There are increasing fears in the Peoples Democratic Party that the crisis between its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, may affect its chances in the 2023 presidential elections.
The party leaders, who spoke to The PUNCH, in separate interviews on Wednesday, expressed concern about the growing relationship between Wike and influential members of the All Progressives Congress, describing the development as worrisome.
The party’s top members specifically expressed concern over the meeting Wike and two other PDP governors held with the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in London on Monday.
The party elders are apprehensive that the activities of Wike and the governors of Oyo and Benue states, Seyi Makinde and Samuel Ortom, may negatively affect the PDP’s chances in the 2023 presidential election.
The PUNCH gathered that the Tuesday meeting between Wike and the APC presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, in the UK dominated discourse among the PDP hierarchy on Wednesday.
The National Working Committee of the party met with PDP governorship candidates across the 36 states of the federation at its Wadata Plaza headquarters in Wuse, Abuja, on Wednesday.
The meeting was attended by all PDP governorship candidates except the Oyo State governor, who is currently out of the country.
Similarly, the Governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed, who was also absent at the time the meeting began later joined the meeting.
The PUNCH reported the parley between Wike and Tinubu which was also attended by Makinde and Ortom who are close allies of the Rivers State governor while Ekiti and Lagos State governors, Kayode Fayemi and Babajide Sanwo-Olu were also in attendance.
Speaking on Wike’s political dalliance with the APC presidential candidate and governors, a senior member of the party and former governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, called for reconciliation, saying the events were worrisome.
The former governor, in an interview with one of our correspondents, appealed that those brokering reconciliation should be given a chance to work and not heat up the polity through public comments.
Makarfi, a two-term senator who represented the Northern Kaduna Senatorial District, said, “I have always supported reconciliation at all levels. We in Kaduna are in such a process.
“I equally believe we should give those brokering the reconciliation a chance and not heat up things through public comments from all sides. Events in politics are highly unpredictable.
“Though it’s worrisome what we see and hear in the open, it’s what we don’t see and hear that should be more worrisome and this applies to all the major political parties.
“It’s an evolving political environment and time will tell. I still call on all parties to the issues to give peace a chance.”
A member of the PDP Board of Trustees and former governor of Plateau state, Fidelis Tapgun, in an interview with The PUNCH described Wike’s meeting with Tinubu as “anti-party activity.’’
“How can you be in the PDP and every time, he (Wike) is seen or heard romancing with the opposition politicians? What does that mean if not anti-party (activity)?’ he queried.
The former governor urged Wike to stop behaving as if he owned the PDP, saying, “The PDP owns Wike and not the other way round. The way he is going is not good for the party and he should stop that.’’
He added, “If not that some of us want reconciliation in the party, he should have been disciplined long ago. I expect him to know this and stop making things difficult for the PDP in its quest to liberate Nigerians from the bad governance foisted on them by the ruling All Progressives Congress.”
Speaking in a similar tone, another BoT member, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, said he was not comfortable with the rift between Wike and Atiku and asked them to bury the hatchet.
He stated, “I’m not comfortable with what is happening and I am surprised that Nyesom Wike is taking the line he is taking. I don’t understand but I do appeal to all of them both Wike and others, to shelve their problems and allow the party to win the elections.
“They have nothing to gain by prolonging the crisis in a manner that will enable the opposition to have a strong hand. I do hope that Wike will realise that this issue is already taking a toll on the enthusiasm of the members of the PDP.
“I want to appeal to him. I heard the news that he went to attend a meeting with Bola Tinubu somewhere. That is very sad and I hope they are not going to carry it into a kind of situation whereby there will be no solution.
“We have suffered in this country and the people in this country need a change. I am not saying Wike is wrong in meeting anyone but he has been a loyal PDP man, let him continue to be a loyal PDP man. He has nothing to gain by romancing the opposition.’’
Stating that he supported the Rivers governor during the PDP special convention which produced Atiku as the presidential candidate, the party chieftain expressed his dissatisfaction with Atiku’s choice of Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as his running mate.
He noted, “I want to join in appealing to everybody to allow peace to reign and allow the PDP to win the election. When these issues started, I didn’t quite support the governor of Delta State to be a running mate; I was one of those who supported Wike and that is because I worked with him when he was a minister.
“I know him to be a very hardworking young man but to go ahead and hold a meeting with Bola Tinubu beats my imagination. If he thinks he can destroy the PDP by that, then good luck to him.
“I know that eventually as the Yoruba say when heaven falls it won’t fall upon one person.
Some of us may be poor but we still maintain our principles to the end and still stick with the party.”
The Chairman, Forum of PDP States Chairmen, Felix Hyat, said the party remained supreme above any individual or group in the land.
Hyat, who is also the chairman of the PDP in Kaduna State, said the party was not officially aware of the meeting between Wike and Tinubu or the outcome.
