The continuous silence of Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike in the face of the controversies engulfing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since the nomination of Delta Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as the running mate of the party’s standard-bearer, Atiku Abubakar, is unsettling the party and its leadership, Daily Trust has learnt.
The grievance is also polarising the ranks of the main opposition party in the South.
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Sources said Wike’s silence and his refusal to meet with Atiku or his emissaries, have sent jitters down the spine of the PDP as nobody in the party knows his next move, especially considering the alleged overtures from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the emerging opposition Labour Party.
Wike’s major allies, including Abia State Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, Seyi Makinde of Oyo, Samuel Ortom of Benue and former Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, have not hidden their displeasure over the emergence of Atiku and his choice of Okowa as running mate.
Fayose insisted that power must return to the South in 2023, stressing that the PDP constitution provides for a rotational presidency.
Governor Ortom, in a recent interview, declared that he has not made up his mind to support Atiku, claiming that he is hibernating and waiting on God for direction.
An insider disclosed that Fayose and Ortom spoke the minds of Wike and his lieutenants within the party. He said strategic meetings were held in Turkey where Wike went for vacation.
“The visit to Turkey was not just for vacation. Strategic meetings were held and decisions have been reached. The willingness of the party to negotiate will determine the next move,” he said.
Nobody can undermine Wike
Daily Trust recalls that Atiku and Wike met more than twice immediately after the former secured the presidential ticket of the party during the primaries, where Wike came second. However, both men have not been seen together since Atiku nominated Okowa as his running mate.
Some of the sources close to the governor who spoke on condition of anonymity said Wike is a strong political force that nobody will undermine.
“If you watch very carefully you will find out that the governor’s private residence has become a beehive of activities with high profile politicians visiting. First to visit was David Umahi of Ebonyi State followed by Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi and Governor Bala Muhammed of Bauchi State. The visits by these top politicians show that Wike is a strong force in the Nigerian political equation,” he said.
The source added that the Bauchi State governor was sent by Atiku and his group to appeal to Wike not to leave PDP while Ebonyi Governor and Obi visited to see how they could woo the governor to join their political parties.
Another source added, “I cannot say categorically if the governor wants to defect, but I can tell you that in politics there is no permanent enemy. In politics everything is possible. I think the governor is weighing all the options available to him and in no time he will come up with a far-reaching decision.”
However, a chieftain of the PDP in Rivers State said Atiku will be paid back in his own coin, noting that it was deceitful for the former VP to have jettisoned the recommendation of the committee he commissioned to nominate his running mate.
“As far as I’m concerned, there is no way we in Rivers State will support Atiku. He disappointed us and we will not support him. You cannot toy with our leader and go free. We will take a decisive decision on this matter and it will be far-reaching,” he said.
Okowa’s choice divides Southern PDP
The grievances over the choice of Okowa as Atiku’s running mate have polarised the party in the Southern region.
While a majority of the party’s chieftains in states like Delta, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Anambra and Imo have little or no resistance to the emergence of Okowa, his choice has been rejected by the party’s stalwarts from Rivers, Cross River, Enugu, Abia, Oyo and Ekiti.
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF) recently described Okowa as a traitor for accepting his nomination as VP candidate to Atiku.
It was learnt that Wike has maintained that he has no issue with Okowa but how Atiku jettisoned the recommendation of the committee that was set up to screen the duo and Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom state.
“After the primaries, Wike was not interested in the VP slot, it was Atiku that mentioned it at one of their meetings. That was why Wike subjected himself to the committee that was set up by Atiku.
“The former VP could have told Wike during their meetings that he had made up his mind already. The act is deceitful and Wike is wary of working for somebody who cannot be trusted,” an ally of the governor said.
However, Okowa’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr Olisa Ifeajika, in an interview with Daily Trust, said it is unfair to accuse the Delta State governor of betrayal when it was his party, PDP that nominated him as running mate to Atiku.
He said the southern leaders didn’t object when the PDP threw its presidential ticket open while there was no record of Southern PDP governors agreeing on a consensus candidate during the primaries.
Ifeajika, who expressed optimism that the Atiku/Okowa ticket will emerge victorious at the 2023 poll, noted that all grievances would be addressed before the general elections.
Atiku will win – Party chieftain
A PDP chieftain in Lagos, Dr Layi Ogunbambi, while speaking with our correspondent, said the internal crisis in the PDP would be resolved before the electioneering campaign kicks off in September.
“For me, it is about managing the crisis and I have no doubt that they will resolve this,” he said.
He also said that many aggrieved APC chieftains would seek solace in PDP before the February 2023 election.
“PDP felt the only way you can have peace is to have zoning but somewhere along the line, we broke that chain,” he said.
According to him, despite the jettisoning of zoning, the PDP candidate would still get the support of the people in the South.
He decried the identity politics being played ahead of the 2023 general elections, saying he didn’t support the argument that because the outgoing president is a Fulani man, another person from his zone cannot take over.
He stated that Lagos PDP would still vote for Atiku, saying the important issue is to pin him down to “agree on certain fundamental things that will transform Nigeria.
“I also disagree with the opinion that Tinubu cannot be defeated. You can see there is a surge in the ongoing voters’ registration, especially by the young ones.
“Those young guys are waiting because of what happened to them during #EndSARS.”
A former PDP chairman in Lagos, Capt. Tunji Shele, said Atiku would win with a landslide in 2023.
Shele said the crisis over the running mate of Atiku would be resolved, adding that the North East, just like the South East, has never ruled before.
A prominent member of the Atiku campaign organisation said all issues about the nominations would be addressed before the election.
“The party has a robust mechanism for dealing with issues. There is an ongoing process to ensure that all grievances from the nominations are dealt with before the election,” he said on condition of anonymity.
However, Daily Trust gathered that Atiku and Wike may likely meet before the July 16 governorship election in Osun State.
A reliable source said consensus will be reached at the meeting as both parties are expected to present their demands going to the poll.
From Abiodun Alade, Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos) & Victor Edozie (Port Harcourt)