Atiku and the Gang of Five

Posted by News Express | 12 October 2022 | 525 times

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On Monday in Uyo, Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, kicked off what is possibly his last push for power after an initial attempt dating back 30 years. At 75, it’s make or break for him as another bid in four years looks implausible.

All things considered, he must have been heartened by some of the optics: a stadium brimming with colorfully-attired party faithful, a carnival in friendly territory to generate the much needed feel good factor. If spectacle was the goal, his host and chairman of the party’s campaign council, Akwa Ibom Governor, Udom Emmanuel, duly delivered.

But for all the gay speechifying, there was a sense of deja vu that hung over the event. Of the party’s 13 governors, five were absent. Nyesom Wike of Rivers, who has been locked in a battle of wills with Atiku and the PDP hierarchy, boycotted along with four colleague governors – Samuel Ortom of Benue, Seyi Makinde of Oyo, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu and Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia.

There was no glossing over the fact that the former Vice President was going into the biggest fight of his political career with a fractured house. Embattled National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, referenced this when he told the crowd Nigerians were not interested in their internal fight, but were only waiting for the opposition to ride to their rescue.

Ayu had to say something, but I suspect that as an old political warhorse he understands that PDP’s challenge is in dire straits. In this environment, the advantages of incumbency at state and federal levels cannot be understated. It is one thing to lose a governor, quite a different matter to be deserted by five. A similar development seven years ago was pivotal in truncating PDP’s rule.

What would have been especially troubling for the rank and file is that one of the no-shows was Wike – a figure who has been a bulwark for the former ruling party in its seven-year stint in the power wilderness. When funding dried up, he and a few others stepped into the breach. When others worried about offending an incumbent who had the power to unleash the EFCC and ICPC against them, he was only too glad to tweak the lion’s tail. It is such a bruiser that’s missing from PDP’s corner.

Anyone who understands Nigerian politics knows that whoever will prevail in a presidential election must have control of some or all of the tripod of Rivers, Lagos and Kano States. In 2015, PDP’s defeat was facilitated by its loss of two of these vote-rich territories. History, may be repeating itself as none of these strategic states is currently hopeful hunting ground for Atiku.

The PDP candidate has made a great show of pressing ahead with his campaign without the Gang of Five. It is all too reminiscent of what played out seven years ago when another set of five governors revolted against then President Goodluck Jonathan’s bid. Putting a brave face on what was clearly a calamitous political development, he declared then that the party would be better off without the troublemakers. The opposite was the case.

Indeed, the then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) which had just eight governors suddenly saw its ranks swollen to 13 in one fell swoop with the coming of Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers, Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano, Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara, Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto and Murtala Nyako of Adamawa. The arrival of Imo’s Rochas Okorocha, leading a rump of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) took the count to 14.

That historic realignment transformed the seeming no-hoper opposition party into a formidable prospect with an impressive nationwide spread. Added to the ranks of 2015’s version of the Gang of Five were heavyweights like Atiku and former Senate President Bukola Saraki, leaving PDP badly wounded and limping into battle.

Back then, the rebels bolted from the party. Today, Wike and company insist they are not leaving. Yet, their not participating in the presidential campaign is just as good as not being in the party at a time when they are desperately needed. As things stand Atiku can only really count on eight governors and faces the very real prospect of protest or tactical voting where those opposed to him rule the roost.


Consider the following scenario also. In 2015, Peter Obi ran as Atiku’s undercard. Today, he’s the former VP’s rival in a zone that was once PDP’s comfort zone. The region is now an unpredictable battleground. Anambra is controlled by APGA, Ebonyi and Imo by APC, and Enugu and Abia by two governors currently abstaining from his campaign. Of course, voting in the presidential poll may not necessarily follow the current power configuration.

Still, in a zone where fear has become a factor, where a sense of regional grievance is driving a backlash against an erstwhile ally that didn’t consider its people good enough for the main opposition party’s ticket, there’s plenty of reason for Atiku to worry.


It is just as awkward in Benue where Ortom finds himself at odds with the chairman who is from the same state. A few days ago he gave Ayu the recipe for resolving the crisis: go on bended knees or resign. None of that will happen. The governor is also feeling the heat with an influential group warning him to back down or face defeat in his quest for a senate seat. Not exactly your picture of everyone pulling in the same direction.


As for Wike, he may not be defecting but the differences between his camp and Atiku’s now seem irreconcilable. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the ex-VP in Uyo were the likes of Celestine Omehia and former Senator Lee Maeba who the Rivers governor has targeted for defying him. His scotched earth tactics in delisting the former as an ex-Rivers governor is indicative that this is a fight to the finish.


At the heart of the PDP dispute is a debacle it created when it casually junked the power rotation principle which has become an article of faith in the polity. Those who oppose Atiku cannot back down with nothing to show for their struggle. They must have something to appease those who want an explanation as to how another Northerner can succeed one who would have served for eight years. For them, nothing but Ayu’s scalp would do.


In the end politicians are not just optimists, they are also pragmatists. They know their party can win, but the smart ones are also planning for life after a loss. So, the


Intra-party battle is about 2023 and beyond.


Wike and company understand that win or lose they have created an army of foes who would be gunning for them in due course. That’s why it’s critical that they control their party after the polls. It is also vital for Atiku to control the reins in the event he loses, if not he and his allies would be swept away permanently by the tsunami of recriminations that’s bound to follow.


Never before has an candidate fought on so many fronts and prevailed. But then, the Turaki Adamawa is an uncommon optimist. That’s the reason he’s been running for the same office for 30 years without giving up. (The Nation)


Source: News Express

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