The question on the lips of many Nigerians watching the developments in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is the possibility of the party going into the 2023 general election as a united entity.
Events over the last few days in the main opposition party point to a political association in crisis.
The party formed in 1998, which produced the first democratically elected president at the return of Nigeria to civil rule, is currently in a web of crisis, which observers believe, could endanger the party’s aspiration to take over power in 2023.
The party’s current challenge began with its decision to go against its own constitution by destroying the zoning arrangement which it had sustained for 16 years it presided over the affairs of the country.
Before its Presidential primary held on May 28, 2022 at the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja, several individuals and groups, had strongly urged the party to zone its presidential slot to the southern part of the country, particularly to South East.
On several occasions and fora, the Ijaw leader, Edwin Clark; pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Ayo Adebanjo; President General, Middle Belt Forum, Pogu Bitrus and the President General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, George Obiozor, had insistently said it would amount to gas-lighting people from certain part of the country, which, according to them may not be healthy for the country.
But the leadership of the party, believing that it may not have a strong candidate down South to give the ruling party a fight and to take over the mantle of leadership, decided to throw open the struggle for the ticket.
Explaining why the party took the decision, Ike Ekweremadu, a former deputy Senate president and former governorship aspirant in Enugu State who is standing trial over alleged organ harvesting allegation in the United Kingdom, had in a recent interview said: “It is understandable; if you are sick, they would come with all kinds of recommendations on how to recover. That is the situation the PDP has found itself now. The PDP is desperate to return to power and Nigerians also want a change of government. So, the PDP out of desperation is prepared to have anybody from anywhere as long as the person would win the presidency. Sometimes, they are overlooking the justice of the matter.”
Observers said the party’s apparatchiks were working towards a pre-determined outcome.
The emergence of Atiku Abubakar from the North East, as expected, did not go down well with a number of party members and other stakeholders. As if to add pepper to a festering sore, the selection of Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta State, as the running mate to Atiku has deepened the anger in the party.
The belief in some quarters is that Okowa is not politically astute enough to muster the needed votes, from the South, that could help his principal coast home to victory. They also believe that the party may have shot itself in the foot. That is the main crux of animosity in the party at the moment.
Looking back, the PDP’s problem started in 2014 when, following some irreconcilable differences, some governors on the party platform and other eminent personalities left the PDP. This group initially branded themselves NewPDP before emptying dissolving into the All Progressives Congress (APC) which ousted the then President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 election. A number of those that left the PDP were welcomed into the APC with open arms and given prominent roles and positions.
Before the 2019 general election, some of those that dumped the PDP in 2014/2015 began to return to the party to vie for some other positions. Some of them aspired to be president by contesting for the party’s ticket.
So, it would be convenient to say that many of those who claim to be PDP today see themselves as members only when they use the platform to feather their own nests.
This point was well bandied and established by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State during the presidential primary campaigns.
Wike spared no opportunity to tell whoever that cared to listen that they should ignore fair-weather party members.
The Rivers State governor had reminded the delegates in every state he visited to be wary of “hit and run” politicians. He urged them to remember those who had sustained the party during the crisis period. He also warned against rewarding those who operated on an ad-hoc basis as party members by using the party only as a platform to contest elections.
Observers say that what is playing out now, and perhaps, the reason why he was not chosen by the standard-bearer of the party was the “demarketing” words he employed during his tour of states to canvass for delegates’ votes.
At the presidential primary election in Abuja, Atiku Abubakar had emerged the party’s flag bearer. He polled 371 out of the 767 accredited votes to defeat Wike, his closest rival, who polled 237 votes.
Sources close to him say that although he felt “used and dumped” by the PDP after he lost the contest in Abuja, but he, however, did not feel as disappointed and hurt as he feels with the emergence of Okowa as Atiku’s running mate.
A confident of the governor who spoke to BusinessDay Sunday on condition of anonymity, said: “His Excellency, Governor Nyesom Wike is not even interested in being a vice president of Nigeria, not that it is not an influential position. You remember his reaction when a publication said he would be a running mate to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. But what is annoying to him is the way the party and the candidate are going about it as if to say ‘who is Wike?’ Everybody knows that His Excellency Nyesom Wike is not a person to be intimidated. All I can tell you now my brother is let’s wait and see.”
Since Wednesday, June 29, 2022, Nigerians have been fed with full dosage of the extent of crisis in the umbrella political organisation. Two prominent members of the party – Governor Samuel Ortom and former governor, Ayo Fayose – gave the indication that the PDP is in a difficult situation.
Ortom, who appeared on Arise TV breakfast programme, The Morning Show, pointedly said that the party did many things wrongly and had refused to take appropriate steps to remedy the errors.
Ortom, who had supported Wike for the presidential ticket of the party, said he was disappointed that Atiku did not pick the Rivers governor as his running mate even after 14 out of the 17 committee members Atiku appointed to help him decide on a running mate suggested and approved Wike.
