It may be too early to predict the likely electoral implications of the rift between the presidential candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, and Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike. However, the growing support for the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) among the youth population appears to be posing a greater threat to the PDP ticket than the rift with Wike and his supporters. GBADE OGUNWALE reports
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike may not be the beautiful bride in next year’s general elections after all. Rather, the governor may have boxed himself into a tight corner. By now, the reality must have dawned on Wike and his loyalists that they have been left with the short end of the stick. Two opposing blocs are pitched in battle for the soul of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) ahead of next year’s presidential election. It is a battle between two power seekers chasing the PDP presidential ticket. They had launched their ambitions on the plank of the age-long north/south dichotomy.
A former vice president and veteran presidential election contender, Atiku Abubakar assumed the leadership of the “northern interests”, while the Rivers governor took charge of the southern flank. Incidentally, it was the Rivers governor who drew the proverbial first blood in a long-range battle for the control of the party structure. With the PDP presidential ticket in sight, Wike had, in August last year, instigated the removal of the then PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus. With Secondus out of the way, Atiku and Wike began negotiating their way for the presidential ticket. The PDP has an abiding tradition of alternating its presidential ticket and the party chairmanship between the north and the south.
Apparently, with the hope of grabbing the presidential ticket, the Wike camp had agreed to cede the chairmanship position to the north. After broad consultations, the party settled for former Senate President Iyorchia Ayu who is from Benue State in the North Central geo-political zone. With a chairman from the north, the Wike camp had expected that the presidential ticket would be zoned to the south. But Atiku played a fast one on Wike and his allies by taking full advantage of his long-standing friendship with Ayu. So, instead of zoning the presidential ticket to the south as expected by the Wike camp, the PDP leadership under Ayu decided to set up a Zoning Committee with the Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom as chairman. The next day, the party leadership announced the commencement of the sale of nomination forms for the election.
Incidentally, Atiku was the first to purchase the N40 million presidential nomination form. This was long before the Ortom-led Zoning Committee was officially inaugurated. After Atiku emerged as flag bearer, the Wike camp had expected a fair deal, in the form of the vice presidential slot. But, as it were, the slot went to Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, leaving Wike and his loyalists high and dry. In order not to lose out completely, the Rivers governor’s camp is now demanding the replacement of the PDP chair Ayu with another person from the Southwest. Apart from Ayu and Atiku being from the north, the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) Chairman, Senator Walid Jibrin, is also from the north.
But, the call for Ayu’s resignation has continued to generate tension in the party as the embattled national chairman has rejected the call. Those against the chairman’s resignation are citing provisions of Section 45(1)(2) of the PDP constitution. The section prescribed the filling of any vacant position in the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) with another person from the same part of the country as the previous occupant of the office. Section 45(2) says: “In the case of the National Chairman, he shall hand over to the Deputy National Chairman from his region/part of the country who shall, without prejudice to Section 47(6) of this constitution, act as the National Chairman pending the election of a replacement. Section 47(6) says: “Where a vacancy occurs in any of the offices of the party, the Executive Committee at the appropriate level shall appoint another person from the area or zone where the officer originated from to serve out the tenure of the officer.”
By implication, Ayu can only be replaced by one of his deputies from the north. The present Deputy National Chairman (North) Umar Damagum, is from Yobe State, which is in the same Northeast zone as Atiku’s home state of Adamawa. However, those calling for Ayu’s resignation have argued that the framers of the PDP constitution did not envisage a situation where the party’s president or presidential candidate will emerge from the same region as the national chairman. They cited instances in the past where emerging scenarios threw up such north/south power dichotomy but that the situation was addressed without much ado. For instance, a former PDP chair, Ahmadu Ali had to be replaced by Chief Vincent Ogbulafor when the late Umaru Yar’ Adua became President in 2007.
