2023 Presidency: Taming Wike’s Fury, Atiku’s Daring Spirit

Victor Ogunje writes about the options open to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party to right the wrongs ahead of the 2023 poll and the call by ranking Senator Biodun Olujimi, for warring factions in the party to sheathe their swords

Saying the People’s Democratic Party is embroiled and gradually being shattered by crises ahead of the 2023 presidential poll remains an understatement.

The animus within the party seems to be so intense that it has pushed the party’s presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, to the precipice and it requires divine intervention and outstanding political dexterity  to extricate himself out of the current political  conundrum.

Most rattling was the fact that most of the leaders who ought to maintain neutrality and wave the olive branch to the feuding parties had taken sides in the internal squabbles rocking and ripping the party apart.

The main opposition party is behaving like an entity under a spell and requires maximum wisdom to redirect it to the path of sanity and civility.

But good enough, not all the party leaders had taken sides in this fierce battle. Some are still posing as troubleshooters trying to extinguish the inferno that is about to consume the party.

The Senator representing Ekiti South Senatorial District, Biodun Olujimi, belongs to the group of these mediators. She had spread the olive branch to  Governor of River State, Nyesom Wike and his backers to embrace a middle course approach in their insistence that the party’s National Chairman, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, must be removed to pacify the southern region.

The arrowhead of the anti-Atiku forces and  the boisterous Rivers State Governor looks strong and untiring in pursuing his onslaught against the ex-Vice President for daring to despise his group and considered them inconsequential in the realization of his ambition.

Wike was not alone in the game. He is being solidly backed by the Governors of States like Benue, Samuel Ortom; Abia, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu; Enugu, Ifeanyi Igwuanyi, and Oyo, Seyi Makinde.

The hoopla elicited by this infighting is on daily basis dimming the chances of the PDP ahead of 2023 poll. While some leaders saw some proprieties in Wike’s actions and considered it apt and appropriate, some believed the Rivers Governor was only constituting himself  into a huge clog tearing the wheel of progress in the main opposition party.

Most disturbing is the fact that the internal squabbles has seriously affected the party down the line.

In Ekiti State, the party is polarised into pro and anti-Atiku forces. Before he moderately softpedalled, former Governor Ayodele Fayose led the Wike’s foot-soldiers. But his estranged former Deputy, Prof Olusola Kolapo Eleka and others are solidly  holding forte for the former Vice President.

Prior to the presidential primary that Atiku won, Fayose was backing the River State Governor. He never hid his disdain for the party’s presidential candidate as his utterances and barefaced hatred suggested someone who is determined to rock the boat. But recently, a picture surfaced on social media, where Fayose and his son posed with the Vice President, signposting that underground efforts were being contrived to broker truce between them.

Sensing that this could be interpreted to mean that he had ditched Wike, Fayose quickly issued a statement and clarified that nothing would make him betray his conscience in the fight to ensure that all the forces in the party are respected and deferred to in the running of the PDP.

As the crisis rages like a bush fire in the harmattan, with foot-soldiers and political warlords taking sides, Senator Olujimi seemed to be cautious and circumspect of her action. She remains a force sitting on the fence and trying to unify the party in Ekiti, and even beyond.

In Ekiti, the task of ensuring unity looks like an uphill task because some forces that were loyal to Fayose in the past might find it herculean to work with the former governor. The likes of former member of Ekiti State House of Assembly, Hon. Samuel Omotoso, former Council Chairman, Deji Ogunsakin, former Speaker, Hon Kola Oluwawole, former Commissioner, Segun Akinwumi and a host of others are embittered about how Fayose piloted the affairs of the party during his second term. They were also incensed about how he allegedly imposed his favourites as candidates for the party in the last primaries.

They were also livid about the shoddy way with which the last governorship election was prosecuted. Many party leaders owed serious grudges against the former governor on the premise of the ill-feeling about the choice of Hon Bisi Kolawole as the candidate. Kolawole came third behind the Segun Oni-propelled Social Democratic Party in the June 18,2022 governorship duel.

