Friday, 2nd June 2023

Wike’s insurgency politics and PDP’s 2023 challenge

By Editor Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor) Lagos, and Kevin Ebiri (South/South Bureau Chief) Port Harcourt
23 September 2019   |   3:33 am
Recent developments within the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which could be traced to the 2013 mother of all defections and the 2018 national convention, go to show to how challenging the party’s push for 2023 would be.

Governor Nyesom Wike with Governors of PDP at Government House, Port-Harcourt. Photo: TWITTER/SEYIMAKINDE

Recent developments within the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which could be traced to the 2013 mother of all defections and the 2018 national convention, go to show to how challenging the party’s push for 2023 would be. While the former ruling party came back from the cold after a prolonged leadership crisis and litigations between Senators Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Modu Sheriff, the outcome of the elective convention of October 2018 was a mixed bag.

Most chieftains of the party believe that despite the good showing by its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, at the 2019 general elections, it was obvious that PDP did not go into the election as a united force.

Those who attended the Port Harcourt convention where Atiku emerged as presidential standard-bearer, said Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, who preferred the former Speaker of House of Representatives and governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, had to be appeased to accept the outcome of the convention so that the party could confront the ruling APC at the polls. But, as the saying goes, while it is easy to take the dagger from a lad, it is impossible to remove the one in his heart.

Yet, while Wike was said to have buried the hatchet, his colleagues from the Southeast took offense at the presidential candidate’s decision to choose his running mate from their zone without their input.

Although the chairman of Southeast Governors Forum, David Umahi, who voiced the reservations of his brother governors, did not say so, it was gathered that part of the grouse of Southeast governors against the choice of Mr. Peter Obi as Atiku’s running mate was that the former Anambra State governor former joined PDP from All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

In an interview with The Guardian, former Sokoto State governor, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa, had argued that one of the reasons some of the founding members of All Progressives Congress (APC) defected to PDP was because the party opened its arms to receive former governors and chieftains of PDP. Bafarawa noted that by receiving the governors and handing over state structures to the defectors, APC showed that it could accommodate indiscipline, stressing that the PDP stalwarts that joined APC were epitome of indiscipline.

Governor Nyesom Wike with Governors of PDP at Government House, Port-Harcourt. Photo: TWITTER/SEYIMAKINDE

At the build-up to the 2019 general elections, while President Muhammadu Buhari announced his intention to seek a second term, PDP basked in the euphoria of its legal victory against Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and received the former defectors. The returnees swelled the league of presidential aspirants, especially the former governors of Sokoto and Kano States and it was gathered that when PDP started giving serious consideration to the former Vice President, some of the aspirants became disenchanted.

It was that disenchantment that was said to characterise the lack of enthusiastic support of some of the governors, most of who were seeking a second term.

Prior to the bloated number of presidential aspirants, some PDP chieftains said the national caretaker committee chairman, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, was being penciled down as a possible presidential candidate in recognition of his handling of the party while the crisis lasted. Senator Makarfi had told The Guardian that he discharged his responsibilities as caretaker chairman for patriotic reasons, remarking that there was no time he was promised the party’s presidential ticket.

Despite Makarfi’s denial, sources within PDP said the fact that Atiku was left to run the electioneering alone showed that the party did not see him as their expected choice, despite his contributions to it. However, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party, led by Prince Uche Secondus, was said to have called the bluff of the governors by supporting the presidential candidate.

But the ruling of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) provided another opportunity for the forgotten animosities to be exhumed, when Rivers State governor, Wike, sent his congratulatory message to Atiku’s rival, President Buhari, even when the party had indicated interest in appealing the judgment.

Apart from his veiled attacks on governors of Southeast and South/South, who he accused of paying nocturnal felicitations to President Buhari, party sources said Wike believes that the judgment sets the stage for a possible joint ticket with his Sokoto State counterpart, Tambuwal, in 2023.

Wike’s gripe, visit of six ‘young Turks’
The frosty relationship among Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, the PDP and by extension, the national chairman, Uche Secondus, have simmered for some time. But the cold war became public knowledge earlier this month when Wike chided the party for selecting Ndudi Elumelu as the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives. He also called out some PDP governors, who he said were hobnobbing with President Buhari.

Sources indicated that the party had actually chosen Wike’s staunch ally, Kingsley Chinda, who represents Obio-Akpor Federal Constituency of Rivers State, as its candidate for the post of minority leader.

However, a source in PDP told The Guardian that the plot against Chinda started before the House was inaugurated as, according to him, some people within the party felt that Wike was becoming too powerful and that if allowed, he would end up in a position to determine anything going forward.

He said the anti-Wike elements decided to align with minority parties to upset his applecart, adding: “That was why they hatched the plot to checkmate him and the plan against Kingsley Chinda worked out. Governor Wike is angry that Secondus could not rein in Elumelu and his cohorts. But there were also powerful people within PDP, including a former presidential aspirant, who were part of those that did not want Chinda to be minority leader.”

