• Saraki, others ask APC to steer clear of Wike
Amid growing disquiet in the Peoples Democratic Party over the crisis in the party and his absence from the country, the National Chairman of the party, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, says he’s back and that members have nothing to worry about.
Ayu, who travelled for vacation on June 21, returned on Friday, dousing the rising tension in the party over his absence and that of the party’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, who is said to be in France after his trips to the United States and Dubai.
Some party members had described Ayu and Atiku’s vacations abroad as ill-timed, saying their absence was hurting the party and deepening the internal crisis that erupted from the presidential primary. Some members had called for his resignation as the national chairman.
However, in a short interview with one of our correspondents on Saturday evening, Ayu asked members of the party not to panic, saying the party remained strong and formidable.
He said, “I am back from my vacation and I will resume on Monday. There is nothing to worry about in our party. Our party remains strong and formidable.”
Meanwhile, some chieftains of the party, including a former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, have asked the ruling All progressives Congress to steer clear of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike. They described efforts by the APC to woo the governor as a waste of time, noting that the PDP would put its house in order.
Wike is said to be aggrieved by the outcome of the presidential primary, which he lost to Atiku and the fact that he lost the running mate slot to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.
Three governors on the platform of the APC, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, visited Wike in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, on Friday, in what appeared to be part of sustained efforts by the ruling party to woo the governor. A former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, who is aggrieved over the emergence of a northern presidential candidate was also at the meeting.
Few weeks ago, the Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, who dumped the PDP for the APC in 2020, also visited Wike and they held a closed-door meeting.
While Fayemi described the meeting as ‘Sallah visit’, a source at the meeting told Saturday PUNCH on Friday that their visit was to woo Wike to join the APC.
‘Leave Wike alone’
Speaking in Ilorin, Kwara State, on Friday, Saraki told reporters that APC trying to capitalise on the crisis in the PDP to woo Wike was a gross miscalculation and a waste of efforts.
He said, “Wike is an important member of our party and I am very confident that in no distant time, we will sit down and address all the issues. There is no doubt about it that he has cause to feel the way he does, but there are better ways by which issues like this can be resolved.
“The good thing is that we are all talking to one another. The fact that some APC governors went to see their colleague, trying to capitalise on what they think is an issue, is a gross miscalculation. At the end of the day, their visit is going nowhere.
“The APC governors know that it is this kind of a crack they need to latch on to. Fortunately, we are not going to give him (Wike) to them because the election ahead is too important. The destinies of millions of Nigerians are too important and even bigger than any party or individual. I appreciate that all our stakeholders appreciate that and Governor Wike himself appreciates that.”
Also, the Chairman of the PDP in Edo State, Tony Aziegbeme, said he doubted that Wike would dump the party. He added, “Governor Wike has PDP blood running in his veins and his DNA is all about PDP. He has invested so much in the party and he would not want to leave for another party. He may be aggrieved over some issues but I am sure time will heal all wounds.”
Speaking to the issue, a former National Secretary of the party, Prof Wale Oladipo, said the APC governors’ visit to Wike signalled desperation.
He added, “Governor Wike is a big fish in our party. He has done a lot in the PDP and will still do a lot. The APC is desperate quite naturally and I understand them. They know their presidential candidate is not a match for ours. So, if they are running from pillar to post, no problem with that.
“They are free to visit our governor, but after visiting Wike they should as well visit Governor Okowa. PDP is coming to rule Nigeria next year by the grace of God. Maybe they are already negotiating how they will cross to our party.”
The PDP Secretary in Gombe State, Buba Shanu, said there was nothing to worry about, adding, “It is understandable when a person is perceived to be injured, the opposition tries to woo him but I can assure you that Wike is not that kind of person. Wike’s maturity in politics is beyond changing party because he lost the primary. I think such is for empty politicians who have nothing to offer.”
In Plateau State, the spokesperson for the party, John Akans, said, “APC governors have become scavengers. Unfortunately for them, they are just chasing shadows because Wike is not like them.
“If that was their mission to Port Harcourt, it means they don’t know Wike very well. What their visit actually means is that they have been admiring Wike and other PDP leaders and they have decided to come out of their shame and identify with the PDP governors because they are the best.”
Also, a member of the PDP Board of Trustees from Ekiti State, Michael Oke, said it was hasty to read meanings into the Friday meeting.
He added, “PDP has to be worried because Governor Wike is one of the pillars of the party. That is why leaders are trying to make peace with him. The national chairman has returned to the country. The presidential candidate will be back on Monday or Tuesday, so the national leadership is working to find a lasting solution to the crisis.
“I do not see him (Wike) leaving the PDP or joining the APC because he can’t leave his home to join another. I don’t think he will do that. The governor has a preferred governorship candidate in Rivers State for the 2023 election; will he drop the candidate for the APC candidate?”
‘Negotiate with Wike’
The Oyo State chapter of the PDP has asked the party and Atiku to negotiate with Wike and other aggrieved persons who have laboured for the party.
The party’s publicity secretary in the state, Mr Akeem Olatunji, said in an interview with one of our correspondents on Friday, “What some are saying is that the national chairmanship position should come to the South so that everyone will have a sense of belonging. They are not asking for too much and that does not mean they have anything against Senator Iyorchia Ayu or Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. There should be a form of negotiation with aggrieved persons.”
