Contrary to the decision of pro-Wike governors not to identify with the presidential campaign of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, many stalwarts in their states are mobilizing for their presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
The party faithful, whose positions are not going down well with their governors, have started setting up pro-Atiku structures to be used in campaigning for the former number two-man and his running mate, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa.
Their decision, Sunday Vanguard learned, was informed by factors which mainly include post and pre-primaries intra-party crises and fear of losing House of Assembly, Senate and House of Representatives elections in 2023.
In Rivers, Benue, Abia, Oyo and Enugu findings by Sunday Vanguard show that Governors Nyesom Wike, Samuel Ortom, Seyi Makinde, Okezie Ikpeazu and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi respectively are making real their threat of not identifying with Atiku’s campaign as they haven’t put any structure on the ground to that effect.
However, several party chieftains are already working for Atiku and Okowa despite the opposition of the state governors.
Some of the chieftains, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, said they were already putting together Presidential Election Campaign Councils in their respective states regardless of the position of their governors who have vowed not to campaign for Atiku.
The governors, led by Wike, had said until the PDP National Chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, steps down, they won’t support Atiku for President.
They had together and individually, at several fora, said Ayu must resign for a southerner to emerge as Chairman.
The five governors carried out their threat with the boycott of the inauguration of PDP Presidential Campaign in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
The Wike group members earlier stayed away from the inauguration of the party’s Presidential Campaign Council last month.
Wike, who was a presidential aspirant of the party but became aggrieved after losing the ticket to Atiku and the VP slot to Okowa, is leading a group of party loyalists demanding Ayu’s exit to achieve a “regional balance” since Ayu and Atiku are both from the North.
But the National Chairman has insisted he would not resign, saying he was elected for a four year-term.
It was for this reason that the governors distanced themselves from the party’s presidential campaign.
Findings in their states showed that party members, especially elders, are sympathetic to the Atiku/Okowa cause.
In Benue, unlike Ortom, most party members are not opposed to Atiku/Okowa ticket.
Party leaders and faithful at all levels have been going about galvanising support for candidates ahead of the 2023 general elections.
But one noticeable feature in the campaigns and activities of the party is the fact that nothing seems to be happening on the side of government to suggest that it is backing the candidature of Atiku.
The PDP government and the party secretariat have been silent on any form of campaign for Atiku.
The development clearly indicates that though Benue PDP is going about its activities to seek the mandate of the people for all other elective positions, that of the President is left unattended until the leader of the party, Ortom, gives the go-ahead.
Regardless of that, some PDP support groups are mobilising for Atiku in the state. Atiku Grassroots Movement, AGM, is one of them.
The group, which came into being some months back, was convened by a former Chairman of Benue Internal Revenue Service, BIRS, Mr. Terzungwe Atser, who, with the support of others, has set up the state office where their activities are being coordinated.
The Convener of the movement has been able to gather some other important personalities including former Local Government Council chairmen and former political appointees as well as several others to drum up support for the candidature of Atiku.
The group is making efforts to have its presence felt in all parts of the state with the recent inauguration of local government wings.
It urged its members to swiftly move into the hinterland and canvass support for the Atiku presidency.
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard on efforts to galvanise support for the PDP presidential candidate, Atser said:”So far, we are in the process of setting up the structures statewide.
“We have put up the structures at the state levels, local government levels and zonal levels. “Last Monday, we held a meeting and charged the local government officials to set up structures at the sub-ward levels.
“We plan that in a week we will be going around to inaugurate the structures at the local government and ward levels.
“We have no hitches whatsoever. We have set up an office in Makurdi already. Individually some people are setting up offices in their local government areas. We are sponsoring our activities.
“But just like any other support group, we are expecting assistance and support from the national secretariat.
“I am a card-carrying member of the PDP, so I have to support my party. I am convinced that among the candidates vying for the position of president of this country, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is the best candidate and has a better idea of repositioning Nigeria.’’
Similarly, Ayu’s kinsmen under the aegis of Jemgbagh Development Association, have threatened political consequences against Ortom should he continue aligning with those seeking to force him to resign.
The threat was contained in the text of a press conference read by the President of the association, Terver Felix Abor.
Abor accused the governor of pursuing a deliberate attempt to undermine the people of Jemgbagh namely: “The honourable Minister (of Special Duties), Dr. George Akume, the former Senate President, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, and Senator Orker Jev.”
He further said:”We are disheartened that the governor who wants to be a senator for Zone B of Benue State comprising Jemgbagh and MINDA will involve himself among those destroying a Jamgbagh son, Ayu.’’
Party stakeholders in Enugu were found to be supportive of their presidential candidate. Some who spoke on condition of anonymity told Sunday Vanguard that Ugwuanyi’s alignment with Wike’s stance is personal and not the position of the entire PDP members in the state.
They said it’s very unlikely that they would abandon the PDP presidential campaign because of Wike, who they said is fighting for himself and not the South.
For instance, the party’s governorship candidate, Mr Peter Mba, while fielding questions from newsmen, last Friday, said he had no reason not to support PDP in all elections.
