Much ado about PDP convention venue

Nyesom Wike

Unless it is properly managed to avoid pre-and-post convention crisis ahead of the 2019 presidential election, the battle for a convention venue among the governors, members of Board of Trustees and some presidential aspirants of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is causing ripples in the party, The Guardian learnt.

Many had thought that the earlier statement by party that it’s October 5 and 6 national convention will hold in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital was agreed by all the parties before it was made public. The Guardian learnt that the push by the some BoT members and presidential aspirants for the Port Harcourt venue to be jettisoned for Enugu, Uyo or Asaba necessitated the sudden threat by the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike that any change of the Port Harcourt venue would be resisted. Wike said there would be consequences if the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) succumbs to pressures from ‘planted’ PDP presidential aspirants to move the party’s National Convention away from Port Harcourt.

He further said the state will not support any desperate PDP presidential aspirant, who is out to sabotage the economy of the state by fighting the hosting of the party’s presidential primary in Port Harcourt. Wike warned that Rivers People will teach the party a bitter lesson if it allows planted desperate presidential aspirants to scuttle the hosting of the presidential primary in Port Harcourt as agreed by all leaders of the party.

Speaking during a consultative visit by the Gombe State Governor and PDP presidential aspirant, Ibrahim Dankwambo at the Government House Port Harcourt, on Wednesday, Wike said at the PDP’s national meeting, no presidential aspirant opposed Port Harcourt as the venue. He said any presidential aspirant fighting Rivers State should forget about the support of the state, during and after the National Convention.

While Wike’s threat is not being taken lightly by party stakeholders, especially BoT members, The Guardian learnt that Wike’s position has the backing of the majority of the governors, who are working for the emergence of the one of them from the Northwest zone as the party’s candidate. It was disclosed that before Wike made his threat public last Wednesday, he had a meeting in Port Harcourt with outgoing governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, his Taraba counterpart Ishiaku Dairus and that of Gombe, Ibrahim Dankwabo.

A member of the PDP National Working Committee from Southeast who pleaded anonymity disclosed that some key party members, including some presidential aspirants, governors and members of Board of Trustees, who had earlier agreed to the Port Harcourt venue, suddenly developed cold feet and opposed the decision, citing some actions and inactions of Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike that did not go down well with them.

“Some party leaders, aspirants and their supporters said that by Wike’s utterances and actions since the choice of Port Harcourt was made, though not rectified the party’s NEC, showed that Wike is already working for the emergence a particular aspirant from Northwest zone, who is also a sitting governor. The aggrieved party stakeholders had petitioned the party leadership, expressing fears that Wike will take advantage of the Port Harcourt venue to influence the outcome in favour of his preferred candidate.

“Some presidential aspirants and their supporters alongside many BoT members have vowed that it is over their dead bodies for the convention to hold in Port Harcourt again. In short, a particular influential aspirant is so angry with the manner Wike is carrying on in the party, using his kinsman, the party’s national chairman. The party leadership don’t want pre-or-post convention crisis. The development is dividing NWC members and creating problem for them. That is why we are consulting with the BoT members, governors, Convention Committee members to make a choice of another venue or at worst persuade aggrieved members to accept Port Harcourt,” NWC member said.

Confirming a likely change of venue of the convention, PDP spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan told The Guardian on telephone that there is no controversy about the venue of the convention, saying that the party is still discussing it.

“The party is still discussing it. Whenever we conclude discussion, we will make it public. As a party, certain things are natural. They will always spring up from time to time. But we will surely come up with a venue soon.”

A member of the BoT, Chief Ebenezer Babatope said that he was aware that Port Harcourt was the chosen venue for the national convention, saying that he thought it will hold in Abuja. A former chairman of the PDP and strong supporter of one of the presidential aspirants and ex-Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar told The Guardian that they are quite aware of Wike’s antics and his resolve to influence the outcome of the party convention in favour of his preferred candidate, who is also a sitting governor in one of the Northwest states. “We will not allow Wike to have his way. He has been mobilising his colleagues to work for his preferred candidate. Wike has the right to support any aspirant, but he should not do so by bringing down the roof. Wike is not more important than the presidential aspirants. Majority of them are former governors, ex-vice president and ex-ministers. So, why is Wike behaving like the only person in the party. The convention cannot hold in Port Harcourt again. It is not possible. PDP is not the governor’s property.”

But Atiku’s media aide, Mr Paul Ibe told The Guardian that he was not aware that his boss was opposed to Port Harcourt venue of the convention.

“My boss is interested in where the convention holds. Atiku is busy consulting with the major stakeholders and delegates across the country. I just read about the objection about the Port Harcourt venue in the newspaper just like every other Nigerian. Whether it holds in Port Harcourt, Abuja or Lagos, what interests Atiku is free and fair primary.”

On the allegation that Atiku has divided and compromised majority members of BoT, Ibe said: “That is not true. How did Atiku divide the BoT members? Remember that some BoT members who are former governors, senators, deputy governors and others are statutory delegates. Atiku needs their votes and is using the windows open for consultations to reach them.

“It is expected in an exercise like this, that different people will support different aspirants, but the most important thing is that at the end, the decision of all the delegates, not that of one individual will determine the outcome of the exercise.”

Speaking to The Guardian on the rift over venue, a member of BoT and former Minister of Health, Prof ABC Nwosu advised that PDP should handle the situation with tact to avoid further division that will create major challenges for the party.

“We must be very careful not to engage in any acrimony that will benefit the ruling party APC. We must thread with caution because we have a major battle ahead which is the presidential election. How we manage things now will determine how well we will fair in the election. Nobody should impose any aspirant on the party. This is because whoever emerges as our candidate will not be president of PDP, but that of Nigeria.

“This is a trial moment for PDP and we must overcome the trial. Our major aim is to dislodge the APC-led government. It is achievable because the present government has failed Nigerians. Nigerians are looking unto PDP to rescue the country,” Nwosu said.

Another member of BoT revealed that after the protracted PDP crisis, which Wike played a major role overtly and covertly, the BoT wrote him a commendation letter, thanking him for his role in rescuing the party from self-induced crisis.

“I hope it is not on the basis of this that Wike is looking down on BoT members, but the members are being mindful of actions and inactions that may create another round of crisis in the party ahead of 2019 elections. It was for this reason that BoT and party leadership are consulting widely before taking final decision on the convention venue.”

On why Abuja or Lagos as alternative venue not canvassed, the BoT member said that PDP is wary of APC antics and will not want to be taken unawares, especially considering the way APC has been shifting its primaries.

“It is possible APC wants our primaries to clash with their own, so that they can deny us venue in Abuja or Lagos. We are considering other venues.”

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