The crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has persisted despite all efforts to reconcile aggrieved members.
The internal wrangling which escalated with the outcome of the party’s presidential primary in May 2022 has remained intractable.
Before the exercise, it was gathered that there was an agreement between Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State to the effect that the later would run as vice presidential candidate and running mate to the former. But along the line, the understanding broke down, resulting in Wike contesting the party’s ticket with Atiku and others. The outcome of the presidential primary escalated the already tensed situation in the main opposition party.
Before the primary, a lot of meetings and consultations were made by some party chiefs, particularly those in the South, who believed that the ticket should not go to the North in line with the party’s zoning culture.
But, some members and leaders of the party who spoke online and offline said that Atiku was the only person that could deliver the victory for PDP. This was responsible for the delay in the presidential primary.
Although the Southern Governors’ Forum and regional groups in the South and Middle Belt had also insisted on the two major political parties to pick their candidates from the South, particularly the South East, the PDP refused, saying that it would go for a candidate that would deliver victory to it.
Some of the developments at the primary had angered the likes of Wike, who felt that the exercise was skewed in favour of Atiku. The stepping down of Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State in support of Atiku and the effusive gratitude to Tambuwal by Ayu for stepping down.
Ayu was said to have described Tambuwal as hero of the Convention.
While telling him “thank you, thank you,” Ayu informed Tambuwal that “You are the hero of the convention.”
All of this painted a picture of some sinister motives aimed at edging out Wike and others in favour of a predetermined candidate. The party was to further go into the mire of crisis when Atiku decided to pick Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State as his running mate.
Atiku had explained that the choice of Okowa was based on his credibility and his ability to lead the country at anytime. He had also said that Okowa was also decided on because though he is from Delta State, he is Igbo. The explanation has not gone down well with the people of South East who alleged deceit and a grand plot edge them out from a PDP government if elected in 2023. It is not yet clear how the party is going about placating the South East on this.
The choice of Governor Okowa also rattled Wike and his group, who felt that Atiku went against the recommendation of the selection committee he set up to screen candidates for vice presidential slot. Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State had explained that 14 out of the 17-member committee had recommend Wike but got a rude shock when Atiku settled for Okowa.
But, in an exclusive interview with Arise Television Atiku had pooh-poohed Ortom’s claim, insisting that there was no recommendation by the committee to that effect.
Some of the governors and chieftains of the party who felt that the emergence of Atiku as presidential candidate was an injustice to the South, were thoroughly miffed at the Okowa’s angle to the impasse. Wike felt insulted and read the sign that he may be edged out of the party anytime soon, particularly if the umbrella association that ruled the country for 16 straight years should return to power in 2023.
The stand off
Although Atiku and the leadership of the party were urged to pursue the reconciliation with Wike immediately the signs became clear, they refused but rather chose to send emissaries. Wike had expected Atiku to lead the fence-mending moves, but the Waziri Adamawa chose rather to holiday in Dubai than to attend to the crisis threatening his success at the February 2023 election.
While the crisis lingered Wike and his team including, Ortom, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia; Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo; Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, former governor Donald Duke of Cross River State, among others, consolidated on their plans to play the spoiler. Within this period, other parties tried to cash in on the imbroglio.
Emissaries from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) visited a number of times and had meetings with the Rivers State governor. He also met with the party’s presidential candidates, Bola Ahmed Tinubu in London recently.
Moreover, the unguarded utterances of some leaders of the party have not helped matters.
Wike insists on Ayu’s resignation
When a few days ago Atiku decided to meet face-to-face with Wike, one of the toughest conditions the team placed to work for the party’s victory was the immediate resignation of Iyorchia Ayu, the party’s national chairman from Benue State. Wike had repeatedly said that Ayu had pledged to step down if for any reason the presidential candidate emerged from the North. The Rivers State governor insists that the national chairman should be humble enough to respect his words.
But some party members say that Ayu’s statement was clear. They pointed out that Ayu said as a loyal party man, if the party advises him to resign in the event of emergence of a presidential candidate of the northern extraction, he would do so. They therefore, say that Wike is neither the National Working Committee (NWC) nor the Board of Trustees (BoT) chairman of the party, and cannot single-handedly effect the chairman’s ouster.
In response to the call for his resignation a few days ago, Ayu described those championing the cause as children who did not witness the birth of the party. According to him, the “children” were nowhere when the PDP was formed. Ayu insisted that he had a four-year mandate, adding that he has not spent a year in office. He further explained that his fate was not tied to the presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, because he was a product of the party’s constitution.
“I didn’t commit any offence; I’m only reforming the party. So, I’m not bothered by all the noises. I know I’m doing my work and I didn’t steal any money. So, I see no reason for all these talks,” he said.
“When we started PDP, these children were not around. They are children who do not know why we formed the party. We will not allow any individual to destabilise our party; Ayu said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa service.
Reacting to Ayu’s reference to “children”, Wike said: “These children you said we are, brought you from nothing”.
According to him, somebody said those of you who said the right thing must be done are boys; they are children. You can imagine what power can do. You can imagine how the ingratitude; how people can be ingrates.
“I thought as a chairman of a party who wants to win the election, your business is to bring peace to the party; your business is not to divide your party, your business is not to show arrogance.
“Dr. Ayu said we are children. Yes, the children brought you to be chairman of the party, the children brought you from the gutter to make you chairman.”
PDP on path of self-destruct?
The intractable crisis in the PDP is affecting its preparation for the all-important election in 2023. A few weeks to the commencement of the electioneering campaign, the main opposition party has yet to name a presidential campaign council. It is embroiled in crisis and reconciliation moves.
Pundits believe that what the party should be doing now is to see how to sell itself to those regions it may have inadvertently injured by virtue of its presidential and vice presidential candidate choices.
Speaking with BusinessDay, Innocent Alaba, a political scientist, said that the PDP was being distracted in its fight against Wike; and that the party may be in for a serious surprise if it fails to address daunting issues threatening its success in 2023.
“I do not understand why the PDP does not see the problem facing it and they are busy pursuing Governor Wike. There are zones in this country, particularly the South East, that are terribly hurt by the hypocrisy of the party that was manifested during the presidential primary. Since 1999, the South East has been a PDP state, this time when the party should have rewarded the zone it decided to play bad politics. The zone would not have even be happy even if Wike had emerged the presidential or vice presidential candidate, either, because he is not from South East.
“Wike is part of the problem of the South East for daring to contest the party’s presidential ticket. The two governors of the South East that have attached themselves to Wike have no electoral value in their states as at today. Who is Okezie Ikpeazu? Who is Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi? Are they considered as leaders in South East? PDP should stop pursuing Wike. How many votes would Wike deliver to PDP in 2023 if he remains in the party? PDP must open its eyes and do the right thing.”
Speaking in tandem, a party member who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the combination of Wike, Ikpeazu and Ugwuanyi cannot deliver the South East/South South votes to the PDP the way things are now.
“We are reading the signals. As it stands today except a miracle happens, Peter Obi’s Labour Party will have a clean sweep of South East states, including the South-South states, which Rivers State is a part. What we are looking at is to get the 25percent votes in all those states that could help our candidate coast to victory. If you look at the way things are emerging, the real battle is in the North; and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar will have a clean sweep of the North, including the President’s state of Katsina. Make no mistake about it,” the party chieftain said.