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‘Hurricane Wike’ may decide 2023 polls outcome

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Court stops PDP from suspending Wike's loyalists

By OBINNA EZUGWU

Political parties in the country on standing still in anticipation of the next move by Gov. Nyeson Wike in of Rivers state, who has become the beautiful bride sought after by many suitors. Since the conclusion of the presidential primary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, on May 29, 2022, in which he lost to the treachery of some southern governors and Gov. Tambuwal of Sokoto state, who stepped down for Atiku Abubakar, Wike has not hidden his misgivings with the turn of events.

Without Wike, the PDP may never have been able to recover from it electoral defeat in 2015, when it lost power to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari. But seven years down the road, the party risks total collapse ahead of the elections next year, courtesy of Wike, the ‘betrayed’ Rivers strongman.

“Wike is very angry, and it’s understandable. We are all concerned. The way things are going, the party will face serious challenges in 2023, and if we lose that election, it will be hard for it to survive,” said a top party source who did not want to be named.

Disillusioned and abandoned by its major stakeholders, including Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former vice president; Abubakar Bukola Saraki, former senate president; Aminu Tambuwal, Sokoto State governor; Rotimi Amaechi, former Rivers governor, among several others, who trooped to the APC in the lead up to the 2015 polls, some of whom never returned, the PDP had gone into uncharted waters; out of power for the first time and with a future very much uncertain, as more members jumped ship, lured away by the prospect of fresh meal in the emergent ruling party.

But Wike who had emerged governor the same year, stood in the gap. With enormous resources at his disposal as governor of an oil rich state, he literally held the party and was for years its most important figure.

However, things are perhaps about to change. Feeling betrayed, the Rivers governor is threatening to pull the plug, even without speaking a word. His silence in the past few weeks has thrown the key opposition platform into a quandary, and it’s looking as if, going into 2023, the party has lost the election that many believe would be its most defining moment, even before campaigns officially begin. It’s still early in the day, however.

Wike had aspired to fly the party’s presidential flag in 2023, but lost the primary election to Atiku, former number two man who had returned to the party from the APC in 2017, en-route to becoming its presidential candidate in 2019; he must have felt hard done, and had stormed out of the MKO Abiola Stadium, venue of the primary on May 29.

The Rivers governor had campaigned vigorously in the run up to the primary, hinging his case on the need for the party to reward him for his sacrifices, and in the event, managed to garner broad-based support from the party’s governors.

But in the end, he lost to Atiku, backed by Senator Iyorchia Ayu, the party’s national chairman and his northern constituency, in the primary whose defining moment was when Tambuwal, amid pressure from northern elders, stepped down for the former vice president.

Tambuwal who had run against Atiku in the 2018 presidential primary of the party, was firmly backed by Wike on the occasion, and thus, many saw his move as a betrayal of the Rivers governor. Regardless, Wike quickly nursed his injuries and promised to support the party and Atiku going into 2023.

The former vice president, it was gathered, had reached out to him and promised him the vice presidential slot. But in a befuddling move, named Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta State as his running mate.

Atiku’s choice of Okowa was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. It infuriated Wike, who was already angry over Okowa for “betraying” in favour of Atiku at the presidential primary, and put off the party’s governors, among other stakeholders, who, along with the National Working Committee (NWC) had settled for Wike as the choice vice presidential candidate.

“When people left the party, Wike was on ground. It was Wike that brought me back to PDP when I was treated unjustly,” raged Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue State on Arise TV last week Wednesday.

Ortom, a PDP governor, has refused to back Atiku presidential bid, noting that he was waiting God’s direction, lament that Atiku disregarded the party’s recommendation and named Okowa as his running mate without as much as reaching out to Wike.

“The popular view of PDP members were neglected. 14 out of 17 voted for Wike to be the VP. In his wisdom, Atiku chose Governor Ifeanyi Okowa,” he continued.

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“Okowa is my friend, I have no problem with him but if we are in a democratic era and 14 out of 17 said it should be Wike and he decided to jettison the report, I expected more explanations.

