Plans by governors on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party to ensure that one of them emerges as the party’s presidential candidate may have suffered a setback.
This, according to findings, is due to the unfriendly utterances by the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, against some of his colleagues, party chieftains and presidential aspirants in the party.
Informed sources believed this might cause disunity among the governors and frustrate their agreements on how the party’s candidate would emerge.
Our correspondent reliably learnt that members of the PDP Governors’ Forum held a secret meeting in Ghana late last year, where they sought to agree on the most suitable zoning formula for the party.
Majority of the southern governors at the meeting were said to have made a strong case for the ticket to be zoned to the South, but the suggestion was said to have been vehemently rejected by the governors of Sokoto and Bauchi states, Aminu Tambuwal and Bala Mohammed, both of whom have since declared their interest to contest the presidential primary.
After failing to reach a consensus on zoning of the ticket to the South, the states’ chief executive officers were said to have agreed that a sitting governor should emerge as the party’s candidate.
According to a top source at the meeting, the leadership of the forum went further to ask those interested in the ticket to signify and Wike, his counterpart in Akwa Ibom, Udom Emmanuel, and Chairman of the forum, Tambuwal, expressed their interest to contest the May 28 and 29 presidential primary.
At the moment, governors Wike, Mohammed, Tambuwal and Emmanuel are among the 14 aspirants, who have obtained the expression of interest and nomination forms. Others include former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar; former Senate Presidents, Pius Anyim and Dr Bukola Saraki; and former governors Peter Obi and Ayodele Fayose.
A former Chairman of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, Sam Ohuabunwa; Chairman of Ovation Media Group and former presidential aspirant, Dele Momodu; a female aspirant, Ms Oliver Diana Teriela; a United States-based medical doctor, Nwachukwu Anakwenze; and a former Chairman/CEO, FSB International Bank, Mohammed Hayatudeen, have also signified their intention to vie for the nation’s top job.
Meanwhile, one of the governors told one of our correspondents that nine out of the 13 PDP governors were present at the Ghana meeting, saying, “A key outcome of that meeting was that we agreed that governors on the platform of the party should unite to produce the presidential candidate of the party.”
There is, however, growing scepticism that the agreement may no longer be feasible due to uncomplimentary statements being made by Wike, who tongue-lashed some notable leaders of the party, including governors.
Those he indirectly attacked while declaring his intention to run included Atiku, Saraki and Tambuwal, all of whom are also in the race for the party’s ticket.
He accused them of defecting from the party to the ruling All Progressives Congress, which led to the defeat of the PDP in 2015.
Though he spoke at the Benue State Government House in Makurdi, where he was hosted by Governor Samuel Ortom, his remarks also hit his host, who defected to the APC in 2014 when he lost the PDP governorship ticket. He returned to the PDP in 2018 when it was apparent that he might not get the ticket of the APC to run for a second term.
Wike said those who once left the party should no longer consider themselves as founding fathers of the PDP, adding that they had lost their seniority for defecting.
He stated, “If you form a company and run away because the company is not doing well, then you find that it is now doing well, will you want to come and take over?
“In 2015, those who ran away made us lose the election. Today, they are crying but some of us stood and said the PDP would not die. By the time you ran away, you sold your shares as founding fathers, so you can no longer retain your position as founding fathers.
“I stood for this party. I have worked for this party since 1998. I have nowhere to run to and that is why anything that happens to this party, I take it personally. I have never relented.”
However, a source close to some of the governors and leaders of the party said most of them were working behind the scene to make sure that Wike would not win the primary.
The source said, “The conspiracy won’t be limited to him. The governors may not even produce the presidential candidate of the party, because there is now a division among them with Wike’s utterances.
“Those he abused had visited him and they spoke, but nobody should be deceived. Politicians are fond of doing that. Their smiles or laughter when they are together are not always genuine; those are just for the camera. They know what they will do.
“Some are not happy with the way he (Wike) is treating people and talking to his colleagues. See how he spoke to the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, and his deputy, Philip Shaibu. Imagine him asking a deputy governor who his father is?
“The PDP is aware that winning the party’s ticket may not translate to winning the general election. That is why money alone will not determine who wins the party’s presidential primary. So, that Ghana agreement is now severely under threat. If the unity among the governors is still very strong, they can have their way, because they fund the parties and they can influence the delegates from their states.”
There were also insinuations among some party members that Wike could muzzle other aspirants to either have his way or even win the ticket if it was zoned to the South.
“He is not yet the candidate and he is already talking down on leaders of the party and other governors. What happens if he wins the ticket?” a member of the party’s Board of Trustees wondered.
The schedule of party activities released by the party’s National Organising Secretary, Umar Bature, showed that the presidential primary will hold on May 28 and 29; the governorship primary on May 21; House of Representatives primary on May 12; its candidates for the Senate will emerge on May 14, while those for the House of Assembly will be selected on May 7.
The Independent National Electoral Commission has fixed April 4 to June 3 for party primaries, warning that it will adhere strictly to the timetable. It has fixed February 25, 2023 for the presidential and National Assembly elections and March 11, 2023 for the governorship and Houses of Assembly elections.
“Where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of the (Electoral) Act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate shall not be included in the election for the particular position in issue,” INEC had said in a statement on Tuesday.
Pressure mounts on Atiku to promise single term
Meanwhile, Saturday PUNCH learnt that some statutory delegates were mounting an intense pressure on Atiku to promise a single term to placate southern delegates and guarantee his victory in the forthcoming primary.
