…Brouhaha Over Tinubu’s Campaign Council Membership
…APC Flagbearer’s Whereabouts Stir Controversy
…Wike’s Camp Sustains Grudge Fight Against Ayu, Atiku
September 28, 2022 was officially marked by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the kick-off of electioneering campaigns ahead of the 2023 general election, but the two major political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) instead started their campaigns with fresh internal crises on that date.
The main opposition PDP got off to a shaky start with the public launch of three new books by its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and the inauguration of a 600-member Presidential Campaign Council on that date.
Later in the evening, one of the spokespersons of the party, Dr Daniel Bwala, hurriedly sent out a statement warning that a member of the party’s National Executive Committee, Chief Chinemerem Madu, had alerted the Atiku/Okowa Campaign Council to an alleged plan by some persons within and outside the party to conduct a press conference or issue a press release calling for the removal or resignation of the National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu.
Bwala said, “Whatever the plans may be, they are intended, in the statement of Chief Chinemerem Madu, to create a distraction from the collective efforts by the party and its members to execute a Rescue Nigeria project.”
He added, “Our campaign council members were inaugurated today, Wednesday, during the launching of books about our flag bearer, His Excellency Atiku Abubakar. For all intent and purposes, we are set to commence our campaigns from today (Wednesday), hence the alleged plan to destabilise our efforts.”
Before the end of the following day, which was Thursday, Bwala’s fears were confirmed.
Each of the four members of the National Working Committee (NWC) released letters addressed to the National Chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, stating their intention to return sums of money, totaling N128.8 million paid by the party into their bank accounts for purposes that were unclear to them.
The NWC members, namely, Prof Stella Effah-Attoe, the National Woman Leader of the party, got N36 million; Chief Dan Orbih, National Vice Chairman, South- South, received N28.8 million; Ambassador Taofeek Arapaja, Deputy National Chairman, South-West, got N36 million and Olasoji Adagunodo, National Vice Chairman, South-West, received N28 million.
Coincidentally, the governing APC was at the same time also embroiled in a different crisis that prevented it from holding the public launch of its President Campaign Council.
On that Wednesday, September 28, a leaked letter from the APC National Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, accused the presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, of running a one-man campaign show, after having filled the council with his friends and associates without any input from the party. He therefore demanded the withdrawal of the list.
The letter read, in part, “Without further admonishment or complaints, I wish hereby to call upon Your Excellency to restrain the PCC (Presidential Campaign Council) from undertaking solo projects of this nature, and agree to work with all stakeholders towards taking our party to victory.
“It suffices for me to convey the general and overwhelming sentiment of the NWC, with regard to the ill-timed and unfortunate release of the PCC list, which confounded rather than pleased the members and whose withdrawal will assure the NWC of Your Excellency’s respect and disposition towards the Party, as well as the magnanimous spirit of cooperation towards achieving victory together with the NWC.”
As this development raged, the party, in a statement, denied that any such ‘draft’ letter titled, ‘Release of the Tinubu-Shettima Presidential Campaign Council List,” ever emanated from the office of the party chairman.
According to the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka, “the DRAFT letter did not emanate from the party. An unsigned letter that marked itself as a ‘DRAFT’ cannot and should not be attributed to its purported author. Such an unsigned draft letter of the kind in circulation is patently unnecessary and of no qualitative value to engagement between the party and the PCC.”
Then on Thursday, Tinubu responded to the controversy over the PCC. Confirming reports of a rift between the PCC and the party Exco, he said he would expand the council from its current 422-membership to 2,000 to accommodate aggrieved stakeholders, who the Director-General of the PCC, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State, said had complained about its composition. While this controversy was trending, another crisis broke.
Where is Bola Tinubu?
Tinubu was absent at the venue of the signing of a pre- election peace accord by the 18 presidential candidates on the platform of the National Peace Committee, headed by former Head of State, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.).
Tinubu was represented at the event by his running mate, Kashim Shettima. It was bad optics for the party. Ordinarily, Tinubu’s absence would not have attracted public interest except that Shettima has been solely attending public functions on behalf of the joint ticket since the emergence of the presidential team in July, 2022, first, at the Nigerian Bar Association Conference held on August 22, 2022 and secondly at the Yoruba Tennis Club on September 17, 2022. It looked like the campaign season for the party would be made for Shettima.
The postponement of the inauguration of the Presidential Campaign Council is believed to be due to Tinubu’s absence from the country, just as his failure to attend the peace accord meeting is somehow seen as unprecedented, except for the case with Atiku in 2018 who had to come and sign the accord a day after the others had done so.
Wike’s Group Fights Dirty Over Ayu
For the PDP, the return of N128.8 million by the four NCW members to the coffers of the party actually raised the question of timing and transparency.
Prof Effah-Attoe’s letter showed that the money was paid into the accounts of the quartet on September 14, 2022, for “two years’ house rent,” yet it took all of them up to 15 days to return the money. Why 15 days? Why did all four do so on the same day? All four, according to THEWILL findings, are associates of the aggrieved governors in Governor Nyesom Wike’s camp. Attoe and Orbih were sponsored for their positions by Wike. Arapaja and Adagunodo are Governor Seyi Makinde’s allies.
