…as party leadership, Reps insist Ayu won’t resign
This piece looks at the crisis threatening PDP’s chances of making a comeback at the federal level after eight years in opposition.
Despite denials and mixed signals from some of its leading figures, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is apparently in crisis. The party has not known peace since it was swept out of power by the All Progressives Congress (APC). How did the party get to this sorry state? The party’s current crisis, which is a fall out of the outcome of the June 30, 2022 presidential primary, is a culmination of a series of events which followed the loss of power in 2015. Following the loss, several party leaders, some of whom connived with the then opposition APC to end PDP’s 16 years of dominance, ditched the ‘umbrella’ to seek their political fortunes elsewhere.
One man, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, stood out among the few party leaders who remained to salvage what was left of the PDP.
Working along with others, Wike’s intervention in party affairs was not without controversy. In pursuit of an agenda for total dominance, the rivers governor, along with his ally, former Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, pushed for a leadership change and foisted former Borno State Governor Ali Modu Sheriff as National Chairman.
Sheriff’s tenure inflicted on the PDP a leadership tussle never before seen in the party’s close to two decades of existence. It was brought to its knees such that it took the intervention of the Supreme Court to restore normalcy with the interim leadership of Sen. Ahmed Makarfi.
Not done, Wike engineered the emergence of Uche Secondus as National Chairman but they soon parted ways when Wike wanted Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State as the party’s candidate for the 2019 presidential election. The battle was so fierce that Wike threatened dire consequences if the PDP shifted the primary from Port Harcourt as earlier agreed. He had his wish but his candidate lost to former VP Atiku Abubakar.
At the height of the dispute, the Rivers governor owned up to having a hand in the travails of his one-time political ally (Secondus). In response to a question on whether he had a hand in the move to oust Secondus, Wike answered in the affirmative. A series of litigations followed and Secondus was edged out.
Enter Senator Iyiochia Ayu. Party stakeholders came together and arrived at a consensus to elect the former Senate President as replacement for Secondus.
It became the responsibility of the Ayu-led National Working Committee to prepare the ground for congresses at various levels as well as the primary to elect the party’s presidential candidate for the 2023 elections. This time, Wike indicated interest in running for the PDP ticket.
When the primary was eventually held at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja, on Saturday, May 28, Atiku emerged victorious after polling 371 votes to beat Wike who came second with 237 votes; Dr Bukola Saraki, a former Senate President, got 70 votes; Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, 20 votes; his Akwa Ibom State counterpart, Udom Emmanuel, 38 votes; Mr Pius Anyim, a former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, 14 votes, and Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, boardroom titan, one vote.
A last-minute decision by Tambuwal to throw his weight behind Atiku during the primary dealt a mortal blow on Wike’s chances. While the Rivers governor was still licking his wound, another shocker awaited him. His supporters had expected that he would be picked as presidential running mate but this was also not to be.
Atiku, who, perhaps, learnt a lesson from his 2019 experience, consulted critical organs of the party, including the PDP Governors’ Forum, Board of Trustees, and National Working Committee with each expressing different views.
He subsequently set up a committee to recommend a list of candidates from which he was to pick one. Three persons: Wike, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta) and Udom Emmanuel were recommended.
Atiku settled for Okowa, but this, obviously, didn’t go down well with Wike and those sympathetic to his cause.
Some of his colleagues in this category include Governors Samuel Ortom (Benue), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Okezie Ikpazu (Abia) and Seyi Makinde (Oyo) among others. It was learnt that the Wike camp is demanding among other things that the party’s National Chairman, Ayu, should step aside first, for his alleged partiality during the primary. Second, that his continued stay in office was a breach of the PDP’s zoning principle.
As things stand, the party’s presidential candidate, the National Chairman and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees are all from northern Nigeria. PDP stakeholders are still trying to broker peace.
A top ranking member of the party, who pleaded anonymity for fear of jeopardizing ongoing peace talks, said, “Truth be told, Wike is not contesting for any office at the moment, he literally has nothing to lose.
“The Atiku camp has angered the Wike camp with the conduct and utterances of some of its members.
“Matters were made matters worse by Atiku’s people who went behind to broker meetings between Atiku and some of Wike’s people in a bid to isolate him. “I’m aware that some strategists are working hard to isolate Wike in order to deal directly with those in his camp who have something at stake.
“Several of the governors will be seeking a second term in office come 2023, some will be heading for the Senate, and hence those in this category will see reason to abandon a course of action which could jeopardize their chances.”
Party watchers agree that the current travails of the party PDP are deep-rooted and virtually everybody in the party’s top echelon has played one role or another in making it fester.
A senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Jos, Joseph Anuga, explained that power abhors a vacuum as such, when the party’s founding fathers jumped ship and others stepped in to fill the gap, it would be inconceivable to expect such persons not to seek to promote their own interests.
He said, “People join political parties as a vehicle to actualize their personal or group interests. Governor Wike stepped in when others ran, you can’t blame him for seeking to benefit from the investment of his time, energy and resources in the party.”
An Abuja-based public affairs commentator, Mr. Adakole Moses, on his part, said the party will be shooting itself in the foot if it does not find a decent way to handle Wike’s concerns.
He said, “Since the PDP, like most of our political parties do not have a structured functional system of financing its operations, a man who helped sustain the party throughout its most challenging period will definitely have this sense of entitlement for whatever it is worth, the party and its candidate must find a way to reassure him and his supporters that their concerns are not being ignored.
“There is also a big challenge which both the PDP and any other party which intends to form government in 2023 cannot ignore-the South East. It is double jeopardy because; this is one part of the country which has consistently voted for the party since 1999.
“Most south-easterners feel alienated because they feel, and rightly so, that their close to two decades of support for the PDP brand should count for something.
“Votes from the region may not be much when compared to the North-West for example, but the eventual winner must get at least 25 percent of votes cast in each state to be returned.”
The Atiku camp has remained upbeat about prospects of an early resolution of the impasse following a face-to-face meeting between him and Wike penultimate week. Media Adviser to the former VP, Mazi Paul Ibe, told Sunday Vanguard, “We are in the final stages of talks, we are confident that most, if not all of the outstanding issues, will be thrashed out in no distant future. The PDP is one big family.”
A source in Wike’s camp said, “We are not averse to a quick resolution of all the issues, but we require significant guarantees to restore our confidence in the process.”
While a former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Chief Bode George, has led the move to oust Ayu in order to pave way for genuine reconciliation, the party leadership described his calls a personal opinion which was not reflective of the majority opinion of party members.
National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, said, “Every member has a right to express a personal opinion, it is their right.
“This does not however represent the majority opinion of our members.
“Our party organs have met severally and have expressed confidence in the leadership of the Iyochia Ayu-led National Working Committee.”
He explained that calls for Ayu’s removal on account of zoning were uncalled for at this time because there is precedent.
The spokesman noted that when President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, emerged as PDP candidate in 2007, Senator Ahmadu Ali, also a northerner, was National Chairman until Yar’Adua won the election before another Convention was held and a successor emerged.
Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Ndudi Elumelu, speaking in a similar vein at a party event in Abuja, on Friday, said those making such calls did not wish either the PDP or Nigeria well.
He said, “Those calling for the dissolution of the NWC do not mean well for the PDP and Nigeria. What we should be taking about now is how to unite the party towards achieving the rescue mission. We are proud of our party leadership and we are with them.”