How Bala’s sneeze forced PDP leaders into precipitate troubleshooting
The presence of immediate past Gombe State governor, Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo in the camp of Governor Nyesom Wike, was noted as a big pointer that all was not well within the Northeast geopolitical zonal caucus of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
But, before the friction that separated Wike’s group from the faction headed by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Bauchi State governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, had complained about Atiku’s interest and participation in the contest for the 2023 PDP presidential ticket.
Bala contended that the former Vice President had had his days in the presidential contest and should therefore support younger and emerging leaders from the zone. Yet, while he was making the strong argument for paradigm change in leadership, most of Atiku’s supporters contended that the Bauchi State governor should concentrate on seeking a second term instead of dabbling into presidential contest. They also expressed the belief that having lost the 2019 presidential contest narrowly to President Muhammadu Buhari, the former Vice President stood a greater chance to win the 2023 presidential poll than Senator Bala.
But, Bala, a former Minister for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), had always had his eyes on national politics, especially after his stay in the Senate was cut short by former President Goodluck Jonathan, who appointed him into the federal cabinet. Even when the Jonathan administration lost the 2015 general election, Bala showed interest in becoming the national chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
It was strongly held that Ahmed Gulak’s decision to drag PDP through court by challenging the office of acting chairman occupied by Prince Uche Secondus, was ostensibly to pave the way for Bala to take over. Gulak had insisted that not only does the PDP constitution not have a place for an acting chairman, but also that the post of national chairman remained zoned to Northeast after the Walin Bauchi, Dr. Adamu Mu’azu, resigned from the office.
Perhaps, knowing that Bala was scheming to run for president, some state governors went to bring in Senator Ali Modu Sheriff (SAS) for the position, in the belief that with a famed deep pocket and grassroots following, the former Borno State governor was better suited to lead PDP to a return electoral contest in 2019.
However, having avoided Bala and his presidential aspiration, the PDP playmakers ran into a bigger problem, because no sooner than Sheriff mounted the saddle as the party’s national chairman, that he started plotting to ride on the horse by himself to the presidential battle.
It was in the ensuing struggle to retrieve PDP from SAS, which was akin to retrieving a glass from a Chipmunk, that the former governing party went to deep crisis leading to the twice postponed national convention that gave rise to Ahmed Makarfi’s appointment as caretaker national chairman.
By the time that PDP returned to near normalcy, Bala has started activating the aspiration to govern Bauchi State. And, with the unwritten convention that only state governors are qualified to seek the party’s presidential ticket, once sworn into office as governor after winning the 2019 gubernatorial poll, Bala, reawakened his presidential dream.
It could be recalled that like Bala, Gombe State governor, Dr. Ibrahim Dankwambo, had aspired to fly the PDP presidential flag in 2019 until Atiku Abubakar crossed over back to PDP from the All Progressives Congress (APC). As at the time the party held its national convention in 2017, Dankwambo and the caretaker chairman, Senator Makarfi, were the two names making the rounds as potential presidential hopeful for the 2019 poll.
Dankwambo’s chances were so bright that it was popularly held that he would run a joint ticket with former Cross River State governor, Mr. Donald Duke, to give APC and President Buhari a run for their money. But, during a consultative meeting, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, who was Atiku’s Director General, pleaded with Dankwambo to step down for the former Vice President, since according to the former Ogun State governor, “you still have time ahead of you.”
It happened that Dankwambo, Makarfi, Sule Lamido, Attahiru Bafarawa and other presidential aspirants, except Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, agreed in principle to step down for Atiku.
With that understanding, it was easy for Atiku to come tops at the Port Harcourt special convention and presidential primary, beating the former Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Tambuwal, who was stoutly supported by Governor Wike.
However, in the build-up to the 2023 general election, Bala believed that the odds favoured him to contest the PDP presidential ticket, more so when benevolent fortitude had placed on the saddle as Bauchi State chief executive, a critical qualification for the contest.
Yet, knowing that Atiku was also oiling his political machinery to participate in the race, the Bauchi State governor, in an overt attempt at de-marketing the former Vice President, declared that Atiku was too old for the office.
As a follow up, and as if to avert the pre-2019 scenario when presidential aspirants were asked to support Atiku’s aspiration, Bala supported a consensus plan by the Northern Elders Forum, led by Prof. Ango Abdullahi. But, noticing the ambush, Atiku opted out of the consensus plan, insisting rather that he should be considered for a right of first refusal to the PDP presidential ticket.
Having moved ahead with the efforts to trim down the number of presidential aspirants from the North, NEF arrived at the names of Bala Mohammed and Saraki. The outcome, which did not favour the Sokoto State governor, caused Tambuwal to stonewall. He downplayed the NEF position that his part of the country, Northwest, has produced two presidents in the current dispensation.
