From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, tension is mounting in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as controversies have continued to trail the nomination of Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as the party’s vice presidential candidate.
PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, recently unveiled Okowa as his running mate for the 2023 general elections.
Prior to the unveiling of Okowa, the special panel set up by the PDP to shop for a suitable running mate for Atiku had reportedly voted in favour of Wike as the opposition party’s vice presidential candidate by 14 votes to three.
Nevertheless, the panel, which consisted of members and representatives of the PDP National Working Committee ( NWC), Governors Forum, Board of Trustees ( BoT), former Ministers Forum recommended Wike, Okowa and the Akwa Ibom governor, Udom Emmanuel as probable vice presidential candidates. But Atiku on his own settled for the Delta governor. Atiku had polled a total of 371 votes, at the PDP convention, to defeat Rivers Governor Nyesom Wike, who scored 237 votes, and 11 others.
However, there have been unease in the opposition party, since the Delta governor’s unveiling as its vice presidential candidate, as neither the PDP nor Atiku has known peace.
Loyalists of Wike are of the view that he ought to have been chosen as the PDP vice presidential candidate as favoured by the panel. According to them, since the majority of the members of the panel set up to shop for a vice presidential candidate voted for him, he ought to have been selected as Atiku’s running mate.
However, while Wike has kept sealed lips over the turn of events, party stakeholders are apprehensive over the likely effect, especially the misgivings the issues surrounding the PDP vice presidential slot might have on the party’s campaign for the 2023 general elections.
Sunday Sun gathered that the crisis has polarized the various organs of the party, including the National Working Committee ( NWC), as well as the PDP Governors Forum, with different groups queuing behind Wike and Atiku/the PDP leadership.
In the aftermath of the selection of Okowa as Atiku’s running mate, PDP governors have kept away from subsequent party functions. Multiple sources say the failure of the opposition party to hold its grand rally prior to the just concluded Ekiti State governorship poll, as well as the party abysmal performance in the poll is not unconnected to the vice presidential candidate controversy.
Last Tuesday, 11 PDP governors stayed away from the inauguration of the party’s National Campaign Council for the Osun State governorship poll. The governors who were absent included: Nyesom Wike, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Okezie Ikpeazu, Samuel Ortom, Seyi Makinde of Rivers, Enugu, Abia, Benue and Oyo states respectively.
Others absent at the event included the Chairman of the Campaign Council and Bayelsa State governor, Diri Douye; Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal; Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed; Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, Akwa Ibom state governor, Udom Emmanuel and Adamawa State governor, Ahmadu Fintiri. Incidentally, they are all members of the 128-man campaign council.
Indications that the majority of the governors are not happy with Atiku and the PDP came to the fore last week as the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, in a television interview said that Wike and his supporters deserve an explanation from Atiku on why he was not chosen as the party’s vice presidential candidate.
Ortom had said: “I expect him(Atiku) to reach out to Wike, who came second and he denied the popular view of PDP members; 14 out of 17, saying that Wike should be the VP. In his wisdom, he choose that it should be Governor Okowa. Governor Okowa is a nice man. I have no problem with him. If we are in a democratic era and 14 people out of 17 say it should be Wike and he in his wisdom gave it to Okowa, I expect more explanations. I expect him to talk to Wike first, that we are supporting. I expect him to even reach out to some of us. So that together we can work as a party.”
A member of the House of Representatives from Rivers State, Solomon Bob, told Sunday Sun in a telephone interview, that Atiku had offered the Rivers State governor the vice presidential slot, immediately after the national convention. He stated that it was surprising that the former vice president would turn round to choose someone else.
Bob noted: “A day after the convention, Atiku went to Wike to appeal to him to be his running mate. Wike asked for time to consult. Wike never wanted to become running mate to anyone. Atiku was the one who made the offer to him, after the convention. That was what happened.
“He ( Wike) consulted. He was persuaded to accept. And he said okay, we can work together. The same man (Atiku) went back on his offer and passed through the party, the party also voted for the person he has made the offer to earlier on. Unknown to anyone else, he (Atiku) had a secret joker in his mind.
“He was the one who went to him with the offer of a running mate. Wike’s anger is the deception. That is not how things are done. His anger is about the man’s behaviour. No one compelled him to make that offer.”
The lawmaker, who expressed fear that the issue if not properly handled will spell doom for the opposition party, advised Atiku to reach out to the Rivers governor and appeal to him.
“If it is not handled properly, it portends failure in 2023. That is what it portends. Atiku has to come down from his horse. He is not a president yet. He must not forget that. And he is not vying on the platform of the party in power. He is vying on the platform of the opposition. He has to come down from his high horse and enter into concrete agreement with Wike. Beg him. He has to beg Wike.
