• PDP, not Ayu, paid NWC members housing allowance – Aide
Aggrieved governors of the Peoples Democratic Party on Sunday met in Enugu to plot their next move, following the visit of the presidential candidate of the party, Atiku Abubakar, to the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, in his private residence on Thursday in Abuja.
In attendance were Governors Wike, Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) and the host, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State.
The meeting is coming three days after Atiku held a private meeting with Wike where the presidential candidate pleaded for his support ahead of the 2023 presidential election.
The PDP standard bearer met with the Rivers governor as part of his renewed efforts to resolve the lingering crisis between him and the five PDP governors led by Wike.
The Abuja meeting, however, ended in a deadlock as the Rivers governor reportedly insisted that there would be no peace deal until the National Chairman of the party, Iyorchia Ayu, resigned from office.
The party had been engulfed in crisis since its presidential primary in May.
Wike, who lost to Atiku, had expressed dissatisfaction with the exercise, stating that he was unfairly treated by the PDP and was not carried along.
Wike insisted that Ayu must resign if his camp must reach a truce with the party’s flag bearer but Atiku said he had no power to remove the chairman.
Atiku said if the chairman must be removed, due process must be followed by the party’s constitution.
After a series of meetings between them and their representatives failed to address the crisis, Wike and some of his colleagues and allies boycotted the inauguration of the party’s presidential campaign council in Abuja last Wednesday.
Others who also boycotted the event include Prof Jerry Gana; former governors Ayo Fayose, Jonah Jang, Donald Duke and Olusegun Mimiko. A former deputy national chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George, was also absent.
One of Wike’s close allies, who was privy to what was discussed at the Abuja meeting, Senator Olaka Wogu, had told The PUNCH in an interview that the governor reiterated his demand to the former vice-president that there was no going back on his demand that Ayu must go.
He affirmed that the meeting between Atiku and Wike ended in a stalemate after the governor stood firm on his demands.
Unconfirmed reports had claimed that Atiku promised to support Wike for the Presidency in 2027. This was later denied by Atiku’s campaign spokespersons.
However, findings on Sunday revealed that in continuation of their determination to remove the PDP national chairman from office, the five aggrieved governors of the party led by Wike met in Enugu, the Enugu State capital for a strategy meeting.
Speaking with The PUNCH, a member of the PDP National Working Committee said in confidence that the governors met solely to strategise on how to make the party and indeed, Nigeria better.
“The big five governors are meeting, strategising for a better PDP, a better Nigeria where probity, equity and justice reign supreme,” he said.
Pressed to disclose the specific agenda of the meeting, the NWC member who is one of those who recently refunded N28.8m into the party’s account stated, “They are united for a purpose to ensure Ayu is sacked for the unity of our party,” insisting, “Ayu must go.”
The governors, he noted, deserved special praise for championing the cause of justice and equity, not only for the PDP but for Nigeria as a whole.
“A leader on his own said he was going to quit if a northerner emerged as the PDP’s flag bearer. A northerner emerged but he did not want to go. It is a pity that some have chosen to shut up but these ones (governors) are insisting on the right thing to be done; we have to congratulate them.
“PDP is for all. No one, however powerful, owns it more than others. This is the message they are trying to pass. We will get there,” he maintained.
Also, a frontline member of the aggrieved governors’ camp, who also confirmed the meeting, revealed that they met to review the conditions given to Atiku during his meeting with Wike in Abuja on Thursday.
“The meeting in Enugu is to review Atiku’s visit to the Rivers governor in Abuja. They had told him at the meeting that Ayu must go and that the condition is not negotiable. They also gave him some other conditions.
“Atiku agreed that Ayu would go but due process must be followed to avoid a constitutional crisis. So, the aggrieved governors are meeting to fashion out plans for Ayu’s exit and also review some of the conditions they gave to Atiku. They will also look at some of the things Atiku said at the meeting with Wike,’’ he explained.
The National Vice-Chairman, South-East zone of the PDP, Chief Ali Odefa, could not be reached on the phone on Sunday but a reliable source, who works with him, said, “Yes. It’s not a lie. Four governors alongside Wike were here in Enugu for a crucial meeting. The purpose of that meeting we don’t know yet.”
Reacting to the development, a former National Auditor of the PDP, Raymond Nnaji, described the game the governors are playing as extremely dangerous, adding that if they pulled the party down, it would equally affect them individually.
He said, “The governors have candidates they will put in office, otherwise they will have a problem. All these things they are doing is just a waste of time. If PDP fails in the national (election), all of them will fail. It will have a bandwagon effect; there is no way they can make changes now.
“Ugwuanyi, for instance, is the senatorial candidate for Enugu North, there is no way he can decide to go to another party or support another party now.”
When asked why they are not supporting the PDP presidential candidate, Nnaji said, “They are just playing games; that is the way I see it. They are looking for a way out of their problems because they have created problems thinking that they will make the changes but it is not working. So, if they pull the house down everybody will lose, including them.
“So, the meeting in Enugu is nothing but to play games. I believe they want to show that they are still intact. The party shouldn’t be afraid of their meeting. Let them continue to meet.”
Our correspondent was also informed that the governors equally considered the proposals offered to Wike by both the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, and Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi. However, The PUNCH could not immediately confirm this.
Aide defends Ayu
Meanwhile, the Special Assistant to Mr. Ayu on Communications, Simon Imobo-Tswam has defended his principal on the allegations levied against him.
Reacting to the decision by some members of the party’s National Working Committee to return monies described as their housing allowance, the media aide said, “They collected money and decided to return it after three weeks; that they didn’t know what the money was meant for. It was a collective decision of NWC which they are part of. The party has explained that the allowance is statutory.