Tambuwal was to play his final card during the PDP presidential primary by stepping down for Atiku, a development that led to the former Vice President’s eventual triumph against Wike.
Ever since Aiku clinched the PDP presidential ticket, the former Vice President failed to come to terms with Bala’s insistence on going the whole hog in contesting against him instead of stepping down, at least for the sake of Northeast zonal solidarity.
But, given that a good general does not fight wars on two fronts, Atiku was forced to retrace his steps by bending down backwards to involve Bala, when the Bauchi State governor complained of being sidelined. Indeed, close of associates of the former Vice President were said to have developed a scheme that could make Bala’s re-election very tough.
Having got wind of the plot against his re-election, especially instances of anti-party behaviour among some PDP stalwarts in Bauchi, Bala fired a letter to the national leaders of the party.
Although sources disclosed that in his letter, the governor wondered why the issue of Iyorchia Ayu should be allowed to divide the party, wondering whether the national chairman was in any way indispensable to the success of PDP in the 2023 poll.
With that ‘sneeze’ Bala’s tactics played out in his favour: He suddenly became a beautiful bride, sought after by both the Wike and Atiku camps, who rushed to Bauchi to gain solidarity and understanding.
First to visit, in what was seen as a troubleshooting plan, was the party’s leadership comprising the national chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, the Director General of the Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign Council, Aminu Tambuwal and former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido.
The delegation, which are known to be against Wike group’s stance on the exit of Ayu, arrived stormed Bauchi on an impromptu visit in a bid to ensure that the crisis rocking party, did not divide the north.
They noted that Governor Mohammed is one of the major national stakeholders that have contributed immensely to the development of PDP, adding that his experience was needed by the party.
“We are here to brief you on some of the developments that are going on in the party, nationally and to seek your wise counsel, because you’re not just the Governor of Bauchi, you’re a leader in this country, very experienced.
“In all the places you have served, you gathered the experience. And, we thought people like you (are needed) in this campaign. From time to time we need to come around and consult, brief you on some things.”
In his response, Governor Bala said he remains loyal member of PDP, stressing, “We believe in this party, because we rose on the back of the party to become what we have become. We know that we came from ANPP (All Nigerian Peoples Party), but certainly whatever we have become it’s courtesy of your party.”
It was a brief meeting, with most of the deliberations held behind closed doors. However, emerging from the meeting, Ayu shunned journalists in a bid to avoid briefing the press on the outcome. But, the host, Bala, disclosed that the delegation was in Bauchi to discuss issues revolving around the party, especially campaign and elections.
“They came to Bauchi to discuss some grey areas as concerns my position as Deputy Director General of the Campaign Council in-charge of the North. It’s not for public consumption and certainly it’s for closing of ranks,” he stated.
But, the governor was relatively more vivacious when Wike led his G5 Integrity Force to Ramat House, Bauchi Government House. Bala told them that he felt their pains as the G5 governors, assuring that he is “highly connected with each one of you.”
Rivers State governor, Wike, displaying the seriousness of an eager suitor, declared: “We come here in solidarity with our friend, the Governor of Bauchi State. We know that he’s running for a second term in office and what we are doing to those of our friends is to find out how things are with them, how the elections are going. This period is to identify with your friends.
“Luckily, four of us that are here are not running for a second term in office, even though they are running for senate, I’m the only one who is not running for election after I failed at the (presidential) primary.
“Going forward, nothing more, but just to fraternise with him. (To see) If there is any area that we can help and advice, because what affects him also affects us. Nothing more than that, just to asay how are you doing and planning.”
While expressing his happiness to receive the G5, but one, Governor Bala noted that he was supposed to be among them, remarking however, with some good humour that “they excommunicated me for some reasons best known to them. But I’m highly connected with them, each and every one of them.”
Continuing, the governor stated: “There is no day that I don’t call to speak with each of them, because in politics, you go with the people that you share something in common.
“The presidency that we ran, where my brother was defeated and he defeated me has brought us close. Of course, at the Governors Forum one thing I appreciate about them is that they look at your challenges even though they are not running for a second term, but they are always worried.
“We have something in common. They know that I have challenges of anti-party, challenges of under acting in some treachery and mischief. Of course, politics is about all these, but when you know that you have people behind you, of that stature and that calibre you feel fulfilled.”
Seyi Makinde, who was said to be away in United States, did not join his colleagues, namely, Wike, Samuel Ortom, Okezie Ikpeazu and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, on the visit. But, given that the presidential election takes place before the governorship, Bala’s fate is tied to a lot of things, particularly integrity of his men in Bauchi, most of whom are inclined towards Atiku.