LEKE BAIYEWU writes on the mind game being played by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, and the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, who lost his bid to be the party’s vice presidential candidate to the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa
Things are no longer at ease in the Peoples Democratic Party, especially concerning the brouhaha over the choice of its vice-presidential candidate for the 2023 general elections. It has been like a cat-and-mouse game between the presidential candidate of the opposition party, Atiku Abubakar, who picked the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as his running mate, and not the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, who came second in the primary.
Expectedly, the choice of Okowa sparked protests from Wike’s camp. The Rivers’ governor’s loyalists and some colleagues, felt he was better positioned for the position.
Ever since Atiku opted for Okowa, Wike has been hobnobbing with leaders of the All Progressives Congress, especially governors in the ruling party. Several APC governors have visited Wike in what is widely perceived to be a move to woo the aggrieved Rivers governor out of the PDP. Wike has denied plans to leave the PDP, but he, together with his loyalists, is still complaining of cheating by the party.
More unsettling in the PDP family is Wike’s preference for members of the APC to inaugurate projects across Rivers which were completed by his PDP administration.
For instance, the Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, visited Wike in Port Harcourt to have a discussion concerning the presidential election in 2023 and the need for leaders in the South to unite and ensure power shifts to the South regardless of their party affiliations. It is important to note that while the opposition PDP dumped its zoning formula and fielded Atiku from the North, with the hope that he would succeed the incumbent President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), who is also from the North, the APC picked Asiwaju Bola Tinubu from the South, though the ruling party also jettisoned religious balance and is fielding a mono-religious Muslim-Muslim ticket.
A day after Umahi’s visit, several APC chieftains were lined up to inaugurate projects by the Wike-led administration. First was the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who inaugurated the Orochiri-Worukwo flyover; the former Sokoto State Governor, Senator Aliyu Wamakko, was invited for the Ogbum-Nu-Abali Eastern Bypass dualised road; the House of Representatives’ Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, was for the state House of Assembly quarters; and the former Ondo State Governor, Olusegun Mimiko, also inaugurated the dualisation of the Azikiwe-Iloabuchi Road.
Among those who opposed Atiku’s choice is Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, who, in his interview with Arise News Television on June 29, 2022, said Wike and others who backed his bid for the vice-presidential ticket of the PDP deserved a detailed explanation from the party’s presidential candidate on his choice of running mate. Ortom had stated that it was surprising that the presidential candidate could jettison the recommendation of 14 members of a 17-man committee set up to shop for the party’s vice presidential candidate, who recommended Wike as his running mate.
Wike and his associates have demanded the resignation of the PDP National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, as one of the conditions for the governor (Wike) to work for Atiku, a demand for the dismissal of some party leaders. The presidential candidate was also reported to have allegedly offered to make Wike the director-general of his campaign organisation, which the governor declined.
Ayu and other members of the party’s National Working Committee were reported to have rejected Wike’s call for the national chairman’s resignation. It was gathered that some chieftains of the party advised Atiku not accept Wike’s conditions on the grounds that the party could win the 2023 presidential poll without the Rivers governor’s support.
In his first reaction to the controversy over the choice of Okowa, Wike tweeted via his official Twitter handle, @GovWike, to say, “I will speak soon and Nigerians will know the actual truth of all that has transpired in the PDP in recent times.”
Wike and Atiku had also clashed over the latter’s exclusive interview with Arise News Television, which aired on July 22, 2022. In this interview, the presidential candidate partly said, “I didn’t reject Wike; I picked someone who can deliver. Wike is brilliant and tenacious. Going by history, I picked an Igbo as my running mate in 2007, in 2019. Even so, I chose an Igbo as my running mate for 2023.The committee that presented the three nominees was chaired by the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom. They recommended three people, so I picked one. People should be fair to me and state the facts. “
However, the governor accused the ex-vice president of making false statements during the interview. “He (Atiku) appeared on Arise Television. See the statement he made. So many lies were told, and you said I should not react to some of those issues. That would not be fair,” Wike had stated while briefing journalists at the Port Harcourt International Airport on July 29.
About two months after the primary, which has been characterised by a war of words as well as arguments and counter-arguments by the two camps, Atiku and Wike, on August 4, 2022, met behind closed doors at the Abuja residence of a former Minister of Information and National Orientation, Prof. Jerry Gana, signalling what observers believed were reconciliatory moves to pacify the aggrieved governor.
After the meeting, it was reported that a 14-member reconciliation committee had been agreed by the two sides to do consultations and make recommendations to be considered by both parties.
The seeming progress recorded in the process of reconciling the warring PDP leaders seems to have been reversed with the outburst by Wike on Monday.
The peace talks appeared to have suffered a major failure as the governor threatened to disappoint those underestimating Rivers.
In the presence of Sanwo-Olu of the APC, who was invited to inaugurate some projects in the state, Wike stated, “My guest from Lagos State; let nobody tell you the story that anybody will come here to win as Governor of Rivers State. It will not happen. Those who looted the treasury of the state will not come here to be Governor of Rivers State, and I have challenged them. I am fully in charge. I am not the kind of governor people will go to Abuja and hold meetings against. I am fully in charge here. “
The governor also stated that no one should expect to get the votes of his state without at least giving something in return. He was said to have also taken a swipe at some PDP leaders in Rivers suspected to be allies to Abubakar. However, some PDP members who are loyal to Wike have said there is no cause for alarm. According to them, the two camps are close to reconciliation.
Another member of the House of Representatives from Rivers, Dagomie Abiante, wants all concerned parties to wait and see the outcome of the latest peace move. The lawmaker wants them to give the peace committee the benefit of the doubt. “Let us allow them to settle. There is no point in adding fuel to the fire. Let us encourage them to settle their scores,” he said.
Another member of the House, Teejay Yusuf, from Kogi State, argued that the committee has a different mandate. He stated, “The committee’s work is not to reconcile Wike and Atiku. Wike and Atiku have sat down; they have spoken frankly to each other; they have moved on. But there are those who are benefiting from the crisis from both sides. There are those who are claiming to be intervening, some for ulterior motives and some for personal gains. The committee set up now is to end that. It is Atiku and Wike; it is to get everybody on board so that we can come out with a clear purpose and one agenda for the party. The two men are great men: Atiku, the standard bearer, and Wike, a very strong and important member of the PDP.”
Yusuf also argued that the governor’s verbal attack was against some chieftains in the PDP and not Atiku. “It was in reference to what some elderly people did. Both parties are far from those he was referring to. I told you about those who are benefitting from the issue. If the matter were resolved, their egos would be bruised. He was talking (also referring) to the people; he was not talking to the principal,” he noted.