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Adamawa State chapter of the party, Tahir Shehu, who is an ally of Atiku, dismissed calls for Ayu’s removal, adding that Atiku had the right to choose his running mate.
He said the rift in the party was orchestrated by those whose plan A was to install one of the governors as the presidential candidate and plan B was to make Wike the running mate.
He stated, “Unfortunately for them, the masses and the teeming supporters of the PDP sensed that and booted out their plan. The issue of the vice-presidential candidate is like a marriage where the husband must choose a wife that is convenient for him. So, there is no justification for somebody to impose a wife on an unwilling husband. The constitution has given him (Atiku) that mandate.”
He called on those aggrieved by Okowa’s emergence as Atiku’s running mate to sheathe their sword and work for the candidate’s victory.
A former secretary of the party in Anambra State, Chibuna Okoli-Akrika, on Friday blamed the crisis in the party on leadership failure.
He added, “Wike is aggrieved, reasonably and legitimately so, because PDP failed to keep faith with the agreement to zone the presidency. That is the root of the problem. So, Wike is not alone; his reaction is simply emblematic of the serious issues within the PDP.
“Wike’s romance with the APC governors is a clarion call on the PDP leadership. They still have time to approach him and others and call an all-inclusive meeting so that others will also say their mind.”
In Akwa Ibom State, a chieftain of the party and pioneer National Publicity Secretary of the party, Senator Anietie Okon, said it would be costly to ignore Wike. He asked Atiku to reconcile with him.
He added, “Wike has been a strong party man. He has done so much for the PDP and has remained a faithful party man. So, thinking of ignoring him is like taking a killer decision, not when a large number of people have continued to stand by him.”
A BoT member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was wrong for Ayu and Atiku to have travelled out of the country “at this critical time” while the APC was busy strategising.
‘Ayu must go’
A former deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Diran Odeyemi, said Ayu must be removed to pacify Wike and others displeased by his continued stay in office.
He insisted that there was an agreement that if a northerner emerged as the presidential candidate, Ayu would not mind stepping aside. He added, “Instead of respecting that agreement, there are insinuations Ayu will want to stay till after the presidential poll next year. Today, a northerner is the chairman of the party, the chairman of the Board of Trustees and the presidential candidate.
“This lopsidedness has partly cost PDP the Ekiti governorship poll. But those concerned don’t see that as a problem. Ayu must quit before the Osun poll because whatever position PDP gets in the Osun poll will be its position in the 2023 presidential poll and APC has picked a South-West politician as its presidential candidate.
“If Ayu quits today, Wike and other displeased PDP leaders will be appeased. Our national chairman has become a divisive factor in the PDP. He should not because of his selfish ambition destroy the electoral fortune of our party.”
Meanwhile, a member of the APC National Working Committee, who craved anonymity, told one of our correspondents on Friday that the APC had been making moves to woo Wike, noting that no party would toy with Rivers votes in the south.
He said, “The Friday meeting should not come to anybody as a surprise. We have always known that it is only a matter of time before he joins us because the PDP has lost its relevance in Rivers State. I have said that APC will win one more governor from the opposition before the elections. I have Wike and Gov (Okezie) Ikpeazu of Abia State in mind whenever I say that. Amaechi was the only reason he had not come to the APC long before now.”
Speaking further on the impact of the rift between Wike and Amaechi, the source added, “The question we should be asking ourselves is, can Amaechi muscle in Wike in Rivers State? As things stand, Amaechi has lost out in the cabinet. He also failed to get his stooge into the NDDC. Can he really stand up to Wike? Politics is all about the party winning, not trying to garner sympathy. To remain at the centre, all necessary measures must be taken to win. That is our concern.
“Wike is a force on his own. We know through his alliance, he also indirectly controls Benue and Abia states.”
The deputy National Chairman of the APC (South), Chief Emma Eneukwu, also said he didn’t see anything wrong with Wike defecting from the PDP to the APC, despite his rift with Amaechi.
He added, “It’s not about the ambition of one man. People can differ in their interests and still belong to the same group. Both of them can be accommodated. Is there anywhere in life there is no rivalry? Even in the household, there is rivalry between husband and wife and between brothers and sisters. The most important thing is how it is managed.”
He said even though Wike would leave office next year, he had connections across the country, which helped him to come second in the PDP presidential primary.
‘PDP not troubled’
The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, told one of our correspondents on Friday that the party was not losing sleep over the APC governors’ visit to Wike.
He said, “What is disturbing about the governors’ meeting? Remember we are in a festive period where people go around felicitating one another. What is the issue with that?”
“Why not let us concentrate on issues facing Nigeria today; the killings, the insensitivity of Mr President, his lack of capacity and competence which he himself admitted to by saying he is disappointed with the security agencies. We can only play politics when there is peace. I am sure nobody is playing politics in Ukraine today. We all need to step up and do the right thing which is voting the APC out of government.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTS BY ADEYINKA ADEDIPE, ABIODUN NEJO, BOLA BAMIGBOLA, JAMES ABRAHAM, CHIMA AZUBUIKE, OLUFEMI OLANIYI, HINDI LIVINUS, PATRICK ODEY and BOLA BAMIGBOLA