Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom on Wednesday accused the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, of failing to honour the democratic choice in the selection of his running mate.
Ortom also noted the failure of Atiku to reach out to the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, and some other aggrieved members of the party after picking Governor Godwin Okowa of Delta State as his vice-presidential candidate.
Ortom spoke in an interview on Arise TV as ex-Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, demanded southern presidency.
But loyalists of Okowa and Wike disagreed over Ortom’s statement on how Atiku picked his running mate.
Okowa’s aides and loyalists, who spoke in separate interviews with The PUNCH, said the party had gone beyond the blame game and was focused on winning the 2023 elections.
Wike’s loyalists, in their reactions, in an interview with one of our correspondents backed Ortom and faulted the process that led to the choice of Okowa.
The PUNCH reports that the widening cracks in the party posed a threat to Atiku’s presidential ambition.
Following his victory at the PDP convention where he defeated Wike and other contenders for the presidential ticket, Atiku had written to the leadership of the PDP to aid in his choice of selecting a running mate.
The PDP National Chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, consequently set up a 17-man committee which recommended Wike and the governors of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa and Akwa-Ibom, Udom Emmanuel.
Atiku, however, went with the choice of Okowa.
But Ortom, who was a member of the committee, disclosed that 14 out of the 17-man committee voted in favour of Wike.
The Benue State governor, in the interview with Arise TV, stated, “I was among the 17-man committee that was set up by the candidate himself and some of us said Wike should be the vice-president. We discussed that in our meeting and we said it did not matter if he had supported the presidential candidate or not, but all that we need is unity and how to make things work.
“Unfortunately, the candidate himself picked Okowa. Some of us have resorted to prayers. I was really confused because I felt Wike would have been the VP. He was the second person to Atiku and Wike has charisma. All of us have our weak points.”
“Wike can be something, but when it comes to mobilisation, impact, value addition and reaching out, Wike is an instrument. Wike is somebody who stood for the party. For some of us, we believed in him, but unfortunately, it was someone else. Well, the party is supreme but for some of us, for me, I have resorted to prayers,” the governor added.
Ortom faults Atiku
Speaking further on whether he would support Atiku, who is running for the presidency for the sixth time, Ortom was diplomatic, saying he was waiting on God for instruction.
“I am praying; if God directs me to support Atiku, why should I not do it? I expect him to reach out to Wike who came second and was denied the VP: 14 out of 17 said Wike should be VP and that is the democratic process but he chose Okowa.
“If we are in a democratic era and 14 say it should be Wike and he gave it to Okowa, I expect him to talk to Wike first and reach out to some of us for us to work together as a party,” he stated.
Further signs that things may be getting rough for Atiku’s ambition were confirmed by Fayose’s tweet faulting the emergence of the former vice-president as the PDP standard-bearer in the 2023 presidential election.
Fayose, an ally of Wike, who also contested against Atiku for the party ticket, took to his official Twitter handle, @GovAyoFayose on Wednesday to champion the clamour for southern presidency.
The tweet read, “The PDP constitution provides for a rotational Presidency. Section 3(c) provides that the party shall pursue its aims and objectives by “adhering to the policy of the rotation & zoning of party & public elective offices in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness.”
“The current President of Nigeria is a two-term Northern Presidency, thus implying that it must be a Southern Presidency in 2023 or nothing. Awa ‘South’ lo kan’ (It is the turn of the South). Nigerians should await details soon,” Fayose had tweeted.
Before Ortom and Fayose’s outbursts, PDP leaders in Ekiti state had complained about Atiku’s failure to campaign for the party’s governorship candidate, Bisi Kolawole, who lost to the All Progressives Congress in the June 18 poll.
Angry party leaders blamed Atiku and the PDP chairman for the loss, saying their refusal to campaign for the party in Ekiti was responsible.
The party had June 9 constituted an 80-member National Campaign Council, but the council, like Ayu and Atiku, didn’t visit the state to campaign for the candidate, thus generating bad blood in the party.
Kolawole, who polled 67,457 votes, came third, while Segun Oni of the Social Democratic Party came second with 82,211 votes, and the winner, Biodun Oyebanji, of the APC scored 187,057 votes.
The PDP spokesman, Debo Ologunagba, blamed the lack of funds for the inability of the campaign council to visit Ekiti.
But faulting the position of the Benue state governor, a highly informed source within the PDP noted that Wike travelled out of the country before Atiku’s team could reach out.
He stated, “It is wrong for Governor Ortom to imply that there have been no moves for reconciliation. Ever since Atiku became the standard-bearer, the plan has been to reconcile all the aggrieved factions. Wike is not the only one who is aggrieved. There are others who are also aggrieved. Let me tell you this: Wike travelled before Atiku’s team could reach out to him.
“Reconciliation is not something that is done in a hurry. It needs to be strategic and that is what Atiku is doing. Wike is forever a party man and we are sure he won’t work against the party.”
