Slowly, but steadily, a major crisis appears to be brewing in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ahead of next year’s presidential election.
The party still appears divided over the choice of its running mate. Saturday Sun however gathered that the cause of the anger and division has nothing to do with the competence of the eventual candidate for the position, former Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi. But sources say it has everything to do with the manner he emerged.
This much was confirmed by the Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, who also doubles as Chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum, who confirmed that South-East leaders were not consulted before the emergence of Obi.
“Nobody is against Peter Obi, because he is my friend, competent and you must have seen our pictures together on the social media. We must take decisions against the marginalisation of Ebonyi people because if we have to vote, we must be treated with equity.
“Two names of the nominees came from Anambra, two from Abia and one from Enugu, but none came from Ebonyi and Imo.
“What is wrong with somebody from Ebonyi and Imo? If you must know, one of the reasons an Ebonyi man is against regions in the country is the fear of further marginalisation.
“If Atiku just picked his running mate without people from other regions seeing the list and making choices, there could have been no complaints. I am talking about the South-East people and if six people can come from other regions and take decisions, there must be somebody from the South-East zone.
“There is nothing like the South-East governors’ stand on the matter; but we are only saying that when decisions are taken and people from other regions are invited, those from the South-East must be invited,” Umahi said.
The raging fire
The man at the centre of the fresh crisis, which insiders say was capable of eroding all the gains the party may have recorded so far in its march towards 2019 is the deputy president of the senate, Ike Ekweremadu.
Saturday Sun gathered that long before former vice president and PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, returned to the party, himself and Ekweremadu had been meeting over 2019.
It was the leaks from one of such meetings that made some of the party leaders at the time to allege that Ekweremadu was scheming to hand over the party to Atiku. But that at every of such meetings, even when Atiku was said to have out rightly offered the deputy senate president the vice presidency slot, Ekweremadu would always insist that he was more interested in what the South-East stand to gain as a bloc from his presidency.
Saturday Sun further gathered that it was such talks that culminated in the entire South-East giving bloc votes to Atiku, at the just concluded PDP presidential primary, a development that did go down well with some party leaders in the South-south.
“It was a collective decision we took to back Atiku for a number of reasons. One, we had wanted to meet with the South-south to take a common position on that. But one leader in particular treated us as if we didn’t matter. So, when Ekweremadu called us, we met and weighed the options before us based on the offers made by each of the aspirants.
“One of the offers that fascinated us most, which is restructuring, was made by Atiku. Then the other was his desire to do just one term so as to enable the South-East field a presidential candidate in 2023. We saw that as a good counter to our opponents, the APC in the South-East, who have been canvassing that a Buhari’s second term was the surest way to Igbo presidency in 2023.
“Now, after the primary, we expected Atiku to come back to us, so we can tidy up the details of our understanding, and move on from there. But that did not happen. The next thing we heard was that announcement of a running mate without recourse to us. Nobody is against Peter Obi’s choice, not even Ekweremadu, who has been asking us to take it easy. But that is not how to go about it, unless Atiku thinks himself and Obi can go it alone in the South-East,” one of the party leaders said.
How Ekweremadu was used and dumped
Insisting that the deputy president of the senate was not fairly treated, one of the party leaders from the South-East further said “No, look at the way they treated Ekweremadu. When all of them left, Ekweremadu remained to fight for the survival of this party. How many of them would have resisted the temptation not to defect in the face of the intimidation, harassment, prosecution and persecution meted out on him? As a person, he had nothing to lose if he had defected then. In fact, he had everything to gain. He probably would have been the senate president because he was offered the slot.
“Then, when you people now return, you feel that people, who have held this party to survive, do not matter again simply because you got a presidential ticket. Also, even Saraki knows that if DSP had not been loyal, they would have gotten at him (Saraki) long ago. All the trials Ekweremadu was put through were all because of Saraki. But when it was the turn of Saraki to be there for him, he failed him. And as we speak, how many days is this after the primary? Atiku is yet to call DSP.
“You don’t treat a man who has been taking bullets on you people’s behalf like that. Well, I wish them and PDP well, but they should know that action begets reaction and they will pay the price for this mistreatment of people, who have laboured for the party at the toughest time. And if Ekweremadu leaves, we will hold these people responsible” one of the leaders from the South-East told Saturday Sun.
Atiku, Saraki keep mum
When contacted, spokesman for the Bukola Saraki Campaign Organisation, Mr. Ilemona Onoja, promised to get across, since three days ago. But up till the time of filling this report, he is yet to get back.
When called again, he said “Sorry, it took so long. I have been trying to reach my Principal. He travelled abroad; I cannot have this conversation without some sort of clearance. Like Saraki, Atiku’s spokesperson too, Mr. Segun Showunmi has refused to react to the development. For three days too, he remained evasive even when questions were sent to him vide the email to enable him respond.
Ekweremadu, not bitter
However, another party leader from the South-East revealed that the deputy senate president is not personally bitter over the turn of event. He was only worried that the way the actors were going about it, if not checked, South-East may not be in a position to push through some of the understandings it reached with Atiku before giving him their support, key among which is restructuring and 2023 Igbo presidency project.
“I agree with you, they just used and dumped the man. The man has always been faithful in all their deals and arrangements. He will keep to his own side of the bargain, but these people have never kept faith with him.
“Personally, I see what they are doing to him as a grand design to destroy him politically. Otherwise, even if Atiku was going to change his mind, he was supposed to carry Ekweremadu and other leaders along. Good enough, Ekweremadu has always insisted he was more interested in restructuring and South-East running for the presidency in 2023. He even joked to Atiku to feel free to pick his running mate from the any part of the north if he felt that would guarantee the PDP victory.
“To deliberately avoid him and other party leaders in the East until the Obi’s announcement was made shows it was in bad faith. And to say Saraki was part of the meeting where the decision was made, after promising Ekweremadu to be there for him as he has been there for him, that he would ensure Atiku honours all the agreement he had with him (Ekweremadu) and the Igbo leaders show Saraki too did not value all the sacrifices made by Ekweremadu on his behalf over the years.
“Well, I cannot say precisely what Ekweremadu is thinking. But as a politician, he should truly be weighing his options because the way these people have carried on does not hold any promises for him. If we are just preparing for a war and members of our troop are already treating some of us as conquered species, since they believe the war has already been won and lost even before it starts, then, I think there is reason to worry, “the party leader said.
Ekweremadu’s aide reacts
When contacted, Ekweremadu’s spokesman, Mr. Uche Anichukwu pleaded not to be dragged into the matter. He was however quick to add: “I think the South-East leaders have vented their feelings and there is no ill will towards the person of Peter Obi. The deputy president of the senate is more concerned about the collective interest of the South-East going forward.
“You know the deputy president of the senate is one man, who does not always want to rock the boat. But he is a courageous leader too. At the fullest of time, I am sure he will speak up. But you know, he is one man whose political trajectory is directed by God. He is not a desperate person and acts in the collective interest. As for whether he was used and dumped as you said some party leaders allege, he is the only person in a position to say so,” Anichukwu added.