From Fred Itua, Abuja
Less than 48 hours after the Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar unveiled Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State as his running mate for next year’s presidential election, new facts have emerged on how power-play knocked off the choice of Nyesom Wike of Rivers State.
This is even as the crack in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governors Forum has widened since the emergence of Atiku as the standard bearer of the party.
Multiple sources familiar with the development told Saturday Sun how various power blocs, especially Northern leaders, spearheaded by Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), pushed for the rejection of Wike, despite the overwhelming support from governors elected on the platform of the party. One of the sources said Wike’s biggest headache was the national chairman of the PDP, Iyorchia Ayu, who had repeatedly accused the Rivers State governor of sponsoring the crises rocking many state chapters of the party. The source listed the crises in PDP state chapters in Edo, Cross River, Ebonyi, Delta and Anambra as allegedly sponsored by Wike.
He said worried by the development, Ayu, who is often seen as pro-North, mobilised leaders in the region to ensure Wike’s defeat at the recently-concluded presidential primaries of the party. He said the last-minute power-play at the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja, venue of the presidential primaries, was spearheaded by Ayu, in conjunction with the Northern leaders who prevailed on Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State to step down for Atiku.
According to the source, who is a member of the PDP National Working Committee (NWC), Ayu, again, mobilised Southern governors who are anti-Wike, led by Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, to scuttle the governors’ push to name Rivers governor as Atiku’s running mate. He revealed that the 19-man committee set up by Atiku to screen possible running mates were given four names. He said out of the 19 members, 16 voted in support of Wike. The NWC member further revealed that seven out of 13 PDP governors also rooted for Wike ahead of Gov Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom, Gov Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta and Gov Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu.
He said when the report was debated by the NWC of the party on Wednesday, Wike also got the endorsement of members to emerge as Atiku’s running mate. The source said the governors and over 80 per cent of NWC members were shocked when Atiku and Ayu jettisoned the popular decision and settled for Okowa. He said the snubbing of governors led to the boycott of the unveiling of Okowa by eight out of 13 governors. He listed Seyi Makinde of Oyo, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Wike of Rivers, Ahmadu Fintiri of Adamawa, Gabriel Ortom of Benue, Tambuwal of Sokoto and Darius Ishiaku of Taraba as governors who didn’t attend the unveiling. Obaseki of Edo, Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom, Douye Diri of Bayelsa, Bala Mohammed of Bauchi and Okowa attended the event. The source explained further: “Okowa was not the first choice of PDP leaders, especially governors. They felt since Wike performed well during the primaries, he should be the running mate to Atiku. That was the arrangement.
“Even members of the committee constituted by Atiku settled for Wike. PDP NWC members settled for Wike. But Ayu and Atiku, without consulting anyone, announced Okowa. The decision has created more crises and if not properly managed, can mess up the chances of the party.
“From what we know, Atiku was not against anyone recommended. But certain forces were vehemently against the choice of Wike, especially Northern leaders. They believe that Wike doesn’t support anything that involves the North and will be a problem.
“But governors and other stakeholders had a different view. For them, Wike was better placed to deliver the South for the PDP. The South East may likely vote for Peter Obi. That leaves the South South and some parts of the South West for the PDP to battle. Governor Makinde is a close ally of Wike and he would have worked well with Ayo Fayose who also supports him, to garner some votes for the PDP in the South West. But with this development, I doubt if the party can appease those aggrieved governors.
“No candidate in Nigeria can win any presidential election without winning Lagos, Kano and Rivers States. They’ve the highest number of votes. PDP is not in charge of Lagos and Kano. If it can’t manage Wike, how will it win Rivers? These are the issues confronting the party right now.
“Even the NWC is divided. Unfortunately, Wike has more loyalists in NWC of the PDP than Atiku. In fact, almost all members of NWC, beside the chairman, are loyal to the state governors. How Atiku will navigate this and unite the party is a test I don’t know how the PDP will pass.”