Smarting from its second successive defeat in a general election in 2019, the Peoples Democratic Party quickly set up an ad-hoc committee chaired by the Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, with a mandate to unravel the remote and immediate causes of that electoral shellacking (to borrow the term popularised by former United States President, Barack Obama).
In all fairness, the party had genuine reasons to task the Bala Mohammed-led committee with that responsibility. The Port Harcourt convention that threw up its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, was adjudged free, fair and credible, with the dozen other aspirants scoring the Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee high for ticking all boxes the exercise required.
Atiku, who breasted the tape at the end of collation, sorting and counting of votes saw off competitors for the sole ticket; from the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, the then Senate President, Bukola Saraki, his predecessor, David Mark, ex-governors of Kaduna, Jigawa, Plateau, Sokoto, and Kano states – Ahmed Makarfi, Sule Lamido, Jonah Jang, Attahiru Bafarawa and Rabiu Kwakwanso respectively, all from the North. At that convention, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, threw his weight behind Tambuwal, who would go on to lose to Atiku.
The Bala Mohammed-led committee in its report advocated an open presidential ticket in 2023 despite admitting that the vast majority of party stakeholders it consulted in the course of its assignment made a case for the South-East and North-East geo-political zones. Given the ease with which the party agreed to zone the ticket to the North in 2019, party chieftains of southern extraction similarly expected the favour in 2023; a dream that turned a mirage following the decision of the Governor Samuel Ortom-led committee on zoning to throw the race open to all eligible party members regardless of their geo-political origins.
With an eye for the seat and desirous of testing his popularity among party delegates, Governor Wike wasted no time in pushing for the ouster of his political ally and friend, Uche Secondus, after months of bickering and intrigues. Wike knew that a second term for Secondus would render his presidential bid untenable because they hail from the same zone. As a result, he rallied support for Iyorchia Ayu, who in May this year, delivered Atiku as the party’s standard bearer.
Although, the Rivers State governor protested the manner of the conduct of the primary election, the choice of his Delta State counterpart, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, as Atiku’s running mate was believed by many as the reason Wike had elected to literary part ways with the former Vice President. According to the Ikwerre-born politician and his supporters, Ayu must quit his position to pave the way for a southerner to succeed him (PDP chairman).
Not unaware of the danger in fighting a political war as a lone ranger, Wike soon found allies in Seyi Makinde, Okezie Ikpeazu, Samuel Ortom and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; governors of Oyo, Abia, Benue and Enugu states respectively as well as top party chieftains, including Bode George, Jonah Jang, Donald Duke, Jerry Gana, Olusegun Mimiko, among others, who had since mounted pressure for Ayu’s removal without success.
Again, allegations of financial recklessness were levelled against the former Senate President, even as six members of the National Working Committee loyal to Wike refunded their share of the controversial housing allowances to the party’s coffer. However, Ayu appears not to be worried having survived every attempt thus far aimed at removing him from office.
Stakeholders have continued to speak on the reasonableness or the lack of it of the lingering crisis which week, week out, has showed no sign of abating. For the Wike-led group, there would be no show in the five states for Atiku except Ayu leaves. The former Vice President who has been very careful of his utterances, however, continues to insist that the choice of whether to leave or not, is Ayu’s to make. This stalemate is now fated to drag on until balloting next year; a duration many believe could impact the party negatively.
Speaking on the matter, Mustapha Shehu, Director General, Borno House to House for Atiku/Okowa told Saturday PUNCH that the only option left for the Wike-led group was to return to the campaign fold in their own interest.
“The G-5 governors have no option but to stick with the choice of their political party, the PDP. The beautiful thing is that the party and the presidential candidate are open to allowing them return to the campaign fold,” he said.
On his part, the PDP Deputy National Youth Leader, Timothy Osadolor, said the electoral loss the party might suffer would pales into insignificance compared to the damage the Wike-led group had done to their individual and collective image as political leaders. Osadolor, who never keeps sealed lips on matters concerning the PDP, argued that having elected to betray their party, Wike and his colleagues would struggle to win the confidence of other political stakeholders in the future.
“Governor Wike has marked himself as a bad leader, a bad sportsman, who does not know how to accept defeat and someone people will be scared of transacting business with, politically that is, in the future. The anger he has displayed since he lost the presidential primaries has shown that his style of politicking is not the ideal type or one that is expected of a leader of his status. They (aggrieved governors) may not have lost collectively but they have marked themselves as leaders that cannot be counted on for the overall interest of the society. They have overlooked the bigger picture, which is the victory of the party for every member and of course, for Nigerians.
“If they are doing what they are doing now as leaders in their own right, to consciously undermine the party on which platform they rode to power to become who they are today and still expect to win election on the platform of the same party; people will be wary of them. You cannot be approbating and reprobating at the same time.
“All adults should know when to start and end every battle. There are battles you win and those you don’t win. There are battles you even let go and politics is not all about battles but about ideals, values, morals, standards and integrity. There is a way they could have handled this issue but they went about it the wrong way,” he added.
