More facts have emerged on why the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, rejected the recommendation of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, as his running mate for the 2023 election.
Mr Atiku on Thursday presented Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as his vice presidential pick, 18 days after the former vice president won the presidential primary of the party in Abuja, for the second consecutive time.
Mr Wike, who came second in the primary, was one of three governors recommended by an ad hoc committee of the PDP to Mr Atiku for his consideration as his running mate. The others were Mr Okowa and Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel.
However, Mr Atiku told senior party leaders that he could not work with Mr Wike. Aside from describing him as a direct opponent, the candidate said Mr Wike does not like him, citing how he almost thwarted his nomination in 2018 at the party’s National Convention in Port Harcourt.
Mr Wike at that time had supported Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, who eventually returned second at the primary on that occasion.
Ironically, Mr Tambuwal’s withdrawal and endorsement of Mr Atiku just before voting started at the Abuja convention of the party on May 29 were pivotal to Mr Atiku defeating Mr Wike with 371 to 237.
After the convention, Mr Atiku paid a visit to Mr Wike in his residence in Abuja, during which the governor promised the candidate and the PDP his full support for the general elections.
According to a party insider, “Atiku was horrified after Wike returned to Port Harcourt and was publicly attacking his colleague governors for supporting Atiku at the primary.”
Mr Atiku also believes that Mr Wike’s fallout with the former National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, who was subsequently removed from the position last year, was due to the governor’s perception that Mr Secondus had become close to him (Atiku).
According to the source, many party elders and leaders feared that picking Mr Wike would tear the party apart instead of unifying it, saying many of his colleague governors in the South-south and South-east do not like his ways.
“Our leaders acknowledge the role Wike played in ensuring the survival of the party during its trying moments, but they do not like his boastful ways and the way he always threatened the party and party leaders to have his way every time.
“They believe that such a combative and garrulous person cannot be suitable for the role of vice president and that is the reason many party leaders were against Wike,” the source said.
Following the strong run of Mr Wike in the primary in which he drew the support of delegates from across the country, his supporters and many party leaders urged Mr Atiku to pick him as his running mate to unify the party for the February 25, 202,3 presidential election.
Mr Atiku was said to have promised to consider Mr Okowa for nomination as his running mate to get the votes of Delta State’s delegates in the primary.
However, after the campaign for Mr Wike to be included on the ticket began to grow in the party, Mr Atiku offered the Rivers governor or his nominee the petroleum ministry portfolio if he wins the election, but the governor rejected the offer.
To avert a repeat of the accusation that he unilaterally picked Peter Obi as his running mate for the 2019 election, Mr Atiku decided to involve the party’s leadership in the nomination.
After consultations between the candidate and the party’s National Working Committee, Board of Trustees and state governors, the party set up a 17-member committee to recommend candidates for the slot.
Although there were reports between Tuesday and Wednesday that the committee overwhelmingly voted to recommend Mr Wike, it was gathered that it only recommended the three governors for the slot.
Mr Atiku had arranged to meet Mr Wike Thursday morning to personally inform him of his decision, but apparently, on realising that Mr Okowa was the choice, the Rivers governor flew out of Abuja on the eve of the meeting.
It is not known whether Atiku and Mr Wike have spoken with each other since then but the governor has not made a public statement on the nomination of the running mate by his party’s presidential candidate.