“I expected him to talk to Wike first before announcing Okowa. Also, I expected him to even talk to some of us so that we can work together.”

Wike, who returned from his vacation in Turkey with Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu at the weekend, had been joined by Seyi Makinde, governor of Oyo State while he was there.

The usually outspoken Wike has refused to speak since Atiku named Okowa as his running mate. He has neither congratulated the Delta State governor nor condemned Atiku’s decision, a development that has unsettled the party.

Earlier in the week, the party’s board of trustees chairman, Walid Jibrin, noted that he would kneel down to beg if that will help to bring the governor on board.

Speaking to journalists in Kaduna on Monday, Jibrin said, “Wike is a great man who has been fighting for the party, and the party will not want to see him move to another party. We will all visit Wike together and if it means kneeling to Wike, we will kneel for him.”

Some party elders, it was gathered, met during the week and resolved to appeal to Wike and his supporters to forgive whatever might have been done against them.

But it appears that the Rivers governor is not in the mood. He had reportedly declined to meet with Alhaji Adamu Waziri, a close ally of Atiku who was sent by the PDP presidential candidate to meet him in Turkey for a dialogue to resolve their differences.

Before his trip to Turkey, his Port Harcourt home had become a mecca of sorts, with the likes of Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, presidential candidate of the NNPP; Mr. Peter Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party, among others visiting, perhaps in attempts to woo him.

Indeed, Atiku whose penchant for taking unilateral decisions without recourse to the party, may already be sensing 2023 slipping through his hands.

In 2019, his decision to name Peter Obi, former Anambra State governor and presidential candidate of the Labour Party as his running mate without consulting party leaders in the Southeast, caused consternation.

Although the issues were somewhat resolved, it partly affected the party’s performance in the zone, even if Atiku had strong points to support his argument about being the rightful winner of the 2019 presidential poll.

The Wike situation, however, is proving to be a tough one, with a number of the party’s governors said to have made up their minds not to back Atiku, whose chances will be further damped by Obi’s Labour Party movement, as well as Kwankwaso’s push in the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP).

In a tweet on Wednesday, Ayo Fayose, former governor of Ekiti State and member of the opposition party, announced that power should return to the South in 2023, as according to him, President Muhammadu Buhari would be completing eight years in 2023, and therefore, it’s only logical for power to return to the South.

Fayose’s declaration was an indication that he too won’t be backing Atiku, even as speculations about the possibility of him joining the APC are already rife.

Further doubling down on the point he made in the tweet, the former Ekiti governor who received Mr. Biodun Oyebanji, the state’s governor-elect in his Lagos residence on Wednesday, told Premium Times that Wike would never support the Atiku candidacy, and that they would help rock the PDP boat going into 2023.

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He recounted how Atiku “promised” to make Wike, the Rivers State governor, his running mate after he was declared winner of the PDP presidential primary election.

According to him, Atiku failed to fulfil his promise to Mr. Wike when he settled for the Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as his running mate.

“Wike never said he wanted to be VP, but when Atiku visited him, he was the one who said, ‘I want you to be my VP’. He said that to Wike. If that then changes, is Wike not supposed to be told? Is he not supposed to know?”

“PDP set up a committee to recommend a running mate for the candidate and the committee voted and picked Wike, but he didn’t comply with the recommendation of the committee.”

“If the party is now a one-man show, we will show them that we can resist it. We are with Wike 100 per cent.

“When they need Wike’s money and Wike’s support, they will say, ‘Wike is good enough’. Wike has been injured, but we will remain with him. Whatever he does is what we would do; wherever he asks us to go is where we will go.”

When asked what would happen should Mr. Wike ask them to support Mr. Atiku, the former governor said: “Wike will never say we should support Atiku.

“Wike cannot come out to say he is supporting Atiku. I dare him to say so; because he knows that whatever he says will haunt him forever. If Wike supports Atiku, we will abandon him.”

More Troubles for Atiku

Although Atiku, determined to reach some sort of truce, had on Thursday, sent out a tweet preaching for peace and unity in the party, while assuring that, “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.”

