Renewed efforts by the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, to resolve the lingering crisis between him and the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, failed again as their Thursday meeting could not resolve the crisis.
Sunday PUNCH gathered that the governor insisted there that would be no peace deal until the National Chairman of the party, Iyorchia Ayu, resigned his position.
The party has been plunged into crisis since its presidential primary in May. Wike, who lost to Atiku, had expressed dissatisfaction with the exercise, stating that he was unfairly treated by the PDP and was not carried along. Reports said he was further dissatisfied with the emergence of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State as Atiku’s running mate.
Wike had insisted that Ayu must resign if his camp must reach a truce with the candidate, but Atiku had said he had no powers to remove the chairman. Atiku said if the chairman must be removed, due process must be followed in accordance with the party’s constitution.
After a series of meetings between them and their representatives failed to address the crisis, Wike and some of his colleagues and allies boycotted the inauguration of the party’s presidential campaign council on September 28.
Some of his allies absent at the inauguration are governors Seyi Makinde, Samuel Ortom, Okezie Ikpeazu and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Oyo, Benue, Abia and Enugu states, respectively.
Others who also boycotted the event were Prof Jerry Gana; and former governors Ayo Fayose, Jonah Jang, Donald Duke and Olusegun Mimiko. A former deputy national chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George, was also absent.
Meanwhile, in a fresh move to placate Wike, especially as the presidential campaigns began on Wednesday, Atiku again met with the governor on Thursday at his private residence in Asokoro, Abuja.
One of Wike’s close allies, who was privy to what was discussed at the meeting, Senator Olaka Wogu, told Sunday PUNCH in an interview that during Thursday’s meeting, the governor reiterated his demand to the former vice-president that there was no going back on his demand that Ayu must go.
He affirmed that the meeting between Atiku and Wike ended in a stalemate after the governor stood firm on his demands
Wogu stated, “I just want to set the record straight that no matter what you have heard, the meeting ended because Wike stood firm that there was no basis for any resolution until Ayu stepped down.
“Every other thing can be discussed, whether it is 2027 or not after the needful has been done. This will put the party in a position where the national chairman can go to every state to campaign for the party. There are some states where Ayu may not be welcomed.”
Wogu, a former lawmaker, dismissed reports that Atiku offered to support Wike for president in 2027, stressing that there was no such discussion between them. “Talks are still ongoing between them and I know that there will be continued talks between them,” he added.
When prodded to speak on the reported agreement between them, Wogu said, “There is nothing like that. I told you that talks are still ongoing between them. I won’t lie to you, but I cannot disclose the content of the meeting; the idea is to find whether they can reach an agreement.
“As you know, Wike has stood his ground that Ayu must leave for a sense of fairness, equity and for what is right. He should go. This was even compounded by the fact that Ayu himself said he would go. So, as a matter of honour, he should go.
“Before now, Atiku had said that there were constitutional challenges to his (Ayu’s) removal. So between pleasure and force, we will explore the option. That was what Atiku said in London. This is like a follow-up; they are talking.”
Wogu also expressed his thoughts on the over N100m housing allowance returned by some National Working Committee members of the PDP.
The PUNCH reported on Friday that some NWC members, including the Deputy National Chairman (South), Taofeek Arapaja; National Woman Leader, Prof Stella Effah-Attoe; and the National Vice Chairman (South-South), Chief Dan Orbih, returned their housing allowance into the party’s coffers.
This came after Ayu was accused by the Rivers State governor of inducing the NWC members with huge sums of money in a bid to conceal his alleged financial recklessness.
Commenting on the development, Wogu said, “What is going on now is that we are shocked by the things that are coming out of the NWC. We have a major election to go to and we must inspire Nigerians and show that we want to get it right. We cannot, like Nero, watch while Rome burns.