Some of these PDP leaders believed that the party’s  choice really emasculated the PDP and created a huge burden for the party’s campaign to gain traction for it to make remarkable difference in the poll.

In fact, the last PDP primaries were so teleguided to the point that the national leadership of the party, including some powerful governors like Wike had to meddle and persuade the former Governor before Senator Olujimi was given the re-election ticket. They had to wade in swiftly  to pacify Fayose, who then perceived Olujimi as one of his political adversaries. The fact that Fayose has the Acting Chairman of the party, Lanre Omolase under his control made the job easier for him.

To underscore how resolute these emerging anti-Fayose forces were, they had succeeded in propping up Hon. Ogunsakin as the factional party chairman and leader of the Pro-Atiku forces. This was done to give the presidential candidate some leverage in the state. They also have the likes of former Deputy Governor Sikiru Lawal, Chief Makanjuola Ogundipe, Chief Idowu Faleye as some of the leaders who were working zealously  to ensure that Atiku secures  not only above 25% in Ekiti, but win the state.

However, all the leaders had come out stoutly to defend their actions and the stands they took in the fierce and raging political battle. While some said they are supporting Atiku in the interest of the PDP, Senator Olujimi posited that her mediatory stand could be predicated on the fact that removing the National Chairman, Dr Iyorchia Ayu could trigger constitutional crisis in the PDP. 

The party’s constitution stipulates that should any National Chairman be abruptly removed, the National Deputy Chairman of his zone will take over. As the PDP is configured today, should anything happen to Ayu in his current position, the Deputy National Chairman, Alhaji Illiya would take over. With this, Wike’s efforts would be futile and that was the position Olujimi was trying to canvass.

Archoring this argument on constitutionality, she suggested that anything done outside the above permutation would be extra legal which could have a dire consequences on the party. This also has always been the grand standing of the Pro-Atiku governors like Godwin Obaseki of Edo State.

But some people were of the opinion that the Constitution was only being deployed as a facade to wreak havoc on the party on the strength that the PDP has a way of rising and responding  to emergency situations to reduce the rippling bedlam and the emerging conflagration that may consume the party.

Let the truth be said, the PDP would find it difficult to win the presidential poll if the five governors should back out and remove their support for Atiku. In the 2019 election that he lost, Atiku won the Southeast and Southsouth by almost 75%, but hardly could he poll 25% today with the electrifying popularity mustered by the candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, who has ethnic attachment to the two regions.

Periscoping the entire scenarios from the spectrum of North and South configurations, the All Progressives Congress candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu also enjoys reasonable and temperate measure of regional attachment to the Southeast and Southsouth, which may help him perform better even than PDP this time.

The general feeling now is that, the South should take the plunge after eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari for political balancing and strong unification force.

In the last general election, APC couldn’t muster 25% in majority of the Southeast states, but the pendulum seems to be changing with the raging infighting rocking the PDP that had hitherto controlled the area before it slipped off due to laxity and for lacking dexterity to quench internal crisis.

Despite the forlorn hope and gravitas being exhibited by Wike and his allies, who are posing as if they have crossed the rubicon, the Ekiti Senator held that unflagging belief that orderliness, unity and oneness can still be restored into PDP. It was on this premise that she made passionate appeal to Wike and other aggrieved governors to sheathe their sword and embrace peace over their consistent pressing for the removal of Ayu.

Olujimi, who praised Wike and other governors for trying to instil justice, equity and fairness in the party, said the PDP may run into constitutional crisis if Ayu is removed based on structures recognised by the party’s constitution.

She said Wike and other Governors are true lovers of the PDP, but pleaded that the festering internal upheaval could emasculate the PDP and deprive it of victory in 2023 if not well managed.

