Atiku Abubakar
All is not well with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). A raging storm may scupper the chances of the main opposition party in the 2023 general elections, especially the presidential election if broken fences within the party are not mended before the elections.
The party had appeared more organised and better prepared than the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) when its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, announced his running mate almost immediately after he won the primary. But all that seems now a facade as there are so many issues disrupting the fragile unity of the party.
The APC, Labour Party and the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) first used ‘placeholder’ vice-presidential candidates and pending the final substitution which must happen before July 15, the deadline set for such by INEC. The APC and LP have, however, now announced the official running mates for the election.
Mr Abubakar, a former vice president, had announced, on June 16, the Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as his vice-presidential candidate, two weeks after his own emergence as the flag bearer of the PDP on May 28, thus, putting the lid on speculations on who his running mate would be ahead of the 2023 elections.
The choice of Mr Okowa, a medical doctor and outgoing two-term governor of Delta State of the South-south geo-political zone has, however, triggered an eruption now threatening to tear the party apart and put its chances in 2023 in great jeopardy, if not nipped in the bud.
Before the announcement of Mr Okowa as his pick for VP, Mr Abubakar in consultation with the party had empanelled a 17-person committee which comprised the governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, and others, to screen and recommend a vice-presidential candidate from a short list of three persons – Governors Nyesom Wike, Ifeanyi Okowa and Emmanuel Odom – respectively.
The committee, from sources privy to the internal voting process, recommended Mr Wike to Mr Abubakar as his vice-presidential candidate.
Mr Wike, this newspaper reported, polled 14 votes to defeat his closest rival, Mr Okowa, who scored three votes when the committee put the decision to vote.
However, much to the chagrin of the majority of committee members and some top shots of the party, Mr Abubakar chose Mr Okowa, saying he is the person he could work with as his deputy and a ‘president-in-waiting’ should he win the presidential election.
This newspaper is aware that the choice of Mr Okowa has created two major factions in the PDP – the Atiku Abubakar faction and the Nyesom Wike faction, even as the hope of bridging the gulf created by the backlash of Mr Abubakar’s choice of VP is still hanging in the balance.
PREMIUM TIMES had also reported how the former Vice President had reached out through an emissary, a former Police Affairs Minister, Adamu Waziri, to talk on his behalf with Mr Wike, who, at the time, was holidaying in Turkey with the governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu. Mr Waziri, who later denied that he was sent by the former VP, confirmed that he met with Mr Wike in the Eastern European country.
The Rivers helmsman reportedly shunned Mr Waziri, thereby shutting the door against Mr Abubakar’s plea for reconciliation.
So far, Mr Wike seems to have more sympathy on his side, going by the number of PDP big wigs, including some governors and ex-governors, rooting for him. It is understood that these chieftains believe Mr Abubakar has not treated Mr Wike very well despite coming second in the primaries and his recommendation as VP by the committee.
They believe Mr Wike as VP to Mr Abubakar will be a massive asset to the party in terms of mobilising and galvanising Nigerians to vote for the party in the forthcoming general elections. Their belief is predicated on the huge contributions of the Rivers governor to the party through thick and thin across the political firmament of the country.
Firing the first salvo was Mr Ortom, who implored Mr Abubakar to find a way to placate Mr Wike. When Mr Ortom was asked if he would support the party’s presidential candidate in the 2023 election on a live TV programme monitored by this newspaper, he said he was still in hibernation, “fasting and praying” about whom he would support.
Analysts and political observers have interpreted Mr Ortom’s response to mean that he is not on the same page with Mr Abubakar. This newspaper knows that the Benue State governor has a cosy relationship with his Rivers State counterpart.
It is the same thing for a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, who has not hidden where he belongs: in Mr Wike’s camp. In a telephone interview with this newspaper, Mr Fayose said whatever Mr Wike does is what he and his supporters will do. He also insisted that it is the turn of the southern zones of Nigeria to produce the president.

Jonah Jang, a former governor of Plateau State and the leader of the PDP in the state, has also called on Mr Abubakar and the leadership of the party to address alleged injustice against Mr Wike, expressing displeasure at the processes that led to Mr Okowa’s choice as deputy to Mr Abubakar.
Mr Jang lamented that the ongoing discordance within the party, a situation that has led some top shots of the party to distance themselves from the party with some openly speaking against it, was capable of further pulling the party apart if genuine efforts are not made to reconcile the warring tendencies by the party.
To underscore Mr Jang’s fear, only two of the 13 governors of the party already pencilled down by the national leadership of the party to be on the national campaign council of the PDP gubernatorial candidate in Osun State, Ademola Adeleke, showed up when the council was inaugurated. While Mr Okowa and his Taraba State counterpart, Darius Ishaku, attended, the remaining 11 stayed away, offering no explanation for their noticeable absence.
Aside from the emergence of Atiku Abubakar, a northerner, as the presidential candidate of the party, the current configuration of the national leadership of the party is tilting more toward the northern aisle of the opposition party.
The national chairman of the party, Iyorchia Ayu, is from the north, the chairman of its Board of Trustees, Walid Jubrin, is also from the north, while the deputy national chairman of the party (north), Umar Damagun,
who is to act as the national chairman in case Mr Ayu is not available, is also a northerner.
This apparent lopsidedness in the party has further polarised the party along the southern and northern divides.
Mr Ayu had emerged as the national chairman at the national convention of the party in October last year following the removal of Uche Secondus, a southerner from Rivers State.