Business Hallmark gathered that Wike’s loyalists are hardening their positions. It was gathered that a number of the party’s governors, including Ortom, Ikpeazu, Makinde, as well as Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State and Darius Ishaku of Taraba, have opted to stand aloof.

The governors have begun to distance themselves from the party’s activities, and had all, with expectation of Ishaku and Okowa, shunned the inauguration of its campaign council for Osun State governorship election billed for July 16, even when they were listed as members.

Also getting flaks for his role in the whole episode is Senator Ayu, the party’s national chairman and long time Atiku ally who has backed the former vice president all the way, and in the wake of the simmering crisis, some party members have begun to call for his removal.

Atiku and Ayu are currently out of the country, the latter being on vacation.

Speaking to journalists on Friday, Chief Jonah David Jang, former governor of Plateau State and member of party’s board of trustees, warned that the party risked a disastrous outing in next year’s polls should it fail to “retrace its step in the right direction with hope of salvaging the already bad situation within the shortest time.”

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Jang noted that the party has a lot of home work to do to clear the mess caused by Atiku’s choice of Governor Okowa as his running mate in contradiction of the recommendation of the committee set up by the party.

Jang told reporters in Jos that the 2023 presidential election looked bleak for the party except the crisis created by Atiku’s adoption of Okowa as running mate was resolved immediately.

“As one of the founding fathers alive today, one who participated in the processes that set the background for our primaries, I am compelled to add my voice to that of prominent members of our great party who have shown dismay with recent happenings, particularly with the emergence of the vice-presidential candidate,” Jang said.

“While it is no longer news that the presidential primaries have come and gone and a candidate emerged, it is disheartening that the manner in which the vice-presidential candidate emerged is nothing but sheer disregard for processes.

“We all are aware of the fact that the party, in consultation with the presidential candidate, set up a committee to select a running mate.

”To turn around and throw away the outcome of the exercise is a clear proof that the work of the committee was either not appreciated or was not going to be in consideration ab initio.

Quoting Governor Samuel Ortom, who was a member of the 17-member committee set up by the PDP to recommend a presidential running mate, Jang said, “Fourteen of us in the committee said the person should be Nyesom Wike, unfortunately Atiku picked Okowa in his wisdom.”

Continuing, Jang said: “You cannot ignore the decision of a committee you set up yourself and expect people to be happy.

Jang asked the BoT of PDP and the National Working Committee to do all within their power to stop further dissonance arising from the treatment of ranking members of the party, especially Governor Nyesom Wike.

“It is unfortunate that the very man, who admittedly has been a pillar of the party at a time the repressive tendencies of the governing APC was to send the PDP into oblivion, will be treated in the manner the party has.

“Until we correct the mistakes, which we deliberately made, the future is bleak and the PDP may be caught in a trap it has set for itself. We cannot run a campaign for a candidate whose campaign promise is hinged on uniting Nigerians but not be seen to be doing enough to bring party members together.”

The former governor said the whims of a few should not be allowed to override the choices of many who believe in the PDP and its ability to return Nigeria to the glorious days.

PDP moves to nip crisis in the bud:

In a desperate attempt to bring the Rivers governor back on board, PDP’s BoT on Sunday, set up a reconciliatory committee to meet with him over the thorny issues.

The committee is to be headed by Atiku, and has 13 PDP governors as members.

Jibril, BOT chairman, made the announcement in a statement on Sunday, saying the visit to Governor Wike would take place immediately after Atiku and the PDP National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, return to the country from their vacation abroad.

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“I have noted with a great concern and great sense of feeling on the various recent comments coming from some of our PDP members and some prominent Nigerians on the choice of Chief Okowa, the Governor of Delta State as the vice-presidential candidate by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of our Party PDP – the biggest party not only in Nigeria but the whole of Africa,” he said.

“All the comments and various submissions are very normal in any political setup in Nigeria today with PDP being the strongest and most prominent party that has all potential to form government in 2023.”

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