CHIBUZO UKAIBE writes on the brewing battle between the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike and the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike is angry with his party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and he has no pretenses about it. Wike’s open congratulation to President Muhammadu Buhari on his victory at the Election Petition Tribunal against PDP’s candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, was meant to spite his party.
But much more, the congratulatory message was a protest of sorts over the way the party, particularly its Board of Trustees (BoT) was handling the contentious emergence of the House Minority leadership in the House of Representatives.
The composition of two party committees on recent events involving its members in the National Assembly indicates that the trouble within its ranks, perhaps, isn’t cooling off anytime soon, not with the simmering revolt against certain power-blocs.
The election of the leadership of the National Assembly had seen a clear disobedience to the party’s directive on how its members should vote. The party’s choice of Sen Ali Ndume and Hon Umar Bago, as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives was not accepted by most PDP lawmakers. Most members voted instead for APC’s candidates, Sen Ahmed Lawan and Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, the incumbents.
PDP NWC’s response to the scenario seemed a mix of anger and embarrassment. But its Board of Trustees (BoT) was miffed at the seeming poor handling of the situation and the disobedience of their members in the federal legislature.
At their first National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, while the PDP chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, expressed how embarrassed the party was, the BoT chairman, Sen Walid Jibrin, talked tough and urged stern action against such action.
After the meeting a committee, led by former Senate President, Sen Adolphus Wabara was setup to investigate the matter. Other members of the committee are Yunana Iliya; Senator Ben Obi; Mr. Austin Opara; Senator Ibrahim Mantu; Senator Stella Omu; Margret Icheen; Hassan Hyatt; and Senator Abdul Ningi.
However, barely days after the NEC meeting the party was confronted with another revolt, this time by just its members in the House of Representatives who, refusing the party’s list of minority leadership, occupied the positions.
The party had forwarded a list to the Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, detailing Hon. Kingsley Chinda as minority leader; Hon. Chukwuka Onyema as deputy minority leader; Hon. Yakubu Barde as minority whip; and Hon. Muraina Ajibola as deputy minority whip.
But the House Speaker on the floor of the House read out the name of Hon Ndudi Elumelu as minority leader. He also announced Toby Okechukwu (PDP-Enugu), Deputy Minority Leader; Gideon Gwami, Minority Whip and Adesegun Adekoya as Deputy Minority Whip.
He justified the list as being derived from the minority caucus in the House.
PDP suspended Elumelu and the six other House members for one month over anti-party activities. The lawmakers were suspended after they failed to attend a meeting with the NWC.
At this point, the BoT chairman, Sen Jibrin, had backed the emergence of Elumelu as minority speaker, giving a glimpse into the split within the party’s ranks. Interestingly, Sen Jibrin barely 24 hours after endorsing Elumelu made a u-turn, sparking insinuations that he was leaned on to abandon his initial stand on the matter.
Nevertheless, the suspension sparked a mild firestorm as party members from Elumelu’s constituency talked tough against the party’s action. Elumelu in a letter to the party leadership, faulted the suspension, saying he was denied fair hearing.
He recounted that he had sent a letter to the party explaining that he, and other suspended members couldn’t attend because they were already out of town. He specifically stated that he had already left Abuja to attend the burial of a relative he couldn’t afford to miss.
The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, who is said to be backing Hon Chinda, lampooned PDP members in the National Assembly as being merchants.
Wike who broke his silence on the matter when he played host to his Oyo State counterpart, Seyi Makinde, said: “I am not surprised. When you have traders and merchants, what do you expect? It is unfortunate for those who do not understand what politics is all about. I am a core party man. I believe in the party.”
Elder statesman and former information commissioner, Chief Edwin Clarke, advised the PDP to allow the declaration of Hon Ndudi Elumelu as minority leader to stand.
Clark, who, while speaking with newsmen, admitted he was no longer a member of PDP but could speak on national issues, said the emergence of Elumelu and others to fill the minority leadership seats in the House was the choice of the lawmakers which should be respected.
While exonerating Elumelu, he said the precedence for such behavior was set in the 7th House of Representatives when the current governor of Sokoto State, Hon Aminu Tambuwal, from the North West, emerged Speaker of the House against the wishes of the PDP who zoned the position to the South West.
Concerned that the matter is getting out of hand, the BoT, constituted the Sen Ayu Committee. Speaking with newsmen after the BoT met at the national secretariat of the party in Abuja, the BoT chairman, Sen Jibrin said, “We have decided to improve our relationship between the National Working Committee and the BoT. We resolved to corporate and consult with each other anytime to avoid any confusion.
“Secondly, we have decided to wade into the fracas in the House of Representatives as regards the minority leadership. To that effect, a committee has been formed under the Chairmanship of Chief Senator Iyochia Ayo, Senator David Mark, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, Senator Adolphus Wabara and Hon. Austin Opara, Secretary of the Committee.
They have been given a week to submit their reports to the BoT and National Working Committee thereafter, a decision would be taken.
“I assure you that the issue of House of Representatives will soon be solved by the party. We must ensure that we do not break this party. The party will continue and no body will make any attempt to do away with our party,” he said.
