The All Progressives Congress (APC) has been preparing for the take-off of the presidential campaigns in relative peace. Its condition appears to be different from that of its main rival, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has been under a storm in the rift between its flagbearer, Atiku Abubakar, and Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike. But a remark on Wednesday by Mr Wike suggests that the tranquillity in the ruling party may also just be a smokescreen.
On Thursday, while commissioning a campus of the Rivers State University in Ahoada East Local Government Area, Mr Wike inevitably dwelt on the crisis in his party. His group had long demanded the resignation of the national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, to correct a regional lopsidedness in the leadership of the PDP. His camp had told Atiku at their meeting in London about two weeks ago that Mr Ayu must cede his position to a southerner before the camp would consider supporting the candidate for next year’s presidential poll.
Mr Wike is also known to be seeking Mr Ayu’s ouster as punishment for his alleged bias in the presidential primary of the party in favour of Atiku. The camp has rejected appeals that the changes in the leadership of the party should be withheld until after the general elections next year.
Atiku had enough
But Atiku appears to have finally had enough of the belligerence of the Wike camp. Last week, he rallied the party behind Mr Ayu and got his supporters across the country, including in Mr Wike’s own territory, to openly back his moves.
Mr Ayu had refrained from exchanging words with the Wike camp while the candidate tried to pacify the governor. But on 31 August, he granted the BBC Hausa Service an interview during which he rejected the call for his ouster, dismissing those making it as children who were not around when he and other leaders formed the party in 1998.
On Thursday, the National Executive Committee of the party finally met and passed a vote of confidence in Mr Ayu, cementing his position. The committee also accepted the resignation of Walid Jibrin as the chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees and his replacement by a former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara.
The National Working Committee of the party also last week accepted a proposal from Atiku for the structure and composition of the campaign organisations of the party for the general elections.
There had also been a report that Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal was also stepping down as the chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum and that Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde would take the position. But Mr Tambuwal later denied the report, although Mr Makinde indicated that he rejected the offer to take the position. Mr Tambuwal is on Atiku’s side in the party crisis while Mr Makinde is an ally of Mr Wike.
PDP NEC Meeting
The party said 397 members of the NEC, including Atiku, former Vice President Namadi Sambo and past national chairmen of the party were accredited for the meeting. But only four of the party’s 13 governors attended, although two others, including Samuel Ortom of Benue, were represented by their deputies. Mr Ortom is an ally of Mr Wike, who also stayed away from the event like his other governor allies – Mr Makinde of Oyo and Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia.
The resolutions of the NEC and other developments in the party last week indicate that the PDP, or Atiku’s side of it, has decided to move on without the Wike group. This is serving Mr Wike and his camp an ultimatum to join the train or be left behind.
It is noteworthy that some leaders of the party in the South who are not associated with Mr Wike have found their voices to decry the River governor’s perceived excesses. One of them is Mr Ayu’s immediate predecessor, Uche Secondus. Mr Secondus had been prodded to the chair by his friend and associate in Rivers, Mr Wike. But he had also been removed last year, a few months before the end of his four-year term, following a rift with the same Mr Wike. For several years now, there had been no love lost between the erstwhile friends. Mr Secondus’ statement may be a signal for others in and outside Rivers who had been tolerating the governor to speak out towards isolating him.
Atiku doubles down
Speaking on Saturday on ARISE NEWS Channel, a spokesperson of the Atiku campaign organisation, Charles Aniagwu, defended the decision of the NEC to stand by Mr Ayu. He argued that removing him would have created a constitutional crisis that could snowball into greater problems for the opposition party.
“That greater crisis is what the ruling APC is waiting to happen but the leadership of the party is intelligent enough and am happy that Governor Nyesom Wike and other leaders appreciate the need for the party to move as a whole into the 2023 general election.”
He denied that the recent developments amounted to snubbing the Rivers governor. “People may misinterpret it to mean calling the bluff of certain stakeholders but that is far from it because the party leadership examined the issues vis-a-vis the provisions of the party’s constitution as amended in 2017,” he explained.
Mr Aniagwu further argued that the resignation of Mr Jibrin as BOT chairman and his replacement by Adolphus Wabara have redressed the imbalance complained about by the Wike camp.
“The emergence of Wabara in the South to join the vice presidential candidate and National Secretary had created some form of balance in the interim. But what is most important is that there is a bigger elephant here which is winning the 2023 general elections because Nigerians are looking up to the PDP to rescue the nation from where we are at the moment,” he said.
However, the governor has vowed to fight on. On Saturday, he said the confidence vote passed on Mr Ayu by the party’s NEC had no effect on the agitation of his camp.
Speaking at a reception held in Port Harcourt for defectors into the PDP, the governor said: “I was listening and watching; they said there is one man they called Secondus. They said he was dancing, celebrating that NEC gave their person a vote of confidence. He forgets history.
“Ask him if the same NEC through Aliyu Babangida moved a motion of vote of confidence supported by the same person, Ndudi Elumelu. They gave you (Secondus) a vote of confidence; what happened? You left office. We don’t fight and go back. If you like you can have as many as 20 votes of confidence; it’s not my business. My business is to make sure the right thing is done, and the right thing must be done – whether today or tomorrow.”
