As the main opposition People’s Democratic Party heads for another showdown, Emameh Gabriel writes that the party might be in for a rude shock if it fails to put its acts together.
Despite last week’s vote of confidence passed by the National Executive Council (NEC) of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on its National Chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, the crisis rocking the party seems far from over.
The Iyorchia Ayu led PDP looks like one that will be going into the 2023 general elections with bruises from its internal leadership battle, perhaps with a divided house. With campaigns for the general elections set to commence days from now, it is not certain if the party will come out healthy from its current leadership crises, even at its various state chapters.
That the PDP sailed against the strong wind of the presidency that was blowing South, has become the storm threatening to capsize the party and sink it into oblivion as permutations have shown that it will lose in the North and in the South to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) as the sentiment continues to build up just as Governor Wike continues to blow hot.
The feud between factions loyal to the party’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar and Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, seems to have taken another dimension- the battle line has been drawn- a situation that invokes memories of incidents that played out in the build up to the 2015 presidential election leading to PDP’s defeat at the polls that year.
Atiku Abubakar will not trade Ayu, a man who contributed largely to his success at the PDP presidential primary election to appease Wike. Wike on the other hand wants Ayu, the same man who crushed his presidential ambition out; he wants his pound of flesh at all cost.
The bone of contention is the insistence of some stakeholders, including governors on the platform of the party, led by Wike, that its national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, vacates his position to give a sense of inclusiveness and even distribution of key positions in the party. The argument is that the national chairman and other key positions of the party cannot remain in the north where the presidential candidate of the party emerged from.
Like the emergence of former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 as PDP’s flag bearer against the wish of some powerful northern forces in and out of the PDP, the emergence of Atiku Abubakar has also provoked agitations from some southern forces, splitting the opposition party into three factions.
Observers have advised the party to learn from the electoral misfortune it suffered in 2015 due to the topsy-turvy paths it threaded before the elections that year.
While the PDP seems not to have fully recovered from its 2015-2019 electoral bruises, it has also not learnt from experience as it continues to expose itself to attack from within and outside its ranks.
The party has even become a subject of ridicule to the ruling party, who recently offered to provide solution to its unending internal squabbles.
Minister of State for Labour and Productivity and Spokesperson for the APC presidential campaign, Festus Keyamo, recently twitted: “If PDP begs us, we may consider donating the real UNIFIER, @officialABAT to assist in unifying their ranks to get them ready for their comprehensive defeat in 2023. We want a healthy opposition during the election. We don’t want the excuse that we fought with a disabled opponent”.
Last Thursday, at its 97th National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Abuja, the PDP passed a vote of confidence on its national chairman, Ayorchia Ayu, entrusting him with the responsibility to lead the party to next year’s general elections. Meaning Wike has lost another round of the battle to remove Ayu.
The decision came after major stakeholders of the party arose from the make or mar meeting with some far-reaching decisions aimed at resolving the dispute that had engulfed it since its convention in May, 2022.
At an earlier meeting of the party’s Board of Trustees, chairman of the Board (BoT), Senator Jibrin Walid (North) resigned his position to pave way for the emergence of the BoT secretary, Senator Adolphus Wabara, (South) to become the acting chairman.
Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde, was also said to have emerged as the new chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum minutes after the former chairman, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State resigned from the position.
But national publicity secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, denied reports that Tambuwal resigned his position as chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, stating that no such development took place at the meeting.
Reports at the weekend had it that governors elected on the platform of the party are divided over the decision to remove Ayu as it has become an almost impossible task as the national chairman has the backing of the founding fathers of the party.
Recalled that Atiku and Wike, including governors loyal to the the Rivers State Governor held a meeting in the UK last month to resolve their difference but both sides could not reach an agreement.
Although 16 governorship candidates of the party who had earlier met Wike in Port Harcourt, disclosed that the issue between Atiku and the Rivers State Governor has been resolved, this claims look contrary going by developments from Wike’s camp since after the meeting.
Kaduna State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate, Isa Mohammed Ashiru, who led the delegation had claimed that Atiku and Wike were ready to meet with the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) to take a decision.
His words: “It was fruitful and an open discussion with sincerity. We are home and dry. We discussed issues that border on the situation within the party.
“We are here with our brother and friend (Wike). Issues that border on what has happened have been sorted out. The issues have been resolved as far as I’m concerned because we have heard from both sides.
“We are going to meet with the National Working Committee to take a decision,” Ashiru had said.
While Ayu has boasted that no amount of pressure from Wike will make him relinquish his position, he is playing safe to stay above waters.
He had after surviving the plot of removal last week at the PDP NEC meeting disclosed that the party’s National Working Committee ( NWC) would meet Governor Wike and other aggrieved members of the party.
Ayu stated this when he led members of the NWC on a visit to acting chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees ( BoT), Senator Adolphus Wabara.
The PDP national chairman also called on agrieved members of the party to sheath swords, put the past behind and join him to work for interest of the party. He also charged the new BoT chairman, Wabara and members of the party’s NEC to deploy the best of diplomacy to restore peace in the party.
According to Ayu: “The confidence reposed in the NWC is an encouragement that the party should unite and be one strong family. To read the outcome of yesterday’s meeting as one group being victorious over another will be erroneous. We are all winners.
