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…Why the PDP presidential candidate can’t move on

Akani Alaka writes on how the seemingly intractable crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the 2023 presidential ambition of former vice president Atiku Abubakar.

It was not a surprise that former vice president Atiku Abubakar excitedly embraced the peace offer of Governor Nyesom Wike’s led gang of five governors of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP who has virtually been at war with him since he emerged as the presidential candidate of the party for Nigeria’s 2023 general election.

“The former vice president of Nigeria notes that never at any time of the differences that have ensured have the doors been shut to Governor Wike and his group. He enjoins every leader of the party and their supporters irrespective of their leaning to be open-minded and support the process of resolution of the extant issues,” Atiku said in a statement by his media adviser, Paul Ibe last Thursday.



Wike had less than 48 hours earlier in Bauchi said the group of five governors he is leading which has now transmuted from G5 to Integrity Group has not closed their doors to a possible mutual settlement of issues which so far have prevented him and his colleagues from joining Atiku’s campaign for the 2023 presidency.

Wike and his allies were in Bauchi to woo the State Governor, Bala Mohammed, who doubles as the vice chairman of the party’s Presidential Campaign Council in the North-east, who was also angry that Atiku picked campaign coordinators from his state without consultation with him.

“I have said several times that we are ready for reconciliation; we have never closed the door for reconciliation. All we are asking for is equity, fairness and justice, and that is the hallmark PDP stands for,” the Rivers State governor told journalists after meeting with his Bauchi counterpart.

“All we are saying is let the right things be done. When the right thing is done, the country would see that the crisis in the party is over. These G5 Governors, we are saying, are the bedrock of the party, so we would not close the doors for reconciliation. We are for reconciliation any day, anytime,” he added.

AYU MUST GO, G5 Governors Insist

But Atiku had in an interview on Voice of America, VOA Hausa some days before then said he had put the crisis in the party behind him to focus on his campaign to be Nigeria’s next president. This was even though he agreed that the crisis was yet to be resolved.

“We are yet to resolve the matter. But we have moved on, I don’t have any worries about that anymore, the former vice president said.

At the root of the crisis is the demand by Wike and his counterparts in Benue, Enugu, Abia and Oyo states; Samuel Ortom, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Okezie Ikpeazu and Seyi Makinde, respectively, for the resignation of Iyorchia Ayu as the chairman of PDP.

The five governors and their loyalists across the state chapters of the party had argued that with the emergence of Atiku from Northern Nigeria as the presidential candidate of the party, Ayu who is also from the same part of the country should quit office for a Southerner. This, they said, would be in line with the zoning policy enshrined in the constitution of the party.

Wike, who has been leading the call for Ayu to resign contested against Atiku in the presidential primary of PDP had also accused the PDP chairman of rigging the process in favour of the former vice president.

The Rivers state governor had also repeatedly pointed out that the PDP national chairman himself had promised to vacate office if a Northerner emerged as the candidate of PDP to ensure balance in the leadership of the party.

The Rivers State governor had also in the course of agitations levelled a string of corruption allegations against Ayu.

Wike and the governors in his camp had so far kept off the campaign of the PDP presidential candidate in protest against Ayu’s stay in office.

They have vowed that they would not be part of the Atiku campaign for the 2023 election until Ayu vacated office.

Why Atiku Can’t Move On 

But Ayu, a former president of the Senate had insisted that he would run out his four-year term of office. Speaking in Gboko, Benue State on 29 October, the PDP chairman said the demand by Wike and his allies that he should vacate office was in vain.

“So, if you hear that they want to chase Ayu out as national chairman, don’t be worried. Nobody is going to sack me as national chairman of our party. I will leave the seat on a day that God permits,” he told a large crowd of people who had come to welcome him to the state.

He has the backing of Atiku who had also insisted that the PDP national chairman could only be removed from office according to the stipulations of the PDP for such actions.

However, during his interview with VOA, Atiku insisted that the call for the sack of Ayu should be put aside for now.  “And at this junction, it’s improper to talk about leadership change in the party while elections are fast approaching,” Atiku said.

Yet, analysts said the quick embrace of the peace offer of the G5 last week was an indication that contrary to his assertion in the VOA interview, the five governors are too important to the PDP candidate’s 2023 ambition for him to put them or their demands aside as he claimed.

An analyst said this was why the calls by hawks in the camp of Atiku asking him to call Wike’s bluff are not making much headway.

One such hawk was Ned Nwoko, a PDP member and senatorial candidate who last week called for the expulsion of the Rivers State governor from the party. “Wike is a nuisance, quote me anywhere. If I were [in] the leadership of the party, I would have acted differently. I would have done things differently. He has done a lot of damage to the PDP and I don’t know what they are waiting for to show him the way out.”

The fact that Atiku and his camp in the PDP are still trying to woo the Wike-led gang was also indicated in the viral story that former President Goodluck Jonathan has been drafted into efforts to tackle the crisis last week.

Former Benue governor Gabriel Suswam, had last Thursday on a television programme confirmed that Jonathan had been drafted to resolve the crisis. However, the claim that the five governors are fighting the ‘cause of  Jonathan who was betrayed by the Atiku in 2015’ seemed to have ended that initiative going by the angry reaction of the camp of the former president to it over the weekend.