Similarly, another former chair, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo who succeeded Ogbulafor had to be replaced by Dr. Haliru Bello when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan became president in 2010. Replacements for these two ex-chairmen came from regions other than their own, even though they both had sitting deputies from their regions at the time they were being replaced. This has punctured the insistence by the Atiku camp that Ayu can only be replaced with a southerner through a mini-convention. The process involves the selection of a new national chairman from another region who will take charge in the interim on a caretaker basis. A proper national convention will then be convened at a future date to ratify the tenure of the officer to be so appointed. And barely a month to the September 28 date for the take off the electioneering campaign for next year’s election, a mini-convention appears a less viable alternative for the PDP.
This has put the Wike camp at the mercy of the Atiku camp, which by all indications has resolved to retain Ayu as chairman. The noose appears to be getting tighter for the camp of the Rivers governor with the closure of nominations for elective positions for state and federal elections. Already, Wike and other PDP governors in his camp had fielded their preferred candidates for Senate, House of Representatives, governorship and state assembly elections in the coming election. By implication, they will work for the success of their candidates. More so, other than Wike himself, other governors in his camp are also seeking election to the Senate except for Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde who is seeking re-election. Consequently, Wike and the governors in his camp may end up working against their interests or candidates if they decide to work against Atiku in the presidential election. This is so because the presidential and National Assembly elections come first on the timetable released by the electoral umpire. Thus, any attempt to direct voters in their various states to vote against Atiku and the PDP in the presidential election may have a bandwagon effect on the remaining elections.
It is apparent Wike camp’s romance with the presidential candidates of the APC and that of the Labour Party (LP), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Peter Obi respectively has died a natural death. Media reports indicate that meetings between Wike and his allies with both Tinubu and Obi in London last week failed to yield any positive results for the aggrieved PDP governors. Tinubu, whose ruling APC holds all the aces, was said to have remained non-committal to the terms reportedly pushed by the Wike camp. On the other hand, Obi, who has no structure anywhere in the country, cannot offer the aggrieved PDP governors any hope for political relevance beyond next year. It was reported that alleged moves by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to broker a deal between Obi and the Wike camp in London also failed. It now appears that Wike and the PDP governors in his camp may be compelled to work for Atiku to safeguard their political future.
Sources in the Atiku camp may have come to realise that Obi and his LP constitute a more daunting challenge to Atiku’s presidential ambition than Wike and his camp. Obi, shortly after emerging as the presidential candidate of the LP, has continued to receive support from the youth population mainly in the Southeast, and the South-south. The wave of support appears to be spreading to parts of the Southwest, particularly Lagos and some states in the North-central. Potentially troubling for the Atiku camp is the LP’s “invasion” of the five states in the Southeast, which are considered to be the traditional stronghold of the PDP. Should the growing support for Obi among the youth population translate to votes at the election, the PDP may lose considerable electoral ground to the LP.
With this realisation, Atiku’s loyalists are reported to have asked their principal to concentrate more on how to strike a working alliance with the LP presidential candidate. The Atiku camp was reported to have tested the waters last week with a media report on some online platforms indicating that Obi had agreed to collapse the LP structure for Atiku’s PDP. In a swift reaction, however, the Obi and his LP dismissed the purported alliance, describing the report as the handiwork of “uncharitable propagandists who indulge in distorting facts in the pursuit of imaginary relevance for their paymasters”.
The statement said: “Rather than strive to contend with the hard sell of their candidates, these mischief makers bandy about misleading accounts of the issue-based messages of our candidates just to score cheap political points and thus distract the discerning public. We know the intention of the spin-doctors in selling an utterly false story that the high-flying LP candidate, Peter Obi, met with his PDP counterpart and reached a deal. Nothing can be further from the truth! Obi’s foreign trip, its motive, and where and those he met are already in the public domain; his meeting in the UK with some Nigerian political leaders is visually seen by all. But mischievous propagandists prefer to concoct lies in a desperate effort to clean up their candidate.
“Obi’s respect for Atiku or any leader in this country has more to do with his sound upbringing and the fact that his style of politics is devoid of hate and bitterness and should not be misconstrued to be cavorting the spent order represented by the competition.” Sources in the LP say Obi has crossed the Rubicon and that it would amount to political suicide for him to yield his ticket to Atiku or any other candidate for that matter