People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP’s) Presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, may have compounded his sour relationship with Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike after suggesting that he could not work amicably with the governor as running mate.
Asked on Arise Television on Friday why he picked Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa over and above Wike, Atiku had said he chose someone who has “the qualities to be President. The person must have an appreciation of the deep rot which our country has been put into by the rudderless All Progressives Congress government; understands the great suffering that most of our people are going through and the urgency of relieving them of that suffering; understands the critical importance of economic growth and development to provide our young people with jobs, hope, and a pathway to wealth.”
He added: “But you must understand that it’s the prerogative of the candidate to pick his running mate — a running mate he believes he can work with amicably, and then also deliver the policies of the party, and also try to unify the country.”
It was gathered in Port Harcourt that the Atiku statement has sparked fresh anger against the former vice president in Wike’s camp which is already aggrieved by what is perceived as the former vice president’s ill treatment of the governor in overlooking him as PDP’s vice presidential candidate.
Efforts to reconcile the two sides so far have repeatedly hit the rocks with Atiku saying during his Friday interview that he was reaching out to Wike to let bygones be bygones.
However, the much sought reconciliation appears to have been dealt a fresh blow by the Atiku statement.
We gathered that many associates of Wike were shocked by Atiku’s statement which they claimed depicted the governor as someone he could not work with amicably.
They were also miffed that Atiku denied that Wike was the choice of the majority members of the selection committee of the PDP.
A source in the governor’s camp said: “The statements are unbecoming of someone seeking reconciliation and peace. We have been advised to refrain from saying things that can affect the unity of the party and we did.
“But what can one say about Atiku’s outburst? Is this how to pacify someone who is genuinely angered? It is obvious that some people feel that they don’t need some of us in their race to the presidency.”
Sources said a meeting scheduled for this weekend to discuss Atiku’s request for reconciliation with Wike did not take place.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State was said to be the convener of the meeting.
But our source said: “No meeting took place. I don’t know why it didn’t hold.”
One source said the Benue governor may have also been angered by Atiku’s claim that he lied about the recommendation of the committee he chaired for the nomination of the PDP running mate.
“Last Thursday, the day before Atiku’s interview, Ortom had repeated his claim that Wike won when the issue was put to vote at the committee level.
He said: “Of course, three names were presented. In the order of preference, Wike, Okowa and governor Udom – all of them are qualified.
“But the preference was Wike – 14 members (referring to the committee) out of 17. This is the point we are making. Three of them were qualified but governor Wike was eminently qualified – 14 out of 17 members chose him.
“All these things were said during our meeting. We said that for the PDP to win, we needed Governor Wike.
“Yes, Wike may have his own weak points as others may see it, but to some people, those were his strong points in this life.
“For me, the candidate who won the primary has the final say. He has decided. I have no problem with that.”
But Atiku, in his interview, said there was nothing of such.
“What he said was inaccurate. I can give you a copy that was sent to me; there was no voting there, there was no record of any vote, absolutely not.
“The committee that was set up at my own instance deliberated, but there was no vote and they recommended three names because they knew that it was prerogative to pick any one of the three, so there was actually no vote.
“More so, Ortom himself chaired that committee. He knew that there was a vote taken and I have the report of that committee,” the PDP presidential candidate insisted.
A close ally of Wike and Chairman of Emohua Local Government Area, Dr. Chidi Lloyd as well as the Leader, Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNPA), Livingstone Wechie, yesterday described Atiku’s statement as disappointing.
Lloyd said Atiku exacerbated an already tensed situation in the PDP through his remarks and had shown that he was not ready to become the President of everybody if elected in 2023.
The PDP stalwart said Atiku had also shown that he had scores to settle with Rivers and that the state would suffer neglect if he emerged the President.
He warned that Atiku was toying with Governor Wike, who already has over 2.5 million votes in his kitty and the capacity to deliver them.
Lloyd said Atiku’s statement was also an indication that he was not reliable and wondered whether the former Vice-President was denying that the PDP never set up a 19-man committee before he chose his running mate.
He said: “I do not want to think that the statement credited to the presidential candidate was actually his statement. I do not think that the presidential candidate, as experienced as they say he is politically, will make such a statement. He wants to exacerbate an already tense situation.
“If that statement was made by him, truly it is obvious that he is not prepared to be the President of everybody. Clearly, he has personalised governance. He sees it as personal estate. He chose someone he can work with, not in the interest of the nation. It makes me very scared as a member of the PDP.
“He chose someone who could be President on a minute notice. It is not palatable to come from Atiku Abubakar. His interview has given me an insight into the kind of person he is. He cannot be reliable.
“Is Atiku saying that the party did not set up a 19-man committee? What was the committee asked to do? He has made his choice.
“As a flagbearer, Atiku had held close to five or six flags of different political parties. One thing is to be a flag bearer but another thing is to win. But he is dealing with a governor that has 2.5 million votes in his kitty and will deliver them without much ado.
“You are making this kind of statement when we thought that the ongoing reconciliation is genuine. The statement from Atiku is also the statement of those who hang around him.
“We thank God for the reforms in the electoral system; the voters will decide at the end of the day. We are with our governor. Whichever direction he wants us to go, we will go.
“It is not about Governor Wike; it is about Rivers State. It is obvious that we will be left out if Atiku becomes President.”
Wechie in his reaction said Atiku’s response betrayed whatever genuine reconciliation is ongoing in the party, noting that nobody could rescue the country with a divided house.
He said: “The assertions by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar that he chose his running mate based on who he is comfortable with implies that he is not comfortable with Governor Nyesom Wike and the reasons are not disclosed. This is below dignity and should be eschewed.
“Moreso, the choice of a running mate must not be personal because it is not about him as a person (Atiku Abubakar) rather it is about Nigeria and who can produce the needed result.
“Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was a beneficiary of a judgment where the Supreme Court held that as vice-president under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, that a Vice-President is not a vice to the President per se but the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and he knows this without pretence.
“A Vice-President is not an appendage of the President and he must know it to be so in order not to place his personal interest above Nigeria’s.
“What is expected of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar while he makes efforts to resolve issues with Governor Nyesom Wike is to acknowledge Governor Nyesom Wike’s qualification to be both President and indeed a Vice-President but for the fact that one person must emerge. But he neglected to do so during his last interview and played to the gallery.”
Wechie added: “The statements made by the PDP Presidential Candidate falls grossly below crisis management rhetoric and it is somewhat disappointing. Ordinarily, he should know better that such conversations have become very slippery particularly when he is yet to meet Governor Nyesom Wike to iron out issues.
“Obviously there are both unresolved and trust issues hanging. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar should remember the adage that says to whom much is given much is expected. He must divorce himself from the Babangida Aliyu’s type of denigrating postulations and speak in a way that goes beyond self and look at the bigger project as an elder statesman and a presumed nationalist.
“You cannot rescue Nigeria with a divided house. He appears to be stoking the fire unnecessary in an ostensible manner beyond what is expected of him as a statesman in his right.”
Wechie observed that the attitude of Atiku and his utterances had made Wike a hero, saying the Rivers governor had become irresistible in the political equation ahead of 2023.
He said: “No matter what anyone feels, Wike has been made popular and almost irresistible in the political equation as long as 2023 is concerned, which is why he is being rushed beyond the partisan fray.
“It is unstrategic for the PDP Presidential standard bearer to be making innuendos that cast doubt as to the genuineness of any reconciliation with a Nyesom Wike who is today priced by watchers as the most consistent opposition political voice in Nigeria since 1999 till date that speaks truth to power.