The leadership crisis rocking the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) is escalating by the day. Amid the crisis, the party is set to inaugurate its presidential election campaign council today. GBADE OGUNWALE reports that the main opposition party is enmeshed in a make or mar battle as it may go into next year’s election as a divided house
It has been one week, one trouble for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) since Alhaji Atiku Abubakar emerged as the party’s presidential candidate some four months ago. The Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike has accused National Chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu of manipulating the process, with a few other chieftains, to favour of Atiku during the party’s presidential primary. Wike has been trenchant in throwing the brickbats at Atiku and Ayu and extending the missiles to other party chieftains for their alleged roles in the perceived conspiracy against him. The governor said Ayu received a whopping one billion naira for the “hatchet job”. So far, the national chairman has remained silent about the accusation. The National Working Committee (NWC), which Ayu leads, is distancing itself from the alleged gratification. Since the allegation is directed at Ayu, he alone can respond appropriately.
Wike and his loyalists are not expected to be part of today’s inauguration of the Presidential Campaign Organisation (PCO) and the National Campaign Management Committee (NCMC). Last-minute efforts are being made by concerned stakeholders to get Wike and his group to have a change of heart. But, they seem to have crossed the Rubicon. There are fears they will burn the bridge eventually. The Rivers governor has threatened to dig up more dirt and fling it in the public space. He is not bluffing. Barely 72 hours after issuing the threat, a report filtered into the public space that monies have disappeared from the PDP coffers. Some N10 billion realised from the sale of the party’s nomination forms for next year’s general elections, the report said, have disappeared from the party’s purse. The report added that only one billion is left in the till. Some unseen hands have allegedly creamed off about nine billion naira. This has added another dimension to the crisis on the ground. There is graveyard silence since nobody, in particular, has been fingered in the alleged heist.
With the recent vote of confidence passed in Ayu and the NWC by the National Executive Committee (NEC), the party chairman appears to stand on solid ground. So it seems. But the gabby Rivers governor has sneered at the givers and recipients of the confidence vote. He said the confidence reposed in Ayu by NEC is not worth a brass farthing. The poorly attended NEC meeting, which passed the confidence vote on Ayu and his NWC members, had featured mainly individuals loyal to Atiku. Wike and members of his camp had stayed away from the meeting. The NEC had also prevailed on Senator Walid Jibrin to give up his position as chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT). A former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, who was the Secretary of the BoT, was appointed chairman of the board. Wabara is from Abia State, Southeast geopolitical zone. Jibrin is from Nasarawa State, North Central; in the same geopolitical zone as Ayu’s Benue State. It was a political calculus conjured to give some semblance of balancing in the heavily slanted PDP leadership structure.
Again, Wike and his group sniggered at the move. They want a cure, not a placebo. The BoT is a mere advisory body. It cannot enforce any decision. Ayu, not Jibrin, should be the one to resign, they insist. But Atiku and his loyalists have cited constitutional structures as obstacles to Ayu’s resignation. Section 45 of the PDP constitution, they argue, demands that in the event of Ayu stepping down, his replacement must still come from his region (North). By implication, the incumbent Deputy National Chairman (North), Umar Iliya Damagum is the rightful person to step in. Picking someone from the South or the Southeast as being demanded by Wike and co in this instance, is an anathema to the PDP constitution. It is sound logic.
However, the question being asked, is: Did Ayu make a commitment to resign if the PDP presidential candidate emerged from the North at the time he was being considered for national chairman? Mr. Charles Aniagwu, one of the spokespersons for the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, has answered the question. Aniagwu said Ayu never denied agreeing to quit if a presidential candidate emerged from the North. His words: “The national chairman was clear when he said if the party asked him to quit, he will. The party did not make that request; the NEC passed a vote of confidence in the NWC. Ayu has never denied what he said. But, let us look at what he said and the laws of the party. Let us always think of the country first and not about North and South that tends to divide us”.
Aniagwu, who spoke last Friday on an NTA Network programme, Good Morning Nigeria, however, admitted that those calling for Ayu’s removal based on equity and justice are not doing anything wrong. The campaign spokesperson said Atiku is not opposed to Ayu stepping down. But that, he added, should come after the general elections. Time, he said, is a big challenge at this point. Aniagwu continued: “Our presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar and our National Chairman Iyorchia Ayu are on the same page with them to return the National Chairman to the South. But that can only be done after the general elections because we have a bigger picture in view.
