When Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State announced last week that he had authorised the removal of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar’s photograph from the party’s campaign materials and posters in the state, top stakeholders concluded that the lingering crisis in the party has reached a point of no return, THEWILL has learnt.
Wike is the arrowhead of a group, which comprises some state governors within the PDP, calling for the resignation of the party’s National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, in order to achieve some geo-political balance in the party since he lost the VP slot to his Delta State counterpart, Ifeanyi Okowa, who sabotaged the South’s bid for the presidential ticket of the main opposition party.
The controversial Rivers State Governor gave the directive during the inauguration of the state’s campaign committee at the Government House, Port Harcourt.
In a related development, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, a Wike supporter, also hit at Atiku for what he described as his open support for the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, alleged by the governor to be the sponsor of acts of terrorism against his state.
Ortom demanded an apology from Atiku, warning that failure on the part of the PDP presidential flagbearer to do so, “we would vote according to the elections in 2023,” a subtle threat against Atiku’s presidential bid.
Speaking on Wike’s move, a dependable party source who confided in this newspaper, said, “We have been expecting such action since he announced the appointment of 14,000 aides recently and failed to heed the BoT Chairman’s appeal for restraint on the part of the members and leaders of the party to enable a peaceful resolution of differences and conflicts within.
“His claim that Atiku did not consult him on the appointment of some members of the Rivers chapter of the party in the Presidential Campaign Committee is a ruse. State chapters of the PDP were asked to send representatives, but he did not.”
The anonymous source, who said the party saw through Wike’s aim to frustrate the take-off of its campaigns, hinted that with the River State governor’s recent move, the party may have to ignore him and move ahead with electioneering.
But the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunaba, is cautious in his assessment of the development. He told THEWILL on Friday, “Wike is and still remains our party man. Reconciliation is an internal process and we are still at it. Twenty-four hours is a lifetime in politics.”
He declined to be drawn into the prevailing view within the party that Wike and his group also face a dilemma that makes their demands not to be taken too seriously.
SCENARIOS AT PLAY
The other four state governors who have ganged up with Wike against the party, namely Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and his Benue, Enugu and Abia counterparts, respectively, Samuel Ortom, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Okezie Ikpeazu are all in the same political circumstances.
Apart from Mr. Makinde, who is running for a second term in office, the rest are senatorial candidates on the platform of the PDP, meaning that there is a limit to which they can make their inter-party demand without offending the sensibilities of the stakeholders in their respective states.
SCENARIO 1: GOVERNOR MAKINDE
Makinde was a relatively unknown politician until 2019 when he emerged Governor of Oyo State on the platform of the PDP. His emergence was fortuitous, owing to Atiku’s performance in the presidential election of that year, which he won in the state.
Capitalising on this victory, former members of the party, who had defected and picked tickets of rival parties, got together to re-establish control of the state’s political structure. Led by former governor Alao Akala, the aggrieved politicians agreed to sink their differences and support Makinde’s candidacy on the platform of the PDP. He won the election.
Staring at the governor in the face now is a possible replay of this scenario, if he works against his party to spite its presidential candidate.
How? If he were to campaign for another party’s presidential candidate in the hope that he would be free from a possible repercussion because his (governorship) election comes up in March, 2023. Past experience, also drawn from the state, proves this strategy to be a dangerous one. That was in 2007.
Rashidi Ladoja, governor of the state, was removed from office in 2006. But he got reinstated through a court judgment. By that time, Alao-Akala, his deputy, who had held forth while he fought his removal at the court, had been chosen as the governorship candidate of the party for the 2007 polls.
Vexed by this development, Ladoja sought his pound of flesh. He entered into an alliance with the governorship candidate of the then All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Abiola Ajimobi. He directed his supporters in Ibadan to vote for Ajimobi as governor and for the PDP candidates at the House of Assembly as well as the House of Representatives.
Unfortunately, many of the voters who had been sensitised and mobilised with the symbol of ANPP, which is maize, voted for the symbol all the way. Majority of the voters who were illiterates could not afford the luxury of voting for one symbol and then looking for another on the same ballot paper. And so, the PDP lost all the 11 House of Assembly and House of Representatives seats available for Ibadan to the ANPP.
The lesson is that if another party, other than the PDP, were to emerge victorious in Oyo State at the presidential poll in a similar manner, history may repeat itself, particularly when either of the two major parties, PDP and APC, have alternated power in the state. This possibility, THEWILL investigation shows, will put pressure on Makinde to bestir himself and deliver the state to his party.
SCENARIO 2: SENATE
For Governors Ortom, Ugwuanyi and Ikpeazu, who are senatorial aspirants on the platform of the PDP, their election as National Assembly members will take place on the same day as the presidential candidates on February 25, 2023. It is not their faces but the logo of the party that will be on the ballot.
