

But then, mutual suspicion rarely ranks top when political parties go in search of a running mate of a flagbearer. Rather, parties are on the lookout for a candidate who will contribute immensely to winning the election. The candidate must have the needed political clout to swing votes in favour of the party. Else, such a candidate should be one that can bring the needed financial resources that will be contributory to getting the votes for the party during elections.

The true situation remains that the Nigeria 2023 general elections have reached a crucial stage of preparation. The politics of who becomes the running mate to presidential flagbearers of political parties remains a critical decision party hierarchies must carefully consider. It can become the final piece of the jigsaw for any party who gets it right. It can also spell doom if not carefully considered. The time is ticking!



About the Writer

Chukwuemeka Oluka writes in from Enugu, Nigeria. He is a passionate writer, a research enthusiast and a graduate of Electronic and Computer Engineering. He tweets “@Mekus_Oluka” and can be reach via “write2oluka@gmail.com”

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