Commenting on the development, the Media Adviser to Atiku, Paul Ibe, said, “I can assure you that the plans and moves to reconcile aggrieved persons are ongoing. We also assure Nigerians and the party that at the end of the day, everyone will stand united and send the APC packing.”
Ex-Rep backs Ortom
However, a former member of the National Assembly, Ogbonna Nwuke, backed Ortom’s position on the alleged poor treatment meted out to Wike by the PDP Presidential candidate.
Nwuke, a Wike loyalist, who represented Etche-Omuma Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, stated that the Benue governor spoke the minds of some PDP governors.
He said it was interesting that members of the PDP were beginning to speak out about the events that played out in the party.
The party chieftain said,” Nigerians are beginning to speak up. Those who are members of the party are also beginning to speak up on how events played out in the party.
“And clearly, Governor Samuel Ortom has spoken our mind and also the mind of some governors of the PDP that the way things were done was not proper.
“For me, it is a matter of conscience now. It is a matter of conviction too; the fact that in this country, anything can happen.”
Nwuke, who was also a former Commissioner for Information and Communications in Rivers State, further stated, “I think Ortom has spoken well. I think he has great insight into what transpired within the party, given his position as governor of Benue State and an active participant in the event that played out.
“He knows what he is saying, and he confirms what is known that truly some organs in the party recommended Wike on the basis of his focus, on the basis of his capacity and the basis of his political sagacity. Perhaps, Alhaji Atiku and others thought otherwise.”
‘Wike, PDP’s pillar’
The Publicity Secretary of the PDP in Rivers State, Sydeny Gbara, said Ortom had sent a clear message to the PDP.
Gbara, in an interview with The PUNCH, described Wike as the pillar of the party.
He stated, “It will only be honourable and respectful for Wike and other governors in the party who are not happy with the way things are going to be reached and discussed with one-on-one more than putting a telephone call across.
“So Ortom is trying to express that there are lots of people who are not happy with what is going on in the PDP at present and that there is a need for the party leadership to hastily reach out to such persons so that everybody will be on the same page for the 2023 general elections,” he stated.
But the Executive Assistant to the Delta State Governor on Communications, Mr Fred Oghenesivbe, insisted that it was the exclusive decision of Atiku to pick his running mate.
Oghenesivbe, who stated this in an interview with The PUNCH, said the party had gone past the stage of the blame game, saying that the level PDP is of now, is how to win the election.
He said, “We have passed that level, the stage we are now at is how to win the general elections. It is the exclusive decision of the party candidate to pick his running mate. It’s not as if Atiku will reverse his choice and pick Wike.
“For God’s sake, Wike contested the ticket and the man who owns the ticket said the qualities he wants in a running mate is in Okowa.”
The Chief Press Secretary to the Delta State Governor, Mr Olisa Ifeajika, also reiterated that only Atiku had the power to choose his running mate.
According to him, Ortom could not fault Atiku’s choice of running mate. He called for total support for the Atiku/Okowa ticket, describing it as “a ticket of recovery.”
Abia State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Eze Chikamnayo, said the Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, is a party man and would work for the party’s victory in the elections, adding that he believes in PDP’s unity.
Chikamnayo said, “Shortly after the special convention that produced the Presidential candidate, he (Ikpeazu) visited the former vice-president who is now the PDP candidate.
“During that visit, he pledged to work with other PDP members to ensure the victory of the party. As we speak, that is the stand of the governor of Abia state. He is urging for peace and calm and for reconciliation amongst the party faithful, both at the national and state levels.”
Fintiri supports Atiku
Adamawa State Governor Ahmadu Fintiri, in his reaction to Ortom’s stance, explained that all the party members had resolved to rally around the PDP presidential candidate and ensure his victory in the poll.
The governor who spoke through the Director-General, Media and Communications, Adamawa State Government House, Solomon Kumangar, said he has been preoccupied with ensuring victory for the PDP at all levels.
“The primaries are over and all party members have resolved to rally around the Presidential candidate, H.E Atiku Abubakar, the Wazirin Adamawa, to secure power in 2023. And Governor Fintiri is preoccupied with the success of the party at all levels,” he added.
Meanwhile, an aide to the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, has said Atiku’s presidential ambition is the governor’s project.
Speaking on the allegations levelled against Atiku by Ortom, the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak on the issue, said his boss would work for the party’s victory in 2023.
Commenting on the agitations for a southern president, an analyst, Sunny Anyanwu, stated that based on the constitutional principle of federal character, the presidency shouldn’t again go to the north.
Anyanwu, a lawyer, also added that an Atiku/Wike ticket would have presented a much stronger force for the PDP.
“Assuming Atiku had gone for Wike, you would see some element of force and precision, going by the way Wike did his own campaign for the nomination for PDP primaries,” he said
The Executive Director of the United Global Resolve for Peace, Mr Olaseni Shalom, said that the agitations for power rotation were not peculiar to the PDP, especially after the primary elections held in all parties across the country.
He noted that the party would need to put its house in order and that negotiations and readjustments would have to be made, to win the elections in 2023.