By OBINNA EZUGWU
Chosen as national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) by consensus in late October 2021, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, has been in office for less than 10 months. But now caught in the web of an ongoing battle for the soul of the party, Ayu’s reign as party helmsman could end much sooner than he had anticipated, as opposition against his continued stay in office mounts.
The demand for Ayu’s resignation started with Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers State who has not hidden his anger at losing both the presidential and vice presidential tickets of the party, and has now spread to the southwest with the like of Chief Bode George, former deputy national chairman of the party, among others, joining the demand.
It is perhaps obvious that ultimately Ayu, being a northerner, would make way for another chairman from the south, if Atiku Abubakar wins in 2023, but the contention in the interim is whether or not he should leave before the 2023 election, which is what his opponents are insisting on.
But his backers insist he would stay on until the party takes power, a scenario that has become a major point of argument.
Ayu’s, whose ascension to the throne of the PDP was seamless, could not have anticipated that less than 10 years on he would be facing imminent exit; events had conspired in his favour.
The party’s southern leaning zoning committee had opted to cede chairmanship position to the north, in the expectation that the south would then take the presidential ticket. But the north, determined to take the ticket, pushed back.
In the end, the choice of Ayu, a former senator from Benue State, north central – the middle belt zone – came as some sort of compromise. He’s a northerner by geography, which meant that the south could continue to hope for the presidential ticket.
But, though a northerner, he’s a Christian from a state that shares boundary with south, which also meant that the core north did not lose its moral power to continue to aspire for the presidential flag.
The race for the PDP presidential ticket, thus continued till the last day, pitting Wike against Atiku Abubakar, former vice president from Adamawa State as the two leading contenders. In the end, Atiku emerged victorious at the May 28 national convention held in MKO Abiola Stadium, Abuja, beating Wike to second place.
A long standing ally of the former vice president, Ayu, who ought to have been neutral in the contest, openly backed Atiku, and was caught in a viral video hailing Aminu Tambuwal, Sokoto State governor whose decision to step down for Atiku tipped the scale in his favour, as “hero of the hour.”
Himself, Tambuwal, among other northern interest groups had successfully outmaneuvered Wike and his southern contingent – who were also “betrayed” by a number of southern states.
But Atiku’s victory at the convention means that the south has grounds to argue that both the presidential candidate, the national chairman and indeed, the party’s Board of Trustees Chairman are northerners, against party’s constitution, and against the principles of fair play.
And Wike, whose disappointment at losing the presidential ticket to Atiku was compounded by Atiku’s decision to shun him in favour of Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta State governor in his choice of running mate, has since latched on this to demand that Ayu resigns, what has become a major sticking point in the crisis that has enveloped the party in the wake of Wike’s fury at being snubbed in the choice of veepee slot.
On Sunday last week, after Wednesday’s meeting of the party’s BoT to resolve issues , the Rivers state governor, who was strongly backed by Seyi Makinde, governor of Oyo State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, Samuel Ortom of Benue, among others, met with party governors and other stakeholders who coordinated his campaign for the presidential ticket. During the meeting, it was gathered that the Wike PDP camp demanded the resignation of Ayu, as part of the conditions to work for Atiku.
They argued, it was gathered, that Ayu has been compromised, and that the party’s three key people cannot be from the north.
Earlier in June, a group loyal to Wike, the PDP Concerned League, in a statement by its leader, Daboikiabo Warmate, asked Ayu to resign from his position, while also asking Samuel Anyanwu, PDP national secretary, and Umar Bature, the party’s national organising secretary, to resign.
The group had accused Ayu of handing the party’s tickets to the “highest bidders” in the primaries across the country.
“Since the coming on board of the Iyorchia Ayu-led national working committee, some of the NWC have been immersed in one scandal or the other to the detriment of PDP,” Warmate had said.
“The allegations range from giving tickets to the highest bidders, to subsisting expulsion that may cost PDP exclusion from the 2023 polls, to the hijacking of the ward and local government congress committee (assignment) list, manipulation of national and state delegate list, using non-party members for PDP official assignment and unjustly disqualifying qualify aspirants and clearing aspirants with questionable certificates and loyalty.
“This is inconsistent with section 7, subsection 3 (c) and section 46 subsection 3 of our great party constitution as amended 2017. It’s politically unethical and immoral,” the group said.
“Therefore, we call on the national chairman, national secretary and national organising secretary to, without any further delay, tender their resignation letters and hand over every party document and other items to their deputies as provided by our party constitution as amended 2017.”
Many party supporters have expressed anger over Wike’s refusal to be persuaded to sheathe his sword, but for the Rivers governor, it is now a battle to remain relevant in a party that was for long periods, practically his own.
The PDP became an orphan after losing power in 2015, with the likes of Atiku, Tambuwal and many others abandoning it for the All Progressives Congress (APC). Wike stood in the gap, funded it and ensured that it didn’t go under, before others, not content with events in the APC, opted to return.
Wike being, the key stakeholder, meant that he also called the shots. He had influenced the emergence of Uche Secondus as national chairman, and when Secondus moved in a direction he didn’t want, he removed him. Though Atiku emerged presidential candidate in 2018 despite his preference for Tambuwal, it did not significantly affect his standing in the party.
