The crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party ahead of the 2023 general election has worsened with the loyalists of the Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike threatening to leave the party if their principal (Wike) defects.
Political leaders loyal to Wike, in separate interviews with The PUNCH on Thursday, warned the PDP that they were ready to mobilise other supporters of the governor to dump the nation’s main opposition party.
But the PDP’s standard-bearer, Atiku Abubakar, allayed fears over the crisis in the party, saying he would ensure reconciliation.
Atiku said this barely 24 hours after Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom accused him of failing to honour the democratic choice in the selection of his running mate.
Ortom also noted that Atiku failed to reach out to Wike and some other aggrieved members of the party after selecting the Delta State, Dr Godwin Okowa, as the vice-presidential candidate despite the recommendation of a 17-man selection committee which nominated Wike.
But Atiku moved to douse the tension, saying efforts were being made to resolve the grievances of party members.
Tweeting via his official Twitter handle @Atiku on Thursday, the PDP presidential candidate assured that “appropriate actions have been taken, are being taken, and will continue to be advanced.
“@The Peoples Democratic Party will remain united. Focus on our actions. 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.”
“Every governor, legislator, and other elected officials produced by our party, and party members and loyalists, are much loved and respected by me. When they speak, I listen. I do not only listen. Appropriate actions have been taken, are being taken, and will continue to be advanced,” he tweeted on Thursday.
However, there are indications that the peace moves may not have gained the expected traction as loyalists of the Rivers State governor appeared to be unconvinced by the olive branch offered by Atiku.
Wike, who has refused to speak publicly since he lost the running mate slot to Okowa, is also giving the Atiku camp and the PDP sleepless nights with his romance with some opposition parties.
The governor had on June 24 hosted the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, Rabiu Kwankwaso, in Port Harcourt.
The visit occurred a day after the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, visited Wike, sparking speculations about their intentions and the Rivers governor’s plans.
Although the purpose of the visits was not made public, Wike’s dalliance with the two parties has strengthened speculations that he might leave the PDP.
Former Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, who was also present at the meeting with Obi, had on Wednesday declared that it was the turn of the South to produce the president in 2023, a direct attack on Atiku’s ambition.
The crisis over the PDP vice-presidential slot festers as Wike is currently in Turkey on vacation.
Speaking to The PUNCH in separate interviews, some members of the House of Representatives from Rivers State condemned the choice of Okowa as the PDP vice-presidential candidate.
A member of the House from Rivers State, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Wike’s loyalists would follow the governor should he decide to defect from the PDP to another party.
“As a matter of principle, those of us from Rivers State, I am not sure we want to speak on it for now. But the truth is that anywhere he (Wike) goes, Rivers people will follow him,” the lawmaker stated.
When asked if those to follow Wike would include National Assembly members from Rivers, the source restated, “Rivers people will follow him but I will not want to come out to say that now until when everything is settled.”
Another House member from Rivers, Solomon Bob, said it would be an understatement to say that Wike had contributed to the PDP more than any other person.
“Without Wike, PDP would have ben long gone,” he stated, adding that the governor’s voice was heard across the country, using his energy and resources to sustain the party.
Bob said, “Those who are making claims now to the man’s labour, where were they? Where was Atiku? Atiku ran away. In 2015, he ditched the party and went to the APC because he did not want (the then President Goodluck) Jonathan to continue (with a second term in the PDP).
“He wanted to pitch his tent with his northern brother (Muhammadu Buhari of the APC). In 2019, before he came to run (for president in the PDP), he was in Dubai. After he lost (the election), he went to Dubai again. Only one man was left with the job and responsibility of rebuilding (the PDP) again and fighting for the unity and cohesion of the party, and that is Wike. Without Wike, there will be no PDP, I can tell you that.”
Stating that Atiku committed a serious blunder, the lawmaker said, “Let me tell you: they have scored an own goal; Atiku has scored an own goal. It will be hard for him. Atiku is in a difficult situation. As they say in English, he is in over his head.
“Atiku is in over his head. He is fickle. The biggest asset the PDP has is Wike. Nobody in the PDP has the energy and the dynamism. You discarded your biggest asset, how can you win?”
The lawmaker stated that he agreed with Ortom on the fact that Atiku ought to have personally met with Wike and reconcile with the governor.
Bon said Abubakar was frequent at Wike’s house “day and night” but has failed to show up there after winning the PDP primary.
In his submission, another Rivers lawmaker, Dagomie Abiante, described Wike as an asset to the PDP, which Atiku failed to realise and utilise.
He stated that the governor “deserved much more” than the VP slot, adding that he is better than Okowa “in every respect.”
Abiante said, “He has been a pillar to the party; he is the one speaking for the party and he speaks for the interests of the South. Okowa hosted southern governors across party lines.