According to a dependable party source, who chose to remain anonymous, the “show by the four NCW members was calculated to inflict damage on the credibility of the party at the launch of the its presidential campaign council. They are known as Wike’s group allies. It is not by coincidence that they are all from the South.”
The Media Adviser to Governor Wike, Kelvin Ebiri, declined to answer a call put to his phone line.
The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunaba, who sent a statement rather than take direct questions from THEWILL, said the “Housing Allowance being referred to,” in reports alleging the payment was a bribe, “went through the due process of the party in line with the conditions of service and the entitlement of the staff and principal officers of the party.”
He added: “If any individual, for any reason, decides to return the money duly approved and paid, such does not in any way suggest that the money was paid as bribe or indicate that it was illegitimate or unlawfully paid.”
A member of the PCC, and one-time NWC member of the party, Kola Ologbodinya, told this newspaper that the matter was a “distraction” that would not damage the party and affect its campaign.
Recounting his experience, Ologbodinya said: “Since the NWC members do not depend on monthly salaries, imprest and allowances are paid to them and because they are often paid when funds are available, the money often comes in bulk. Secondly, every NCW member submits their account numbers to the treasurer immediately the body is inaugurated and I know that everyone knows through meetings what to expect as a member. That was what happened when I was National Publicity Secretary of the party.”
He refused to be drawn into the argument that it was another opening in the ongoing battle by the Wike group, which is calling for Ayu’s resignation in the interest of peace in the party.
“It may take time, but the so-called crisis in the party would be resolved before the election,” he said with optimism, adding that the wrong public perception of the affairs of the PDP arose from the tendency to always look at the bigger picture and personalities.
“At the public presentation of three books by our candidate, Atiku Abubakar, before the inauguration, people were looking out for governors only, whereas representatives came from all over the states. For example, Governor Samuel Ortom was absent, but former Senate President, David Mark and many party leaders from Benue were present.
“People may wonder why Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State who received Abubakar during a visit to the state the previous day, was absent, but many leaders from Enugu were present, like Chief Jim Nwobodo. Ambassador Toafeek Arapaja from Oyo was there and so on.”
For the APC, it is still not clear if the expected arrival of Tinubu from London on Monday, October 3, would lead to the quick resolution of the confusion in the party over the composition of the PCC.
An inside source said, “One thing that is sure is that the council will be expanded and the current appointments will be juggled to accommodate new members.”
There is fear within the party that Tinubu may surround himself with aides and cronies should he emerge as President, given the way and manner he is going ahead with the running of the campaign council.
The undercurrents of the politics of the pre and post-presidential convention period, whereby President Muhammadu Buhari through the Chairman, Adamu, rooted unsuccessfully for the emergence of Senate President Ahmad Lawan is still playing out. Trust has suffered as a result and the leaders of the party are depending on support from members of their respective legacy parties that merged to form APC.
The Director of Media and Publicity of the current PCC of the party, My Bayo Onanuga, could not be reached on his phone. But a member of the media directorate of the PCC, Mr Kehinde Bamigbetan, told THEWILL that there was no cause for alarm.
For him, the picture being painted by Tinubu’s absence at public functions where Shettima often represented him was mistaken. It was for strategic reasons, he submitted.
Admitting that Tinubu was in London currently, but “to strategise for the campaigns,” Bamigbetan said it was only at the signing of the peace accord by presidential candidates that Tinubu had been absent and it was not deliberate.
He said, “People have to recognise that it is a joint ticket. One of them has to be present. The peace accord parley was a party and not an individual event. The appearance of VP candidate Shettima at the NBA event was deliberate.
“It was meant to expose Shettima to the Lagos crowd and the South where he is less known than in the North. That was what also happened with the Yoruba Tennis Club. It was Shettima who was invited, not Tinubu. For the LCCI, the invitation was staggered for the presidential candidate. Tinubu is supposed to be there on October 23, 2022.”
For elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, who told this newspaper in an interview that he was not a card carrying member of any party but was merely exercising his right to support a candidate of his choice, hence his appearance on the APC PCC list as a campaign patron, in any organisation “founded by human beings there would always be disagreements. The important thing is that they are resolved.”
In conclusion, Ologbodiyan said, “We still have over 100 days to go before the election. The party is deploying all its machinery to resolve its crisis, but even so I can tell you that the campaign will deliver our candidate as the next President.”
For Morka, the APC simply wants to be part of the campaign council. “That’s all. The party is the vehicle the candidate is running on and the candidate is the candidate of the party. Planning should go on between the party and the candidate. People want to be part of the Campaign Council and those who are excluded are offended for not being included, if people are eager to serve in the council, they should be included. It is about managing members to add value to the campaign,” he said.
The Spokesperson of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, could not also be reached as his telephone was switched off and out of reach when THEWILL called last Friday evening. A message also sent to him via his WhatsApp number had yet to be replied as of the time of filing this report.