PDP chair: Wike camp pushes for Damagum against Suswam, Agbo

There is heightened tension in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ahead of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting slated forThursday. The NEC is the second highest organ of the opposition party, after the National Convention.

The NEC meeting, which is the first in the last 19 months, is expected to take far-reaching decisions on issues affecting the party, including the appointment of a substantive national chairman to replace former Senate president, Iyorchia Ayu.

Expectedly, in the run-up to the meeting, supporters of former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike, have renewed their supremacy battle over the control of the PDP, ahead of the 2023 general election.

Atiku and Wike fell out prior to the 2023 general election, in the aftermath of the nomination of former Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as PDP vice presidential candidate and refusal of Ayu to vacate his position as demanded by the G-5, led by the FCT minister.

Ayu was elected on October 31, 2021, but the party appointed the deputy national chairman from Kebbi State, Umar Damagum, on March 28, 2023, to act as its national chairman. Damagum took over from Ayu after he was barred by a Benue court from his position.

While the Atiku camp is pushing for the immediate appointment of a substantive national chairman, to take over from Umar Damagum, who have been occupying the office in acting capacity, since the ouster of Ayu as national chairman, last year, Wike’s supporters, including some governors and members of the National Working Committee (NWC) wants Damagum to be confirmed as substantive national chairman.

Daily Sun gathered that lately, PDP stakeholders in the North Central, where Ayu hails from, have been insisting the zone must produce his replacement in line with the opposition party’s constitution.

Already, no fewer than three aspirants, including former Benue State governor, Gabriel Suswam; former PDP deputy national secretary, Emmanuel Agbo and the opposition party’s Nasarawa State 2023 governorship candidate, David Ombugadu, from the North Central have indicated interest to serve as the next PDP national chairman.  Although there has been a subtle campaign for former Senate president, Bukola Saraki, to emerge the next PDP national chairman, Daily Sun gathered that Kwara State already has a representative in the NWC.

Also, Daily Sun gathered that there are overtures to former Senate president, David Mark, to serve as the PDP chairman. Nevertheless, Mark is said to be very reluctant for many personal reasons.

N’Central should complete tenure.

While declaring his intention to newsmen in Abuja, at the weekend, Suswam pleaded with the party to retain the position in the North Central and also noted his desire to complete the tenure of suspended national chairman, Senator Ayu.

The former governor and lawmaker reiterated that the zone which produced Ayu in 2021 should complete his tenure and cited precedence for holding the position.

“For me, I am not insisting that it must be me, but if it is me, it will be better for the party. But I am not saying that it must be me, but North Central should not be shortchanged. When Bamanga Tukur was removed, Muazu was brought in from the Northeast. Muazu, Modu Sheriff came in. So there’s a precedent for that. So, I don’t see any reason why this should be an exception.

“When Solomon Lar’s tenure, his first tenure expired, and it was moved to Gemade to complete that second tenure.Of course, when Gemade was removed, Audu Ogbe completed the tenure of Gemade. “So, there is a precedent for this; so, there is nothing unusual on why we are making that demand from the North Central. And we believe that with these three meetings that are being convened by the National Working Committee of our party, that decision will be taken.

“…It is true that I have stepped up to consult with people within North Central. Ordinary, it would have just been a North Central affair because North Central is expected to bring a replacement. This is not an elective kind of contest. It is just people to sit down and say, look, this is the person we feel that has the capacity to complete Ayu’s tenure. So it’s not as competitive as people are putting it.

Reps wade in

Last week, members of the PDP caucus were sharply angry over the continued stay of Damagum as acting national chairman. The chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Ikenga Ugochinyere, who spoke on behalf of Coalition of Opposition Lawmakers, demanded the immediate resignation of the PDP acting national chairman and his replacement with a party stalwart from North Central.

They accused him of working for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and flayed his failure to call for a National Executive Council (NEC) since he replaced Senator Ayu. Ugochinyere, while noting that he was speaking on behalf of 60 PDP lawmakers, warned that Damagum continued stay in office will spell doom for the party.

Nevertheless, the Minority Leader, Kingsley Chinda, an ally of the FCT Minister, in a statement jointly signed with other leaders of the caucus, disowned the Ugochinyere group, saying it was not known to the parliament.

There are indications that the leadership of the minority caucus, which is represented at NEC by Chinda, would endorse Damagum.

Senators join forces with Wike’s camp.

The Senate caucus has opposed plans to remove the acting chairman. Minority Leader and head of the PDP caucus in the Senate, Abba Moro, in a statement, said the call for his resignation was ill-timed and inappropriate.

The statement said the call by a faction of the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives was a personal opinion, as it did not reflect the opinion of PDP federal lawmakers, especially PDP senators.  It said the call coming few days to the long-awaited and most anticipated NEC meeting was a needless ruffling of feathers.