According to her: “Political parties are like families and there is nothing you can do without bruising each other. We have a lot of internal crisis caused by ego bruising. I believe we are working on it. Despite that we have problems, the party is working. We are meeting with the people that are  yearning for our return to government. We are working hard to ensure that the right things are done.

“We can’t go to the extent of destroying the house we have built. I am optimistic that  we will achieve our set  goals. The people  who are agitating may be right, because the agreement is that, when a candidate of Northern extraction emerges as presidential candidate, it will be wrong to retain the Chairman in the North . But we didn’t think through our constitution.

“If we remove the Chairman, the Deputy National Chairman(North) will still take over. The governors that are  agitating are fighting for justice and equity. But there is a school of thought that believed that the south had done 14 years of presidency in the PDP and North had only done  two.

“We are finding a middle course and that is what is going on now. There is nothing wrong in looking at all these issues and find win-win situation to pacify the aggrieved. Governors Wike and others have contributed to build the PDP and the leaders must also listen to them.

“I want to beg Governor Wike, who is the leader of the group. He is fighting for all of us, he is fighting for my zone, but let him allow a middle course, so that we can work towards our common goal, it is not about him. He is a good party man, he loves the PDP, but we should allow peace to reign”.

Olujimi lauded Wike and other  governors for canvassing support for the PDP ahead of 2023 polls despite being aggrieved, saying this signposted loyalty and commitment to ensuring that the PDP triumphs in the next election.

On her re-election in 2023, Olujimi enthused that she would defeat her rival and member of the House of Representatives, Yemi Adaramodu, despite enjoying strong backings from the federal and state governments, as she did in 2019, when she defeated Dayo Adeyeye of the All Progressives Congress. 

She said the current devastating crisis would be resolved amicably, so that the party can be well focused to prosecute the impending electoral  feud.

The ranking federal lawmaker is an experienced politician and she knew that the shoddy handling of the presidential race in PDP could cause her defeat, because the presidency and National Assembly elections will be held simultaneously. She promised to mobilise Ekiti electorate for the presidential election that is tied to her race, so that the party can have a remarkable showing. She added that this could only be realisable if the aggrieved members show understanding and douse the tension that is mounting and tearing the PDP apart.

Sounding boastful that the PDP has a bright chance in Ekiti, Olujimi posited that she was not rattled contesting against a House of Representatives member , Hon. Yemi Adaramodu, a member of the ruling party, saying she was not terrified by federal and state mights his opponent enjoys.

She added; “APC controlled the central and state governments when I won in 2019. The people that will elect us will put us on a  scale and decide who is the best to choose. Our People should know that I have served two terms in the Senate and I  have the opportunity of helping the people better than someone, who is coming fresh.

“Our people should learn how to return their federal lawmakers for them to be abreast  of the happenings at the Senate. The benefits  these experienced Senators do to their constituencies are unquantifiable because they know how to do it. This is essential for development and that was why the constitution didn’t restrict the number of terms a Senator can spend, that is a  wisdom”.

The Publicity Secretary of the party in Ekiti State,  Raphael.Adeyanji shared similar view with Olujimi that removing Ayu now may further inflame the crisis in the party, rather than dousing it. Adeyanju pointedly told Wike that the National Deputy Chairman of the PDP(North), Alhaji Umar Iliya Damagum, is constitutionally empowered to take over should Ayu be removed under this circumstance, saying acting contrary might stoke constitutional crisis that will be difficult to handle.

Adeyanju said the PDP has a bright chance of winning the 2023 polls at all levels due to the lacklustre performance of the ruling APC.

The PDP publicist, however, begged that the main opposition party may bungle the opportunity should they continue with the seeming intractable crisis.

He said Nigerians are seriously ready to bring the PDP back to power, but warned that acting in such a manner that portends the party as being unserious may sway the voters and change their readiness for the PDP.

Dwelling more on what the Constitution stipulated, Adeyanju said the PDP is an institution that is governed by law. He said Ayu being a product of the law can’t be removed through a jackboot approach. He insisted that this could backfire and ravage the party beyond repair.

