There are strong indications that the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, is intensifying efforts to get the support of the Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike for the 2023 presidential poll.
Contrary to some online reports that the duo met in France on Tuesday, multiple sources confirmed to The PUNCH on Tuesday that Tinubu and Wike met in London, the United Kingdom, on Monday as part of moves to work together ahead of the election.
It was gathered that some APC and Peoples Democratic Party governors also attended the crucial meeting.
Prior to the Monday meeting, the ruling party had attempted to cash in on the crisis in the PDP over the presidential primary won by former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, which left Wike aggrieved.
On July 8, three APC governors, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State visited Wike at his Rumueprikon country home in Port Harcourt, as part of moves to woo him.
Also present at the meeting was a former Ekiti governor and PDP member, Ayodele Fayose.
The PDP set up a reconciliation panel to resolve the crisis between Atiku and Wike. The crisis began after the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, emerged as Atiku’s running mate.
After several postponements, the panel met Wike in Port Harcourt last Friday but the meeting ended in a stalemate following the insistence of the Rivers State governor on the removal of the National Chairman of the PDP, Iyorchia Ayu, over the role he played in the emergence of the former vice-president as the party standard -bearer.
Sources at the meeting disclosed that Wike’s representatives at the meeting said Ayu could not be an impartial chairman because he took sides during the special convention.
It was gathered that the failure of the reconciliation panel to assuage Wike’s anger had put Atiku’s peace moves on a shaky ground, leaving room for Tinubu to court the governor.
Confirming the meeting between Wike and the APC presidential candidate, a source in Tinubu’s camp said the parley was held in London.
He stated, “Governors Sanwo-Olu and Fayemi were equally part of the delegation. Contrary to what some online media are speculating, the meeting was held in London yesterday (Monday).’’
Asked if an agreement was struck, the source said he could not confirm because the full details had not been disclosed to him.
The source added, “Don’t forget that Sanwo-Olu and Fayemi earlier went with Fayose and Akeredolu to see Wike in Port Harcourt on behalf of our principal. Definitely, something is going on between them. However, I may not be in a position to tell whether there was a sort of MoU or agreement between them.’’
On whether the romance between Tinubu’s men and Wike was a possible factor fuelling the gale of defections in Rivers APC, he noted, “We are not concerned about (ex-minister Rotimi) Amaechi at the moment. He has been lukewarm to Tinubu’s ticket and we know Wike’s action is giving his camp sleepless nights. In truth, what does Amaechi brings to the table?’’
Speaking further, the party stalwart stated, ‘’In the last elections, how many votes did Amaechi garner from Rivers for the APC? In the 2015 election, he raked in over 60,000 votes. In 2019, he brought 130,000 votes. What is all that? We didn’t even win 10 per cent.
“Politics is a game of numbers. You need to have people who will back your ticket, not people without electoral value. Wike has done far more than he did. I don’t know how Wike did it but he seems to have warmed his way into the hearts of his people and they seem to support him more. The way we see it, Rivers State is very important to anybody who wants to win the presidency.’’
It was also gathered that governors Samuel Ortom of Benue State; Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State and Seyi Makinde, were part of the meeting. However, The PUNCH could not independently confirm this.
But a government official in Makurdi who did not want to be identified told one of our correspondents in Benue that Ortom jetted out of the country on Sunday and would return on Thursday.
Though the source could not identify other governors on the trip, he said, “The governor left Nigeria on Sunday and is expected back on Thursday.”
This is happening barely six days after Ortom and his counterparts in Rivers and Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde returned to Nigeria from a trip abroad.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Oyo State governor, Mr Taiwo Adisa, on his part, said, “The governor is on leave and he properly handed over to the deputy governor, who is now the acting governor.”
But the Chief Press Secretary to the Lagos State Governor, Mr Gboyega Akosile, told The PUNCH that Sanwo-Olu did not travel out of the country.
He said, “No, he didn’t travel out. That is a mere rumour. Just two days ago we had an event, and calling him today, he is in town. If you call his number now it would ring.”
However, a reliable government source told The PUNCH that the governor travelled out but had returned to the state.
“He travelled out two days ago but returned today (Tuesday); he is in Lagos now,” he said.
Although it could not be confirmed when Fayemi travelled out of the country, our correspondent last saw him on Sunday at the 2022 Udiroko Festival of Ado Ekiti community.
Fayemi left the event at about 3.55pm immediately after delivering his address leaving his wife, Bisi; the Ewi of Ado Ekiti, Oba Adeyemo Adejugbe; the Ekiti State Deputy Governor, Bisi Egbeyemi; former Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu; and other dignitaries and guests behind as he left the Ewi Palace Pavilion, venue of the celebration.
It, however, cannot be ascertained whether he left the venue for Akure Airport en-route Abuja for the London trip.
