The loyalists of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, have listed conditions for the resolution of the crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party.
Supporters of the governor, in separate interviews with The PUNCH on Sunday, said it was not late for the PDP’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, to revisit the issue of his running mate by dropping the Delta State Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okonwa, whom he picked last month. As the crisis over Atiku’s running mate worsened, the Chairman of the PDP’s Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jibrin, said the party had set up a nine-member committee to beg Wike.
Sequel to his victory at the PDP convention, where he beat Wike and other contenders to the presidential ticket, Atiku had nominated Okowa as his running mate, despite the recommendation of Wike by a 17-man committee set up by the party. Certain chieftains of the party, including the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, ex-Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang and others, had criticised the choice of Okowa as the party’s vice-presidential candidate.
There were reports on Friday that Wike snubbed a former Minister of Police Affairs and ally of Atiku, Adamu Waziri, who attempted to initiate a peace talk with him in Turkey. The party, also on Sunday, raised another panel headed by Atiku, to pacify the aggrieved Governor and prevail on him not to leave the party.
The Chairman, Gokana Local Government Area in Rivers State, Confidence Deko, in an interview with one of our correspondents in Port Harcourt, said Wike did not deserve the treatment he got from Atiku and the PDP.
He said, “As far I am concerned, Wike has done so much for the PDP and I don’t think he deserves what the party gave to him. Come to think of it, Atiku Abubakar and the party asked the National Working Committee to find out who becomes the vice-president. A report was submitted and he (Atiku) ignored the report, and then picked Ifeanyi Okowa, the Delta State Governor.
“I am not saying he is not supposed to use somebody, but I am of the view that if he was part of those who asked the NWC to search for who becomes the vice-president to be, and they gave him their recommendation, he would have acted on it. But to me, it looks very odd that after submitting the report to him, he went and announced Okowa. I don’t think that Wike deserves what Atiku has done to him.” The council boss disclosed that Wike supporters were waiting for his decision and political direction ahead of the presidential poll.
On the comments of former Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang, on the chances of the PDP in 2023 due to the festering crisis and if Okowa should be replaced, Deko said the man was not joking. He added, “He has told you and you have heard the truth from him. If Wike was to be the vice-presidential candidate for Atiku, by now, you know Wike is a very practical person. And he does what his mind ask him to do. The only option is to remove Okowa from there and announce Wike. In 2019, Wike brought the highest number of votes from South-South.”
Speaking in the same vein, some members of the House of Representatives loyal to Wike contended that the PDP was bound to fail with its choice of Okowa as the running mate. The PDP lawmakers, in separate interviews with The PUNCH on Sunday, also took a swipe at the National Chairman of the PDP, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, criticising his role in the crisis that has followed the presidential primary of the opposition party.
When asked if the party should substitute Okowa with Wike, a member of the House from Kogi State, Teejay Yusuf, said it was possible if the presidential candidate could see the value the Rivers governor would add to the PDP ticket.
He said, “That will be the choice of the candidate. It would be his prerogative to do that. It is not for me to suggest that to him. If he sees that Wike will add more value to the ticket and say ‘with the way it is, I can manage the ripple effect of taking Okowa out,’ why not, if not? Okowa is a PDP governor but nobody can deny the fact that Wike has the will and the capacity to make this party stand on its feet.”
The lawmaker, however, dismissed the possibility of Wike, who he described as “a party man,” dumping the PDP for another party or working with another party or presidential candidate through the backdoor. But he cautioned that the governor’s loyalty should not be abused. “I know that the standard-bearer is a politician of repute and he knows the dynamics, but he is a human being. So, if he made the wrong decision, I believe that, fortunately, the Electoral Act (2022) gives ample time; we have eight months to the general elections. In politics, one day can be a million days. A lot can be done in one day,” Yusuf noted.
The lawmaker affirmed that the standard-bearer should naturally look for the best way to make the decision while avoiding “a situation that might jeopardise the unity of the party and the collective desire to win the election.”
The lawmaker also condemned Ayu for allegedly taking sides in the crisis, when he should have been neutral as the leader of the party. Yusuf cited the example of how Ayu met with the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, and called him a hero.
Tambuwal had stepped down for Atiku at the PDP primary, making it possible for the latter to defeat Wike who came second amid protests against the retention of power in the North when it was expected to rotate to the South.