“We cannot be on these things while the base of the PDP is being eroded on all fronts. The Labour Party is taking PDP supporters; the NNPP (New Nigeria Peoples Party) is taking PDP’s supporters and we are just wasting our time on these things. If Ayu is good enough for the party, we will reap the reward.
“Nigerians are not fools. What may happen is that people may judge us on those standards and those standards are not good enough for us. Nobody should be able to lead Nigeria with such happenings, no matter how you try to shield it from the public.
“How can we watch our youths speak to us as they are doing through their support for Peter Obi and we still don’t want to listen? We don’t want to hear, we are acting with the same arrogance by which we lost power the other time.”
He said while the APC was not in order, the PDP was not taking advantage of it but was rather engaging in needless issues, adding, “I appeal to the PDP to do the needful. We cannot go to an election in disunity and then expect a positive or desirable outcome. If we cannot unite our party, how can we unite a country?”
Responding to a question on whether Wike would officially declare support for a different presidential candidate other than Atiku, Wogu said the governor would make his intention known at the right time.
The presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, had met with the governor on a few occasions, fuelling insinuations that he might be making moves to enlist Wike’s support.
Wogu added, “Wike has said he would openly declare his stand when we get to that point. He had a meeting with his leaders the other time and took a decision to withdraw from the campaign council. It is not unilateral because all the leaders came, spoke at the meeting and the decision was reached. You can’t do this kind of thing by yourself.
“The group has grown beyond him alone. Everybody will sit, people will give their opinions and the decision will be made.”
Following claims that Ayu may not be welcomed in the South-South during the campaigns, a former Commissioner for Information in Rivers State, Ogbonna Nwuke, said it was an issue of perception.
He said nobody would attack Ayu or inflict any bodily harm on him, but that his presence might remind the southern people that he was unfair to them and that this might be a minus for Atiku.
Nwuke added, “If someone is saying that Ayu will not be welcomed it only means that if Ayu comes for campaign with Atiku, his presence may remind the southern people of his attitude towards them.
“He is a Nigerian and he is free to visit any part of the country. However, he has no right to convince me to do what I don’t want to do.”
Atiku’s aide reacts
Reacting to Wogu’s statement, the Media Adviser to the PDP presidential candidate, Paul Ibe, said, “The question you should have asked Senator Nwogu is why he would want to abridge the rights of Senator Ayu like the rights of every other citizen of the Federal Republic.
“It is a dangerous precedent for anybody to abridge the right of any person and a national chairman of a party who was duly elected at a convention of a party. That amounts to a threat.”
‘2027 claims false’
Meanwhile, the PDP Presidential Campaign Council has denied reports that the former vice-president promised to support Wike for president in 2027 if he (Wike) brings his supporters back to Atiku’s fold.
The spokesperson for the campaign council, Dino Melaye, in a statement on Saturday said, “I speak for Atiku Abubakar that no such discussion (2027 presidency) between Atiku Abubakar and Governor Wike of Rivers State (took place).
“At no time did Atiku Abubakar discuss such with Governor Wike. Atiku never promised or discussed 2027 with Governor Wike or anyone for that matter.”
Another spokesperson for the campaign council, Daniel Bwala, echoed Melaye’s submission, describing the report as a strategy aimed at distracting the council from delivering on its mandate.
He told one of our correspondents, “This is part of those strategies to distract us from our focus on the campaigns. It is a strategy because when we went to Enugu a few days ago, Atiku assured Igbo people that he would be the leader for the actualisation of the South-East presidency.
“Atiku is one leader who has demonstrated genuine leadership in ensuring that the Igbo nation benefits from the promises of Nigeria. This strategy (alleged promise to support Wike) is to create friction between Atiku and Igbo people.”
A former governor of one of the North-Central States however confided in one of our correspondents, “Wike and his group are no pushovers. The Waziri knows this more than any other person, so, I am not surprised he (allegedly) went as far as asking him to return to the PCC with a promise to return the favour in 2027.