“These people wanted three years (rent), but Ayu said no. Some of them said they had no money. Ayu did not pay them from his pocket; the party paid them,” he stressed, noting that there is no justification for the calls for Ayu to leave office.
“Why should Ayu go? Because Governor Wike says so?” he queried.
‘Ortom prefers Wike’
Meanwhile, an aide to Governor Ortom has said the relationship between the Benue helmsman and his Rivers state counterpart is deep, such that he would readily ditch his kinsman (Ayu) for Wike “if it comes to that.”
Speaking with The PUNCH, the aide who spoke on condition of anonymity revealed, “Ortom will prefer to lose Ayu to losing Wike. Ortom and Ayu have never been the best of allies. They have never had any strong bond compared with Wike and Ortom.”
Reminded that Ortom played a major role in the emergence of Ayu as the PDP chairman, he stated, “Even the support for Ayu to be chairman came after some governors and big wigs became receptive to the ambition.
“Ortom seized the opportunity to spearhead the ambition and act as the one who would sell him to his colleagues. He wasn’t on board the idea at first. He and ex-governor Gabriel Suswam were not on it.”
Meanwhile, the PDP Senator representing Adamawa South Senatorial District, Yaroe Binos, has said Ayu cannot resign now until Atiku wins the presidential election next year.
He said anyone who truly loves the party would desist from causing a crisis during the current campaign period.
However, Binos who spoke at an art exhibition organised by his son, Stephen, on Saturday, said the aggrieved people knew that it was impossible for Ayu to resign now until a convention is held next year.
The senator lamented that the PDP presidential candidate had done everything possible to persuade and pacify the aggrieved politicians to no avail.
Binos said, “It is wrong for anyone to say that the PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has not done enough to resolve the crisis in the party.
“After the presidential primary, where he emerged as the party’s flag bearer, he reached out to all aggrieved party members, especially those who contested against him.
“Alhaji Atiku has done enough. He has reached out to aggrieved members and he is still reaching out. But some people think they can hold the party and the presidential candidate to ransom and blackmail him into doing what is not correct.”
The Senator recalled that it was not the first time that the PDP would produce the national chairman and the presidential candidate from the northern part of the country.
The senator added, “The argument of the aggrieved members is that why would the North produce both the party chairman and the presidential candidate. But this is not the first time it will happen in PDP.
“In 2017, when the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua was the presidential candidate of PDP, Ahmadu Ali was the party’s chairman; both of them from the North.
“The need to move the party’s chairmanship from the North to the South did not arise until after the election and inauguration of Yar’adua.
“This is what we are saying. For now, the best thing to do is for the party leaders and members to come together and face the elections before us. When we win the election, we can hold a convention and re-zone the key positions in the National Working Committee.’’
Faulting the clamour for Ayu’s removal, the lawmaker further stated, “Saying that Dr Ayu should step down now will be contrary to PDP’s constitution. For those causing the crisis, if they truly love the party, they won’t be causing a rift at this critical moment when elections are coming.”
Orbih explains refund
The PDP National Vice Chairman (South), Chief Dan Orbih on Sunday shed more light on the return of N122.4 million paid into the accounts of its National Working Committee members by its national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu.
While denying that it was a loan, he also called on the chairman of PDP to defend himself of the allegation.
The PUNCH reported that no fewer than four members of the NWC got over N100m paid into their accounts after the party’s primaries.
The money was said to be part of the over N10bn realised by the party from nomination fees paid by aspirants.
Apart from Orbih, other NWC members who returned the money were the National Vice Chairman (South-West), Olasoji Adagunodo; Deputy National Chairman (South) Taofeek Arapaja and National Women Leader, Prof. Stella Affah-Attoe.
While Arapaja got N36m, Adagunodo, Orbih and Effah-Attoe got N28.8m each.
Orbih in an interview with The PUNCH in Abuja said he had cleared his conscience.
He said, “I don’t want to talk about Ayu. I speak for myself. I have done what I feel is needful. I have given reasons for doing what I have done. Let every man carry the full weight of his problem. Ayu should speak for himself. He is an adult. It was very clear in my letter.
“If it is in a civilised society, people should be praising and commending us for what we have done. Instead, they will be asking them questions to make them justify what they did. It is wrong.
“They, first of all, said it was a loan. I asked where is my loan application? And if it is a loan, where is the repayment plan by me, signed between me and the party? And I asked the third question, when has PDP turned into a bank that gives loans to people?
“That was how they ran away from there and started saying it is accommodation allowance. Is it the house you want them to pay for (rent not buy) made of gold or is it diamond built? 90 per cent of us, including Ayu, have a house here in Abuja. So, I don’t know. What is the take-home of Nigeria’s President, including accommodation allowance? What is bad is bad.
“I am not taking any steps. We have done what our conscience says is the right thing to do. Every person has a conscience, a name to protect. If others do not feel there is nothing wrong with it, that is their business. I didn’t say other people should do it or not do it. They all have their consciences.
“I even saw in a paper on Sunday that such thing was brought before the NWC, the decision was taken by every person, the decision was taken in a meeting. I have challenged them that they should produce the minutes of the meeting and the date the meeting took place and who voted for that and who did not.
“I can tell you for sure that there was no meeting that the issue came to the NWC. I have never seen a country like this. Some said the money was paid on the 14th and why did it take me over 5-6 days? With the type of insecurity in this country, how many people put alerts on their phones?
“I normally reconcile my account at the end of every month. The story by a paper on September 26 was what triggered off this whole crisis. If not, I would have seen it at the end of the month.”