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...Why joining APC is no option for Rivers gov.

Akani Alaka writes on the options available to Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike in the lingering faceoff in the aftermath of his loss of the presidential ticket of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to Atiku Abubakar.


If Governor Nyesom Wike will be accused of anything, it will certainly not be that he did not give enough hints of his readiness to put his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and its 2023 presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, under the bus as he did for the most of last week.

The Rivers State governor had on return from vacation outside the country late last month given indications that he would soon “speak out” about all that had transpired in the  PDP since the emergence of Atiku as the presidential candidate of the party.

Wike had accused the presidential candidate of PDP of peddling “lies” against him about the party’s presidential primary in an interview he granted to Arise Television. He also accused the PDP presidential candidate of neglecting him after he won the presidential primary as well as attacking him using proxies such as former governors Sule Lamido and Babangida Aliyu and a PDP chieftain, Abubakar Waziri.

“I will let Nigerians know the actual truth. Having known the truth, whatever they decide with it, is left for Nigerians because you can imagine when the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar unveiled his vice presidential candidate, look at the abuses they hauled on me. So, it is important for me as a person to react line by line, to the statement made by Atiku himself and his attack dogs,” said Wike.

Fouled Peace Efforts

To be fair to them, the leadership of PDP had responded swiftly to nip the threat in the bud with a series of initiatives aimed at engaging the Rivers State governor. First, was the setting up of a committee by the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party to reconcile Atiku Abubakar and Wike. “We have set up a committee to interface between warring factions, particularly the acrimony brewing between the presidential candidate and Governor Wike. It is a committee of the whole; every other BoT member is a member of the committee. I cannot tell you the grievances and the time frame,”  a member of the board, Sen. Abdul Ningi disclosed to journalists on August 3.

A few days later, Atiku and Wike also met in Abuja for the first time after the presidential primary. The meeting, held at the Abuja residence of a former minister of information and national orientation, Jerry Gana was also the first between the duo since Atiku overlooked Wike and selected Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as his running mate for the presidential election, an action behind the festering feud between the two men.

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Even then, the peace process was reportedly fouled by Atiku’s claim at the meeting that he was already looking beyond Wike in his permutations of how to win the 2023 election. As such, the former vice president was said to have argued that the PDP could win next year’s election without recording a victory in Rivers State.

Atiku was said to have pointed out that President Muhammadu Buhari did not win in Rivers State to secure victory in the 2019 presidential poll. He also blamed the Rivers State governor for the monetization of the PDP presidential primary in which delegates were reportedly bribed with as much as $25,000.

On his part, Wike was said to have confronted Atiku with some of the claims being peddled as his demands and conditions for peace. These include the demand to be appointed the minister of petroleum under Atiku’s presidency.

He was also said to have queried the former vice president’s claim that he could win the presidency without Rivers when, unlike Buhari, he could not be sure of victory in other states with large votes like Kano.

Ayu Must Go

The Rivers State governor was also said to have demanded the resignation of Iyorchia Ayu as the chairman of the PDP, a request his allies have been making since the emergence of Atiku as the presidential candidate of the party.

Wike and his loyalists had called for shifting the chairmanship position of the party to the Southern part of the country with the argument that the levers of power in PDP are heavily tilted towards the North with the emergence of Atiku.

However, beyond this, Ayu had also incurred the wrath of the Wike group over his management of the PDP presidential primary and its aftermath. Allies of the Rivers State governor blame him for allowing Aminu Tambuwal to mount the stage after he had initially spoken not only to step down for Atiku but to ask the delegates to vote for the former vice president.

They believe that the action, which, they said, was a collaboration between Tambuwal and Atiku to keep the presidency in the North beyond 2023 was a major contributor to Wike’s loss of the PDP presidential ticket. Ayu had further incensed Wike’s supporters when he visited Tambuwal and praised him for the role he played in the emergence of Atiku as the flag bearer of the party for the 2023 presidential election.

The allies of Rivers State governor had also recalled that Ayu had pledged to step down if a Northerner emerged as the candidate of the party when the debate over which zone should get the 2023 presidential ticket of PDP was on.

