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Atiku, PDP governors and realignments ahead 2023 polls

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
02 August 2020   |   4:01 am
The nomination of Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike as leader of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s campaign committee for Edo State governorship poll did much to reveal the simmering discontent within the major opposition party.

The nomination of Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike as leader of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s campaign committee for Edo State governorship poll did much to reveal the simmering discontent within the major opposition party.

Signs that PDP’s march to the 2023 general election cycle would be fraught with difficulties emerged shortly after the Supreme Court delivered its ruling on the 2019 presidential poll.

The apex court had, apart from dismissing the appeal filed by PDP and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, affirmed President Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of the February 23, 2019 poll.

The five-member panel of justices led by Mohammed Garba, in dismissing PDP and Atiku’s petition, averred that the “petitioners failed to convince the tribunal in the reliefs they sought.”  The petitioners rejected the ruling.

But, even before PDP and the former Vice President, Atiku, could challenge the outcome of the Presidential Election Tribunal at the apex court, Governor Wike sent his congratulatory message to President Buhari.

Wike’s note to Buhari came in apparent disdain for PDP and Atiku’s belief that they were not only denied of substantial justice by the judiciary, but also that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) robbed them of victory in the election.

While congratulating President Buhari for his victory at the election petition tribunal, the Rivers State governor urged the president to use his second term in office to unite Nigerians.

2018 Convention Hangover
IF Wike wanted to cause national apprehension with his felicitations to Buhari or take his pound of flesh from PDP and Atiku, he achieved both.Indeed, the message from BrickHouse to Aso Villa attracted mixed reactions, with most commentators pointing at governor Wike’s camaraderie with the presidential candidate of his party’s rival as evidence of the carry over of animosity from the October 2018 Port Harcourt convention.

Right from the stage of choosing the venue of the PDP convention from which the 2019 presidential candidate would be selected, to eventual choice of Port Harcourt, Governor Wike and supporters of the former vice president engaged in wit games.  Following insinuations of plans to relocate the convention from Port Harcourt, Wike dared those planning the change of venue to try it and see if he would not scatter PDP.

“You are promising restructuring, how are we sure that when you become president you will restructure the country,” he stated, wondering why Rivers State should be taking its humongous contributions to PDP.

Some Nigerians knew whom Wike was alluding to in his diatribe. In the build up to the PDP convention, it was an open secret that the Rivers State strongman was supporting his Sokoto State counterpart, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. Prior to the return of some members of the defunct nPDP, PDP stakeholders had fantasised about the idea of putting up one of theirs to contest against President Buhari.

Prominent among those penciled, as likely candidates, were Senator Ahmed Makarfi, Alhaji Sule Lamido and Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo.That scheme partly gave rise to the campaign for a third force, which was championed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Olisa Agbakoba and the National Intervention Movement (NIM).

At a point, those plotting to dethrone President Buhari in the 2019 poll floated the idea of a joint Dankwambo/Donald Duke presidential ticket. But all the calculations changed as 2019 drew nearer and it became obvious that President Buhari was actually going to seek a second term. Former President Goodluck Jonathan had also observed that if the fourth republic vice president, Atiku, contested the presidential election on PDP, he would make a mark.

The reality that ability to fund the campaign and match the federal might represented in an incumbent seeking reelection, threw up Atiku as the most potent challenger.

Being a foundation member, PDP elders prompted Atiku to embark on shuttle diplomacy and consultation with eminent presidential aspirants in the party. As such, even though the likes of Wike held a different view by sticking to their preferred aspirants, it was palpable that the convention would go the way of the former vice president.

At the convention, fears that Wike could spring a surprise as the All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders did in 2014 by choosing Lagos, did not materialise: He was caged in his backyard! Atiku won, but winning Wike over was not as deep as expected

THE next round of elections would be in 2023. By 2023 also, most of the PDP state governors would be rounding off their second and final terms in office, except the governors of Adamawa, Bauchi, Oyo and Zamfara. The implication of that development on PDP’s journey to the next general election revolves around their ambition to protect their political future.

There are indications that two crucial steps could be taken by the second term governors, which would define the direction of party politics in Nigeria. In the first place, the governors might attempt to reactivate their resolve to have one of them contest the 2023 presidency, while others from disadvantaged zones settle for the Senate.

Then, some of them could change political platforms, particularly those from the Southeast and South/South geopolitical zones. Following the backlash on his goodwill message to President Buhari after the election tribunal ruling, Governor Wike had explained “it was better to congratulate Buhari publicly than to secretly visit the president at night.”

In addition to the allegation of nocturnal visit to the APC leader, Wike also alleged that some Southeast governors were PDP by day and APC by night. For instance, Governors David Umahi and Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu of Ebonyi and Abia states have long been associated with speculations about a possible move to APC.

But what would threaten the foundations of PDP is the scheme by the governors to insist on one of them flying the party’s presidential flag in 2023. Although some political actors in the Northern zones are working for retention of the 2019-zoning format, which paired Northeast and Southeast on the presidential ballot, sources disclosed that Wike has not dropped his support for a Tambuwal presidency.

Last month, Atiku’s son, Adamu, revealed that his father would contest the 2023 presidential poll. Yet, a source close to the Rivers State governor confided in The Guardian that although some northern stakeholders want a situation whereby Tambuwal goes to the Senate and possibly become President of Senate, Wike believes that a Tambuwal presidency would sustain his political relevance.

According to the source, “Our governor knows the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, is working to be vice presidential candidate of APC. In that case, unless His Excellency is also associated with the presidency, it would be difficult for PDP to produce his successor.

“If Tambuwal becomes the PDP candidate, you and I know who he (Tambuwal) would choose as running mate. So, that is also why we support the moves to have the position of national chairman ceded to the Southwest.”

2023 Calculations
WITH the fog of uncertainty in PDP caused by calculations for the 2023 poll, Bauchi State governor, Alhaji Bala Mohammed, paid a court visit to the former Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido.

Governor Mohammed’s visit, which was also followed up by the executives of the Jigawa State PDP caretaker committee, was ostensibly to plead with him not to turn his back on the party and ensure that the north maintains a united front.

But, while the likes of the Bauchi State governor are engaging in quiet diplomacy to stave off the simmering crisis of confidence within the party, the political ambitions of second term governors seem to be a formidable challenge.

Indications of no love lost scenario emerged recently when paths of the PDP 2019 presidential standard-bearer, Atiku and Wike crossed in another less than platonic manner. Atiku, who by virtue of the Port Harcourt convention serves as the leader of the party, posted a goodwill message to Wike on twitter, saying: “Congratulations, on your appointment as chairman of Edo State Governorship Election National Campaign Council of our great party.”

The cold manner with which Wike acknowledged the felicitations from Atiku showed that the Rivers State governor has not shifted his disinclination towards the former vice president. Sources also disclosed that Wike still begrudges Atiku’s decision to leave PDP in 2014, which he believes led to Jonathan’s loss of re-election in 2015.

It is therefore possible that when the sparks begin to fly in the build up to the 2023 general elections, the governor could put up a stonewall against retaining Atiku on the presidential ballot, just as forces that opposed Peter Obi’s choice as running mate would coalesce in a ferocious battle for pre-eminence.