On the scheduled NEC meeting, Moro said it would afford members of the NEC to ventilate their opinions on the goings on in the party.

He said they were looking forward to a very robust discussion on the issues concerning the party and Nigeria in the meeting.

On the seat of the national chairman of the party, the senator said the issue was a very crucial one. He averred that there was no basis for anyone to suggest that the seat be thrown open or zoned to any other region apart from North Central.

Moro said PDP had a constitution, the grund norm of its existence, which provides for two deputy chairmen.

He said where there was a vacancy, the deputy chairman of the zone where the embattled national chairman comes from will act. He said he did not subscribe to any call for the seat to be thrown open or zoned to any region aside North Central.

The lawmaker counseled that if the party must regain its lost glory and remain formidable as the biggest political party in Africa, NEC members must go into the next meeting with some level of circumspection so that the baby is not thrown away with the bath water.

Swap deal.

Regardless, Daily Sun gathered that the PDP governors, which had, in February, passed a vote of confidence in the Damagum-led NWC, as a way of pacifying the North Central, had proposed a swap of the national chairman and deputy national chairman positions, between the Northeast and North Central.   The proposal is that Damagum, who is from the Northeast be confirmed as substantive chairman, while North Central produces the deputy.

A source close to one of the North Central leaders said: “I don’t know the arrangement the PDP governors had with the Damagum-led NWC for them to give them a vote of confidence to continue. But the issue is that the North Central is insisting they must complete their tenure. On what basis are you going to take the national chairmanship from them? And asking them to produce the deputy? The swap is not known to the party’s constitution.

“They are asking Damagum to continue, while they ask the North Central to bring a deputy. But the North Central is saying the proposal is not known to the PDP constitution. They want to complete their tenure,” the source said.

A top party source confirmed to Daily Sun that the governors want  Ombugadu to be made deputy national chairman, but that the proposal did not go down well with some North Central stakeholders.

According to the source, their argument is if Ombugadu could be deputy national chairman, he could as well be national chairman, hence, the recent push for the former governorship hopeful to succeed Ayu as PDP national chairman.

“This battle is between Wike and Atiku camps. Governors are already split along that line. Party members are also split along the same line. Damagum is Wike and Ombagudu was penciled to be deputy national chairman (North), so that Damagum can be substantive national chairman. They are altering the zoning. They want them to swap. But some North Central leaders did not agree.

“Their argument is that if he can be deputy, then he can be chairman also. So, they want to push him to be chairman. The idea of Ombagudu being chairman is causing issues in Wike’s camp,” the source said.

Ombagudu, in a statement, on Saturday, confirmed there was a push for him to serve the PDP.  The former governorship candidate said while he had not joined the contest, he abides with the decisions of the party.

Nevertheless, Daily Sun gathered that Wike’s men, within and outside the NWC, were intensifying their lobby to have Damagum confirmed or in the alternative, to be allowed to continue to act in that capacity, until after the offseason elections in Edo and Ondo states.

Promoters of the Damagum project argue that since the suit by Ayu, challenging his ouster, is still pending at the Court of Appeal, there was no need to fill his position. Secondly, the support for the acting chairman is premised on the need for party stability, until there is a consensus on his replacement.

Ayu has no court case against PDP.

But Suswam told newsmen that contrary to reports, Ayu has no case against the PDP in court and has already secured his nod to replace him, against the backdrop of a vacancy in the position.

“Yes, there is (vacancy). No, it is not subjudice. That is what the party is telling you, but it is not in court. But even if he is in court, Secondus is in the Supreme Court. Did that stop the party from selecting Ayu? Secondus is in the Supreme Court. Did it stop anything? Did it stop anything? No. But Ayu is not in court, he will prove that. He’s not in court…

“I have interacted with him; I have spoken with him. I went to him first and I said look there is this general agitation from the North Central that there should be a replacement for you, and I desire to be that person and he said I have all his support and he’s giving me all his support. Ayu has given me all his support. We are believing that, on the (April) 18th, NEC would take a decisive decision on that…He is not in court. I can authoritatively tell you that. Ayu is not in court.”

Atiku party leader

Again, asked which camp he belongs to in the PDP, he replied: “I don’t think there are camps in PDP.  I don’t think so. We have one PDP. All we are saying is that let us have a strong leadership. Wike is the minister of FCT. He is working with the President and said that he is still a member of PDP. That is not for me to comment on. I don’t think he has a camp.  Atiku was a presidential candidate and by that position, he is a leader of the party. And so, any person who believes in this party, in PDP as a party, will look up to Atiku for leadership because by being a presidential candidate, he is automatically the leader of the party. So, I don’t think that is a camp.”

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