However, with Ayu as national chairman, Atiku as presidential candidate and Walid Jibrin as BoT chairman, the Rivers governor has completely lost grip on the party, and Atiku is the new overall boss.
“Evidently, it is not just about losing both tickets, it is about losing the PDP,” said Chidi Anthony, lawyer and political analyst. “He knows that if things stay the way they are, PDP has firmly returned to the north, and himself would also be a passenger in the party’s vehicle.”
Wike has so far refused to be assuaged, taking jabs at the party and flirting with the opposition.
“If you say Rivers State does not matter, Rivers State will tell you that you don’t also matter at the appropriate time. If you don’t like us, we will not like you. If you like us, we will like you,” Wike declared at the inauguration of the Orochiri-Worukwo bridge in Port Harcourt performed by his guest, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos state.
“Politics now is no longer just vote for somebody, it is about what you will do for the people of Rivers State.”
Evidently determined to secure his place, Wike, it was gathered, had also demanded that Atiku commit to some agreement, with regards to what should come to him if he becomes president, in writing, in addition to Ayu’s removal.
Southwest enters the fray
Wike’s quest for Ayu’s removal received a boost last week, with stakeholders in the southwest geopolitical zone joining the fray.
The southwest, which ironically held power under PDP, through Chief Olusegun Obasanjo for eight years, from 1999 to 2007, has never really been a PDP zone.
In the 1999 polls, the zone overwhelmingly supported Chief Olu Falae, presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), but Obasanjo who had more nationwide support emerged ahead of Falaye.
Recent victory in Osun, and the fact that it has Oyo, are however, good signs for the party, and stakeholders in the zone, who had fought spiritedly for the party’s chairmanship position in 2017, losing to Secondus who was backed by Wike in the event, have relaunched their bid for the chairmanship, as spearhead by Bode George, with the argument that the party should have a strong presence in the zone.
“The PDP chairmanship should come to the Southwest,” argued George. “If you look at it, the Southwest is the only southern zone that has not produced PDP chairman.
“We have to go to the election with a united house, otherwise we will be defeated. You have to give every section of the country a sense of belonging, that way you can campaign successfully
“We have to appoint someone from the Southwest to act, that way you bring inclusiveness, which is a very vital part of the PDP, to the Southwest.”
At a press conference in Lagos, the PDP stalwart pointed out that Ayu, who made a vow to resign once the presidential candidate emerges from the north, should be honourable enough to honour his words.
He also used the medium to appeal to Wike to let go of whatever he has against the presidential candidate of the party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and work to ensure that the party wins the next presidential election.
Party, others back Ayu
Amid the push for his ouster, Ayu last week got the backing of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC), among other stakeholders, to stay on.
The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, on Friday, told journalists in Abuja that removing Ayu will be a distraction to the party and could ignite a constitutional crisis.
“Those calling for Ayu’s removal ought to be aware of the implication of their demand. Are they now saying that the present Deputy National Chairman (North), who is from the same Northeast zone as our presidential candidate, be made to replace Ayu, in line with the PDP constitution?” he wondered.
“On the other hand, we would be courting more crisis if we sideline provisions of the constitution by replacing Ayu with another officer from the South. We don’t want to go into the election with a constitutional crisis. We have barely six months to the election.
“Even if you say Ayu should go today, his replacement will come from the same North. Elections are coming and we don’t need a distraction. You can’t destroy the whole for a part. We respect people’s rights and positions but going into negotiations, you cannot say it is either this or nothing.”
Similarly, Ndudi Elumelu, minority leader in the house of representatives, argued that those calling for the sack of the party’s NWC do not mean well for the party and Nigeria.
Elumelu who spoke at an event organised by the PDP national youth leader to commemorate the international youth day in Abuja on Friday, said, “Those who are calling for the dissolution of the NWC that is geared towards rebuilding our nation, having in all the exercises done excellently well, I think they do not mean well for PDP and Nigeria.
“What they should be thinking about is how to join hands together to unite the party and unite Nigerians that are looking forward to PDP to rebuild them and come back to power come 2023.
“We have implicit confidence in the leadership of our party PDP led by the a very a youthful national chairman, Sen Iyorchia Ayu and his colleagues, we are part of them and we are with them.”
Ayu will go, but we have to be patient – Baraje
Meanwhile, Abubakar Kawu Baraje, former National Acting Chairman of the party, said though Ayu would eventually have to go, it would be counterproductive to remove him at this point.
“The PDP has a tradition of zoning offices. If the presidential candidate is from the north, then the national chairman will come from the south. In 2007, when Umaru Musa Ya’Adua was elected candidate, Ali Ahmadu stepped down and Vincent Ogbulafor stepped in.
“Butt Ali Ahmadu had to wait until the election was won. As soon as the election was won and Ya’Adua was sworn in, he stepped down for Ogbulafor,” he said.
“So, what I’m saying is that we have a tradition, but people are in a hurry. Ayu would go, and it is not because people are agitating for it, it is what needs to be done and we are in the process of doing it.”