Opinion: Train Of Two Traitors – By Sam Omatseye

Ifeanyi Okowa hosted the meeting as a hero of the south. Atiku Abubakar hoisted him as his super aide or VP choice. By that, he made his Asaba summit of southern governors a zero for his region. And Atiku was happy to rub the southern nose in it.

The Delta State governor conned his governor colleagues. He was not a man of his words. He was not a man of his people. He coiffed the meaning of patriot in his own fashion. He has thus been called a traitor by bodies representing the two major southern groups as well as minorities.

He says he is not a traitor. His words recall the expression of Richard Nixon when the American president wallowed in the WaterGate scandal. Nixon protested, “I am not a crook.” Those words fitted his crooked mouth. America groaned. Nixon resigned as impeachment waves roared towards His White House.

So, Okowa said: “I am not a traitor.” I can say, “Governor, smile while you say that.” He was laughing at himself. When Nyesom Wike said southern governors betrayed him, we know Okowa was one of them. Delta delegates voted Atiku, not his south-south neighbour. Okowa said he was following party principle. He implies party trumps country. He would have been a victim in a Greek play, like Euripides’ Iphigenia. He is not Mark Twain’s patriot. The American novelist wrote, “In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave and hated and scorned. When the cause succeeds, the timid join him, for them it costs nothing to be a patriot.”

That is Okowa. He does not have conviction, except it is convenient. Whatever the party says is supreme, even if party parts with country. That is the definition of opportunism. So, it was not party principle when he opened his port and portal to his fellow state executives. He was preening when Atiku announced him.

His pick was also an act of Atiku’s opportunism. One, both of them are fair-weather folks. Atiku has been a perennial dissembler in politics. He is the ultimate sufferer of a wandering disease called sokugo of Cyprian Ekwensi’s novel, Burning Grass. He is wandering in the desert of political desire, seeking the plum of fortune he can devour. Atiku knows no home because his ambition is his shelter. He likes playing coquette, and he who does that ends a harlot.

Okowa is no different. He has betrayed his mentor in Delta politics. Ibori, while in jail, swore by Okowa as Uduaghan’s successor, contrary to advice that Okowa could not be trusted. From the ambience of Downing Street, he rallied his party for a Judas. After his PDP consultations, the party zoned the guber slot to the Urhobo, and they picked David Edevbie. Even the influential Urhobo People’s Union, endorsed Edevbie. Okowa had other ideas. He stamped his feet behind Sheriff Oborevwori, the speaker. He did not only do that. He threw his weight against the ambition of Ibori’s daughter who wanted to run for a legislative seat. He also pulled Uduaghan’s daughter, first into the treachery of his trust, and then allowed her to fail in her bid to run also for a legislative seat. Ibori’s daughter’s bid first stalemated and a runoff favoured her, presumably as a soft-landing for the godfather’s pride. Okowa’s daughter, who is a senior fellow in his advisory cupboard, sailed through the electoral calm water, also as a legislator.

He and his aides are saying Ibori is not in ill humour with him. Why has Ibori not congratulated his guber pick, or congratulated him over his VP pick. He is going into battle with a divided house. Remember, the same Atiku was known to have betrayed Ibori as well when he was in trouble with the Jonathan administration before he was clobbered into jail. It is not as if Atiku did it because he is a saint, or he lives in the sanctum of the Almighty. Okowa bonds with his mentor’s traitor. He preens like the new royal of Delta politics, like a prince of imperial blood and brood.

Two, Atiku’s quest for Nigeria’s top seat screams with hypocrisy. Did he not say he wanted to leave the seat of president open to all without zoning? Yet, when he grabbed the seat, he now thinks the vice president should be zoned. One fairness does not beget another. He cast zoning in his own image.

It may be said that he did not pick Wike because there is no love lost between the Adamawa adventurer and the humourist of Rivers politics. Wike made Atiku tremble when he backed Tambuwal against him in 2019. Atiku did not like it when he heard party men describe PDP as “Wike Inc.” He must have likened the Ikwere man as VP as a hot fire burning him, a coal pot, from beneath. But why pick a man who is a traitor. That is understandable since they are kindred spirits. But apart from betraying the south and the state, he has to answer a question as to why the state believes he was a poor specimen of a governor in two terms. It is even more shabby that, in his twilight on the throne, he has borrowed N175 billion in the name of development. He has to answer why such a haul? Anything can be acquired in the name of projects. But the state and EFCC ought to monitor how the money is spent? We should know what is left of the money after the guber race and presidential campaigns. And of course, after he leaves office. Many in the state worry that he secured the money with a promise to the Speaker Oborevwori that he is covered. Atiku is also believed to have embraced it as a war chest for his quest for ASO ROCK.

With the Okowa pick, the southeast has finally lost out in the PDP sweepstakes. They had no eyes in the APC story, in spite of Ogbonnaya Onu’s jeremiad as though power is handed anyone without work. Onu indicted himself on the APC podium. He confessed he failed as a party hierarch. He could not bring his region to the party. His region did not even vote for their candidates. He showed he had no muscle to endear and mobilise in the east. He was his people’s paperweight.

Atiku thought Okowa is an Igbo pick. He was fooled by the name Ifeanyi. But he is not even the real Igbo of Asaba axis. Again, the Ika people of Agbor do not regard themselves as kinsmen of southeast Igbo. They are proud as Ika. Just like the Ikwerre. The southeast Igbo see them as diluted – if not deleted – versions of themselves. And they resent it. They may have a history but only when it is time to gain something do some opportunists like Okowa claim to be Igbo. After all, on what side were the Ika during the civil war. They fought on the federal side. Ojukwu in one of his civil war speeches spoke of his dream to bring some of the Igbo-speaking groups into Biafra. He did not ask if those people thought the same. It’s like saying New Zealand citizens are English, or Americans are English. Or equating French Quebecois as the same as French citizens in Macron’s France. Or the French Belgium should enter France without visa. In its assimilation policy, Charles de Gaulle made West African citizens who joined the Free French movement to think they are French citizens. They fought for their conquerors who were also German conquests. The subject of a subject, like being a tenant of a tenant. The fact that bia in Agbor means ‘come’ in Igbo does not mean when one says bia the other will come.

As the campaign beckons, Atiku the Sukogu and Okowa the Judas will set out on a train of like minds.

– Omatseye is a respected columnist with The Nation

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