He noted that while the Forum of the PDP Chairmen held all the party’s governors in high esteem, their personal interests cannot supersede that of the main opposition party.
He said, “I and all the States Chairmen of PDP in Nigeria have endorsed the following resolutions: The party is supreme to any individual or group of individuals.
“We are fully in support of all our standard-bearers from national to state levels. We appreciate the efforts of all the organs of the party and individuals committed to resolving all areas of pain in the party.’’
On its part, the Plateau State chapter of the PDP urged party members not to crucify Wike over his meeting with Tinubu in London.
The Chairman of the PDP in the state, Chris Hassan, in an interview with The PUNCH in Jos on Wednesday, said it was wrong for people to brand Wike’s meeting with Tinubu as constituting anti-party when the Rivers governor had not said he was working to actualise the presidential ambition of the former Lagos governor.
Hassan, who spoke through the state Publicity Secretary of the PDP, John Akans, said, “I don’t get it when people read negative meaning any time Wike meets people as if he no longer has the right to meet with anybody.
“For me, Wike’s meeting with Tinubu in London does not amount to anti-party (activities) because he has not declared support for him. People should know he has the right to meet with anybody including those in the opposition.
“I believe that Wike knows what he is doing and it is for the good of the PDP. Yes, there are issues but he loves PDP and he has invested a lot in the party and I don’t believe he will abandon or work against the interest of the party he has laboured so much to build.”
Commenting, the Osun PDP Director of Media and Strategy, Oladele Oluwabamiji, said Wike was merely playing mind games to show his strength and as such, it should not be regarded as anti-party action yet.
Oluwabamiji, who said the leadership of the party in Osun State would never support any effort that would affect the chances of the party in the next general elections, said changing national leaders of the PDP a few months before a major poll might mar its chances at the elections.
He said, “I will not say Governor Wike’s move is tantamount to anti-party (activities) yet. He has done his bit, just like others, for the party. He is trying to send a psychological message. He is playing mind games to send some messages to get what he really wants.
“The party in Osun will not support any action that will jeopardise our chances in the next general elections. Changing leadership of the party as demanded by Wike’s group may ruin PDP chances at next year’s poll.”
The state Publicity Secretary of the party in Taraba State, Mr Andeta’rang Iramea, who spoke on behalf of the acting state Chairman, Alhaji Inuwa Bakari, noted that Wike’s meeting with the APC candidate negated the spirit of the party.
“If it is true that Wike and two other PDP governors met Tinubu in London, then it is condemnable and negates the spirit of loyalty to the party,” he said in a text message to our correspondent.
The former Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Plateau State, Iliya Zakaria, stated, “Wike is trying to over play the whole thing: He sent (ex-PDP chairman, Uche) Secondus away and now he is trying to send Ayu away. Is that politics or what?
“I have been contesting and losing and I have not asked for anybody’s head. If they treated him badly, he should own up as a politician, tomorrow is another day.”
Meanwhile, PDP state chairmen have advised Atiku not to sacrifice the PDP national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, insisting that Wike should not believe he had the right to dictate conditions for reconciliation.
They said this in support of a statement by a former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido, that Atiku should call Wike’s bluff.
The Rivers governor had insisted on the removal of Ayu as a condition for reconciliation.
But the Adamawa State PDP Chairman, A. Shehu, said, ‘’Atiku should not succumb to any pressure or condition from the side of Wike or whoever. In all the religions and holy books, it is written that God is the giver of power; he does not make consultation before he gives power.
‘’Wike or not Wike, if Nigerians decide by the wish of God Atiku will be president, come 2023. In as much as Wike is important, we will not neglect him, but he should not take it as a right to give conditions for him to support Atiku.’’
The Jigawa State PDP Chairman, Babandi Gumel, stated, “Do you want me to book my boss (Lamido) after he has spoken? I am in total support of what he said.”
Weighing on the issue, the Kaduna state PDP Chairman, Hyat, insisted that the removal of a national chairman of the party had laid down procedures in the constitution of the party.
“So even if Wike wants the national chairman to go, there are procedures. So, what infractions had the national chairman done that will warrant somebody to ask him to go?’’ he asked.
Addressing journalists after the meeting with the governorship candidates, Ayu said the party would return back 25 or more governors during the 2023 general elections as it used to in the past.
The meeting comes amid a leadership crisis in the party where pressure was being mounted on Ayu to step aside as one of the conditions for reconciliation, according to the Wike camp.
According to the party chair, the governorship candidates met with some of the NWC members to express their concerns in their various states on the efforts they are making to win elections in their states.
He said, “The candidates came and expressed their concerns in their various states. They briefed us on the efforts they are making in their various states to win the election.
“We want to return about 25 state governors or more as we used to have. So the mood in the party is excellent.
“We are very determined that we don’t just win at the national level. States of Assembly, National Assembly, state governorship, we want to return about 25 state governors or more as we used to have. So the mood in the party is excellent.”
