Kemi Olaitan reports that the trouble shooting trip of the Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to the South West geo-political zone may not have ease the crisis in the major opposition party
Leaders, stakeholders and members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the six states in the South West region last week stormed the Theophilus Ogunlesi Hall, Ibadan, the Oyo state capital, to play host to the presidential candidate of the party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and other leaders of the party. It was an interactive session with major stakeholders of the party in the region or what many analysts termed as trouble shooting effort by the flag bearer of the party.
There is no doubt so much has happened within the party since the emergence of Atiku as the candidate of the party for the 2023 presidential elections and his choice of the governor of Delta state, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, as his running mate.
The most strident of the crisis which faced the party was what many political observers regarded as moral challenge posed by some governors of the party led by Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, insisting that the National Chairman of the party, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, should step down for a Southerner, in line with pre-primary agreements.
Other governors who have been vociferous in the call that Ayu must go include Seyi Makinde of Oyo state; Ifeanyi Ikpeazu of Abia state and Samuel Ortom of Benue state.
The contention of the Wike camp is that it is not right for the two most powerful positions in the party, to be occupied by people from the same Northern region Both Atiku and Ayu are from the north.
While concerted efforts by well-meaning party chieftains such as the immediate past chairman of the parry’s Board of Trustees (BOT), Senator Walid Jibrin, who resigned during the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the party and replaced by a former Senate President, Senator Adolphous Wabara, a Southerner, to douse the tension and reunite the warring factions, the Wike’s camp had remain unbending in its position that Ayu must step down.
The coming to Ibadan by Atiku and his entourage that include the vice presidential candidate, Dr. Okowa; Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto state; former governors Babangida Aliyu, Niger state and Senator Lyel Imoke, Cross River state; Senators Abdul Ningi and Dino Melaye; and High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, was to put the party on the path of unity with a few days left before the commencement of campaigns.
Speakers at the well attended stakeholders meeting include vice-presidential candidate, Senator Okowa; chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal; Osun State governor-elect, Senator Ademola Adeleke, the acting National Chairman of the PDP, Iliya Damagun, former governor of Osun state, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola and former Deputy Governor of Ekiti state, Senator Biodun Olujinmi.
They all spoke on the need for the party to forge ahead as a united front, adding that the PDP has demonstrated the readiness to win the Presidency and liberate Nigerians from the hardship brought upon the country by the APC.
Governor Makinde who many analysts believed would shun the meeting being a front member of the Wike’s camp, was to be the chief host as the leader of the party in the region. And former governor of Osun state, Prince Oyinlola, speaking on behalf of other former governors, Ayodele Fayose, Ekiti state and Olusegun Mimiko, Ondo state; said Makinde would present the position of the region on the crisis rocking the party to the presidential candidate. This the Oyo state governor did.
Makinde did not mince words in presenting the position of the South West region, which he divided into two pre-election and post-election demands, noting that for the party to feel reassured that the party is being inclusive, the lopsided sharing of its national positions must be reversed before the elections, attracting wild applause from those present.
The Oyo sate governor while maintaining that truth must be told, said the South West leaders of the party believed that Atiku as a unifier is capable of moving Nigeria out of the doldrums the All Progressives Congress (APC) had plunged it in over seven years, adding that he was confident the party’s presidential candidate has the capacity to reposition the country.
He however told the former Vice President between 1999 and 2007, to look inwards by first supporting the restructuring of the party and uniting its members before the elections.
Makinde, who explained that the insistence of Governors Wike, Ortom, Ifeanyi and himself, that the party must play a politics of inclusion by allowing the National Chairmanship post to move South, should not be seen as having a problem with the party or the presidential candidate as the governors have left the issue of presidential primaries behind them.
He reiterated that the message of the South-West PDP to the presidential candidate is that the National Chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, must step down and the National Working Committee of the PDP be restructured to reflect national unity.