He was evasive when asked if as a party man he would support Atiku in the 2023 election, he said: “I am praying. But for now, I have gone into hibernation. If God directs me that I should support him, why should I not. But I expect him (Atiku) to reach out to Wike first and the rest of us. For me, I have gone into hibernation and I am waiting for God. Whatever he directs me to do, I will do.”
The same day, another chieftain of the party and former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, said Atiku would not be elected president of Nigeria.
In a tweet, Fayose said: “The current President of Nigeria is a 2-term Northern Presidency, thus implying that it MUST be a Southern Presidency in 2023 or NOTHING. Awa’ South’ lo kan’. Nigerians should await details soon.”
Another indication that all may not be well with the party was the absence of most of the governors on the PDP at the party’s inauguration of the campaign council for its Osun governorship candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke for the election in the state slated for July 16.
The governors had shunned the event, in what seemed a serious signal of grand design to ditch Atiku and Okowa in the days ahead.
The PDP had named Douye Diri, governor of Bayelsa, as chairman of the committee. He was absent.
Seyi Makinde of Oyo; Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto; Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia; Nyesom Wike of Rivers; Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom; Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu; Bala Mohammed of Bauchi; Ahmadu Fintiri of Adamawa; Godwin Obaseki of Edo, and Samuel Ortom of Benue were appointed as vice-chairmen.
But they were all absent during the inauguration. Darius Ishaku of Taraba State and Okowa were the governors present.
A party chieftain who spoke with BusinessDay Sunday on condition of anonymity said that the decision to pick Okowa was purely on the consideration that he is calmer than Wike would not “rock the boat.”
“I can tell you for free that Governor Wike was dropped purely because of his nature. He is a go-getter yes, and that could have also helped the party so much in standing eye-ball-to ball against the APC as everybody knows Wike as a no-nonsense person, and that informed his recommendation by the committee put together by Atiku and the party. But he is not the type of person that every boss will like to have. I think that was the thinking that went into deciding to drop him. How that may affect the party ahead of the election is what no one can determine at the moment. Consultations are ongoing, nothing says there will be no rapprochement,” the source said.
Atiku had given an indication that efforts are being made and action being taken to address the feelings of all party members.
“The @OfficialPDPNig will remain united. Focus on our actions. We are taking action to address the feelings of all party members. The unity in our community is my priority. Our resolve to unify Nigeria starts in our party and moves to the community, then on to society,” he tweeted.
“Every Governor, Legislator, and other elected officials produced by our party, and party members and loyalists, are much loved and respected by me.
“When they speak, I listen. I do not only listen. Appropriate actions have been taken, are being taken, and will continue to be advanced. –AA”
However, some observers said that the Wazirin Adamawa and the PDP allowed the ‘sore to fester before seeking remedy.”
Alloy Adu, a political scientist, said that the way the party had its national convention seamlessly gave an indication that it was going to have a rancor-free presidential primary, but that he was shocked at what has become of the party.
“Some of us were happy with the party the way its current chairman, Iyorchia Ayu emerged without rancor and we thought that choosing its presidential candidate would also be seamless. But we have been proven wrong. What is going on in the party at the moment is enough to deprive it the aspiration to take over power from the APC,” Adu said.
According to him, “In fact, what I hear people say now is that they have moved on from the party. The party seems to have lost the good will it had with Nigerians. Don’t forget, they seem to have lost sizeable number of South Easterners who feel embittered about the failure of the party to zone the slot to the zone. Now, if for any reason, Wike leaves or decides not to work for the party, then that would be disastrous. It would mean that the likes of Governors Ortom, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Okezie Ikpeazu, Ayo Fayose and many other prominent party members and their supporters would not be throwing their weight behind Atiku and Okowa.”
Fabiyi Oladimeji, director, Support Group and Event, Atiku Abubakar, Presidential Campaign Organisation, said he did not believe that what is going on in the party is beyond resolution.
Oladimeji, who on Channels Television Sunrise Daily Friday said that the Presidential candidate of the PDP and the party were doing everything possible to resolve whatever issue in the party currently.
“Atiku has no problem with Wike or any other person for that matter. The interest is about the country, and that is the focus. It is going to be resolved. Wike has contributed so much to the party and the party has also helped him achieve his political aspiration. He cannot possibly abandon the party at this moment,” he said.
Oladimeji also said that he did not expect Ayo Fayose to be the one to fan the embers of disunity with all that the party has done for him.
Last Friday, there were indications that Wike may not have gone to France, who was holidaying in Turkey may have gone to France to meet with Bola Ahmed Tinubu, presidential candidate of the PDP for possible alliance.
Joe Igbokwe, a prominent member of the APC in Lagos State, had dropped the hint but by evening of that same day, the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) debunked the meeting rumour.
Adamu Maina Waziri, a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the PDP denied claims that Wike met with Tinubu in France.
Waziri was said to have spoken with journalists on Friday, July 1, on the rumour, saying that the Rivers State governor travelled directly to Istanbul, Turkey, and not to France.