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Atiku vs Wike: What are the implications for PDP ahead of 2023 elections?

Atiku vs Wike: What are the implications for PDP ahead of 2023 elections?
August 16
10:30 2022

The months leading to the 2023 presidential election are turbulent for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Everything appeared to be fine weeks before the party’s presidential primary election in May, but shortly after, the party’s cohesion came under threat. The party is in a crisis that may jeopardise its chances of winning the election. As the friction lingers and peace talks progress at snail’s pace, what does it portend for the opposition party as the presidential poll approaches? 

In May, Iyorchia Ayu, national chairman of the PDP, expressed the party’s determination to wrestle power from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2023. Ayu didn’t only boast about the unity in the party, he also said members are “determined” to work hard to get back the presidency. 

“I believe with this spirit we will definitely do very well in the forthcoming election and nothing will stop us from taking over power come May next year,” the PDP national chairman had said.

But less than four months after the statement, the opposition party’s “determination” appears to be waning due to its internal wrangling.

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Atiku and Nyesom Wike

HOW THE FRICTION STARTED

The cracks emanated after Atiku Abubakar named Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta, as his running mate for the 2023 presidential election.

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Wike had contested the PDP presidential ticket in May but came second, losing to the former vice-president after the dramatic withdrawal of Aminu Tambuwal, governor of Sokoto, from the race.

In the wake of the announcement of Okowa as the PDP vice-presidential candidate, some party stakeholders expressed reservations that Abubakar overlooked Wike — who was said to have been recommended by a panel set up at Abubakar’s instance.

The panel had some governors as members, including the national working committee (NWC) and other party chieftains. 

…AND THE CRACKS WIDENED

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The division in the party worsened after Abubakar granted an interview to Arise TV, during which he explained his rationale for overlooking Wike.

While lauding Wike as a “brilliant, courageous and tenacious” politician, who he said has a future in the “political evolution” of Nigeria, Abubakar noted that it is “too harsh a word to say that we rejected Governor Wike”.

“Governor Wike was not rejected. Nobody was rejected in the party. But you must understand that it’s the prerogative of the candidate to pick his running mate — a running mate he believes he can work with amicably, and then also deliver the policies of the party, and also try to unify the country,” the PDP candidate had said.

“Governor Wike is a brilliant politician. I believe he has a future in the political evolution of this country. It’s not a question of rejection.”

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But Wike wouldn’t have any of that.

Days after the interview, Wike fired back, accusing the party’s presidential candidate of telling “many lies”.

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THE INEVITABLE CRISIS 

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Political commentators say the opposition party’s crisis is an inevitable outcome of the PDP’s refusal to zone its presidential ticket before its primary election. 

The demand by most party members from the south was unambiguous — the party’s presidential ticket should be zoned to the south-south geopolitical zone.

The southern party members supported the candidacy of a northerner to become national chairman after the ousting of Uche Secondus who is from the south — just so that the presidential ticket would be orbited to the south.

After Ayu, a northerner, was elected chairman, key leadership roles in the party fell into the hands of the party members from the north. This was before Abubakar, a longtime associate of Ayu, was elected as the presidential candidate.

Mark Adebayo, the co-national spokesperson for the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), told TheCable that Wike “felt genuinely aggrieved and betrayed” following the outcome of the party’s presidential primary election. 

“It is very clear that Nyesom Wike felt betrayed by the pre-primary discussions and agreement between him and some governors who have given assurances to him within the party that he was going to be given the delegates of their states, especially the governors of the south,” he said.

“So he felt genuinely aggrieved and betrayed and I think that is what informed the current actions within the party.”

Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, says Tambuwal’s withdrawal from the presidential primary is seen as “treachery” by Wike and those who supported him.

“If you go down memory lane to 2019, Wike who has been a major pillar in the PDP, supported his friend and political ally, the governor of Sokoto state, Aminu Tambuwal, for the ticket at the time the PDP resolved to zone the presidential ticket of the party to the north,” he told TheCable. 

“The Port Harcourt convention for the 2019 presidential primary was an all-northern affair and at that time Wike supported Tambuwal to clinch the ticket but unfortunately Atiku defeated Tambuwal who was Wike’s preferred candidate. But that did not stop Wike from massively supporting the PDP. Wike made the single largest financial commitment for the presidential election of the PDP in 2019 in addition to delivering his state and working hard to energise other state chapters of the PDP without a governor.

“Coming to the 2023 election, at a time that it was expected that the party should zone its presidential ticket to the south. For Atiku and Tambuwal to seemingly conspire with one stepping down for the order which undoubtedly led to the defeat of Wike in that election definitely will leave a sour taste in the mouth of somebody who has done much for these two individuals in the past.”

PDP Igbo

WILL THE CRISIS BE RESOLVED? 

There have been several meetings and committees set up to reconcile the aggrieved camps in the party. Among such committees is the one set up on August 3 by the board of trustees (BoT)

Walid Jibril, the BoT chairman, said the panel will “interface between warring factions, particularly the acrimony that is taking place between the presidential candidate and Governor Wike, and any other conflict that is taking place in the nation within our party formation”. 

On August 12, Jerry Gana, former minister of information, who is one of the party stalwarts on Wike’s side, brokered a meeting between Abubakar and the Rivers governor.

They resolved to set up a 14-member committee — seven from each camp — to hear the grievances and provide recommendations for a peaceful resolution.

But as it stands, Wike’s political engagements and outbursts have not changed. In recent days, the governor has been inviting members of the APC to inaugurate projects in his state — where he makes remarks that do not suggest amity.

Femi Gbajabiamila, speaker of the house of representative, who recently inaugurated a project in Rivers, said Wike is “destined” to join the APC.

WHAT IS THE IMPLICATION FOR THE 2023 POLLS?

Adebayo believes that if the party’s crisis is not resolved, Wike and his allies may work against the victory of the PDP presidential candidate. 

While ruling out the possibility of Wike defecting from the party, the analyst said: “You can see that he is showing some signs that he’s not going to be with the party during the elections. Look at him inviting APC governors and APC stalwarts to come and commission projects in his state. It is a sign sending a very strong signal ‘that I am not going to be with you’.”

“There could be internal sabotage for the PDP, and it could also happen in the APC too. The fact that PDP leadership and the candidate did not manage the Wike crisis well; they were not proactive about it. Their lack of proactivity is what has allowed the crisis to fester and then lead to a full-blown crisis that could jeopardise the chances of the party in the next election.

“The first question on what Wike could do is that you are not going to see him campaign actively for APC. I don’t see Wike coming out to campaign publicly or actively or being involved in any direct way with the APC or Asiwayu’s campaign machinery.

“There is going to be loud silence from them (Wike and his supporters) during the presidential campaign of the party. That is what I suspect would happen.”

‘ATIKU MUST STOOP LOW TO CONQUER’

Dahuri said beyond mending fences with Wike, the PDP presidential candidate has a lot of work to do to assuage the yearnings of voters in the south-south, south-east and north-central geopolitical zones.

According to him, Wike is significant if the PDP must win in Rivers and other southern states.

“If the crisis is not resolved satisfactorily, the chances of the PDP, of course, will be dimmed. If you look at statistics between 2019 and today, states like Rivers, Anambra, Delta and some other states in the south-east and south-south had given the PDP the bulk of the votes. In fact, Atiku had more votes in Rivers in 2019 than he had in his own state of Adamawa,” he said.

“So it shows that the stronghold is in the south and that is where Wike comes from. So he (Abubakar) needs to do a lot. He needs to come down from a high fence if he is sitting on one and stoop low to conquer by negotiating and doing so sincerely and earnestly.”

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