As preparations for the 2023 general elections hot up, the ruling All Progressives Congress is making frantic moves to win more influential politicians into its fold. Three governors on the platform of the party on Friday visited the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, to woo him to join the party.
Wike is said to be dissatisfied with the outcome of the presidential primary of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, which produced Atiku Abubakar as the candidate, while he emerged as the first runner-up. The governor is also said to be aggrieved by the choice of Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as Atiku’s running mate despite the recommendations of a committee that favoured him.
The aftermath of the primary led to a deep crack in the party with some members, believed to be loyal to Wike, calling for the resignation of the national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu and substitution of Okowa’s name with Wike as the running mate.
The absence of Atiku, who has been on vacation abroad, is also said to be exacerbating the crisis, as many believe he should have met Wike in person and play a critical role in uniting the party before the crisis escalates.
The APC is therefore believed to be taking advantage of the festering crisis in the opposition party and Atiku’s absence to woo the governor, who is seen by many as influential and a mobiliser.
On Friday, three APC governors: Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State who is also the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum; Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State; and Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State; and a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, who is a PDP member, visited Wike in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
As soon as they alighted from their vehicle, they exchanged banters, hugs and handshakes with Wike. However, a top government official in the state who did not want his name mentioned noted that as soon as they arrived, they went into a closed-door meeting with Wike and that the meeting lasted for about an hour and thirty minutes.
Though it could not be ascertained what their discussion was about, it is believed that the visit was about the 2023 elections and attempt by the ruling party to woo the governor to join the APC.
When asked by reporters what their visit was about, Fayemi reportedly said “it was a Sallah visit”.
While trading banters before the meeting, Fayemi who was the first to speak while in a handshake with Wike said, “Why did you come here with a camera?” Wike replied, “Am I hiding?”
Then, Akeredolu while shaking the governor, said, “Wike, Wike,” which elicited another response from him, saying, “They said I went to London. Which day did I go to London? Is this place (his residence) London?” But Fayemi interjected, “London via Turkey.”
Teasing their host, Akeredolu kept hailing Wike and told him that the cap he (Wike) wore was now in vogue but Wike replied, saying “I don’t want to wear it”, as they all burst into laughter and walked towards the governor’s residence.
They continued their banter as they walked towards Wike’s residence.
‘Come join us’
Meanwhile, a source at the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the APC governors told Wike to join them in their quest to win the 2023 presidential election.
The source said, “The plan is to woo him to our side since his party seems to be ignoring him. We asked him to work with us.”
Asked what Wike’s response was, the source said “Well, you don’t expect him to jump at the offer. This is because his party already had a candidate for all the elective positions, especially in his state. But we want him to work with our presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. But he gave us no commitment.”
Their visit came a few weeks after Governor Dave Umahi, also of the APC, visited the governor and held a closed-door meeting with him. The details of the meeting were not known but it is believed it’s also about the 2023 elections. Umahi and Wike had previously had open disagreements prior to the party primaries.
Apart from Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples’ Party who also visited the governor, some PDP leaders, including Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, the Senate Minority Leader, Phillip Aduda; his deputy, Shuaibu Lau; and deputy Minority Whip, Danjuma La’ah, had paid similar visits to Wike recently. The visits also included closed-door meetings.
There has been widespread speculation that Wike may be contemplating dumping the PDP, but the governor who had always said he remained in the PDP, had yet to make any statement to that effect.
Governor Samuel Ortom had in a recent interview expressed displeasure over the way the party handled the aftermath of the primary, especially as it concerned Wike. Fayose, who contested the presidential primary, said about a week ago that it was either southern presidency or nothing.
Meanwhile, the PDP has said it is not threatened by the visit of the APC governors to Wike. It also said the visit was expected since the 36 governors would have common issues to deliberate upon.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Debo Ologunagba, told one of our correspondents in an interview that the visit by the three APC governors was normal.