Speaking on the calls on Atiku to reconcile with Wike, he said, “That is a fact and that was what was emphasised by the leaders who spoke of recent, notably Governor Ortom and former governor Jang. I lend my voice to that, that one stoops to conquer. It is the normal thing to be done.”
The lawmaker added, “If the information is true that a committee was set up – that you set up; it was your committee – and they came up with the choice of someone. If you are not taking the person, naturally you should call the person. “In 2019, I supported Atiku and I was very happy with the way he ran. And I am aware that immediately after the primary, concerted efforts were made and that was how (Senator) Bukola Saraki became the director-general of the campaign.
“In this one, offers were made and people pushed for Governor Wike as the vice-presidential candidate of the party. If you have any reason (not to pick Wike), you call him, and it should not be that he would be reminded by people like us before it is done. It is not too late to do the right thing and I am aware that certain efforts are being made already.”
Another PDP lawmaker from Rivers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also noted that Atiku knew what to do to restore peace in the party. He asked, “Has he (Wike) not laboured for the party even when the likes of Atiku ran away (to the All Progressives Congress) and went to support this disaster (the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, retd.) that we have on our hands. Was he (Wike) not the one that went to court – up to the Supreme Court – and rescued the party? Has he not supported the party in every way, form and manner? Even God hates injustice.”
On the PDP candidate sending emissaries to Wike, the lawmaker asked, “Does that not tell you something? He knows what to do. If you hurt somebody and you cannot face the person, then it simply means that you are not ready for repentance or reconciliation.”
Speaking on the report that Wike declined to lead Abubakar’s campaign, the lawmaker asked, “If na you, you go gree? (If you were in Wike’s shoes, would you have accepted?). On his part, a former member of the House of Representatives representing the Etche-Omuma federal constituency, Ogbonna Nwuke, said he agreed with those who said the issue of running mate should be visited.
Nwuke, who was also a former Commissioner for Information and Communications said, “The issue is, quite a lot of people agreed that something was not properly done.” The media aide to the National Chairman of the PDP, Simon Imobo-Tswam, said Atiku was responsible for the choice of Okowa as his running mate.
He noted, “This question actually ought to be directed at the PDP presidential candidate, His Excellency, Alhaji. Atiku Abubakar. Okowa is not the running mate to Dr Iyorchia Ayu, and neither is it the PDP National Chairman or the NWC that chose him as the running mate to Atiku.
“Of course, the party was involved in the processes leading to the emergence of a running mate, but whatever the party did was only advisory; the choice of who became the candidate’s running mate was ultimately, after all said and done, the decision of the candidate.”
On the ongoing reconciliation process, Imobo-Tswam explained that the party, the national chairman and the candidate were deeply involved in the peace moves at different levels. The media adviser to Atiku, Paul Ibe, could not be reached on the demand by Wike’s loyalists as his line was unavailable to take calls on Sunday.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Debo Ologunagba, declined to comment on the demands by the Wike’s camp, saying, “I don’t react to speculations.” However, a highly placed party chieftain and close aide of the PDP standard-bearer argued that replacing Okowa with the Rivers state governor would deepen the crisis in the opposition party.
The source also noted that Atiku chose Okowa due to the similarities in their ideologies. He reiterated the fact that the party would do everything to ensure that the crisis is resolved. The source in an interview with one of our correspondents, said, “Replacing Okowa with Wike at this point will further lead to more crises within the party. The candidate has made his choice and while it may not be favourable to everyone, the choice has been made.
“The choice of Okowa was about ideologies, his ideologies align with the candidate and that is why the candidate chose him as running mate. Wike is a party man. He is strong, we recognize his impact and the need to reconcile.”
Reacting to calls that Atiku should drop Okowa, an aide to the governor urged those behind the clamour to channel their energy to how to win the presidency for PDP. The aide, who spoke to one of our correspondents in Asaba on condition of anonymity, stated, “It is the right of the candidate which is Atiku to choose his running mate and that he has done. So, it is not possible to drop Okowa. The man has made his choice.”
The Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mr Olisa Ifeajika could not be reached for comment as of the time of filing this report as calls and messages sent to his phone were not responded to. Also, the State Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, declined to comment.
But a former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa blamed the crisis on the party’s leadership. According to him, it would be dangerous for PDP to ignore Wike ahead of the 2023 elections. He, therefore, called on the PDP chairman to resign if he cannot solve the crisis in the party.