For Ikpeazu and Ugwanyi of Abia and Enugu States, respectively, the challenge is stark. Both states have been controlled by the same party, the PDP, for the past 22 years with vested interests and privileges that run to the roots of communities there.
In consideration of this reality, these governors agreed to name big wigs from the state to participate in the Presidential Campaign Council of the party. In fact, women groups recently stormed the Governor’s Lodge in Enugu to remind Ugwuanyi that “Enugu is a PDP state.”
The PDP Chairman in Enugu State, Chief Augustine Nnamani, failed to respond to a request for his reaction. So did his Abia State counterpart, Hon Asiforo Okere.
But an aide to Nnamani confided in THEWILL saying that “nobody would want to speak on this matter for fear of offending the powers that be.”
For Ortom, the challenge is tough and hard. All the key PDP stalwarts are distributed evenly in the three senatorial zones in the state. Former Governor, Gabriel Suswan, comes from Zone A; ex-President of the Senate, David Mark and former Internal Affairs Minister, Abba Moro, come from Zone C, while Ortom and party National Chairman, Ayu, come from Zone B.
Attempts to get the reaction of the acting party Chairman in the state, Isaac Mfo, proved abortive as he would not answer calls put to his phone. But a notable party official said, “Any anti-PDP sentiment will not fly in this state,” but expressed the hope that the recent disagreement between the governor and Atiku has the “possibility of reconciliation.”
Ambassador Desmond Akawo, Rivers State Chairman, declined several calls put through to his phone. So did Kelvin Ebri, the Media Assistant to Wike.
NO ONE IS WITH WIKE
But the spokesman of the Atiku/Okowa Campaign Council in Rivers State, Dr. Leloonu Nwibubasa, debunked claims by Wike that Atiku failed to contact him for names to represent the state on the PPC.
He insisted that Wike and the state Chairman of the party were informed about the composition of the PPC.
Nwibubasa, a former Commissioner for Employment Generation under Wike’s administration, said on Friday that the governor was pursuing a personal vendetta against the PDP since he lost out in the party’s presidential primary election.
According to him, “The governor’s statement is misleading and there is no truth in the allegations he has levelled against the PDP at the national level.
“His statement is completely misleading and we are advising the Rivers people to take notice of this that this is a product of a personal vendetta by the governor having lost out of the PDP presidential primaries.
“It has nothing to do with the PDP at the national level. We also understand that the governor has been pushing Rivers people in the direction of his own selfish interest.
“When the people know the truth, they will align with the truth and that is why we are speaking up. Rivers is a PDP state and whoever wants to push us from the PDP to any other party is an enemy of the state.
“I can tell you that even some of the people you said are supporters of the governor are not. They may be his supporters publicly, but in their minds, they are all going to work for the PDP eventually.
“But for fear of the governor and because they hold positions right now in Rivers State, they are likely to be telling you, we’re with Wike. I can tell you that no one is with Wike.”
PARTY TO SUPPORT
The reason the Wike group cannot openly say what party or candidate they would support is also part of the dilemma that they are facing. The Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi, may be the face of the party and the movement, “Obidient” attached to it, but the party has the same leadership structure as the PDP. Its candidate, Obi; DG of Campaign, Dr Doyin Okupe and National Chairman, Julius Abure, are all from the South. Open declaration of support for the LP candidate would tag the Wike company as hypocritical. On the other hand, APC’s same faith ticket still being poorly received by a wide segment of the citizenry would paint them in bad light in the country where religion is one of the most potent currency driving politics.
Reacting to these developments, presidential spokesperson for Atiku, Charles Aniagwu, told THEWILL that the leadership of the party is still “interested in pursuing a resolution of the differences in the party and in the course of time, Governor Wike and other governors with him, will realise the need for party leaders and members to work together.”
He thinks the current crisis in the party will be resolved in the “not too distant future,” because “the leadership of the party, led by the presidential candidate, has seen the need to move in the same direction. So the issues will be resolved.”
Ologunaba dwelt further on ongoing efforts to address the lingering crisis, but denied that there was any time or any view that Governor Wike and his group would be ignored or sidelined in any way.
He said, “Negotiation is not a hundred metres dash. The party has the internal mechanism to resolve the differences in the party, but I cannot say whether it will happen tomorrow. Beyond this, all the layers in the party are on the same page on this matter.”
THEWILL also gathered exclusively that there is a supremacy battle ongoing between LP leaders and the “Obidient Movement.” This may complicate the stand of the Wike group should the brewing crisis develop into a major crisis and weaken the party as a strong contender in the 2023 presidential election. It would leave the APC and its rival PDP as major contenders in the upcoming poll. Traditional zones of interest across the country may be reset for both parties by the exit of LP, leaving the majors too big to be challenged by dissenters.
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