But Atiku who was accompanied by the caucus of his campaign team was also in Minna, the capital of Niger State during which he held a closed-door meeting with former military president Ibrahim Babangida.

There were speculations that Atiku went to Minna to appeal to IBB to intervene in the crisis in the party.

Emerging from the meeting, Atiku also assured that the PDP crisis would be resolved very soon and the party would present a united front for the 2023 elections: “We have always engaged the five governors and we will continue to engage them. This is a family quarrel and we believe that we will resolve it before the elections and you will see a very, very united and strong PDP that will face the elections.”

Wike, Allies Hold Atiku By Jugular

Thus, analysts said contrary to assertions by PDP members like Nwoko, Wike and the governors in his camp cannot in any way be described as a nuisance, especially in relation to the 2023 ambition of Atiku.

For one, the five governors are presiding over states probably except for Oyo, that has always voted for the PDP at the presidential election.

Analysts said Atiku must win, or at least, do very well in the states if he is to realise his 2015 ambition. Atiku had neglected the governors and went ahead to appoint his loyalists to campaign for him across the five states. But the five governors had indicated so far that the persons appointed by Atiku might find it difficult to campaign for him in the states.

This has been vividly demonstrated in Rivers where chieftains of PDP appointed by Atiku to be in the vanguard of his campaign have come under different forms of persecution by the state government.

Indeed, Wike had described those picked by Atiku to lead his campaign without his input as ‘enemies of Rivers.’

“The presidential candidate entered Rivers State and picked those he wants to pick without the contribution of the governor. So, they said they don’t need me to campaign for them. They don’t need Rivers people to campaign for them. Will you force yourself on them?”

“I have never seen how people will disrespect a state like Rivers State and go and choose those who are enemies of the state, without the contribution from us,” he said.

Just last week, one Rhino Owhorikire was seen being forced to denounce his support for Atiku while being tortured by thugs in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers in a viral video. “I hereby denounce my support for Atiku Abubakar in Ikwerre Local Government Area, which is the territory of Governor Nyesom Wike,  I will stop supporting Atiku Abubakar until the governor so directs,” Owhorikire said in the video which has since gone viral.

The Commissioner of Police in Rivers, Effiong Okon has ordered the arrest of those behind the torture of the supporter of the PDP presidential candidate.

Also, some supporters of PDP who were pasting his presidential campaign posters in an area of Port Harcourt were attacked.

Analysts said what is happening in Rivers may be indicative of the fate of others who tried to champion Atiku’s campaign in the other states. Aside from this, the influence of Wike is also said to be strong in states where the PDP is not in power.

“The fact is that Wike regularly supports PDP chapters where the governors are not members of the party. And this is why you have people like Jonah Jang, Jerry Gana, Donald Duke and others in his camp. These are the people that may also side with Wike in his battle with Atiku,” a source said.

There were fears that Wike and his colleagues may repeat the pre-2015 episode in which five governors of the PDP abandoned their party’s presidential candidate to pitch their tent with the then-opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).

It was believed that the exit of the governors was key to the loss of the 2015 presidential election by the PDP.

The five aggrieved governors have so far maintained that they are not planning to dump the PDP. But there are fears that they may decide to do deal with other presidential candidates in the presidential election.

Romancing Opposition

For one, Wike, their leader, is believed to be romancing the APC presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu and the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi.

And last Sunday, supporters of LP were in frenzy with the news that Wike had invited Peter Obi to inaugurate the Nkpolu-Oroworukwo flyover bridge in Port Harcourt on Thursday, November 17, 2022.

Analysts said the invitation of Obi is one of Wike’s political mind games against Atiku.  However, Obi’s supporters interpreted the invitation as an endorsement of the Rivers State governor’s candidature against Atiku.

Analysts said the PDP presidential candidate would also be concerned by the invitation of the LP candidate who has been touted as one of his major obstacles to the Aso Rock presidential villa.

The prediction was that Obi who has emerged as a strong third-party candidate is likely to take away votes that normally go to the PDP across the three regions of Southern Nigeria from Atiku.

Thus, some analysts had predicted that while Obi may not have the spread of votes across the country to win the 2023 presidential election, his candidacy may be to the detriment of the PDP presidential candidate.

Sacrificing Ayu

Therefore, for Atiku to have any chance of realising his presidential ambition, he must find a way to unite the party.

Indeed, the joke is that while Atiku has anchored his campaign on his plan to unify the country, he has not been able to unify his party. The G5 Governors had insisted that their minimum demand is the vacation of office of PDP National Chairmanship by Ayu.

There were no indications that Atiku is ready to support this demand yet. Sources close to the presidential candidate said he may not support a change in leadership of the party until after the 2023 election.

Some loyalists of the former Vice President had tried to justify his insistence on the issue on the fact by the PDP constitution, Ayu will hand over to another Northerner if he is asked to leave office now,  thereby defeating the purpose of asking him to go.

Wike and his colleagues have dismissed such arguments as they insisted that Ayu must comply with the promise that he would vacate office if a Northerner was elected the presidential candidate of his party.

Members of the party told The Nigerian Xpress that the best way for Atiku to salvage the dwindling prospect of his becoming Nigeria’s next president is to take advantage of the offer by the G-5 governors that they are still open to reconciliation made last week.

The question is will Atiku sacrifice Ayu for his ambition?