…. Atiku, Ayu Call Wike’s Bluff
…. Rivers Governor, Makinde Fight on, Demand Balance of Power
…. Tambuwal Tipped as Campaign Director-General
Politics as a matter of interest may be unclear as an idea until it begins to shape outcomes in the affairs of power players as the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, displayed on Thursday last week during its 97th National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Abuja.
Coming just 20 days to the official kick-off of electioneering campaigns on September 28, 2022, the meeting, which had in attendance party leaders comprising serving and ex- state governors, National Assembly members, chairmen of state chapters and National Working Committee members, had to take a firm stand on personal and governance issues posed by what is now called the ‘Wike vs Atiku and PDP crisis’ and forge ahead.
The NEC passed a vote of confidence on the National Working Committee (NWC) led by Dr. Iyorchia Ayu “for effectively managing the affairs of the party and restated its confidence in the NCW to lead the PDP to victory in the 2023 general election.”
This confidence vote effectively foreclosed calls by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and his group for Ayu to be sacked in order to ensure regional balance in the party. The Wike group is made up of Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and their Abia and Benue counterparts, Okezie Ikpeazu and Samuel Ortom, respectively, as well as their associates.
A dependable source in the party, who spoke with THEWILL on the condition of anonymity said: “This confidence vote is calling Wike’s bluff. He is not the party and cannot dictate how the party runs its affairs henceforth. I also heard his reaction, saying the presidential candidate promised him after the presidential primary that he would ensure that Ayu stepped down to achieve regional balance. How? Assuming the promise is true, can the candidate undo what the party at a convention did by electing members of the National Working Committee led by the National Chairman?”
The source added that the party and its candidate had made attempts to placate the Rivers State governor to no avail and it was time the party called his bluff. National Publicity Secretary of the Party, Debo Ologunagba, refused to elaborate on the issue. He only said that the statement he issued after the NEC meeting would suffice.
He told THEWILL: “I speak for the party. What happened at the party’s NEC meeting is that a vote of confidence was passed on the NCW led by the National Chairman, Dr Ayu. The NEC also resolved other party issues bordering on the acceptance of the resignation of the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jibrin and accepted the nomination of Senator Adolphus Wabara, in addition to approving structures for campaign and zonal reconciliation committees.”
For him, it is normal to have crises in any organisation and the party is not different, adding that it would resolve whatever was amiss through its internal mechanism.
“The way sections of the media are responding to issues within the party gives the incorrect impression of an unresolved crisis. Even what the media reported that the Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto, resigned is untrue,” he said.
WHAT IS TRUE?
THEWILL investigation however shows that with the vote of confidence passed on the NCW and National Chairman, Ayu, the PDP’s key stakeholders from the North are consolidating their hold on the party. The change of place at the Board of Trustees, BoT, level is not significant enough to alter the status quo within the party because that position is advisory and lacks powers to enforce rules or command obedience.
According to insiders, PDP big wigs are coming to the conclusion that Wike may not back down on his demands and has probably cut a deal with the ruling party to give a lifeline to his governorship candidate who is under watch by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged corrupt practices.
Therefore, the party made a decision to call his bluff and forge ahead with campaign strategies with or without him. This position, it was reliably gathered, is premised on the thinking that as the campaign gets underway, some members of what is now called the Wike group of governors, (namely, Ortom, Makinde and Ikpeazu) would come to face the reality of election and kowtow to the party, in whatever way, however little.
Except for Governor Makinde, the other three members of that team are completing their terms in office. In fact, it was this reality of seeing Makinde as the weakest link in the chain that spurred talks after the party’s NEC meeting that Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal had given up his position as Chairman of the party’s Governors Forum for Makinde. However, the Forum has refuted the reporting insisting that Tambuwal still chairs the association.
In another context, the party leaders are also working on the findings that the commitment of Wike’s team may not be as strong as the Rivers State Governor is saying publicly. Strong, powerful as governors are in their respective states, an outgoing governor is often less influential as their tenure draws down.
Leaders and stakeholders of the PDP are expected to ensure that the status quo is maintained in strongholds which Benue, Abia, Rivers had become for the opposition party over the years. Even Wike himself has said repeatedly that elders of the party had been going to Abuja to have meetings with the national leaders and the presidential candidate of the party, Atiku. Ortom, who was once vocal in support of Wike position on the emergence of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as vice presidential candidate, has since said Atiku is his candidate and he would work to ensure the party becomes victorious in the 2023 poll.
Responding to some of these findings by THEWILL, aides to some of the governors and party men said the PDP’s victory in the coming election was paramount for its rank and file.