Adeyanju posited further that the governors and other elected and appointed officials are products of the law, and that they shouldn’t act in such a brazen manner that would portray them as law breakers.

He said: “If you peruse  section 45 of the PDP constitution, it makes it very clear that 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 either organise another election or, through the NEC, is able to take a decision as to how to rearrange the hierarchy of the party.

.“But knowing quite well that these positions are elective positions, even if you had asked Ayu to step down for power to come to the south, the provisions of the constitution of the party will also be offended, except you have to take another decision to also remove the deputy national chairman of the party because the slot falls on him immediately by provisions of the law”.

On his part, the PDP Legal Adviser in Ekiti State, Femi Olowolafe, said the constitution of the party takes preeminence over every other primordial sentiment in the whole scenario.

The legal practitioner said Section 45 of the party’s constitution spelt out how the National Chairman can be removed, saying any abrasion of the provisions would be tantamount to illegality.

Olowolafe added that Ayu was elected by the party in a keenly contested election and that he should be allowed to enjoy his position for a period of four years he was elected to serve, if he doesn’t commit any offence or infraction while superintending over the party.

He said Ayu can’t be removed due to ethnic sentiment, saying the party’s constitution didn’t envisage such narrow emotion. The Legal Adviser opined that it would be wrong and run contrary to the principle of fairness for Ayu to be removed on the premise of being from the North, where Atiku comes from.

His words: “Section 8 of our party’s constitution proclaimed the party as a free and voluntary political organisation joined individually by members. Atiku and Ayu joined individually and none of them can be punished for the offence of the other.

“I was at the National convention where Ayu emerged. He contested against the former Osun State Governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who refused to step down. He defeated him to emerge. So, why should anyone who constested election be told to resign or forcefully be removed from his seat? In my humble opinion, this is illegal and it will be like acting ultra vires of the party’s constitution.

“Again, how was Atiku being from the North vitiated the election of Ayu? I quite share the view that power rotation is good  but a situation whereby people were made to pass through election, then it becomes another issue. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar contested election with others and emerged, so both Atiku and Ayu are holding their mandates individually since it was by elections and one can’t affect the other.

“So, they should be allowed to enjoy their mandates. I appeal to the aggrieved leaders and  members to think about the PDP and how we can win the coming elections. We joined this party because we believe that we can respect its constitution. Let us abide by what the constitution says. With unity, we can all work together and win these elections.

“Again, our leaders should also rise to the occasion and look for ways to engage those that were enraged by the happenings. The survival of any political party depends on the effectiveness of its crisis management dexterity. Let us continue to engage them, so that we can be on the same page for the coming polls”.

As earlier alluded to, among the 36 states of the federation, Ekiti seems to be the most polarised by the bedlam rocking the party currently. The anti and pro-Atiku allies had drawn the battle line and are resolute to fight on not minding the pernicious consequences it would have on the party.

Before the present Atiku debacle, those loyal to Fayose had been fighting hard to either undo or insulate his perceived enemies in the party. Some of these leaders include Senator Olujimi, Senator Duro Faseyi, Segun Akinwumi, former deputy governor Sikiru Lawal, Makanjuola Ogundipe, among others.

A critical dissection of these episodic actions in Ekiti PDP pointed to the fact that those who perceived Fayose as Wike’s man Friday in Ekiti decided to port and coalesce efforts behind Atiku, with the exception of Olujimi, who decided to remain neutral and extinguish the flame that was about to raze the party down.

Being a loyal party woman and contestant,  Olujimi was optimistic that the PDP won’t do badly in Ekiti. The Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, averred that stakeholders will continue to  douse the tension and bring all the contending forces together to prosecute the coming election.