Wike had also met with some serving and former PDP governors as well as other party stakeholders who supported his presidential ambition in Abuja a day before his meeting with Atiku at the BoT arranged meeting where the demand for Ayu to step aside and reorganisation of the NWC of the party was restated. Wike and Atiku had at the end of the meeting agreed to set up a committee that would draw up a framework for reconciliation of their differences.

The committee, to be made up of seven nominees from each side, will be saddled with the task of looking at all the issues raised by Wike’s group and advising the two leaders on how to address them.

No To Wike

It was not certain whether the committee set up by the PDP BOT is making any significant headway in its self-assigned job as a peacemaker at the time of writing this story. Also, the 14-man Atiku/Wike Committee appeared not to have been set up.

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But what is clear was that the party, backed by Atiku is not ready to yield to a key demand of Wike and his allies – the resignation of Ayu. The former vice president had reportedly argued that asking Ayu to go a few months before the presidential election may destabilize the party.

Also, the position of the former Senate president was further strengthened when, barely 24 hours after the meeting between Atiku and Wike, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party restated its confidence in him.

National Publicity Secretary of the party, Debo Ologunagba, said the meeting comprising the NWC, former national, state, and zonal publicity secretaries of the party passed a vote of confidence in the national chairman.

According to Ologunagba, the PDP has resolved to “restate confidence in the National Chairman, Sen. Iyorchia Ayu, and the National Working Committee NWC in running the affairs of the party.”

He added that the majority of PDP members were in support of the retention of Ayu in office ahead of the presidential election: “We don’t want to go into the election with a constitutional crisis, we have barely six months to the election. Even if you say Ayu should go today, his replacement comes from the same North. There has been precedence when (Umaru) Yar’Adua became our candidate (2007), Ahmadu Alli, a fellow Northerner was national chairman and remained so until the party won the 2003 elections.

According to him, several organs of the party have met on different occasions and have passed a vote of confidence in Ayu’s leadership and the National Working Committee. “Elections are coming and we don’t need a distraction. You can’t destroy the whole for a part, we respect people’s rights and positions but going into negotiations, you cannot say it is either this or nothing. It means you’re not ready to negotiate, we don’t have that in our party, and we are all interested in the survival of our party and our nation, Nigeria. We will look at the need to do balancing,” he added, indicating that the Wike group should stop insisting on having its way hundred per cent.

Looking Beyond Wike In Rivers

While he is not ready to budge to Wike on Ayu, Atiku has also been courting other leading PDP members in Rivers in a move the Rivers State governor believed was aimed at undermining him.

It was learnt that PDP leaders including Abiye Sekibo, ex-deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Opara, Senator Lee Maeba and others who were considered to be allies of Wike had pledged their support for Atiku.

The PDP members, who claimed they had the support of other leading members of the party,  it was learnt, had also affirmed that they would take Atiku and the PDP presidential campaign to all nooks and crannies of Rivers if Wike refused to back down from his fight with Atiku. The Rivers State PDP members had visited Atiku to pledge their loyalty.

There were also speculations that the party was working to take 2023 tickets away from PDP candidates favoured by Wike in favour of those supported by Atiku and the national leadership of the party. Yet, another seeming far-fetched speculation was the rumour that Wike may be removed as the leader of PDP in Rivers.

‘I’m In Charge In Rivers’

These were the background to Wike’s effusions during the one-week inauguration of projects in Rivers last week. The governor had also invited politicians and elected officials of the ruling APC in a move intended to spite his party and demonstrate his might as a politician.

For one, he started the project inauguration with the Orochiri-Worukwo (Waterlines Junction) Flyover that was performed by the Lagos State governor and a key associate of the APC presidential candidate, Babajide Sanwo-Olu in Port Harcourt.

He used the occasion to send a message to the PDP that it should not expect votes from the state if it did not accord the state its due regard. “If you say Rivers State does not matter, Rivers State will tell you that you don’t also matter at the appropriate time. If you don’t like us, we will not like you. If you like us, we will like you.  Nobody will use our votes for nothing. Our votes will matter and Rivers State must benefit from anybody that we are going to support,” Wike said in obvious response to the reported claim by Atiku that he could win the presidential election without winning in the state.

