These are certainly not the best of times for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the flag bearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) at the 2023 presidential election. At 75 years old, Atiku knows he is playing his last card as far as seeking the highest office in the land is concerned. The Waziri Adamawa has been at this game for a long time but it is now evident that the winter season has set in for his political career.
The drama that played out during the PDP presidential primary is creating multiple headaches for Atiku in different ways. You would recall that Sokoto state governor, Aminu Tambuwal, stepped down for Atiku at the very last minute when the die was cast.
Tambuwal was prompted by some northern power brokers in what appeared to be a rescue move to give Atiku the advantage over Nyesom Wike, Rivers state governor, another presidential aspirant who also wanted the ticket. It turned out that Atiku and Wike deployed heavy war chest during the primary in Abuja but the Tambuwal move resulted in a checkmate for Atiku. Wike’s “kingship” was checkmated.
After Atiku’s victory, the party’s chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, in a fit of exuberant excitement and expression of jubilation which was a curious way to indicate bias, hailed Tambuwal as the “hero” of the party’s convention. That was mistake number one.
Wike was a strong contender for the presidential ticket and he came to Abuja, fully prepared. Prior to the PDP primary, the issue of zoning dominated the headlines, with the southern governors asking that the party’s presidential candidate should come from the southern region.
PDP’s deliberate strategy was to field a candidate from the north because, from their political permutation, the leadership of All Progressives Congress (APC) would zone the party’s presidential ticket to the south which was what eventually happened after initial doubts followed by a tug-of-war.
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Zoning the party’s ticket to the south was not going to help Atiku’s presidential ambition because he knew this was his best chance to become president. Wike and other southern governors insisted that the ticket must be southbound. Atiku and his allies had to act fast to gain the upper hand in spite of the formidable challenge posed by Wike. That was why Tambuwal stepped down for Atiku.
Since then, Wike has been angry but the PDP leadership missed a great opportunity for healing and reconciliation. It was mistake number two. Wike is not a small fry within the party and he is feeling betrayed, and justifiably so.
The chorus of betrayal has been amplified by Samuel Ortom, the governor of Benue state, and Ayodele Fayose, former Ekiti state governor. Their position is that Wike has been unfairly treated after standing up strongly for PDP over the years.
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In an Arise News television interview recently, Ortom did not hide his support for Wike and blamed Atiku for picking Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta state, as his running mate when a committee was set up by the party recommended that Wike should be Atiku’s running mate. According to Ortom, 14 out of 17 members of the committee voted in favour of Wike to become the vice-presidential candidate of the party.
So where did Wike go wrong? Is PDP being fair to him? Honestly, I don’t think so. What played out in Atiku’s mind before he settled for Okowa? It is only Atiku that can answer this question. I find it difficult to understand why he did not reach out to Wike – who is still hurting – for a compromise solution before he jetted out to Turkey for a highly publicised vacation.
Wike is back and I hope he rested well and enjoyed the picturesque scenes of Istanbul, the historic city straddling Europe and Asia.
Wike has also been hobnobbing with Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra state and presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), and Rabiu Kwankwaso, former governor of Kano state and presidential candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP). What does that tell you? A lot of negotiation and horse-trading takes place in politics and mind you, politicians have a way of springing up surprises. Let us continue to monitor the news.
It appears PDP and Atiku do not know that Wike has the capacity and capability to mess up the party and hurt their electoral chances next year, which will be to APC’s advantage. How do you pacify a man like Wike who is sometimes loud for a purpose?
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Although Ortom argued in the television interview that Wike was betrayed, the Rivers state governor and financier of PDP since the party was kicked out of Abuja in 2015, should not see himself as the “godfather” of PDP. Wike’s grandstanding and support for PDP may have given him sufficient leverage within the party but they have also created a false sense of entitlement.
This perhaps explains why he fell out with Godwin Obaseki, the governor of Edo state, when they should be closing ranks as colleagues after PDP literally snatched victory from the jaws of defeat during the highly contested 2020 gubernatorial election in Edo state which Obaseki won as a candidate of PDP after switching camp from APC at the last minute.
The option of Wike quitting the party is clearly not yet on the table because he wants to hold on to Rivers state as much as he can. This can only be possible if PDP wins the 2023 governorship election in the state.
The Rivers state governor said he will not plant a surrogate or impose a successor, but isn’t that what outgoing governors say? Who will believe him? Yet, Wike wants someone who is “courageous, firm and ready to protect the interest of Rivers state” to succeed him.
Wike has a larger-than-life image in PDP nationwide. When the governor sneezes in Rivers state, everyone catches a cold. In our politics of prebendalism, politicians look for ways to remain relevant and go as far as enthroning the culture of godfatherism to advance their selfish interests.
Fayose clearly has an axe to grind with his colleagues in PDP. He vowed that he will not support Atiku’s presidential ambition and insisted power must shift to the south since President Muhammadu Buhari – who would be completing two terms of eight years next year – is from the north.
When it is convenient, politicians jettison zoning of the presidency at a drop of the hat. Leaders of the dominant parties, APC and the opposition PDP, must understand that rotating and sharing political power between the northern and southern regions of the country minimises social tension. Society cannot make progress in the absence of fairness, equity, transparency and accountability.
With the Osun state gubernatorial elections in view, Atiku’s headaches are increasing daily. As presidential flag bearer, Atiku is the leader of the party but he is hamstrung by the crisis of confidence that is tearing the PDP apart.
When the party leadership decided in their wisdom to send 13 governors to Osun state last week ahead of the election, 11 governors backed out of the mission “to win Osun state at all cost”.
Having lost the Ekiti state governorship election last month to APC, PDP is not ready to lose Osun state because the back-to-back loss would amount to a humiliating and crushing defeat and a bad omen for the presidential contest in 2023.
Now that some governors have staged a revolt against the party, there’s fire on the mountain. PDP is clearly at crossroads and the earlier the party puts its act together, the better. What the party needs right now is not just gallons of water to quench the raging fire but righting the wrongs within the party.
As if the aforementioned troubles are not enough, former President Olusegun Obasanjo – whom I affectionately call ‘Baba Iyabo’ – poured more gallons of petrol into the fire with his unkind comment on Atiku last week. It is the equivalent of an “uppercut” in boxing, with Atiku still struggling to get up because of the devastating effect of the punch.
At the finals of a national exhibition and awards event which featured presentations and exhibitions by students from secondary schools at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta, Obasanjo re-echoed a familiar line.
Answering a question posed by one of the students on the mistakes he made in the past as a Nigerian (military and civilian) leader, Baba Iyabo said one of the mistakes he made was picking former vice president Atiku as his running mate in 1999 on the platform of PDP.
From a public relations standpoint, the comment by Obasanjo is a damaging testimonial and it could erode political capital for Atiku. When your boss gives you a low-performance appraisal score at work, don’t expect any promotion; in fact, you could actually lose your job.
PDP is worried and they promised to “fight” back. What the former president said is not new; it shows that the relationship between him and Atiku has not improved.
In his book, ‘My Watch’, a trilogy, Obasanjo stated that Atiku cannot be trusted because he betrayed him as his vice president.
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Ehi Braimah is a public relations strategist and publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times.