“My understanding is that the party wants unity. Thankfully you can play the role of a unifier even better with your immense preparation as a diplomat, former Member House Of Representatives, former senator and ex-Senate President who had worked with this party for a long period of time.
“You have the full support of myself, the candidate and the whole NWC to reach out to Governor Wike, all the governors and any person who is aggrieved, and appeal to them, plead with them to come back and let’s work together in the PDP family.
“If we do not win next year’s general election, Nigerians will be very, very disappointed. The hope of Nigeria is on us.
“We implore you to use your diplomatic skills to reach out to all aggrieved members and I am telling you that it is with our full support, including that of the Presidential candidate and Vice-Presidential Candidate who called me 30 minutes before we got here”.
Adamant Wike, unyielding Atiku
For Wike, the battle has just begun.
Despite the decision taken by the major decisions making body of the party, Wike seems to have an axe to grind; it is Ayu’s resignation or nothing. He is not taking any hostage; he is holding Atiku to his words and ready to hold the PDP to ransom till his demands are met. The Rivers State Governor is battle-ready.
Wike had after last week’s NEC meeting challenged Atiku to the fact that he did not promise him that Ayu will vacate his position as national chairman of the PDP. He alleged Atiku told him in person that when he won the May primary that Ayu would resign but Atiku has failed to keep to that promise.
“When we finished our convention on a Saturday to Sunday, the candidate of the party (Atiku) came to see me in my house in Abuja on Monday around 10:30am. The candidate told me: ‘I want us to work together’ and then he said, ‘Look, Ayu must go’.
“I said why? He said because when a candidate comes from the north, the chairman will come from the south. And I am saying, implement what you told me. What offence have I committed? It has nothing to do with Wike; it has to do with integrity.
“I challenge the presidential candidate to deny this. If he denies this, I will go further to say so many things to Nigerians because enough is enough,” said Wike during the inauguration of the Ahoada Campus of the Rivers State University in the Ahoada East Local Government Area of the state.
Also last weekend, Wike said no vote of confidence can save Ayu, citing the case of Uche Secondus who had vote of confidence passed on him too by the party’s National Executive Committee in April 2021 but was still axed.
He said: “I was listening, watching, they said there is one man they call Secondus. They said he was dancing, celebrating that NEC gave their person a vote of confidence.
“He forgets history that the same NEC through Aliyu Babangida who moved a motion for a vote of confidence supported by the same person – Ndudi Elumelu. They gave him a vote of confidence, what happened? He left office”, said Wike who challenged Secondus to come back to Rivers to mobilise support for the PDP ahead of the 2023 elections.
He continued: “We don’t fight and go back. If you like, you can have as many votes of confidence, it is not my business; my business is to make sure the right thing is done and the right thing must be done whether today or tomorrow.
“So, let nobody worry himself. If you are dancing, come home and dance, come and mobilise for the party you think that will win election. I am here waiting for him. No more 419 in this game. Enough is enough.
“We are only waiting for INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) for them to blow the whistle. When they blow the whistle, we will know those who are in charge of Rivers State and those who are mere visitors to the state.”
Similarly, Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign Organisation at the weekend confirmed that Ayu would not yield to the demand of Governor Wike to step down as PDP national chairman as a condition for reconciliation in the party.
Spokesman of the organisation, Mr Charles Aniagwu, said the PDP decision was for the best interest of the party, especially on constitutional ground.
Aniagwu, who spoke on Arise Television, said the current crisis in the PDP would be a child’s play if Ayu resigned ahead of the 2023 election.
He said, however, leaders of the party are still weighing other options on what is permissible under the party’s constitution.
According to him: “People may misinterpret it to mean calling the bluff of certain stakeholders, but that is far from it, because the party leadership examined the issues vis-a-vis the provisions of the party’s constitution as amended in 2017.
“When you look at that constitution, there are principal officers called the National Working Committee of the party led by the National Chairman, and in the other of hierarchy, the Deputy National Chairman who must also come from same zone with the National Chairman is next in line.
“The third in line is the National Secretary. And when you look at these positions, the National Chairman is from the North, the second in command is also from the North by virtue of the provision of the party’s constitution.
“In Section 45 of the party’s constitution, in the event of removal or resignation of the National Chairman, the National Deputy Chairman takes over and acts in the position of that National Chairman pending when the party is able to organise another election or do a NEC meeting to be able to take a decision as to how to rearrange the hierarchy of the party.”
Whether the PDP will come out of its crisis in one piece is one thing but its decision to jettison agitations to zone its presidential ticket to the South will remain the party’s nightmare.
The PDP has its strongest political support base in the South and minority areas of the North (the Middle Belt), and was expected to be the most willing to pick its presidential candidate from the region and consolidate its winning chances from the North.
“It was a miscalculated attempt by our party hoping to harvest massive votes of Northern Nigeria by fielding a candidate from the region at a time the APC looked South even after several calls and warning. This is a sentiment that would be used against them at the campaign”, said a former Edo PDP chieftain who left the party recently for Labour Party.
The National Working Committee of the PDP meets with Wike this week to bring both his camp and that of Atiku to table for another round of negotiation. Will Wike bleak after all that has been said and done? Or will Atiku give in to pressure to give out his closed ally, Ayu, as the sacrificial lamb for his presidential ambition? Only time will tell!