The crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party has taken a new dimension with the strong calls for the resignation of the Chairman of the party, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, so that the presidential candidate of the party and the chairman of the party will not be from the same northern part of Nigeria.
Ayu is from the North-Central zone while Atiku Abubakar, who is the presidential standard-bearer, is from the North-East. In addition, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Senator Walid Jibrin, is from the North-Central.
Last week, while supporting the call by the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, that Ayu should resign, former Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Olabode George, argued that given that when the presidential rallies start in the coming weeks, the Chairman of the party will be the one handing over the party’s flag to the presidential candidate at each campaign ground, the South will be completely left out of such events. This will not look right and fair.
Responding to the calls by Wike for him to resign, Ayu had insisted that he would not resign because he was duly elected for a four-year term, out of which he had not done one year yet. He noted that he was a founding member of the party in comparison to people like Wike, whom he alluded to as “children, who were not there when PDP was founded. ” Wike fired back that Ayu had abandoned the PDP in the past for the All Progressives Congress, while those so-called children had remained to rebuild the party. He argued that a person who founded a company but sold his shares in the company and left has no moral right to return and boast of being the founder and key stakeholder of the company.
It is obvious that Wike is still smarting from the electoral loss of the PDP ticket on May 28, 2022. The truth is if there is someone who should be given credit for not allowing PDP to die after the loss of the presidency in 2015, it is Wike. In 2015, PDP was like a pariah party. Having been the ruling party from 1999 to 2015, it was seen by most Nigerians as the cause of all Nigerian problems, which included insecurity, corruption, economic challenge and infrastructural deficit. Many, especially supporters of the APC, asked that the party should cease to exist. APC and the president-elect, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), were seen as divine agents of change sent to clean the mess left behind by the PDP and return Nigeria to the path of sanity.
When Buhari was sworn in on May 29, 2015, he pounced on those who held key positions in the presidency of Dr Goodluck Jonathan and kept them in detention. Outrageous adn outlandish stories were planted in the media about huge sums of money found in a grave and other places. Pictures of exotic cars abandoned in a park in China and overgrown by weeds were shared as those left by PDP members. Nobody wanted to identify as a PDP member. Buhari and the APC continued on a daily sing-song of blaming their inability to do anything on “the 16 years of misrule by the PDP.”
Wike as the governor of Rivers State, backed by Mr Ayo Fayose, who was the governor of Ekiti State, stood up to Buhari and the APC and pushed back their attempts to demonise the PDP. It was reported that Wike funded the party at that period. While most PDP officials and supporters were either in detention or afraid to talk, virtually only Wike and Fayose were talking and criticising Buhari’s regime and the comments made regularly by the APC against the PDP. The third person who regularly spoke in support of the PDP or against the APC was Femi Fani-Kayode, former minister of aviation, who eventually defected to the APC in September 2021.
Gradually, it became obvious that Buhari and the APC had nothing better to offer Nigeria than the PDP. The mood of the nation began to change towards the two parties. It was not surprising that the primaries of the PDP that produced the 2019 presidential candidate of the party took place in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Ironically, by that time, most of the people like Atiku and Ayu had all returned to the PDP.
One thing that is clear is that the current crisis in the PDP stemmed from the injustice that the party entrenched in its choice of presidential standard-bearer for the 2023 election. In 2021, when Ayu emerged as the Chairman of the PDP, his emergence followed the tradition of the PDP that after the tenure of Uche Secondus from the South-South, the chairmanship would move to the North. Also, the emergence of Ayu from the North signposted the fact that the presidential candidate of the PDP for the 2023 election would emerge from the South. In 2018, the PDP allowed only candidates from the North to contest for the presidential ticket of the party for the 2019 election. Abubakar emerged at that convention.
Surprisingly, as the date for the 2022 presidential primaries got near, the leadership of the PDP began to change the tune of their song. The argument was no longer that the presidency would be zoned to the South but that it would be made open for the “strongest candidate who would defeat the ruling APC to emerge.” The party leadership, therefore, worked backwards from the answer to the question to achieve its aim of getting Abubakar from the North elected as its presidential candidate.
To ensure that there was no impediment to the emergence of Abubakar as the party’s standard-bearer, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State had to step down at the last minute, asking his supporters to vote for Atiku. Atiku subsequently defeated Wike.
As if that was not enough, a day after the convention, some PDP leaders visited Tambuwal and Ayu told him that he was the hero of the convention for the act of stepping down for Atiku. It was a thoughtless statement, which gave Ayu away as having a preferred candidate at the convention. The chairman of a party is expected to be neutral in such an election. The key concern of the chairman should be to ensure that the election is conducted in a transparent and fair way.
It is not surprising that Wike insists that Ayu should resign as the chairman of the party. Ayu’s words showed that he would not have been happy if Wike had emerged as the standard bearer.
However, when followed logically and fairly, it was Atiku that breached the rotation policy of the PDP. Between 2010 and 2015, he vociferously campaigned that it was the turn of the North to produce the president in line with the PDP’s policy of rotation and fairness. He made the statement that those who make peaceful transition impossible make violent change inevitable. Because of his anger that the PDP was not keeping to its policy on zoning, he left the PDP and worked against the PDP winning the 2015 election.
Ironically, in 2022, the same Atiku worked against the zoning principle of the PDP because he wanted to emerge as the candidate and contest the presidency for the sixth time (1993, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019, 2023). It will be difficult for the PDP to ask Atiku to resign because he is the party’s presidential candidate. But if there is anyone to resign based on breaching the PDP principle of zoning and fairness, it is Atiku and not Ayu. The party can choose to make Ayu the sacrificial lamb in this crisis, but the painful truth should be said that Ayu did not breach the zoning principle of the PDP.
By Azuka Onwuka
6th September 2022