At the inauguration of the Sen Wabara committee meant to investigate the actions of its members over the leadership election, Sen Wabara promised that the committee will perform its duties in accordance with the terms of reference diligently, “in such a manner that our members at the National Assembly will by the special grace of God remain intact and loyal to this party.”
He added, “At the National Assembly that is where politics starts and ends. We will go in there and ensure that there is peace what ever happens there will not lead to factionalisation of our party in the National Assembly.”
On his part, the deputy national chairman, Yemi Akinwonmi said, “When we have issues like this, we call on them. They are people that have seen every thing about this country, they have served the party in different capacity, they have contributed to the growth of this country. That is why the eminent gentlemen here you can’t find elsewhere in this country. These are the array of people we are parading.”
In his vote of thanks however, national secretary of PDP, Sen Umaru Tsauri, said “We have to take a decision whether right or wrong. We are not going back on our decision. It is either you are in PDP or you are not. You can’t be on the fence.”
The BoT committee chaired by former Senate President, Iyorchia Ayu, met with the suspended lawmakers, including the minority leader, Hon Elumelu; Hon Wole Oke; Hon Linda Ikpeazu and six others at the Abuja home of the chairman.
The six lawmakers were accompanied to Ayu’s premises by their colleagues who came in three coaster buses and about 17 private cars.
The lawmakers numbering over 80 exchanged banters as they filled every available space in the expansive living room where they were hosted.
Before meeting with the suspended lawmakers, the Ayu Committee had met and resolved that regardless of the intrigues which culminated in the flouting of the party’s directive by the embattled lawmakers, the PDP would not take a decision capable of factionalising its ranks.
In his brief remarks, Senator Ayu said, “Elders of the party are meeting and this is a family affair.” He added that the committee would take a decision in the best interest of the party.
The delay by the committee to come up with a resolution however sparked concerns that all was not well within the party.
This was manifested last week when the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, described the panel set up to resolve the Minority leadership crisis as the most corrupt in the history of the party.
Wike made the statement in Port Harcourt following the withdrawal of a former Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Austin Opara, from the panel said: “The Committee set up by the PDP on the illegal emergence of Ndudi Elumelu is the most corrupt committee ever set up by the party.
“We thank our worthy son, Rt. Hon. Austin Opara, for withdrawing from that committee so that he is not entangled in the illegal activities of the tainted committee.”
Wike didn’t stop there. He warned the party not to toy with Rivers State as it is not in the interest of the party to do so.
He said: “We are warning PDP to be careful not to toy with Rivers State.
“Rivers State has all it takes to withstand the PDP and fight the party to a standstill.
“The Rivers State Governor is not one of those Governors that anyone can cajole. The Rivers State Governor is not one of those Governors that will kowtow to their illicit activities.”
Rattled by the allegation, chairman of BoT, Senator Walid Jubrin challenged Wike to come out with evidence of corruption against Ayu committee.
Jubrin who set up the committee on behalf of the BoT, said “He who alleges must show evidence of corruption.
“It is not enough to accuse anyone of any wrong doing. I call on anyone both party member or non party member to come forward with evidence of corruption and you will see what the BoT will do,” he promised.
Jubrin said he has not been officially communicated why Okpara who is secretary of the committee resigned, disclosing that it was when the report of the committee was submitted that he noticed that he did not sign the document.
“He did not write or tell me why he left or did not sign after the submission of their work. As far as I’m concerned, I will leave that for discussion next Thursday when the BoT will meet.
“Since the inauguration of the committee, I have not spoken to them, I have not visited or interfered with their work or give any input in the course of their work.
“But, I will not condemn any member of the committee without any proof of evidence of corruption,” he said.
He called on any aggrieved member of the party to follow the due process to address his or her perceived grievances.
Jubrin stated that as the chairman of the BoT he would not take side, noting that the board remains the consciousness of the party.
“We should be concerned with how to move the party forward and the party strong,” he said.
Senator Jubrin also announced that the BoT would soon embark on strategic visits to members across the nation with a first visit to Dubai to interact with the presidential candidate of the party in the last elections, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Also, BoT secretary, Senator Adolphus Wabara, who is also a member of Iyorchia Ayu committee, took exception to Wike’s allegation, stating that none of the committee members could be accused of corruption.
“It is premature to join issues with Governor Wike as the BoT is yet to discuss the Ayu report and come up with a position.
“But permit me to make it abundantly clear to our performing Governor of Rivers State that Wabara is not corrupt and that I do not think that all the other distinguished members of this committee are.
“We are experienced and tested authorities on legislative matters and the unity of our great party without concealed interest in 2023 was paramount.
“I will not unwittingly discuss the content of the report on the pages of newspapers until the BoT takes a decision on the recommendations of the Ayu committee report,” he said.
While some analysts opine that the events in the National Assembly reflects the internal scheming for control of the party, others aver that if the party mismanages the situation it might lead to a major crisis in the mould of the Sheriff/Makarfi tussle that almost grounded the party after the 2015 general elections.
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