Nigeria Decides 2023: Can Atiku, Wike still find common ground?


From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja

Less than  100 days to the 2023 general elections, five aggrieved governors of  the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP), and their supporters are still locked in a bitter feud with the party’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar and the national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu.

The situation has left many wondering if the opposition party can still resolve the issues within its fold, so as to confront the 2023 general elections with a united house.

The PDP has been embroiled in crisis since the nomination of Atiku and the Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa as its  presidential and vice presidential candidates respectively. The crisis, which has the PDP candidate and Ayu, on the one hand and the G-5 governors led by Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, on the other hand has polarised different organs of the party, including the National Working Committee ( NWC) in the past five months.

The G-5 governors  includes Wike, Rivers; Samuel Ortom, Benue; Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Enugu; Okezie Ikpeazu, Abia and Seyi Makinde Oyo. They are supported by elder statesman, Bode George, Donald Duke,  Ayo Fayose, Jonah Jang, former governors of Cross River, Ekiti,  and Plateau states respectively.

The bone of contention in the PDP crisis is whether or not Ayu should be replaced ahead of the 2023 general elections. The G-5 governors had accused the national chairman of alleged bias in the process leading to the emergence of the party’s presidential candidate and his running mate, a charge Ayu has repeatedly denied through his media aide, Simon Imobo-Tswam.

In the aftermath of the nomination exercise, the Wike group has continued to insist  that Ayu must be replaced with a Southerner to strike a balance since the presidential candidate is from the North. Nevertheless, the PDP chairman, who is believed to enjoy the backing of Atiku and some other leaders of the party in the North has continued to say that there is no basis for his resignation, as he was elected for a four years tenure. 

On his part, the former Vice President said he cannot force the national chairman to throw in the towel, noting that if he must be removed, it must be in accordance with the PDP constitution.

In September, the Wike group pulled out of the PDP presidential campaign council insisting  on Ayu’s replacement with a Southerner, as a condition for reconciliation. Members of the group have also kept a distance from the opposition party’s presidential campaign.

Since the crisis broke out, there have been several efforts to broker peace between the gladiators. First, Atiku and Wike, after a meeting at the Abuja residence of former Minister of Information, Professor Jerry Gana, agreed to set up a committee to resolve the differences between them.  Though the panel raised by both men met, nothing tangible came out of their parley.

Also, Atiku met with the G-5 governors, shortly after the group had met separately Peter Obi and Bola Tinubu of Labour Party and All Progressives Congress ( APC) presidential candidates respectively, in London to explore ways of resolving the crisis. However, like first peace move,  nothing concrete came out of the London meeting. Similarly, efforts by the PDP  Board of Trustees (BoT) led by its acting chairman, Adolphus Wabara, to meditate in the crisis also did not yield results.

In a renewed move to bridge the gap in the party, Atiku Abubakar, and Okowa,  met with President Jonathan, penultimate Thursday, in Abuja , to solicit his intervention in the crisis which has put the party on the edge. The PDP candidate’s overtures to Jonathan to intervene in the crisis followed a threat by the Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed to quit the presidential campaign.

Mohammed, in a letter,  to Ayu, had complained that there are alleged efforts to sabotage his second term bid, as a punishment for contesting against Atiku in the PDP presidential primary.

Ironically, weeks earlier, Atiku in an interview with the Voice of America (VOA), Hausa Service, had stated that he has moved on, as far as the party crisis was concerned. However, the PDP candidate, jolted by the threat by the Bauchi governor to dump the campaign and the fear that he is teaming up with the G-5 governors, quickly reached out to Jonathan to intervene.

Analysts say  Atiku’s move to seek  Jonathan’s intervention is  because of the former president’s  relationship with the aggrieved governors, particularly the Rivers State governor and his Bauchi State counterpart. Both Wike and Mohammed are known to hold the former president in very high esteem.

Recently, there were speculations that the aggrieved governors  allegedly want to get even with Atiku, over his role in the defeat of the former president in the 2023 polls.

Atiku had led some aggrieved members of the PDP to stage a walkout from the party’s National convention  in 2013, after it became clear that Jonathan will clinch the party’s presidential ticket for the 2015 general election.

Others who joined in the walkout included  then Governor  Rotimi Amaechi, Rivers State, Rabiu Kwankwaso,  Kano State, Babangida Aliyu, Niger State;  Abdulfatah Ahmed, Kwara State; Murtala Nyako, Adamawa State; Sule Lamido, Jigawa State and Aliyu Wamako and Sokoto State.

The protesting party leaders were to later announce the formation of a faction of the party, the New PDP( nPDP) under the leadership of Kawu Baraje. The faction was to join ranks with the defunct Congress for Progressive Change( CPC), defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party ( ANPP) and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance ( APGA) to form the All Progressives Congress (APC). The result was the defeat of the PDP and President Jonathan in the  2015 polls.

However, Jonathan, in a statement by his media aide, Ikechukwu Eze, dismissed insinuations that the aggrieved governors are fighting the former president’s battle. Eze, maintained that such insinuations “could not have emanated from the camps of those who truly wish the party well.”

According to him, “It is Dr. Jonathan’s wish that the PDP is able to resolve its internal crisis, unite all members and have a good showing in the forthcoming 2023 elections. We wish to however point out that it will be difficult to achieve this aspiration if some forces in the party continue to engage in mudslinging, disinformation and manifest tendencies that negate the values that are dear to loyal party members.”

Though the G-5 governors and Atiku have continued to main their readiness for reconciliation, they have continued to hold  tenaciously to the respective positions on the way forward. This has created doubts on whether the two parties would be able to come to a compromise before the 2023 general elections.

A source close to one of the aggrieved governors told Daily Sun that while the G5 are disposed to reconciliation, there is no going back on their demand on the replacement of Ayu as national chairman.

Nevertheless, a former member of the PDP National Working Committee ( NWC) told Daily Sun that any peace talk that involves the ouster of the national chairman would not work. The former NWC member, who is an ally of the PDP candidate said bringing in a new national chairman at this point might jeopardize the presidential ticket.

According to him,  “nobody wants to gamble with the ticket. As far we are concerned, we have done Wike no wrong. So, whatever it is, we are going to forge on with the election, whatever is the outcome, is the will of God. It is not their wish.”

Regardless, a top party source, who pleaded anonymity, told Daily Sun that hopes are not lost on the resolution of the PDP crisis.  He said  “they are talking. It is under the radar.  There are conversation going on .they are going to resolve it, very soon.  The national chairman is not their issues. The national chairman is just being used as a decoy. They are talking to them. But it is going to be resolved.”

Despite the subtle efforts by the two camps to reconcile, analysts insist it might be an Herculean task because of the mutual distrust among the key players in the seemingly unending battle.

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