From Fred Itua, Abuja
Two months after former Vice President Atiku Abubakar emerged as the candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he has yet to set up his campaign organisation and structure. He was elected the presidential candidate of the PDP on May 29-30th, 2022, after defeating his closest rival, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and others.
But since his emergence, different blocs in the party, especially Southern leaders had repeatedly protested and insisted that it was the turn of the region to produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor. While efforts are being made to heal the wounds that resulted from the primaries, Atiku is reportedly said to have snubbed governors elected on the platform of the party, who had settled for Wike as his running mate.
Instead, he settled for Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, as his running mate. Since then, the gulf has been widening, with Wike and Atiku’s men throwing jibes at each other. At some point, it was rumoured that Wike had concluded plans to work for the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The rumour received some credibility when South West APC governors visited Wike. They were believed to have been sent by Tinubu.
But the Rivers State governor has since dismissed any plans to ditch his party, the PDP. All the same, he has not fully committed himself to joining Atiku’s team, despite ongoing moves to mend fences with him.
A source said the delay in setting up and take-off of the campaign organisation, is occasioned by the party’s inability to resolve the many crises rocking its ranks and file.
Specifically, the source said many PDP governors are waiting for Wike’s signal before they fully commit themselves to Atiku project. But he expressed worry that the delay is hurting the party. He said as part of the reconciliation moves, Atiku, in consultation with party stakeholders, has decided to name Wike as the Director-General of his campaign organisation. But the source, who is a member of the PDP National Working Committee (NWC), said Wike has not accepted the offer to head the campaign organisation.
He said Atiku has already met with members of the National Assembly elected on the platform of the PDP and will meet with governors this weekend or early next week, where Wike is expected to be in attendance. But so far he has not personally met with the aggrieved man. The NWC member said Atiku is still dragging his feet on the matter. But it warned that Atiku cannot afford to neglect or ignore Wike as he is believed to be a determining factor in securing Southern votes. The source said though Atiku had initially agreed to personally reach out to him, his supporters, especially the national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, are opposed to the idea.
Instead, it was learnt that the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, has been approached to reach out to Wike on behalf of Atiku and the party. Governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, another close ally of Wike, has also been approached to work with Ortom in convincing the Rivers State governor to work with Atiku.
The source revealed that Southern leaders, especially governors, are also asking for the replacement of the national chairman of the PDP, Iyorchia Ayu. They’re asking that his replacement be picked from the South East in order to appease the geopolitical zone. He said the North currently has the presidential candidate, national chairman of the party and chairman of Board of Trustees. He warned that until the the South feels a sense of belonging and is well represented in the leadership of the party, it may not go well with the PDP ahead of the presidential election.
The source explained: “PDP had its presidential primaries before the APC. APC as we know it, had serious crisis before their primaries. They’re still fighting over many issues. But they have gone ahead to set up their campaign structure. But the PDP is yet to come out of its own crisis. Ironically, the PDP crisis is small. It is more of a case of an ego war. Atiku doesn’t want to come down from his high horse and meet the real players who are aggrieved. This is the problem.
“Atiku’s structure in the North is intact for now. But he needs the South to win. He needs the governors. Unfortunately, his running mate, though a governor, doesn’t have any influence over his colleagues. No candidate can win any presidential election without votes from the two regions – North and South. Ask Buhari and he will tell you. He contested three times and failed, until he got the buy-in of the South and the governors too. You can’t win elections without governors of your party. The governors don’t feel belonged. Atiku doesn’t listen to them and that’s not a good sign.”
He counseled Atiku to personally reach out to Wike and wondered aloud: “Can the North give him all the votes he needs? APC may have its own issues, but there is a balance there. First, the PDP abandoned zoning. Now, it wants to isolate the South and expects its leaders to work for it. That may not work.”