According to Bature, the PDP candidate will emerge on May 29 at the end of the special national convention (presidential primary) that will start a day earlier.
Atiku has been meeting with the statutory delegates ahead of the PDP primary next month.
One of his campaign officers and a statutory delegate from the South said, “The South is angry. The people want power to shift to the South after the disastrous outing of President Muhammadu Buhari. However, because we are not a ruling party, we may not be able to zone that position. For us, it’s about how best to win the election.
“That was what we did in Rivers State in 2015 when we picked Wike as our candidate, even though he is from the same area as his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi. So, one of the things we are telling Alhaji Atiku is to consider a single term.
“If they know it’s just four years, that will make it easier for us to sell his candidacy to the South. It will be a semblance of what Nelson Mandela did in South Africa. He served for one term and made his mark. In any case, after that one term, by 2027, age will no longer be on his (Atiku) side.
“Atiku, who has become a veteran of presidential elections, should be able to tell Nigerians that he will be a one-term President if he wins. Anything short of this will be disastrous for him and the North.”
Another source close to the former vice-president confirmed that some of his supporters were speaking to him to consider the one-term suggestion. The source noted, “In 2015, Atiku said it only once that he would be a one-term President if he won. After that, he was silent on it. Now, he has to promise to be the Mandela of Nigeria if he wins the primary. That will make things easier for him.
“If he agrees, then we can rest assured that we will have many converts among the delegates and even among Nigerians, who will vote in the general elections. Already, the majority of the statutory delegates are with us. We are trying to win ad hoc and national delegates to our side, but Atiku needs to come out openly to speak on this.”
S’Court adjourns Secondus’ case till October 2023
In a related development, the hope of the former National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, returning to office has suffered a setback with the Supreme Court adjourning his case till October 2023.
The court made the decision on Monday, March 21, 2022.
The appellants, according to findings, were disappointed by the ruling, though a source close to Secondus said he took the apex court’s ruling with equanimity.
“The suspended chairman wants justice and is desirous of making a statement with the way his case was heard at the lower courts. That is why he is in court, not that he is insisting on being in office,” the source added.
When contacted, Secondus’ media aide, Ike Abonyi, confirmed the development. “Yes, it is true. The case has been adjourned till October 2023,” he said.
PDP must do what’s necessary to win –Babatope
Meanwhile, a member of the PDP Board of Trustees, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, said he believed the party should do whatever was necessary to win the presidential election.
He said, “The National Executive Council has not reacted to the zoning committee’s report, but having said that, I’m one of those who believe that whatever will save the people of Nigeria from the misrule of the APC should be adopted by the PDP.
“We are waiting for NEC to decide, and if they say it will be thrown open, that’s okay. We will then have to work hard to ensure that the person who emerges will not create for us another pair of the APC misrule. People are now praying that the tenure of this government should be over.”
Asked if he feels that southern aspirants should come together to boost their chances, Babatope said it was best if everyone contested the primary.
He stated, “I won’t advocate that arrangement. What is important for us is to produce a candidate that will be able to ensure that we win the election for the good of Nigeria.
“This country is very important to us. One thing being said is that the South-East has not produced the president of this country. I’m not saying they should produce a candidate now, but if we have a good candidate from there, fine. We want this country to remain one, but the APC misrule is so terrible and it should be stopped at all cost.”
He called on INEC to guarantee free and fair elections, adding, “Let INEC give us a free and fair election so Nigerians can have a good government and let Buhari be the last person on this age debate, in which case all of us above 75 should please take a rest so that the younger ones can participate. Our party is firmly rooted in the belief that Nigeria must remain a united country.
When asked to comment on the recommendations of the Ortom-led zoning committee that the ticket should be thrown open, Paul Ibe, a media aide to Atiku, said it would be unfair to speak on the issue when the NEC had yet to take a position on the committee’s report.
“It will be procedurally wrong to speak on it. NEC constituted the committee and we read from the media that the committee has presented its report to NEC, which has to deliberate on it and take a position. Until that is done, it will be premature to speak on the issue,” he stated.
I’m unrepentant about southern candidate –Bode George
Speaking on the recommendations of the zoning committee, Chief Bode George, a former national vice-chairman of the party, said he remained an unrepentant campaigner for a southern presidential candidate and that justice, fairness and equity must be the centrepiece of the PDP’s activities.
He said, “My personal view is that power must rotate to the South and it’s non-negotiable. However, we must handle it with dexterity, respect for the rule of law and the dictates of our founding fathers, who created the first political party that is truly national. The APC is a contraption that came much later.
“We will go back to the meeting and discuss, but the party must make a statement. Zoning and rotation are the political spinal cord of our party and as human beings, if you lose your spinal cord, you are either dead or you become physically challenged.”
When asked if he agreed with suggestions that southern candidates should work together to boost their chances at the primary given that many northerners had also obtained forms, George said that option would be considered at the right time.
He stated, “I can assure you that that will come. People want to throw their hats in the ring and it’s better to allow them. We will sit, discuss and weigh issues, and in the end, there will be rationality.
“This is the time we need the grace of the Almighty God to direct our people; we must be able to convince not only party members, but the electorate, who are far more in number than the party’s card-carrying members. We are listening to everyone and we are taking note, because we have to be very careful. The three pillars of our party are justice, fairness and equity and they must be upheld.”
Credit: Saturday PUNCH