Special Adviser on Information and Orientation to Governor Ortom, James Uloko, told this newspaper at the weekend that, “Governor Samuel Ortom is a party man to the core and he would prefer the right things to be done to ensure that the party is intact to win the coming election at the state and national levels so that there is change in the fortune of the country.”
In Oyo State, Taiwo Adisa, Media Aide to Governor Makinde, did not respond to calls to his mobile number. But Engr Akeem Olatunji, PDP spokesperson in the state, said the party was in full support of the governor and the party’s presidential candidate, but added that what “Governor Wike and Makinde are saying in the party are patriotic calls for inclusion so that the party can work in fairness and equity.’’
According to Olatunji, “The stand by my governor who has rebranded our party in Oyo to be unbeatable and Governor Wike is not personal. The current internal wrangling in the party is to give attention to some problems that would give a sense of belonging and make our work easier in the South. In Oyo, we have no other presidential candidate than Abubakar. We are not anti-Abubakar.”
He expressed the opinion that the party would respond to the demands made by the aggrieved governors.
To forge ahead, the party is said to be strategising to concentrate work in the North where the dominance of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) is being threatened by the same faith ticket, life-threatening insecurity and waning influence of President Muhammadu Buhari due to the bad state of the economy.
The South-South and South-East, according to the party’s findings, still remain strongholds of the party, though they are increasingly becoming like a free-for-all with the entrance of Labour Party, whose candidate appears to be gaining popularity for now, particularly among the youths who are demanding an end to poor governance.
WIKE FIGHTS BACK
While the party may have put behind it Wike’s demand for Ayu’s resignation with the confidence vote passed by its NWC on the chairman, the governor who dismissed the resignation of BoT Chairman, Jubril, as a distraction, opened another chapter in the ongoing face-off with the party by putting Atiku on the spot with the claim that the presidential candidate confided in him that Ayu would resign as chairman to create geo-political balance in the party.
“Now, when we finished our convention on Sunday, the candidate of the party came to see me in my house in Abuja on Monday around 10:30 am. The candidate told me that he wanted us to work together. Then he said: “Look, Ayu must go. I said, why? He (Atiku) said because when a candidate comes from the North, the Chairman will come from the South,” Wike said at an event in Rivers State last week daring the presidential candidate to deny it.
Wike, Bode George and Makinde appear to be the only prominent figures from the South in the PDP openly challenging Atiku and Ayu to balance power between the north and South.
THEWILL reached out to the Atiku Campaign for comments on Wike’s claim but there was no response as at Friday night. However, Ologunaba, the party’s National Publicity Secretary declined to comment on the allegation, saying he only speaks for the party. But a source close to the presidential candidate dismissed Wike’s claim as another smokescreen to continue what he calls the governor’s “anti-party activities.”
The source who spoke anonymously said; “Clearly, Wike is dividing the party and his claim that he is fighting for the South or national interest is untrue. Is he the only PDP state governor in the South? It is clear that his agenda is anti-party. There is a process that brought Ayu to office and there is a process to remove him and that process is beyond Atiku and Wike as individuals.”
Media aide to Wike, Kelvin Ebiri, did not respond to calls for comment. So did the state Chairman of the party, Ambassador Desmond Akawor.
Also, the Minority Leader of the party in the House of Representatives, Ndudi Elumelu, did not respond to messages and calls to his mobile phones.
However, the Vice-Chairman of the party for South-South, Chief Dan Orbih, told THEWILL that he was busy and could not comment on party matters for now.
Meanwhile, the party has commenced plans to inaugurate campaign committees across the three tiers of governance in the country, while the Governors Forum is expected to wade into the lingering crisis in the party soon.
Director-General of PDP Governors Forum, CID Maduabum, said: “Members of the PDP Governors Forum are working behind the scenes to resolve all contending issues concerning the party. To this end, a meeting of the Forum will soon be convened.”
THEWILL has authoritatively gathered that Tambuwal is in top contention for the position of Director-General of the Atiku presidential campaign as part of the deal reached that saw him drop his presidential ambition and endorsed Atiku at the party’s presidential convention. Tambuwal is also in play as Senate President if the PDP emerges majority at the Senate after next year’s election.
All the underground works are coming even as the North continues its dominance of the political space, apparently determined not to give up power in 2023 when President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling party is scheduled to complete his tenure. Buhari is from Katsina State in the country’s North West.
Wike, on his part, has said he would fight on until the party gives its chairmanship to the South, accusing Atiku of being arrogant and stubborn because his presidential bid is being supported by interests in the presidential villa. He however warned the PDP flag bearer not to forget the way the same presidential interests backed Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, during the APC presidential primary but eventually failed in their bid to Lawan on the party as its presidential flagbearer.
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