The governor added, “I’m fully in charge, don’t you know that? I am fully in charge! I’m not that kind of governor anybody can bring to Abuja to hold a meeting, I’m not that kind of governor, I’m fully in charge here. If you say I’m not in charge, put your head and see whether you will come out, so all these big names, forget it. We are in charge.”

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Courting APC, Deriding PDP

Last Tuesday, Wike continued his romance with the opposition by inviting the APC senator and former governor of  Sokoto, Aliyu Wamakko to commission one of his projects. Wammako has been in battle with Wike’s erstwhile ally, Tambuwal in Sokoto. The invitation of the senator was obviously meant to spite the Sokoto State governor.

And last Friday, Wike rounded off his project inauguration with Femi Gbajabiamila, the speaker of the House of Representatives. He used the occasion to castigate his PDP governor colleagues over their failure to carry out the plot to stop the emergence of Ahmad Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila as Senate president and speaker in 2019 through. Wike also said PDP governors again betrayed him during the tussle for the position of the minority leader of the House.

He also derided PDP lawmakers for threatening to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari over insecurity, arguing that they had no balls to carry the threat through: “They are saying they will impeach Buhari. They don’t have the balls. They don’t have it. Ordinary to override…let us see who will stand up and say, Mr Speaker. They think they can use Nigeria, Wayo. Things you know you cannot do, why are you saying it out,” Wike said. But, unarguably, the biggest significance of the occasion was the open encouragement of Gbajabiamila to Wike to continue to ‘choke his party.’ “And by God’s grace, this journey you have started, which you and I know shall get to the permanent site,” the speaker said in an indication that the Rivers governor may be on his way to APC.

No Way Out Of PDP, But…

But Wike and his supporters had insisted that they would remain in PDP. In any way, analysts said he had no other choice than to remain in the party because the Rivers chapter of APC is in the hands of his arch-rival, former governor Rotimi Amaechi. Members of PDP also believe that Wike may have no choice, but to remain in PDP because it is in his interest for the party to produce the next governor of the state.

However, there are fears that the governor may stay in the party and work against it, especially during the presidential election.

Indeed, Senator Maeba, who claimed he was removed as the chairman of Elechi Amadi Polytechnic recently because of his closeness to Atiku, in a recent interview, alleged that Wike was perfecting plans to rig elections in Rivers in 2023. Maeba accused the governor of anti-party activities. “If you stop us from working for Atiku, that is the height of anti-party activities. I stand to be corrected. This is the middle of our campaign and you line up Bola Tinubu’s men to commission projects in your state. Why is he lining up Tinubu’s men? After the commissioning, they go inside to talk. What are they talking about? In the middle of our campaign, he’s highlighting the APC and Tinubu above our candidate. I don’t know what you call that,” Maeba said.

However, another flank to reconcile Wike and Atiku opened last week with the formal appointment of Governor Ahmadu Fintiri by the PDP presidential candidate to lead his reconciliation team.

Fintiri, told journalists at the Yola International Airport, last Saturday that he had been made the chairman of the reconciliation committee set up by Atiku to resolve his feud with Governor Wike.

The Adamawa state governor explained that Wike had no choice but to back Atiku for the 2023 polls given his past investments in the party. “Who are his friends in the APC? Are you telling me those who are now romancing with Wike love him? I can assure you that with God, the party will put its house in order before the 2023 elections. Even Wike knows he has been by far the biggest investor in the party. Can he now walk away from all of his investment? We recognise he loves his people and I can assure you that he will have a fair deal if it comes to that, just to put the crisis behind us,” Fintiri said.

The route for reconciliation seemed to be the only survival route for Wike, who, as was gathered,  is becoming increasingly isolated in the PDP as the governors of the party are not on the same page with him in his fight against Atiku.

The governors of Abia and Enugu in the South-east are also said not to be on the same lane with Wike in his opposition to Atiku.

In the same vein, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom who was believed to be a key ally of Wike had recently declared that he would support Atiku’s presidential ambition.

Ortom had also said he would not support the untimely removal of Ayu who hailed from his state as the national chairman of PDP.

“For now, Wike is fighting a battle he has already lost and is taking a big gamble. There is no way out of the PDP for him,” an analyst said last week.