She added; “The crisis won’t make us do badly in the coming election. Though we didn’t do well in the governorship election in Ekiti, but we have seen the need for us to work together in the coming election and that was why I appealed to our leaders to sheathe their swords on this Ayu’s case. PDP remains the most progressive party in Nigeria and we must rise up to defend our party, regardless of how we feel”.

The  former Deputy Governor and Chairman, The Atiku Mobiliser Ekiti(TAME), Dr Sikiru Lawal, also exuded confidence those waiting for the PDP to break up or lose the next presidential poll will be disappointed.

Lawal, described Atiku as a cosmopolitan political collosus with wide network of friends across the six geopolitical zones, saying this would be deployed to galvanise supports for him across the strata of the Nigerian society for the main opposition party to triumph in the race.

Lawal, who was  Deputy to former Governor Segun Oni stated that Atiku would perform creditably well in Ekiti and Southwest against all odds being a respectable in-law, with his marriage to Titi Abubakar.

He added that respected leaders, with influences are also mapping out strategies to bring all the feuding parties together, so that the PDP can be well positioned to win the poll.

Just like others had said, Lawal stated that Atiku and Ayu emerged through transparent primaries, and that great party men like Wike and other governors should respect the mandates freely given to the duo and cooperate with them to run the party in a crisis-free fashion.

The former Deputy governor added that TAME had begun aggressive mobilisation of members in Ekiti and part of what the group had done was that it has started wooing aggrieved members, who joined Segun Oni in the Social Democratic Party back to PDP to give Atiku and other candidates a solid and rocky support to triumph over other contenders.

Lawal said: “We are optimistic that Atiku-Okowa will win with wide margin in Ekiti despite that the APC is the ruling party. We are working hard and reaching out to our members in SDP to return home and this had been yielding good results. Many of those, who defected to other parties had returned and we are still consolidating.

“Nothing can derail our focus in Ekiti PDP. But our plea would be that Governor Wike and other aggrieved governors and leaders  remain the one of the strongest pillars of the PDP and we don’t expect them to destroy the house they have laboured to build.

“They should look at the larger picture, which is the PDP that is greater than any individual, including Atiku. They must respect the constitution of our party and work seriously for our success in the coming election.

“The failure of the PDP won’t profit anyone. Let it also be known that any failure in 2023 will be regretted by all members because Nigerians will never forgive us for squandering the opportunity will have to return to power. They are ready for us. They are ready to vote for us and we have to help ourselves for them to be able to help us”.

Not only the former deputy Governor Sikiru Lawal predicted landslide victory for Atiku in Ekiti despite the cacophony of crisis, the former State Chairman of the party and a chieftain of TAME movement, Chief Makanjuola Ogundipe, foresaw that the former Vice President has solid structures that would be deployed to undo the APC and Asiwaju  Tinubu’s political machinery  in Ekiti.

Ogundipe stated that the leadership of the PDP in the Southwest is working and reaching out to all feuding parties and that the possibility of the crisis being resolved is showing good prognosis.

The former PDP chairman said: “The PDP in Ekiti is not going to leave anything to chances. We are closing ranks and pleading with our leaders across the country to save the future of our dear party.

“Let it be noted that whoever becomes governor, lawmaker at the state and federal levels, Minister, President was given the opportunity through a vehicle called PDP. We should work hard not to destroy the vehicle that takes them to the promised land.

“I share the view expressed by Senator Olujimi that Atiku and Ayu emerged through credible polls and any attempt to tamper with their mandates will trigger constitutional crisis.

“We are pleading with our leaders to show understanding. Grandstanding will take us nowhere. I know that if we stand together, we will defeat the APC and end its misrule in Nigeria”.

Now, Senator Olujimi is waving the olive branch. Other likeminds are also sharing her views. Time is ticking and the situation is becoming bleak and forlorn for the PDP with these hydra-headed crises pummeling it.

Nigerians are waiting whether Wike will listen to the gospel of peace and unity being preached by the federal lawmaker to save the future of the main opposition party and salvage it from being plunged into political oblivion.

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