“Again, Ayu stepping down is not the problem. Going by our party’s constitution, moving the chairman from the North to the South is the problem because a Deputy National Chairman (North) is expected to take over from him by virtue of Section 45 of the party’s constitution. Ayu has said if the party asks him to go, he will leave, but the NEC of the party has met and they have considered the issues and came to a conclusion that it was not the right time for that move”.
Another nagging question is: Was Ayu not aware of the constitutional impediments to his stepping down for a southerner at the time he made the commitment? Did he sell the party a dummy? Is there a conspiracy between the Ayu and the Atiku camp as it is being alleged by Wike and his group? Or is it a typical case of “Papa Deceive Pikin”, as the sobriquet goes in local street parlance? Could this be one of the reasons the party chairman nimbly said weeks ago, that the Rivers governor and his allies were still wearing diapers at the time he and a few other grandpas conceived and birthed the PDP? Will there be any soft landing for the party chair to leave for peace to return to the party?
But Chief Olisa Metuh, a former PDP National Publicity Secretary, says letting Ayu go might create the impression that Atiku is a weakling. In a telephone interview with our correspondent, Metuh cautioned Atiku about the consequences of buckling under such pressure. He said Atiku will become a laughing stock among Nigerians and in the eyes of the international community should he succumb to threats from the Rivers governor and his loyalists. Metuh, who is the longest serving member of PDP’s NEC, said the desire of Nigerians is to have a president who is strong and firm in his convictions. He said: “Atiku will become a laughing stock if he buckles under such pressure. If he stands his ground, he may also be considered rigid and unyielding to the demand for equity and justice.
“He will lose a lot of support in the North if he accedes to Wike’s demand. He will be seen as a weak leader. He will be seen as someone anyone can push around. Atiku is running an election to become the Commander-In-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces; to face insurgents, to face threats against the country, to deal with separatists, bandits, and terrorists. Now as a candidate, if he starts succumbing to the whims, to the threats and to the pressure on an individual or a group, then you are portraying him as a weak man that cannot control the affairs of the country. How would he handle pressure from even external forces, other countries that would want to threaten us, even with trade disputes?
“When we have trade disputes with China when we meet all these issues, what will the president do? He will buckle if he can buckle to people who are using the media to press issues that they can press in private. That will portray him as somebody who is not strong enough and I don’t think that is in the interest of the party and the country. So it seems like a no-win situation and it’s quite disturbing because there is no other presidential candidate in the 2023 race that is facing the kind of challenge Atiku is facing right now.”
Again, the appointment of Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal as Director-General of the party’s National Campaign Management Committee (NCMC) may have added to Governor Wike’s injury. The Sokoto governor is also the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum. The Rivers governor feels betrayed by Tambuwal for stepping down for Atiku during the October presidential primary. Tambuwal had stepped down for Atiku shortly before voting commenced and had directed all his delegates to vote for Atiku. Atiku won and Wike, who came second, has continued to blame Tambuwal for his loss. The Rivers governor has accused Ayu of instigating three northern aspirants in the presidential race against him. Apart from Tambuwal, Governor Wike said Ayu also approached two other aspirants – former Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed to also step down for Atiku. The duo, however, were said to have declined the request, preferring to contest the primary, win or lose.
In view of the growing animosity between the Rivers and Sokoto governors, not a few stakeholders consider the appointment of Tambuwal as campaign DG quite discomfiting to Wike and his loyalists. A highly placed party source said on Monday: “The party leadership keeps creating problems here and there and still expects people to go with their plans. If they succeed in placating Governor Wike and his loyalists on the issue of the national chairman, what are they telling them about Governor Tambuwal’s appointment as DG? Some of us strongly believe that Atiku, Ayu and their loyalists may have made up their minds to dump Wike and his group. All the explanations they have given for their actions are beginning to sound like mere excuses. We expect them to be bold enough to take the bull by the horns rather than prevaricating over this matter.”
As the electioneering campaign begins, there is very little time left for the PDP to patch up the gaping cracks. The party has recorded electoral defeat in the 2015 and 2019 election circles. It may sink deeper down the abyss with yet another defeat next year. It is doubtful if the PDP can weather the storm after 12 years in the opposition. At 76, it is obviously Atiku’s final attempt at winning the presidency. Another loss next year will signal his retirement from active politics. And for the PDP, losing the presidency for the third time may as well be the last straw that will break the camel’s back. Can the PDP resolve the festering crisis in good time to enable it go into the election as a united front? Are the parties in dispute willing to make concessions that can save the situation? Will the PDP proceed with the campaign and the election proper as a divided house? The chances keep growing slimmer by the day.