By Ehichioya Ezomon
The proverbial chicken may’ve come home to roost for Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, as the Peoples Democratic Party has named a Presidential Campaign Council, without a major role assigned to him.
And as the clearest indication yet, former Vice President and presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, has stated that the National Chairman Iyorcha Ayu could only be removed in compliance with the party’s constitution.
Going by the timeframe for the 2023 general election, with the presidential on February 25, that entails convening a National Convention to amend the PDP constitution.
A key demand by Wike and his allies is the resignation of Dr Ayu, a northerner from Benue State in North Central (Middle Belt), for a southerner to assume the post.
To Wike, the northern occupation of the top positions in the PDP: Presidential Candidate, National Chairman and Chairman of Board of Trustees, violates the principles of equity, fairness and balance, and the laws guiding the PDP.
Wike says Ayu stepping aside accords with a reported agreement prior to the May 2022 primaries, stipulating that Ayu would vacate his position should the North produce PDP’s presidential candidate. And Ayu’s refused to resign.
Perhaps, realising his secured position – even as demand for his ouster hasn’t simmered – Ayu’s jetted out of the country for a two-week holiday for a “deserved rest.”
And why not! Against the run of play for a Southern presidency in the 2023, Ayu delivered the PDP ticket to Atiku, and the presidential slot to Northern Nigeria.
Ayu’s weathered a relentless onslaught by Wike and his backers, to resign his position, mostly on account of his alleged bias against the South during the primaries.
Having been part of a “plot” to ultimately undercut Wike for his continued “anti-party activities,’ Ayu may’ve been guaranteed that nothing would jeopardise his position. So, he could go on a frolic abroad. But what a perfect timing!
Ayu’s return to Nigeria will coincide with lifting of the ban on campaigns by Independent National Electoral Commission on September 28 – an inauspicious period for conducting a national convention, to amendment the PDP constitution, to restructure the party, as Wike demands.
Well, but for his frosty relationship with Atiku and the PDP leadership, the position of Director-General of the party’s campaign council would’ve been Wike’s for the asking.
Wike’s forfeited the position – and even that of Chairman of the campaign council – to Sokoto State Governor and Chairman of PDP’s Governors’ Forum, Aminu Tambuwal and Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel, respectively, and named a mere Member of the council.
What’s more! The PDP also appointed Wike’s ally and Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde as Vice Chairman (South) of the campaign council. What message does that relay? Is the carpet being removed from under Wike’s feet?
For months, though, Wike – and his PDP co-governor backers – has threatened the prospects of Atiku and the PDP at the February-March 2023 elections.
Since the primaries in which he came second to Atiku – and after Atiku picked Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as running mate – Wike’s predicted failure for Atiku and the PDP unless the party restructures, for Ayu to resign.
But Ayu hasn’t only refused to step aside for a Southern member of the PDP, but also looks to consolidate his position with a stunning confidence vote on September 7.
At a meeting of the PDP National Executive Committee, all 397 members passed a vote of confidence in the Ayu-led National Working Committee, “for effectively managing the affairs of the party” since its election in October 2021.
That vote was a precursor of what would come next should Wike and his allies decline to yield ground in the “Ayu-must-go” campaign that resonated at a stakeholder meeting in Ibadan, Oyo State, on September 14.
Host Governor Makinde iterated calls for PDP’s restructuring, and the resignation of Ayu, deploying anecdotes of PDP’s stated resolve to “rescue Nigeria,” and Atiku as “a unifier” who “wants to restructure Nigeria.”
Makinde, a voice for the South-West zone, said: “Eight years of the All Progressives Congress have left us sharply divided. The issue is, we must practice what we preach. If we want to unify Nigeria, we must unify the PDP first.
“If we want to restructure Nigeria, we must have the willingness to bring inclusivity to the PDP. Do we have the capacity? The answer is a resounding yes.
“The message from the South-West PDP is that the South-West is asking that the National Working Committee of the PDP should be restructured. We are asking the national chairman to step down so that the South will be fully included. That is the message.”
As a rejoinder, Atiku noted that, “as the oldest political party in Nigeria since the return of democracy, and even before then, the PDP has laid-down rules and regulations.”
“I have been a member of the party since when it was formed, and I am still a member of the party up to the point of what it has grown to become,” Atiku said.
“There is nothing any individual can do to change the outlook of the National Working Committee of the PDP… where there are laid-down rules and regulations.
“What Governor Makinde is asking for is possible only when we have amended our party’s constitution. As things stand today, no single individual has the power to tamper with the NWC of the party.
“Doing so will be illegal and it will be against our rules in the party. Nigerians will not trust us to govern by the tenets of rule of law if we take such arbitrary action against our own party,” Atiku added.
Atiku’s well-choreographed postulation was to puncture the agitation for PDP’s restructuring, and Ayu’s sack at the start of campaigns for the crucial 2023 elections that the party must win to redeem its losses in 2015 and 2019.
It’s sweet music to especially Atiku’s traveling delegation that included his Vice Presidential candidate, Dr Okowa; Tambuwal; former Cross River Governor Liyel Imoke; and PDP’s Deputy National Chairman (North), Umar Damagum.
But to Makinde, who spoke the minds of Wike and his allies, and the South-West PDP that’s longed for the post of national chairman, Atiku’s message was bitter. But that’s politics where hard choices are made for survival!
• Ezomon, a Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.