This is not the best of times for the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as peace continues to elude the party in the build up to the 2023 general elections.
The cold war between the party’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, assumed another dimension on Wednesday after the governor’s loyalists pulled out of the campaign council of the PDP presidential candidate.
Wike and some of his staunch supporters like Governors Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, and former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, among others were named in the presidential campaign council of Atiku.
Since Atiku won the PDP presidential primaries in May, Wike and Atiku have been at loggerheads. Infact, the duo have only met physically three times. Early in August, they met behind closed doors at the Abuja residence of a PDP chieftain, Prof. Jerry Gana. They first met, also in Abuja, few days after the primary.
The outcome of the primary birthed Wike’s grouse as he expressed the belief that the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal – who stepped down just as delegates were about to be called out to vote at the primary – not only betrayed him but also breached the rules of the convention.
Many say but for Tambuwal’s withdrawal from the race, Wike might have given Atiku a stiffer contest. His grievance grew after Atiku ignored him to name Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as his vice presidential candidate.
Although he initially said he was only interested in the presidential seat, Wike and his camp hoped that Atiku would name him as the running mate, especially after a panel constituted on the matter recommended him.
Defending the choice of Okowa in an interview on Arise TV, Atiku said he picked the Delta State Governor because he can “deliver the policies of the party and also try to unify the country.”
“Governor Wike was not rejected. Nobody was rejected in the party. But you must understand that it’s the prerogative of the candidate to pick his running mate — a running mate he believes he can work with amicably, and then also deliver the policies of the party and also try to unify the country,” he added.
After Okowa was unveiled, Wike flew to Istanbul, Turkey. While in Turkey, Wike reportedly shunned attempts by an emissary of Atiku to meet him in Istanbul, even though the former claimed Atiku never attempted to meet him.
The bad blood lingered until August 4, when they met at Gana’s place. However, after that meeting, the disagreement continued. While both men had agreed to set up committees that would meet and work out the reconciliation, Wike’s public acts clearly showed he still held a grudge.
Habitually, at the build-up to general elections in Nigeria, many candidates pay visits to past presidents, heads of state and elder statesmen alike. But this year, Wike is the most sought-after.
In the past few months alone, the governor has turned to a political bride and presidential candidates of different political parties, including the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), have met with him.
Hours before meeting Atiku for the third time in London, United Kingdom, the governor met with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi. Reports from the meeting claimed that the former president wants the the South East to produce the next president and is rallying support for Obi.
It was further said that the meeting of Wike’s group with the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, was aimed at wooing the governor and convincing him to work for the APC and its candidate in the 2023 election.
These two major visits by political suitors were preceded by call-ins from past and serving governors, especially from the APC. They either visited Wike at his private residence in Port Harcourt or honour an invitation to commission a project in the state. This appeared to pundits as efforts towards paving the way for Tinubu to have a smooth sail when he showed up.
Many have asked how much power does Wike wield to make a dent or an impact. Besides the notion that he fought for the survival of the party after it was defeated in 2015 and 2019, many also believe Wike controls the PDP structure in the South South and parts of the South East.
Undoubtedly, votes from Rivers State and neighbouring South South states have positively affected PDP’s performance in previous elections. In addition, as stubborn and coarse as he might seem, the governor is still influential and boasts of the loyalty of many past and serving governors, outside the South south region.
These are probably some of the features that the political suitors see that is making them rally round him. It could also be what prompted Atiku to change his journey to Paris, to enable him get to London to have dinner with Wike.
It was at the London meeting that Wike demanded the resignation of the party’s national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, before he would negotiate his support for the PDP presidential candidate. The governor wants Ayu to step down and be replaced by someone from the Southern region to correct the lopsidedness in the party’s leadership. Further, he complained of the chairman’s style of leadership, which he described as divisive.
Prior to the London meeting, a former governor of Jigawa State and one of Atiku’s ally, Sule Lamido, had said Wike has no reason to be aggrieved because “no one has offended him” and he will become a liability after his tenure expires in 2023.
Lamido said he was fed up with Wike’s “bombastic rants” and dismissed talks of reconciliation between the governor and Atiku, adding that Wike was acting like an emperor.
Also, the Oyo State Governor, Engr Seyi Makinde, who is one of the staunch supporters of Wike, during the South West PDP stakeholders meeting with Atiku in Ibadan last week called for Ayu’s removal.
According to Makinde, that is the position of members of the party from the region, he claimed, adding that “the message from the South West PDP is that the National Working Committee of the PDP should be restructured.”
“We are asking the National Chairman to step down so that the South will be fully included. That is the message,” Makinde had said.
However, five out of the six state chapters of the party in the zone have since debunked Makinde’s claim, saying there was no meeting where such decision was reached.
While responding to Makinde’s demand, Atiku said such a decision cannot be taken without considering the legal implications.
He had stated that: “The Peoples Democratic Party is the oldest political party in Nigeria since the return of democracy and even before then, it is a party that has laid-down rules and regulations. I have been a member of the party since when it was formed and I am still a member of the party up to the point of what it has grown to become.
“There is nothing any individual can do to change the outlook of the national working committee of the PDP. The PDP is a party where there are laid down rules and regulations. What Governor Makinde is asking for is possible only when we have amended our party’s constitution.
“As things stand today, no single individual has the power to tamper with the NWC of the party. Doing so will be illegal and it will be against our rules in the party.
“Nigerians will not trust us to govern by the tenets of rule of law if we take such arbitrary action against our own party.”
However, some party leaders, like the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, have stressed the need for the party and Atiku to not only apologise to Wike but to also reconcile with him.
But with the latest development, it is unclear whether Atiku would in fact convince Ayu, who he considers his loyalist, to step down, while Wike’s group are hoping the chairman would keep to his word and resign as he promised before the party’s presidential primary.
One thing is clear though, Atiku, at this juncture, would weigh the pros and cons. Should he fail to convince Ayu to step down, he would have to campaign through to the elections without Wike and his loyalists support.
Additionally, he would risk losing the support of Wike’s Rivers State and some parts of the South South to either the APC or Labour Party, a risk he might not be willing to take particularly because the supporters of the Labour Party presidential candidate can hurt the PDP in the South East region.