He added, “The (APC) governors are free to visit any of their colleagues. Wike, who is our performing governor, couldn’t have rejected the offer by his colleagues to visit him. Also, the visit is not meant to threaten us. We are not threatened at all because the APC were probably in Rivers State to learn from Wike.
“Let me also add that the governors have a club known as the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and its members are free to socialise and visit one another. There is nothing wrong with that. It is good for governance because beyond politics, the governors need to come together for the good of the country.”
Asked when Atiku would return to the country, Ologunagba said, “Anytime from now.”
However, sources within the party said its leadership was worried about Atiku’s trips.
Atiku was said to have travelled to the United States some days ago, from where he moved to Dubai. However, a source close to him told one of our correspondents that the former vice president is now in France.
Rivers APC speaks
The spokesperson for the APC in Rivers State, Chris Finebone, has said he wouldn’t be the one to decide whether or not Wike would be welcomed to the APC if he decides to defect.
He said in an interview with one of our correspondents, “I won’t be the one to decide whether the door will be open or closed but if you ask me for my personal opinion, Wike will not go to the APC.
“Wike may work out something with those who are visiting him and might not necessarily go to the APC. There are a thousand and-one things he can arrange with those visiting him without pronouncing his movement to APC; that is my personal view.
“I think it is taking speculations too far that those three governors came with an ex-governor Fayose, it may be a sign of working together but it may also not mean out rightly decamping to join the party.”
Ex-VP in France
Meanwhile, Atiku is said to be in France after his trips to the United States and Dubai. A top source in the party told one of our correspondents that the former vice-president was on vacation, adding that he needed to rest given that once he returned he would be busy with campaigns that would last till the February 25, 2023 presidential election.
When reminded that Atiku’s absence was not good for the party, the source said, “Atiku Abubakar is on vacation. The man is taking a break. This race will be a marathon by the time he gets back, so he deserves the vacation now.
“Genuine stakeholders, members of the party and leaders recognise that everything needs to be done to resolve all the issues and the reconciliation process has started and is ongoing. It’s not only about Atiku Abubakar; the party has taken ownership of it. He’s the candidate of the party and the party is trying to find a solution to these issues, and I think people should give them the opportunity.”
When asked if Atiku’s camp had fears about the APC governors to Wike, the source said, “People need to have some respect for Governor Nyesom Wike. He is a governor and those who visited him are also governors, and they have a right to interact and if they do, why should people interpret it wrongly. That amounts to a disservice and they are not being fair to him.
“In all of these, we must take cognisance of what Governor Wike has said; that PDP is in his DNA and that whatever was the outcome of that primary, he would work for the PDP in 2023. That was his last say on that matter and I think we should respect that.
The presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, returned to the country on Friday, 11 days after he travelled to France.
Tinubu’s Spokesperson, Tunde Rahman, confirmed this in an interview with one of our correspondents on Friday.
Also, Tinubu, via his official Twitter handle, Friday evening, shared a tweet, “Heading home,” with a link to his Instagram page showing him inside an aircraft.
Tinubu had travelled to France on June 27 for “important meetings.”
Tinubu departed Nigeria shortly after he held a closed-door meeting with the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on June 27.
While announcing his trip to France via a statement, Rahman said, “He is off to Paris, France to hold some important meetings. The APC standard-bearer is expected back in the country shortly.”
Some of his supporters expressed hope that the matter of his running mate would now be settled in a matter of days.
Although his media team averred that the candidate travelled to the French country ‘to hold important meetings,’ his critics believed that it was a mission to perfect his plans ahead of the 2023 general elections while some believed he travelled for medical attention.
Ayu back home
On Friday, Ayu also returned to the country from the United Kingdom after a brief vacation. He arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
Ayu travelled to the UK on June 21 for a brief vacation after the party’s primaries and nomination processes.
A statement by the Special Assistant on Communication and Strategy to the Chairman, Simon Imobo-Tswam, stated that before the vacation, Ayu the Deputy National Chairman (North), Ambassador Umar Damagum, to act for him.