Art and Culture

Will Ayu Bow to Pressure?

todayAugust 21, 2022

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Since the emergence of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, pressure has continued to mount on the National Chairman of the party, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, to step down for a southerner to maintain the North-South balance. Ejiofor Alike reports that the pressure on the former Senate President to resign as a condition for genuine reconciliation has intensified

A major step taken by the founders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to enthrone equity, justice and all-inclusiveness was the introduction of the concept of zoning and rotation of offices both within the party in the government. This arrangement ensures that when a northerner emerges as the presidential candidate of the party, the party’s national chairmanship position will be zoned to the South. The emergence of Dr. Iyorchia Ayu as the National Chairman of the party in its October 30, 2021 National Convention had given the initial impression that the main opposition party was going to zone the presidency to the South. But rather than zone the position to any part of the country, the party threw the position open to all the six geopolitical zones. This led to the emergence of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate of the party to the dissatisfaction of many southern leaders of the party, including Governors Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, as well as former Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, among other party leaders from South. Even Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State had also voiced out his preference for a southern presidential candidate. Unlike the PDP, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has no zoning in its constitution. The issue of zoning is believed to be a gentleman’s agreement among the stakeholders that formed the party. But despite not entrenching it in its constitution, the party was determined to implement it instead of embarking on a similar hide-and-seek game played by the PDP on the issue.

Shortly before its March 2022 National Convention, the ruling party had agreed on a zoning formula that swapped offices held between North and South.  By the arrangement, all offices that were occupied by northerners in the last eight years were zoned to the South and vice versa. It was not surprising that when Senator Abdullahi Adamu emerged as the National Chairman of the party, the northern governors elected on the platform of the party insisted that the presidential candidate should be zoned to the South, hence the emergence of Senator Bola Tinubu.

But in the case of the PDP, the leaders of the party played a hide-and-seek game after the election of Ayu until the position of presidential candidate was thrown open, resulting in the emergence of Atiku.

When the former vice president won the primary, many party leaders had called on Ayu to resign but his supporters insisted that he would only resign if Atiku wins the 2023 presidency. Ayu was also quoted as saying on ARISE NEWS Channel that he would resign in the event of an emergence of northern presidential candidate if the party says he should. His volte-face did not gone down well with most southern leaders of the party who felt shortchanged by their northern colleagues.

 With Atiku’s victory at the presidential primary, the northern members of the party now control all the top four positions – presidential candidate, Atiku; National Chairman, Ayu;  Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT), Mr. Walid Jubrin and Deputy National Chairman (North), Umar Damagun.  The concentration of the top positions of the PDP in the hands of northerners is said to be giving the southern members a cause for concern, given the role they played to stabilise the party during the Ali Modu Sheriff-led leadership, which wanted to destroy the party.

The southern stakeholders are particularly angry with the role played by Atiku and some other northern members who abandoned the PDP before the 2015 general election only to come back and hijack the top positions. These southern members of the party, largely dominated by Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike’s camp are insisting that Ayu should relinquish his position to maintain a North-South balance. 

Ayu’s conduct at the party’s presidential primary where he could not hide his loyalty to Atiku when the Governor of Sokoto State, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal stepped down from the race for the former vice president, also helped to fuel the grievances against him.  Ayu could not hide his excitement when he publicly described Tambuwal as the hero of the party’s primary, a comment which made the southern aspirants, particularly Wike and his supporters to allege that the former Senate President was partial in the conduct of the primary.

The southern members, who have renewed their call for him to resign as condition for peace to reign in the party, have argued that his position that he would resign after Atiku’s victory amounted to taking the southerners for a ride. Following the dispute between Wike and the former Vice President, the members of the party sympathetic to the cause of the Rivers State governor have renewed the call for Ayu to resign.

Wike had recently met behind closed doors with some PDP governors and other stakeholders, who coordinated his campaign. The meeting which held at the Rivers State Governors’ Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja, was said to have resolved to insist on the resignation of Ayu as the only condition for the camp to work for Atiku’s victory at the 2023 presidential poll. Those at the meeting included Governors Wike, Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Samuel Ortom (Benue) and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu).

Others were former governors Donald Duke (Cross River), Gabriel Suswam (Benue), Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo), Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa), and Ibrahim Idris (Kogi) and Jonah Jang (Plateau).

Philip Aduda, Senate minority leader, was also at the meeting with some members of the PDP National Assembly caucus. 

At the peak of the crisis early last month, Wike’s two associates  –  Benue State Governor, Ortom, and a former Ekiti State governor,  Fayose, had publicly expressed their reluctance to work for Atiku’s victory.  It was reported that when Atiku paid a visit to Wike shortly after he won the primary, the Rivers State governor reminded him of the need to ask Ayu to step down. Wike’s loyalists claimed that they later heard that Atiku told Ayu that the Rivers State governor was demanding that he should be removed. 

On his part, the National Chairman of the main opposition party was said to have argued that rather than being forced to resign, the party should swap all positions between the North and South. However, none of the two camps have publicly confirmed or denied these claims. 

But the call for Ayu’s resignation has continued to be on the front burner.

Is the former Senate President going to take the honourable path and resign to allow the party go into the general election without a divided house or allow his personal ambition to continue to derail the main opposition party? The events of the next few weeks will provide an answer to this question.

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