Bauchi Governor Mohammed stated that the governorship candidates were uniting to discuss issues that would unite the party.
In a related development, a socio-political group, the One Nigeria Movement, said that the display of arrogance by a former Jigawa governor and others around the PDP presidential candidate would cost him the 2023 election.
The group in a statement by its Convener General, Ahmed Sodiq-Mugoro and Secretary, Babatunde Aliyu, said ‘’The utterances of Lamido in recent times are not only inimical to the unity of Nigeria but a sign that the PDP presidential candidate was already being caged by a group who appeared to see others as nobody.”
The APC Chairman in Rivers State, Emeka Beke, has faulted allegations that the former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, is lukewarm to the presidential candidate of the party, Bola Tinubu.
Beke while answering questions from one of our correspondents on the telephone said though he was not Amaechi’s spokesman, he said the party in the state was engrossed in mobilising for its candidates in the 2023 elections.
He said,” Well, I am not Amaechi’s spokesman but as the chairman of the APC in Rivers State, we are going for mobilisation from one local government area to another.
“We were at Omuma LGA today. Everywhere we go we are speaking and speaking and selling our candidates at the state and the centre.
“We are speaking for Tonye Cole as our governorship candidate in the state and for Bola Tinubu at the centre. So who is talking about Amaechi being lukewarm?
An ally to Amaechi and chieftain of the party in Rivers State who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity said Tinubu had not treated Amaechi fairly.
He said,” Do you see how the PDP is pampering Wike? It is not fair when they say Amaechi is lukewarm. Has there been any genuine effort to reach out to Amaechi to co-opt him into Tinubu’s campaign?
“Don’t forget that Amaechi was in Port Harcourt sometime and he did ask his supporters to vote for the APC. He has never said otherwise, so why say he is lukewarm towards Tinubu?
“Our leader came second in the APC presidential primary. Wike also came second in his party’s presidential election primary, but thereafter, see how the party, even the presidential candidate of the PDP (Atiku Abubakar), is sending people to him.
“But have any of them, particularly from Asiwaju’s camp, reached out to him (Amaechi). The answer is no. See Wike is restive, raising dust everywhere, yet he is getting attention and they are trying to appease him.
Wike has taken a swipe at the former Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, saying the latter has lost relevance politically.
Recall that Lamido while speaking on Channel’s television ‘Politics Today’ on Tuesday night said there was no need for any reconciliation between Wike and the presidential candidate of the PDP, saying nobody wronged Wike.
But Wike in a statement through his media aide, Kelvin Ebiri, described the comments credited to Lamido as disgusting and disdainful.
The statement reads,” We have observed with disgust the disdainful remarks made by a former governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, about Rivers State governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, during his recent interview on Channels television.
“While we cannot deny that Alhaji Lamido has an inalienable right to his personal opinion, we wish to declare that he, however, lacks the right to malign governor Wike, whose immense contributions to the sustenance of the PDP are not in dispute.
“It is rather appalling that at a time when concerted efforts are being made by lovers of true democracy and the unity of the party, to resolve some inherent contradictions plaguing the PDP, Alhaji Lamido and his cohorts, who have since lost their relevance in the polity, are busy creating friction and schism.”
He said the governor had never claimed to be a custodian of the over three million votes in Rivers State.
“But as the leader of the PDP and good people of Rivers State, anyone who underrates the governor’s political pedigree or dares to ignore his influence in the State and beyond will be doing so at his own peril.
“We wish to remind Alhaji Lamido that governor Wike has never left anyone in doubt about his capacity to sway the voters in Rivers State in a direction that benefits the people and the State, in the overall.
“When he speaks, Rivers people will listen, no doubt. Perhaps, Alhaji Lamido thinks Nigerians are suffering from selective amnesia to have forgotten in a hurry the ignoble role he and his cohorts played between 2014 and 2015, that culminated in the defeat of the PDP in the 2015 general elections.
“We hope that he is not involved in such a scheme again to cause a repeat of that history. Otherwise, if Alhaji Lamido has any modicum of conscience, he won’t be making disparaging comments about governor Wike, whom many have described as the pillar of the PDP since 2015,” he added.
Meanwhile, there was a report on Wednesday that Atiku and Wike would meet in London on Thursday.
When contacted, Atiku’s Media Adviser, Paul Ibe, said he was aware that Atiku travelled to Europe after the Nigerian Bar Association’s conference.
He said, “I’m aware that Atiku travelled to the UK after the NBA conference for a business trip. But I’m not aware that he travelled to meet Wike.”
Also, the spokesperson for the Atiku Campaign Organisation, Daniel Bwala, said, “Honestly, I have no idea.”
- Adelani Adepegba, Friday Olokor, Deborah Tolu-Kolawole, Elameen Ibrahim, Gift Habib, Bola Bamigbola, Godwin Isenyo, Tunde Oyekola, Aisha Wakaso, Justin Tyopuusu and James Abraham
Credit: The Punch