The revolt of five Peoples Democratic Party’s governors is a cynical reward for bad political behaviour, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
It’s payback time! That was the headline of an Abuja-based newspaper on Wednesday. Many other newspapers varied that headline in their reports of an event in which Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers State, ramped up his hostility towards Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president and the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party.
As he does these days, the inauguration of one of his projects provided another opportunity for him to hit his party’s presidential flagbearer who had outmaneuvered him at the primaries earlier in March. Since that comprehensive defeat, Wike has led a gang of five governors on the party’s platform to irritate both the PDP leadership and Atiku.
Persistently feeling the need to justify their rebellion, Wike on Wednesday, told the story of how, in 2015, Goodluck Jonathan, former president of the federation, who was then the party’s torchbearer, was humiliated by Atiku. The former vice-president had led some northern governors and party leaders from the regional bloc to resist the return bid of Jonathan on the ground that it was the turn of the North to ascend to the presidency.
All efforts by the former president to pacify them failed. Eventually, Atiku led five of the governors and other leaders, including Bukola Saraki, then president of the Senate, and many senators and members of the House of Representatives to join the emerging All Progressives Congress that eventually showed the PDP the door out of power.
Contending that but for the 2015 Atiku revolt, the PDP might still have been in power, Wike vowed that his group was determined to treat the party’s presidential candidate with a dose of his own medicine unless he met their condition for peace. Though clearly embittered and perhaps cynical, the Rivers State governor had a point.
There is no doubt that the prevailing gang, governors Seyi Makinde, Oyo State; Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Enugu State; Okezie Ikpeazu, Abia State; Samuel Ortom, Benue State; and Wike, are engaged in anti-party activities, which is punishable by expulsion under the constitution of the party. But the party leadership is obviously restrained in wielding the big stick because of the weighty electoral implication of such an action.
Yet, the governors have become the irritating fly on the testes that needs absolute caution to deal with. Unlike the 2015 rebels, these ones have refused to leave the party, contending that they would stay to fight from within. Incidentally, there are striking similarities in both revolts that threaten to keep the party out of power for more years to come.
Like in 2015, the crisis arose from the demand for the rotation of power. Atiku and company had argued that it was the turn of the North to ascend the presidency after Jonathan from the South had occupied the position for five years following the death of President Umar Yar’Adua in May 2010. The contention that Jonathan being the sitting president was entitled to the right of first refusal under the constitution did not persuade them.
When they lost the argument at the National Executive Committee of the party in 2013, they left the party. Four of the governors, Abdulfatah Ahmed, Kwara State; Aliyu Wamakko, Sokoto; Murtala Nyako, Adamawa; and Rabiu Kwankwaso, Kano; were from the North. They were joined by Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State from the South. Many political pundits had submitted that the emerging APC did not gain traction until the PDP elements joined it and that an analysis of the results of the 2015 presidential election would show that the PDP lost because these five states tilted the poll in favour of the opposition party.
The same argument is being made by the current rebels that President Muhammadu Buhari has spent eight years in power and cannot be replaced by another northerner. The five governors, this time, four from the South and one from the North, argue that the situation in the party is even more unacceptable with both the presidential candidate and the national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, coming from the North. The contention that the zoning and rotation arrangement under the party’s constitution, the North ought to present the candidate has persistently been rebuffed.
It is pertinent to note that all arguments were submitted to the NEC, which earlier in the year decided, against the express provision of the party constitution, to throw open the presidential contest despite the fact that the national chairman was already from the North. Ordinarily, the matter having been decided by the second highest organ of the party, ought to have bound all members. But this could not be enforced partly because the enforcers lack the moral and, to some extent, the political will to whip the current rebels into line.
Ayu, the national chairman; Aminu Tambuwal, director-general of the presidential campaign; and Saraki were not only part of the rebellion of 2015 but also participated actively in the NEC meeting that practically overthrew the constitution of the party with regard to zoning and rotation. On what grounds, therefore, would they now apply sanctions against Wike and his gang who have been persistent in making the point that the bad political behaviour of the past was responsible for the dire straits the PDP and the country now find themselves?
Unfortunately, there is little or no time to make amends. This much has been realized by the Atiku campaign which has made the decision to move on with its electioneering hoping to reach the voters in the large voting states of Oyo and Rivers, as well as Enugu, Abia, and Benue over the head of the governors. How successful this would be remains to be seen.
But the right lesson needs to be learned from the prevailing crisis in the PDP by not only the party faithful but also all other parties that the purpose of a constitution and conventions is to guide those who subscribe to them, and that there will always be dire consequences for their breach.
Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from [email protected]