“Wike is the PDP biggest factor, including in the North. He knows that. But for the last minute eleventh hour game they played, Wike would have won the primary. Wike is PDP biggest factor. If Wike leaves PDP today, he is not leaving alone. Wike has capacity to tear PDP from top to bottom. But he is not going to do that. He is a party man. But Atiku has to learn to be humble.”
Nevertheless, media aide to Atiku, Paul Ibe, said that the issue of whether or not the PDP presidential candidate asked Wike to be his running mate should not be the issue for now. Ibe stated that the concern of every well-meaning member of the opposition party should be how to wrest power from the ruling All Progressives Congress ( APC).
According to him, “with the conclusion of the nomination process, every well-meaning member, stakeholders and leader of the PDP should be preoccupied or should be concerned about how the party can move forward, united to be able to wrestle power from the APC. That should be the preoccupation.
“This argument of who was offered what, should not be the subject for now. It does not serve the interest of the party and it will not serve the interest of Nigerians, who are anxiously looking on the leadership of the PDP be to able to save this party from the ruins of the APC.”
However, Ibe said that the former vice president has noted all the complaints by aggrieved members of the party, adding that all the issues would be resolved.
“His Excellency Atiku Abubakar heard them loud and clear. Even before the complaints were made public, His Excellency has started the process of uniting the party. The process of mediation, of engaging. First of all starting with those who contested with him. “He visited them. He had discussion with them. He has also been in touch with other leaders and stakeholders. It is a continuous engagement. It is not a one off thing. He has upped it since the end of nomination process that had produced grievances in some quarters. All of the issues would be resolved before the 2023 elections. You can be assured of that, “ he stated.
However, the noose seems to be tightening around the PDP national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, as aggrieved members of the party are accusing him of alleged bias in the process leading to the emergence of the PDP presidential candidate and the running mate.
Critics are quick to point to Ayu’s visit to the Abuja residence of the Sokoto State governor, and his stance that the panel set up to shop for a vice presidential candidate did not in favour any person as evidence of his alleged bias.
The PDP chairman, a day after the national convention, had visited Tambuwal in company of former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido. In a video clip on the visit, Ayu was heard hailing the Sokoto governor as the hero of the convention. In the video clip, which was also shared online, Ayu was seen patting Tambuwal’s back and saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are the hero of the convention.”
But, the PDP chairman said that the allegation of bias does not hold water as the party gave every aspirant a level playing ground. Ayu, who spoke through his Special Assistant on Communication and Strategy, Simon Imobo-Tswam, said that his visit to Tambuwal’s residence does not remove anything from the credibility and intergrity of the national convention.
According to him, “when Dr Ayu became the chairman of the party, he was clear about giving everyone a level playing field. At every forum, he emphasised that the NWC which he leads was going to be very impartial, so that the best candidate emerges in a very transparent manner that doesn’t give room for contentions and misinterpretation. And to a large extent, that was what Dr Iyorchia Ayu did.
“If you recall the day that our flag bearer was here to address the NWC on his aspiration. And the chairman told him clearly that we have been friends and we have come a long way, but I will not work for you, Mr Atiku Abubakar as an aspirant. But when you win the election, and become our flag bearer, I will market you. I will stand by you. Right now, you are just like any other aspirant.
“I don’t believe it that the national chairman was partisan. The convention was free, fair, credible and transparent.
“We can’t condemn him for describing someone who exercises his freedom (as hero of the convention). What the chairman is alleged to have said does not take away from the transparency, from the integrity and the credibility of the convention.”
Imobo-Tswam further stated that it would be unfair for anyone to hold the national chairman responsible for Atiku’s choice of running mate. He said that it was imperative to note that the terms of reference of the panel set to shop for a running mate was not to choose a particular person, but to make recommendations to the presidential candidate, who has the final say.
“I should think that the party asked the panel to recommend three names to the candidate so that he will now shop the person that suits him.
“If candidate A name was binding, why send three names. People are being unfair to the national chairman, because he is not the candidate. Once a candidate emerges the issue of choosing his running mate, of course, he will consult the caucuses, but the final decision of who runs with him is personal to him. Atiku Abubakar is the candidate of the party. Only him have the final say on who runs with him. Not Dr Iyorchia Ayu.”
Nevertheless, Sunday Sun gathered that the aggrieved party leaders are unrelenting in their quest to sack Ayu as party chairman. Those behind the plot, it was gathered, had met severally in Abuja, last week, to perfect their plots. A party source disclosed that one of the meetings was held in Asokoro last Tuesday night.
According to the source, “I can confirm to you that there are plots. Meetings are being held. Plans are ongoing to move against him. Once they get the required number, they will pass a vote of no confidence in him.
“Most of the NWC members are not happy the way he (Ayu) handled the vice presidential candidate issue. After eminent persons voted in favour of Wike. They want to implode the party. And it is not good for us.”