It may be premature to declare that both sides have crossed the Rubicon. Mr Ayu last week announced that a delegation of the NWC led by his deputy would be going to Port Harcourt to see the governor. He also assigned Mr Wabara to see through the reconciliation process.
With the campaigns opening in just over two weeks, members of Mr Wike’s camp would have to decide quickly whether to cease fire or how far they can go in punishing Atiku without hurting the candidates of the party in their own states.
But Mr Wike seemed only to be eager to assure his own candidates that they would not be caught in the crossfire of the fight. At Saturday’s event in Port Harcourt, he said: “If God gives you the ticket of PDP in this state, go home and sew your cloth for the inauguration day. Because what will any Rivers man or woman be saying that he or she wants to vote for any other person in Rivers State?”
As for Atiku, he has so far refused to give such assurance of the fidelity of voters in his vote-rich state, which had consistently voted for the party by large margins since 1999.
Plot against Tinubu
In his first reaction to the vote of confidence by the PDP NEC, Mr Wike had described Mr Ayu as arrogant for refusing to resign. Speaking on Thursday while commissioning a Campus of the Rivers State University in the Ahoada East Local Government Area of the state, he also blamed Atiku for the situation.
“Why are they being so arrogant? I can tell you, they are arrogant because they believe somebody in the presidency is backing them. But what they don’t understand is that the same person at the presidency backed someone during the APC presidential primary and the person failed. I will tell Nigerians at the appropriate time who that person at the presidency that is backing them and making them arrogant,” he said.
That remark suggests that at least one of the powerful figures around President Buhari remains not keen about a Tinubu presidency. It is possible that Mr Wike made the remark merely to taunt the PDP candidate on the risk of heading to next year’s poll without his support. But an appraisal of developments in the APC leading to the party’s own presidential primaries would reveal how some shadowy figures in the presidency had made their best efforts to stop Mr Tinubu from coasting to the party’s presidential ticket.
From the moment in February when he declared his bid, the former Lagos governor and titular national leader of the party was tipped as the man to beat in the race. In fact, one of his main challengers told a PREMIUM TIMES reporter before the convention that everybody else was in the race in the hope of winning President Buhari’s anointing. “I have gone round the states too to meet our party delegates but that is just to fulfil all righteousness. Nobody on his own can beat Tinubu,” the aspirant told the reporter in early June. And so it eventually turned out.
Adamu and the cabal
It was the reason that every measure the party took to expand participation in the primary, make it competitive or to manipulate it, seemed targeted at Mr Tinubu. After Abdullahi Adamu emerged as national chairman of the party in March and began to mince his words on what had been thought to be settled issues such as mode of primaries and zoning, he was quickly dubbed the hatchet man of the figures in the presidency thought to be determined to impose a different candidate on the APC.
Mr Adamu, who himself had been prodded to his top party position by the presidency cabal, would later prove those who suspected his intentions right when he eventually tried to sell the party’s National Working Committee the dummy that Senate President Ahmad Lawan was President Buhari’s anointed candidate.
He had shown his hands in earlier shenanigans such as the continuous extension of the sale and submission of the party’s nomination forms and the efforts to lure non-members of the party such as former President Goodluck Jonathan, CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele and African Development Bank’s President, Akinwunmi Adesina, into the race. He had also been publicly hostile to Mr Tinubu, threatening to have him punished for his outburst in Abeokuta a few days to the primary, in which the seemingly frustrated aspirant made derisive comments about Mr Buhari.
But it is known that Mr Adamu was never acting his own script, as he is deemed the agent of the so-called shadowy cabal exercising the authority but not the responsibility of the president from behind the scene. Many incredible things have been ascribed to the cabal over the past seven years, so Mr Wike’s allegation of a promise to manipulate the election for the main opponent of the president’s party may seem par for the course with them.
More so that Atiku is from the same side of the country as Mr Lawan whom they had failed to spirit onto the saddle at the APC primaries.
Interestingly, Mr Tinubu had on Thursday found himself debunking, as a rumour, a report of a rift between himself and Mr Adamu.
“To the rumour manufacturers, I read in some papers about a disagreement between myself and the chairman and that was a very big lie. They didn’t know that we have come a long way. The big masquerade dance not in the cage but the market square.
“And that is what Adamu use to be, full of wisdom, we were governors together before God put us together on this project again. He is going to deliver as the Chairman of the party for me to become the president of Nigeria. And I am very confident of that,” the candidate said to journalists.
Buhari and Atiku
Some observers have pointed out that Messrs Buhari and Atiku are not foes despite their years of political differences and rivalry, noting for example the role the former vice president reportedly played last August in Kano State at the wedding of the only son of the president, Yusuf Buhari, to Zahra Bayero, a daughter of the Emir of Bichi, Nasiru Ado Bayero.
Pictures of Yusuf Buhari and Atiku’s son leaning in to speak with the former vice president during the wedding Fatiha had set tongues wagging on social media, with captions that Atiku had stood in as the father of the groom. A fact check by Daily Trust newspaper later found the claim to be false, as Maman Daura, President Buhari’s nephew, stood in for Mr Buhari during the wedding and also received the bride on behalf of the president.
However, past developments have shown that many of the political moves made in the name of the president were actually not by him or even to his knowledge, which should offer Mr Tinubu little comfort.