Also, people like former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dubem Onyia, are known core supporters of Atiku.
“Our governor knows why he is aligning with Wike. The Rivers governor is not fighting for the South. He is fighting for his interest. Why should we align with such a person simply because he lost the party ticket? Enugu PDP members are for Atiku.
“Wike, after driving Peter Obi out of the party, wants to destroy the PDP. When the campaigns begin, we would see if Wike owns Enugu PDP or the people,” one of the party members, who spoke anonymously to Sunday Vanguard, said.
Party leaders in Rivers State, who have sympathy for Atiku, haven’t relented in their support.
This is despite continuous attacks on their interests by Wike.
For instance, many of the leaders defied the governor and attended the inauguration of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council in Uyo.
Those who attended the Uyo event include Senator George Sekibo, Rivers East Senator Lee Maeba, Mr Abiye Sekibo, Prince Uche Secondus and Celestine Omehia.
South-West PDP, which includes Oyo State, had pledged to collectively support and work towards the victory of Atiku and Okowa in the 2023 presidential poll.
This was disclosed by the Publicity Secretaries of the PDP in Ondo, Osun, Ogun, Ekiti states.
However, some party members, who pleaded anonymity, said they may be forced to vote for any presidential candidate of their choice.
“Oyo is a peculiar state and we have to be careful not to lose to the All Progressives Congress, APC, in this state”, a chieftain from Oyo who spoke anonymously to Sunday Vanguard, said.
“We can’t lose this state because of Governor Wike. As much as we love our governor, we can’t abandon our presidential candidate. It might affect the party’s chances in other elective positions”.
Despite Abia State governor’s membership of the Wike-led group, Atiku’s supporters in Abia are going ahead with their support for the PDP presidential hopeful.
Sunday Vanguard also learned that irrespective of his alliance with the camp, Governor Ikpeazu is fully supporting Atiku in the state.
The state Coordinator of Atiku Presidential Campaign Council, Chief Charles Ogbonnaya, told Sunday Vanguard there is nothing to suggest that Ikpeazu is against Atiku.
He said Atiku’s supporters in Abia still enjoy the full backing of the governor.
This, however, may be strange to some political watchers who have been following developments in the party between both camps.
His words:” As far as I know, the governor has not in any way shown me a sign of not supporting Atiku.”
Ogbonnaya, who is known for his outspokenness and open criticism of the governor, told Sunday Vanguard that so far, Ikpeazu has shown Atiku’s supporters care and encouragement.
He said:” As far as I’m concerned, he is doing well. The other day when we went to Uyo to flag off Atiku’s presidential campaign, we had the full support of the governor although he was not present.
“The governorship candidate of our party, Prof. Uche Ikonne, was there. That the governor did not come is not a big deal. Ikpeazu is fully supporting Atiku’s presidential campaign.’’
Ogbonnaya who is a former Commissioner in Abia, further explained that despite being in Wike’s camp, Ikpeazu has not in any way antagonised or sabotaged Atiku’s supporters in Abia.
“The slogan of our governor is five over five. You know me very well that I will always tell the truth. I confronted the governor and the responses he gave me were favourable. So, I have not seen cause to doubt him. As a party, the PDP family in Abia is one and united,” he added.
The former Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of the Deputy Governor, said Governor Ikpeazu had already asked him to get him the budgetary plan for two major upcoming outings of the former Vice President in Abia.
He said:” After my interactions with the governor, he asked us to prepare a budget of the things we plan to do in our state for Atiku. We are meeting soon to draw up the budget estimate, and I believe he will never shy away from it.”
Ogbonnaya had, a few weeks ago, openly criticised Ikpeazu for being too attached to Wike.
He had sought to know if the governor was Wike’s Personal Assistant, PA, accusing him of pursuing his interest at the expense of the entire state.
Ogbonnaya’s position appears as a signal that the PDP in Abia may have fully united for Atiku’s victory in 2023.
Meanwhile, a pro-Atiku senator, who is known for his opposition to the agitation of Wike-led group, Senator Chris Ekpenyong, has called on Ayu to resign, saying his decision not to quit may likely lead to an unfavourable outing for the PDP.
Ekpenyong, who represents Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District in the Senate, said Atiku should stop listening to those telling him the party can win without Wike.
He said this in an exclusive piece made available to Sunday Vanguard.
His words: “I want to also appeal to our presidential candidate to listen to the voice of reasoning and the voice of other lovers of the party who also want him to win the 2023 presidential election.
He should not just listen to those who are telling him there is no problem, they can win without Wike and other governors.
As a man who has been in politics for so long, he knows politics is a game of numbers. And every state counts in this game, especially now that votes will count because of the new electoral law.
‘’I want to plead with Atiku to review the demands of the five governors. We shouldn’t take their agitation for granted for it could lead to unimaginable harm. And our chances of winning next year’s election may be affected greatly.
“If truly he is coming to unify Nigeria and listen to various agitations, Atiku should do everything possible to unify the party.
“Atiku should address all the various agitations to show Nigerians what he is coming to do as a unifier. The party chairman should keep his promise of resigning if a northern presidential candidate emerged.”