“If you hosted them and they agreed that the president had to come back to the South if there had to be any change, it does not have to be from the person who hosted that meeting. There should be some level of morality in politics.”
The lawmaker added, “He had 237 votes (at the PDP presidential primary, coming second to Atiku), that simply means that 237 local government areas supported him. In the PDP, each vote represented one LGA. Is that not an asset?”
Speaking on the issue, a former member of the House of Representatives, Ogbonna Nwuke, in an interview with The PUNCH, said if Wike dumped the PDP, Rivers supporters would follow him.
On what Atiku could do to address the threat to his aspiration, he said seeking forgiveness for wrongdoing was not out of place
He stated, “In my view, two things, reconciliation and if you think you have offended somebody, ask for forgiveness. Every religion that we know, stresses forgiveness.
“I don’t know what it is he (Atiku) thinks he can do for Wike at this time, except work assiduously, sincerely to get Wike and his friends to work for his victory. He is the one who needs them now, and he must do what is right. So sending emissaries, hiding behind the mask won’t solve the problem.”
“You need to walk up to those you want to lead. Demonstrate leadership. And if they are convinced by your body language, they will do what they should do to help you too. They are party men, they have said so,” Nwuke, a former Commissioner for Information and Communications stated.
He, however, explained that Wike had not said anything about his political future.
“Thus far, Wike has not said anything about his political future. He has not said anything negative about the party. That for me is evidence of his maturity. At the fullness of time, Governor Wike will speak for himself.
“I believe that he is the only one who can speak on his intent right now,” Nwuke stated.
A senior advocate of Nigeria, Onueze Okocha, described Wike as a party loyalist as far as the PDP was concerned, adding that the party must prevent the Rivers governor’s defection to win the 2023 polls.
He stated, “From the beginning when the PDP was formed, Wike was with the PDP and he worked for the PDP all through and has continued to do so.
Asked if Atiku could replace Okowa with Wike since there was still room for replacement, he said he would not make such a suggestion.
On his part, the Chairman of the Gokana Local Government Area of the state, Confidence Dekoo, said Atiku should be magnanimous in victory.
Dekoo, who spoke to one of our correspondents on the telephone on Thursday, said he would abide by any decision taken by Wike.
He stated, “First and foremost, all of us are politicians, and that every time after every primary or after every election, there is dignity in allowing every other person to have that sense of belonging that I have succeeded, but be magnanimous in victory.
“What he (Atuku) can do now is to come down to those who contested election against him. Don’t forget that, as all the former governors you mentioned said, he (Wike) is indeed a factor in the PDP today.
“Do you want to undermine a man like that that we all agree is a factor? You can only do that at your peril because you are contesting a general election and you need all hands on deck.
“So, my advice would be that yes, try and reach out. A phone call will not solve that kind of problem, but a visit, physical visitation.
“The leadership of the party, talk to him as well, and he will understand. But to think that you will act as if it doesn’t matter, no one man can do this thing alone.”
On whether he would follow Wike if he decided to defect to another party, he stated, “Whatever my boss does is what I will do.”
But the spokesperson for the former vice-president, Paul Ibe, in an interview with one of our correspondents, noted that the process for the reconciliation of all aggrieved persons within the PDP had commenced.
Ibe, who disclosed this in response to an inquiry from The PUNCH, stated, “I am sure you saw Atiku’s tweet? That’s the stand now. All other things will definitely follow. The process is not as easy as you think. It is not one plus one equals two. The process has started just like Atiku pointed out in the tweet.
Ortom, in an interview with Channels Television on Thursday, explained why 14 out of 17 members of a committee set up by the PDP picked Wike.
He expressed dissatisfaction that Atiku did not meet with Wike before and after announcing his running mate.
Ortom said, “ My concern is that the overtures have not gone out enough to resolve the matter. Even, before the pronouncement, Wike should have been reached and made to understand the rationale behind the decision made. He would have accepted based on his love for the party. “
A former Governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, in an interview with journalists in Kaduna on Thursday, said Wike had the right to be angry.
He, however, advised Atiku to reach out to the Rivers State governor to explain why he picked Okowa.
He stated, “I won’t blame Wike For feeling bad because he has been one of the pillars of the Party. Let the Presidential candidate, Atiku, sit down with Wike to discuss issues because he is the only one that knows why he picked his running mate. The matter is resolvable,” he said.
A political analyst, Tonye Isokariari, described Wike as the party’s pillar, noting that he would have been “a strong vice president that will give the APC a run for their money.”
A lawyer, Sunny Anyanwu, said it was Wike’s prerogative whether or not he chooses to leave the PDP or stay, just like Peter Obi who left the party to be the presidential candidate of the Labour Party.