Also, a top aide of Ikpeazu, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the governor had travelled out of the country. “The governor is not in the country. The report is everywhere.”
A PDP chieftain in Rivers state confirmed that Wike travelled out of the country on Monday morning, adding that his destination was unknown.
He said, “Definitely the governor is not in the country. Certainly, he is in Europe but where exactly, I do not know. What I can tell you is that I know the governor usually visits Spain because of the ties the Rivers State Government under his leadership has with the Real Madrid Football Club.
“I mean you know too well that we have a Real Madrid Football Academy here in Port Harcourt. So that explains it.
“I know there are speculations here and there that he is in France or Britain and all that, but I don’t know where the media vet all those.
“Whether he is meeting with Bola Tinubu or not, Governor Wike has not told us he is leaving the PDP. But for sure I know he is not in the country. Maybe when he returns, we will know where he travelled to,” he stated.”
The Special Assistant on Media to the Rivers State Governor, Mr Kelvin Ebiri, could not be reached for comment as he didn’t respond to calls and a text message on Tuesday.
When contacted for comment on Tinubu’s attempt to woo Wike, the PDP spokesman, Debo Ologunagba, declined comment, saying he was not aware of the meeting.
Asked about the attempt to resolve the crisis between Wike and Atiku, Ologunagba said, ‘’The reconciliation process is ongoing and we are making good progress. It is a marathon and not a sprint and we are confident that at the end of the day, everything would be fine.’’
Speaking on Tinubu’s moves to woo the Rivers state governor, a source noted that there was a reason some people were worried about Tinubu’s moves to woo Wike.
The source stated, “I’m certain people are worried that Asiwaju is romancing Wike. There is a reason for it. All I know is that there is a southern connection to ensure the presidency does not slip out of our hands after eight years of Northern rule.
“That’s why even Governor Seyi Makinde turned down the offer to become Atiku’s campaign Director-General. This is because for Makinde, accepting to lead such a campaign for a Northern candidate has an implication for him. He knows that himself hence the need to be very careful. ’The presidential election is still five months away. The political manoeuvring must begin now.’’
Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports said the PDP presidential candidate had also travelled to London.
It could not be confirmed if Atiku planned to meet with Wike in order to resolve the crisis tearing the opposition party apart.
But Atiku’s Media Adviser, Paul Ibe, confirmed that his principal travelled to Europe “for a business meeting,’’ after attending the 62nd Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association in Lagos, on Monday.
In a related development, the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jibrin has again reiterated his earlier stand that the party’s leadership structure is pro-north.
Jibrin had on Sunday while featuring on a Channels television Programme ‘Sunday Politics’ said it was not right for the party’s presidential candidate, the national chairman and the BoT chairman, to hail from the same region.
Jibrin in a statement on Tuesday, said, ‘’Based on my earlier statement that the PDP cannot produce a northern president, national chairman, BoT chairman all from the north for the 2023 presidential elections. I still maintain my stand on that statement.
“The PDP is a party that caters for all Nigerians, it’s not sectional but loved by all Nigerians. As the PDP BoT chairman, I must say the truth and nothing but the truth no matter anyone’s criticism. I do not fear anyone but God and the true agenda of our party.
“I will add that I stand strongly on my toes; I have been a true member of PDP since its inception in 1998. Today, I’m one of the trustees’ members of the party who remained in the party since 1998 that never changed to any party passing all positions in the PDP.’’
According to him, the BoT is eagerly waiting for the report of the Reconciliation Committee headed by the Governor Umaru Fintiri of Adamawa State and Prof Jerry Gana.
He further pledged that the BoT would continue discussing with all other aggrieved members of the party including those in states, zones and nationally.
Reacting to Jibrin’s statement, a former member of the House of Representatives, Ogbonna Nwuke, hailed the BoT chair, saying he deserved appreciation from Nigerians for standing by the truth.
Nwuke, who represented Etche-Omuma federal constituency in the National Assembly, said, “I think the chairman of the BoT deserves the appreciation of all Nigerians, particularly those of us who are in the PDP.
“He has stuck by the truth since this crisis started. Truly, he has turned out to be the conscience of our great party. His admission that it is wrong for the North to have everything from BoT chairmanship to the presidential ticket shows that he is a patriot. Those who are fighting for justice, fairness and equity will not forget him.”
Nwuke, a former Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, however, said the party constitution recognises the fact that the party chairmanship and the presidential ticket cannot be domiciled in one geographical zone.
He added, “Article 7, subsection 3(c) clearly expresses this fine point that has made power sharing in the PDP the rallying point of our common unity.
“Recall that prior to the National Convention, when the zoning of national offices took place, all the positions in the South went to the North while those held in the North moved to the South.
“What did not move to the South after the National convention was the presidency. Given the way the PDP has done things over the years, the presidency should be in the South at this time.’’