It was also gathered that Governor Wike had encouraged federal lawmakers from Rivers State to vote for Femi Gbajabiamila to emerge as Speaker in the belief that they would in turn support Chinda. But unknown to Gbajabiamila, powerful forces within PDP had rallied other minority parties, including APGA, PRP, AA, SDP, ADC to support Elumelu, who hails from Delta State in the same South-South to clinch the position.

A PDP chieftain in Rivers State, who pleaded anonymity, said the Elumelu issue helped to exacerbate the smoldering relationship between Wike and PDP, trailing the presidential primary, when his preferred candidate and incumbent Sokoto State Governor,  Aminu Tambuwal, was defeated by former Vice President, Abubakar Atiku, in his turf, Rivers State.

Elumelu, whose state’s delegates voted for Atiku during the presidential primary, merely opened a painful wound. Wike had assumed that with PDP holding the presidential primary in his backyard, Port Harcourt, the process could be influenced the same way former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, pull things through for Buhari in 2014.

However, that could not happen. Secondus’ insistence on the transparent process was said to have made it possible for Atiku to emerge the PDP presidential candidate, much to the embarrassment of his governor. The source disclosed that Wike’s camp was convinced that Secondus tactfully backed Atiku.  

Based on these developments, the once seemingly cordial relationship between Wike and Secondus has been strained, even as the source disclosed that it was not likely that Wike would back Secondus for a second term in office as PDP’s national chairman. PDP insiders said Wike is not too comfortable with the seemingly mutual relationship between Atiku and Secondus. There is the assumption that Wike and Tambuwal might be seeking the PDP presidential ticket in 2023 but cannot bank on the loyalty of the national chairman.

Said the source: “If Secondus is going to come back as PDP chairman, he will come back, because the northern PDP wants him not because Wike wants him. So, if Secondus comes back he will not do the bidding of Wike.

“Already, they are having some issues, though nobody is talking about it. They know where their interests are. That is the core contention. Secondus does not want to be seen as Wike’s boy. The governor’s attack on PDP is like trying to indict Secondus. He does not have control over Secondus. The moment Tambuwal lost, Wike assumed Secondus worked against him.”

The source said that just as the governor is not too happy with the national chairman, he is also being careful not to be too confrontational, because of concerns that Secondus could instigate a crisis within the Rivers State PDP executive to undermine Wike’s quest to produce his successor.

Another issue said to be worsening relations between Wike and Secondus, according to the source, is that the national chairman wants his kinsman and former deputy governor, Tele Ikuru, to succeed Wike contrary to the governor’s design.

His words: “Wike is threading carefully with Secondus. There is a kind of cold war going on between Wike and Secondus. Everything boils down to 2023 aspiration. Secondus wants Tele Ikuru to succeed Wike, but the governor does not want him.

“Wike knows that Secondus as chairman will not support his own candidate. So, this calculation is part of the reason delaying the formation of his cabinet. Wike is looking for people that will safeguard his interest, people in the Grassroots Democratic Initiative (GDI), his core political family.

“He is trying to build his cabinet around his core political family. Right now, you see how he congratulated President Muhammadu Buhari. He is still calculating his next move in case PDP wants to thwart his schemes. If he needs to move to another political party, for instance, who are the people that will go with him?  Right now it is a loyalty game.”

A political commentator, George Tonye, said by casting aspersion on some PDP governors for visiting President Buhari at night, Wike was demonstrating hypocrisy. He said the governor’s congratulatory message to Buhari after the tribunal, even while Atiku has vowed to appeal the ruling at the Supreme Court, as well as the rare visit of Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, has fuelled speculation that Wike might defect to APC if his interest in PDP is threatened.

“There are speculations that Wike may move over to APC, but he is trying to be careful. Right now, he has a weakness as second-term governor. It is possible that he may move to APC; he will have to consider his strength.

“Whoever he supports as governorship candidate will create a lot of problems. He knows what happened to Chibuke Amaechi in 2015, how he lost the state, centre, and members of his cabinet to the opposition. He does not want to fall into that trap. That is why he is trying to avoid confrontation with Secondus, for instance.”

Some pundits have argued that Wike prefers to voice dissent rather than quitting the PDP over his current dissatisfaction with the turn of events. The visit of six governors, including Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Emeka Ihedioha, (Imo), Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Mohammad Mattawale (Zamfara), and Umaru Fintri of Adamawa State to Wike has fuelled speculations that they were on damage control mission to prevent his possible defection.

But other sources hinted at possible solidarity to plot ahead for the coming supremacy battle in PDP, particularly given the likelihood of Atiku and Obi seeking another go at the presidency in 2023 in the event that the election petition does not favour them at the Supreme Court.

Although Governor Tambuwal told journalists that the governors were in the state to commend Wike for his track record of achievements in the area of infrastructure, sources said much was left unsaid that would come to light in the days ahead.