Bafarawa told journalists that what people see as a crisis would be resolved with the ongoing reconciliation, adding that the 2023 Presidency has moved beyond its presidential candidate to the PDP. He was responding to the comments by Ortom, who was quoted as saying that Atiku should have placated Wike after the primaries.
Bafarawa said, “This is a very serious issue which nobody can undermine but unfortunately the problem of this crisis is caused by the leadership of the party. What I am trying to say is that the candidate is no more an aspirant. He is a candidate, he is supposed to be controlled by the party.
Berating Ayu, he stated, “I am not blaming anybody; I am blaming the leadership of the party because they are supposed to swing in and bring the matter down. I don’t want the leadership to take it personally. If there is anything between the national leadership of PDP and Wike it is personal.
“But being the national chairman, he should forget; even if there is any difference between him and Wike, he is supposed to take away his personal interest and come and rescue the party because he is the leadership, it is the responsibility given to him. If he cannot solve the problem let him resign. But nobody can undermine Wike and nobody can ignore Wike.”
Asked if what had been done to Wike would be a threat to PDP in 2023, Bafarawa said nobody could ignore a governor.
Atiku allays fears
Meanwhile, Atiku has said that despite the internal conflict within his party, he does not see “a divided house”. He admonished the party not to lose focus on rescuing Nigeria. Atiku stated this in a newsletter sent to The PUNCH, in Abuja on Sunday.
He stated, “One of the characteristic attributes of democracy that I admire a lot is that it is a system with an intrinsic asset of crisis management. It becomes even more interesting that, perhaps, the most noteworthy outcome of a democratic process is the greater possibility of conflict generation.
“So, a remarkable lesson that I have learned in politics is that in some instances, conflicts are healthy realities. I know, for instance, that when conflicts arise out of genuine concerns about having an inclusive political process, it signposts the viability of that process and, more importantly, the eagerness of stakeholders to be active participants in the success of such process.
“As leaders and stakeholders in the Peoples Democratic Party, the simmering agitations in our party are a reflection of our credentials as a democratic party. Whatever our agitations are, I believe it is borne out of collective concern for the growth of our party and the country. Therefore, I don’t see a divided house in the PDP. I see an opportunity for us to come together stronger and united. As a presidential candidate of the PDP, I shall ensure that I do my all to bring the party together under a formidable umbrella.”
In a move to resolve the crisis, the PDP has announced a nine-member reconciliation committee that would visit the Rivers State helmsman. Disclosing this on Sunday, the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jibrin, also cautioned party members against unguarded utterances that could further plug the party into a deeper crisis.
The committee, headed by Atiku, comprises Okowa, Ayu and his National Working Committee, Jibril; BoT members; PDP governors; former governors; ex-PDP minister and some party elders from zones and states.
This was contained in a statement titled, ‘Statement by PDP BOT Chairman, Senator Walid Jibrin on the current situation of PDP.’ It read, “This was in view of great concern and great sense of feeling on the various recent comments coming from some of our PDP members and some prominent Nigerians on the choice of Chief Okowa, the Governor of Delta State as the vice-presidential candidate by the Presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of our party, PDP, the biggest party not only in Nigeria but the whole of Africa.
“All the comments and various submissions are very normal in any political set-up in Nigeria today with PDP being the strongest and most prominent party that has all potential to form government in 2023.
“We must come back to our senses by all our members and all most responsible and respectful Nigerians by giving total support to the party to enable it to form government by holding all political positions in Nigeria in 2023.
“It is, therefore, very necessary that when our Presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and our National Chairman, Senator Iyochia Ayu return to Nigeria very soon from abroad, the following must be done immediately: A very important visit must be undertaken to Governor Wike comprising of the following group: The above committee should be headed by the Presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. It is very important to note that Governor Wike is a very responsible and very obedient member of PDP, who assisted tremendously toward building the party to what it is today. We must, therefore, encourage him to never leave the party.”
He described Wike as the pillar of the party. A social commentator and political analyst, Jackson Ojo said in the present situation, sending emissaries to Wike was not the way to go. Wike has every right to be angry. But at the same time, this is a period, this is the season for anybody to have a disagreement, alignment and realignment. Let the party’s NWC and the Presidential candidate walk up to Wike and talk with him now that he is back in the country,” he advised.
An analyst, Olaseni Shalom, said that Wike’s efforts to unify the party to contest the presidency would be a waste if he decides to hold the party down. He also called on Atiku to request a one-on-one and resolve issues, “as the unity of the country was one of the core pillars of his manifesto.”