His words, “I want to thank everyone for coming for this meeting and I think, at this point, we have to tell ourselves nothing but the truth. What we will do here is to speak the truth to ourselves. Yes, others have spoken here about the positive side of things but we do have challenges and issues to address in our party. But one good thing is, we have the capacity to address those issues.
“Of course, I have seen people abuse me on social media, saying this issue is about Wike, Makinde, Ortom and Ugwuanyi, but the truth is we don’t have any issue either with our party or our presidential candidate. If there are challenges, we must bring them on the table so that we can address them to ensure that our journey is smooth and we can get to our destination. So, this is not about individuals.
“I see some people talk about what cropped up during and after the presidential convention when somebody was selected as vice-presidential candidate. Truth is, those are issues that are behind us. They have happened and they have happened but this is where we are. Are there issues coming out of those that we really need to address so we can be successful at the end of the day? The answer is yes and we will address them. Integrity and honour must be a part of our national psyche.
“We have spoken about the movement; the youth and we have spoken about what they are looking for. Our people are in a state of hopelessness, which the APC brought upon us and it is the reality but we are supposed to give hope to our people. We want them to listen to us, to hear our message to them. For us to be able to do that, we must lay a good example.
“We say we want to rescue Nigeria. Our candidate is a unifier and he will unify Nigeria. We want to restructure Nigeria. I have listened to our candidate both publicly and privately and we have had several interactions. Our party is talking about a government of national unity because close to eight years of APC has left us badly divided. Well, the issue is, we must practise what we preach.
“If we want to unify Nigeria, we must unify the PDP first. If we want a government of national unity, the faces in the PDP must reflect national unity. If we want to restructure Nigeria, we must have the willingness to do what is right to bring inclusivity into PDP. Do we have the capacity? Do we have a candidate with the capacity? The answer is a resounding yes.”
The Waziri Adamawa who had kept a straight face while Governor Makinde, was presenting his address, in his remarks, said the position of the South West, which has also been echoed in some quarters, is achievable but that the constitution, rules, regulations and procedures of the party must be adhered to.
He however added that the party has all it takes to win the election at all levels as it has ruled the country successfully before, stating that the time has come to return the PDP back to power.
According to him, as a founding member of the party, he is conversant with its laid down rules and regulations which must be followed to the letter, noting that there is nothing wrong in removing the National Chairman but this must be done in accordance with the constitution of the party.
His words, “The most important event facing us today is the election of 2023 and how to win. From what I have seen in Lagos and Ibadan, I can tell you that we can win the election if we want to and it is possible for us to take over all the Southwestern states.
“More so, the new Electoral Act has improved our electoral processes and has made it difficult for people to write results. They cannot do it anymore and they cannot rig. If they send thugs to snatch ballot boxes, they will not be counted. So, the era is over. The most important thing for you is to make sure you are registered to vote and protect your vote.
“PDP is the oldest political party in Nigeria and since the return of democracy. Over time, the PDP has developed its own constitution, electoral processes, zoning of offices, power sharing and others, which will bring about the unity of the party and that of the country. I have no problem with wherever any of the members of the party comes from but it must be done in accordance with our constitution, regulations and practices.
“Therefore, what Governor Makinde is calling for is achievable under our constitution, rules, regulations and procedures. So, those institutions must serve as guides to whatever changes we make. That is why we cannot do anything outside the constitution unless it is amended to reflect what we want them to be.
“Of course, we don’t say people should not have different views but all views must go through our constitution, rules and practices. Otherwise, we cannot give this country the kind of leadership they want. So, it is time for us to return the PDP back to power.”
With the outcome of the meeting where two sides have taken different positions, many observers are wary if the main opposition party would be able to go into the presidebtial election campaigns as a united entity. Indeed, to some analysts, the position by Atiku that Ayu can only be removed if the constitution is amended has foreclosed the removal of the National Chairman for now. The answer to the question of whether Makinde, the other governors and others calling for Ayu to step down, would be comfortable to queue behind him as he leads the presidential campaigns of the party across the country if he does not resign, would be provided by the events of the next few days or weeks.