On what awaits the group in the future, Osadolor stressed, “As statesmen, I am sure they know that what they are doing now is going to backfire on them because it will be a referendum on themselves going forward. What they are doing now is the height of anti-party activity and they know it. Anyone who does this kind of thing because Mr. A is at the helm of affairs will do it again and again regardless of the party he finds himself tomorrow.
“To redeem themselves, they should apologise to the party and other Nigerians and say ‘we know we have caused a lot of damages by our actions and our utterances but in the spirit of oneness, forgive us. We also forgive you. In the spirit of oneness, let us forgive ourselves and move on as a party.’ That way, they can still save whatever is left of the credibility and integrity they profess to have,” he stressed.
However, former Chairman, Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Bode George, cautioned Atiku not to blame anyone but himself should he fail to muster sufficient eagerness to have the crisis resolved before the February 25, 2023 polls.
“We will meet and make a decision. We have not met to say we are going right or left. This is the absolute truth. The door of reconciliation is open and we are not closing it. But what does Atiku want us to campaign with in the South? How can the presidential ticket and the chairmanship of the party be retained in one zone? Is that the legacy the founding fathers of the party passed on to us,” he queried.
Faulting Ibrahim Tsauri, a member of the National Executive Committee of the PDP who recently told The PUNCH that the aggrieved governors’ demand was difficult to resolve given the closeness of the 2023 elections, George said 24 hours was more than enough to fix the problems currently bedevilling the party.
He said, “I consider Tsauri a very fair-minded person. He was in the Senate and later became our National Secretary. I served in the National Working Committee for 10 years, but I want to say that the time from now till the elections is more than enough to deal with this problem if we truly want to see it resolved.”
While noting that the group will continue to insist on Ayu’s removal, the retired Air Commodore said the South-West geo-political zone had nothing to bargain with given the present state of affairs in the party.
“What we are saying is that they should give us something to take home to convince our people that we are still part of this party called the PDP. Today, the North-East has the presidential candidate, the North-Central has the National Chairman; the Director General of the campaign council is from the North-West while the South-South has the vice-presidential candidate. The South-East has the acting Chairman of the Board of Trustees, which is nonsense, because he has no powers. Now, the South-West has zero. How can I tell our people that after the election, we will get something? Is that normal?
He continued, “I was one of those who begged that every zone should be allowed to contest the position of the national chairman because six months ago, they did not announce the zoning of the elective offices. But Ayu came out to say, ‘give it to me,’ saying that if a presidential candidate emerged from the North, he would go. So, why is he still sitting down there?”
In a philosophical posturing, George reminded Atiku not to forget that “every standing tree has its roots. Trees don’t change roots but they shed leaves. Anytime the roots are rotten, the tree dies.”
Adding his voice to the argument, the Rivers State Commissioner for Information, Chris Finebone, said it was wrong for any person to overlook the fact that the PDP which was a political party with national outlook had suddenly begun to wear the garb of a regional political party due to its actions and inactions.
He said, “If they say Governor Wike should forget about the removal of Ayu and that everything will be okay, they too can easily remove Ayu, and everything will be okay. So, it should not be a matter of one choosing what favours him without choosing what favours the other side. It is not enough to say you should overlook the matter of Ayu; no, that is a matter of principle.
“Even those of us who don’t want to bother about it should think twice. Here is a national party, the PDP; nobody will argue that PDP has been a national party in every sense. This singular act by Atiku; clinching the ticket, the Chairman coming from the North, campaign council DG, from the North, has effectively regionalised the party. In order words that party has shrunken from having a national outlook to a regional party.
“What that means is that because of the sensitive nature of issues like these, a lot of Nigerians will not see the PDP as a national party anymore. They will see PDP as a regional party, and that is a huge minus to the fortunes of the PDP going into the 2023 elections.”
On whether the PDP at the national level has been losing mileage since the disagreement, Finebone said, “Losing mileage means a minus; we are saying the same thing. As long as this disagreement festers, it is the PDP that is losing. The PDP is losing every day, every minute.
“The standard bearer, Atiku Abubakar, very well knows this. Playing the ostrich thing; hiding one’s head in the sand and pretending that all is okay isn’t good, because a ticket that is thoroughly diminished or undermined may never regain its old self again.
“There is a limited period to do all of this; from now till February, and you are busy undermining your ticket with your action or inaction. If anybody should have gone for peace to reign in the PDP or worked for peace to reign, it should be the presidential candidate.
“It is possible that he (Atiku Abubakar) may never have another opportunity in the next four or eight years to run again. He would have been in the best place to say, let a political solution be found in which Ayu should step aside so that the PDP would continue to enjoy its national outlook, which it has built over the years. How do you suddenly shrink a party with a national outlook to a northern garb?
“Anybody considering a solution to the problem should consider this aspect seriously. It is either they suggest what will bring peace, except they are suggesting peace of the graveyard.”