Explainer: All You Need to Know About Ifeanyi Okowa, Atiku’s Running Mate

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Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2023 elections, has finally announced Ifeanyi Okowa as his running mate on Thursday June 16, confirming media rumours preceding the announcement. Atiku announced this at a meeting attended by PDP executives at the party’s Abuja headquarters.

PDP’s national chairman Iyorchia Ayu said the task of choosing Abubakar’s running mate fell to a 17-member committee, who upon deliberation submitted three names to Abubakar. Abubakar, Ayu said, had the final say in the selection. Of the names put forward by the committee was Nyesom Wike, Rivers State Governor, who racked up the highest votes from the committee, and who certain media outlets had teed up as the eventual running mate. 

Okowa, an indigene of Delta State, belongs to the South-South geopolitical zone. By selecting him, Atiku goes against the demands of the South-East faction of the PDP who implored him and the PDP leadership to opt for a candidate from the South-East region.

Who is Ifeanyi Okowa?

Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, who turns 63 on the 8th of next month, is the incumbent Governor of Delta State under the flagship of the Peoples Democratic Party. He is from the Ika tribe in Anioma, one of several Igbo communities in Delta State. He served his first term as governor after his inauguration in 2015, upon winning the state elections conducted in April 2015. He was reelected as governor in 2019, defeating Great Ogboru of the All Progressives Congress. Prior to his gubernatorial career, Okowa served as senator under PDP for Delta North Senatorial District, an office he entered in 2011. 

He is an alumnus of Edo College, Benin City, and the University of Ibadan where he studied Medicine and Surgery, graduating in 1981 with an MBBS degree. After leaving the National Youth Service Corps, he worked with the Bendel State Hospitals Management Board as a Medical Officer. He entered private practice as Director, Victory Medical Centre, Igbanke in 1986.

As a sitting governor of Delta State in 2020, Okowa established University of Delta in his home town Agbor. He also set up University of Science and Technology in Uzoro and Dennis Osadebe University in Anwai, all in Delta State. 

Why has Okowa been selected for the Vice President ticket?

As Nigeria’s politics is largely identity-driven and a matter of appearances, Abubakar’s choice of Okowa is patently a strategic one. Atiku is from Adamawa State, in the North-East region of the country. He is also an avowed Muslim. The natural option then is a running mate who is both Christian and a non-Northerner. Hence Okowa, who satisfies both metrics. If it hadn’t been Okowa selected, it would have been anyone with a Christian and South-South or South-East label to his name – recall that Atiku Abubakar’s running mate of the 2019 elections, which he lost to Muhammadu Buhari, is Peter Obi, the current presidential candidate of the Labour Party, an Igboman and a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

As for why Abubakar overlooked Nyesom Wike for Okowa, we may safely infer that it may be for personality reasons. Where Okowa is reserved, Wike hugs the soapbox and makes the news every two days for some wild utterance, a Premium Times piece describing him as “zestful, bold, and controversial.” Past vice presidents – Yemi Osinbajo, Goodluck Jonathan, and Atiku himself – are all, seemingly, of a more taciturn nature. Snubbing Wike may have been for the reason of not wanting to have a too-independent running mate, one who on becoming VP would have no qualms with publicly opposing his boss.

Okowa, a Christian of Igbo origins and from the South-South zone, ticks all the identity boxes that Nigerian politics demands, perfectly contrasting Abubakar, who on his end will be trying to appeal to the Northern electorate.

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