“Atiku in 2019 promised to do a single term. So, if he is already thinking of supporting another person in 2027, it means he is serious about it. It is a pity that senior members of our party who could have reconciled these people are not showing interest. Where is Goodluck Jonathan? Well, I don’t want to stir up another conversation as to whether he is still a member of the party or not.”
Meanwhile, a former Commissioner for Information in Edo State and loyalist of Wike, Kassim Afegbua, has asked the Rivers State governor to be wary of the former vice-president.
In an interview with Sunday PUNCH, Afegbua insisted that power should return to the South, saying, “I have repeatedly said it loud and clear: After President Buhari’s eight years, the natural thing is to allow power to go to the South to help promote equity, stability, cohesion and unity of the country.”
Party plans intervention
A former Minister of Transport and ex-member of the party’s Board of Trustees, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, told one of our correspondents on Saturday that committed members of the PDP would welcome anything that would move the party forward.
“Anything that can be done to advance the course of the PDP will be a welcome development to all sincere members of the party,” Babatope said.
He also said Wike’s insistence on Ayu’s resignation would not affect the party’s campaign. “It is not going to affect us. We are going to resolve it (crisis) anytime from now. I want to assure you that Wike will not trade the chances of the PDP with anybody, whether Peter Obi, Bola Tinubu, or anybody,” he added.
Atiku reaching out
Meanwhile, Atiku, who was in Gombe for a wedding, opened a campaign office dedicated to the realisation of his 2023 aspiration.
One of our correspondents gathered that the office was donated by Jamilu Ishaku, the first runner-up in the 2023 PDP governorship primary election in the state. He also donated 10 space wagon campaign vehicles.
Speaking in an interview with journalists, Atiku stated, “The PDP is a very popular party and it is the oldest party in Nigeria. We have realised that we made mistakes.”
On the wrangling in the party, Atiku said talks were ongoing.
He added, “I’m still talking to aggrieved members of the party and I believe at the end of the day we will work together.”
We’ll settle – PDP
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, said the party would continue to pursue all its activities in a peaceful atmosphere.
He said efforts were being made to settle all the grievances among party members.
He added, “We appreciate the concern of Nigerians. We want to assure them that the leadership of the party has put out machinery that would settle grievances among its members. We have nothing to worry about. Soon, they would hear from us.”
Also speaking on the developments in the party, a former National Secretary and member of the National Executive Council, Prof Wale Oladipo, noted that the NEC had passed a vote of confidence in Ayu without any objection from any leader in the party.
Oladipo said in an interview, “Apart from our national convention, the next organ charged with making decisions in our party is NEC. NEC in its wisdom passed a vote of confidence in the NWC as presently constituted under the leadership of Dr Iyorchia Ayu. How can I as a member go against the decision of NEC?
“Anyone who had an objection (to Ayu’s chairmanship) ought to have come to NEC to object. After all, a motion was moved to pass a vote of confidence in the present leadership in the party, but before it was seconded, we gave the leaders the opportunity to raise a counter-motion; none was raised. So it was adopted. We have passed a vote of confidence in Ayu and his team and I stand by that.”
Oladipo noted that the controversy over the housing allowance for the NWC members was “unfortunate”. He said the payment did not breach the service manual approved by the party’s national convention.
Oladipo added, “I was the national secretary of the party, it is unfortunate that some people find themselves in high offices without knowing the laws guiding their positions. We have what we call a service manual. The manual is approved every four or two years, as the case might be, by the national convention of our party.
“The national convention is the highest decision-making organ of our party. The service manual must be approved by the national convention. The current service manual was approved by the last national convention. Until it is revoked by another national convention, it is the law guiding the operations of the party.
“There are entitlements for NWC members and part of it is the housing allowance. That is the two-year rent; N14.4m per year. There is nobody (in the NWC) who has not taken a housing allowance before. So, for anybody to turn it into a scandal is very unfortunate.”