The convention in the party is that the presidential candidate of the party and its national chairman do not come from the same region of the country.
For this decades-old convention to be sustained, Mr Ayu has to resign to pave the way for a southerner to lead the party into the 2023 elections and beyond.
Meanwhile, Mr Ayu had promised in 2021 to resign as the national chairman of the party should the presidential candidate emerge from the north, to give way for geopolitical balancing in the party.
In an interview with the Vanguard newspaper on October 24, 2021, when asked if he would step down as the chairman of the party should a northerner emerge as the presidential candidate of the party, Mr Ayu said: “if the PDP says I should step down after a presidential candidate emerges from the north, I will be very glad to do so because what we want is to take over the government and run the government in the interest of Nigerians. So, I’ll sacrifice anything to ensure that my party wins.”

However, weeks after the emergence of Mr Abubakar as the presidential candidate, he is yet to resign from his position.
As a pre-condition for a truce in the party, Mr Wike’s camp has already demanded the resignation of Mr Ayu, though this newspaper reported that Mr Abubakar is backing him to stay on. Messrs Ayu and Abubakar have been political associates for years, dating back to the aborted Third Republic.
Aligning itself with the position of Mr Wike’s camp, the Kano State chapter of the party has also called for the resignation of Mr Ayu.
The state chairman of the party, Shehu Sagagi, on Tuesday, reminded Mr Ayu of the promise he made in Bauchi in 2021 to step down as the chairman of the party should someone from the north win the presidential ticket of the party for a southerner to lead the party.
Mr Sagagi, while pledging the loyalty of the Kano chapter of the party to Mr Abubakar, however, said a southerner must now step in as the chairman of the party in the spirit of equity, fairness, justice and geopolitical balancing.
Meanwhile, weighing on the raging call for Mr Ayu’s resignation, a chieftain of the party from Kano State has said there is nothing wrong with Mr Ayu keeping his position.
Yunusa Dangwani, on Wednesday, according to the Daily Independent, denied that Mr Ayu made a promise to step down should a northerner become the presidential candidate of the party.
Mr Dangwani said “To set the record straight, Dr Ayu never made such a promise. What he said after he was jointly nominated for the national chairmanship – after some engagements by senior party stakeholders from the three zones from the north, was that he will step aside as national chairman to allow for a chairman of southern extraction once a northern presidential candidate emerges and wins the presidential election. It is instructive that Sagagi was one among five leaders from Kano State present at that occasion.”
Mr Dangwani, a former governorship aspirant in the state, however, maintained that “There is a precedent in this matter. In 2006/07, our party was led by Sen Ahmadu Ali as National chairman like Dr Ayu, Sen Ali is from the North Central, while President Yar’Adua emerged as the presidential candidate of the party. He was from the Northwest zone. Interestingly it was the Sen Ahmadu Ali NWC that led the Yar’adua/Jonathan presidential campaign up to the point of the election, the inauguration of the new president and the formation of the new federal government.“
He said it was months after the Yar’Adua-led government had firmly been put in place before the Ahmadu Ali-led NWC resigned to allow for new leadership to emerge at a Special National Convention. The convention produced Vincent Ogbulafor from the south as the National Chairman, and Abubakar Kawu Baraje as National Secretary, among others.
Perhaps, Mr Ayu is exploring the privilege of the precedent canvassed by Mr Dangwani to hang in so that he can help Mr Abubakar win the presidential election and then resign for someone from the south to take over the leadership of the party.
But there is a challenge: What if Mr Abubakar wins and Mr Ayu refuses to resign? What’s unclear at the moment is if Mr Wike’s faction and others opposed to Mr Ayu will give him the latitude to trudge on as the chair of the party. It is a knotty issue that requires tact and intelligence to resolve.
However, the chairperson of the PDP’s Board of Trustees, Walid Jibrin, has said a move was being made to reconcile Mr Wike and other aggrieved stakeholders of the party before the 2023 election.
To that end, he said the party had constituted a high-powered team, including Mr Abubakar, to midwife the reconciliation process. How soon the team will swing into action and how it pursues the mandate will determine the outcome of the peace move and the impact it will have on the party and its chances in the 2023 general elections.
Mr Jibrin, who spoke on Monday, said the party lost the Ekiti gubernatorial election last month because of the disunity in the party, saying for the party to have a chance in the 2023 elections, it must be a formidable and united political family.
“We in PDP know how to solve our problems. We know that Governor Nyesom Wike may not be happy. It is the intention of this party to constitute a reconciliation committee that will meet Wike to talk to him, appeal to him, and pray that he will not leave our party,” he said.
Mr Jibrin called Mr Wike “a great man who has been fighting for the party, and the party will not want to see him move to another party.”
“We will all visit Wike together and if it means kneeling to Wike, we will kneel for him.
“We respect him. We respect his integrity and honesty in supporting the PDP. It is our belief that in any contest, there must be a winner and a loser,” he said.
He also said the PDP will meet with all the persons who participated in the primaries to placate them and ensure they all work jointly for the party.
One of the campaign bullets of Mr Abubakar is that he has the Midas touch to unite Nigerians across the board. He is always proclaiming himself as ‘Mr Unifier,’ yet it remains a big contradiction that as the race to 2023 begins to gather momentum, he is yet to unite and unify the warring factions in his party – the PDP.
To begin the unification within, Mr Abubakar has to placate Mr Wike and bring him fully to his side. That will be the first step to halting the raging storm threatening to consume the party before the general elections.
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