From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
What does the days ahead hold for the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP), Senator Iyorchia Ayu? Only time will tell following his suspension by his Igyorov ward in Gboko Local Government Area of Benue State, for alleged anti-party activities.
The embattled PDP National chairman, who assumed office 16 months ago, has been in the eye of the storm, since the conclusion of the PDP presidential primary, in May 29, 2022, which was won by former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, and the subsequent nomination of Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa as vice presidential candidate.
In the aftermath of the nomination of the PDP presidential and vice presidential candidates, some party leaders, including the G-5 governors, comprising of Nyesom Wike, Rivers; Samuel Ortom, Benue; Okezie Ikpeazu, Abia; Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Enugu and Seyi Makinde, Oyo drew a battle line with Ayu and Atiku.
The G-5 governors and their supporters demanded for the replacement of Ayu as national chairman with a Southerner, to create a North/South balance, since the presidential candidate was a northerner, as a condition for reconciliation. Nevertheless, the PDP chairman, who enjoys the support of Atiku, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, amongst other northern PDP leaders had insisted that he would not resign, as he was voted for a four years tenure. Unable to find a common ground, the Ayu/ Atiku camp and the Wike camp went their separate ways.
However, the crisis in the PDP over Ayu’s continued leadership of the opposition party assumed a new twist, last Sunday, after his ward announced the suspension of the party leader. In a resolution signed by 12 out of the 17 ward executive and ready by the secretary of Banger Dooyum, Igyorov ward accused the PDP officers and passed a vote of no confidence on him.
According to the resolution “The Peoples Democratic Party Executive Committee of Igyorov council ward of Gboko local government area in Benue state has passed a vote of no confidence on the PDP National Chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu and suspended him from the party.
“He (Ayu) was involved in anti- party activities making the PDP to lose at his ward and local government along with his allies who also didn’t vote at the governorship election.”
However, the PDP chairman, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Communication, Simon Imobo-Tswam, dismissed his suspension by the ward as nullity, stating that only the opposition party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has the power to sanction him.
According to him, “for starters, Article 57(7) of the PDP Constitution as Amended in 2017 expressly prohibits any organ of the party or executive committee of the party at the Ward or State level from taking any disciplinary measure against any member of the party’s National Executive Committee.
“The purported suspension is, therefore, an exercise in futility as it derives its strength majorly from gross illiteracy, ignorance, gambling and desperation. It has only mischief, drama and propaganda value.
“But more than this, the so-called suspension letter was written by an illiterate before hand, and only given to the coerced members to sign somewhere in Makurdi.”
Regardless, a PDP member from Benue State, Conrad Terhide Utaan, on Monday, obtained an injunction from a Benue High Court, restraining Ayu “ from parading himself as the national chairman of the PDP, having lost membership of the party pending the hearing and determination of Motion on Notice already filed.” The court has adjourned to April 17 for the hearing of the substantive suit.
Ironically, in the last few days, the Ayu led NWC had been suspending members with relish. Last week, the NWC after a meeting had announced the suspension of former Secretary to Government of the Federation ( SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim, Ibrahim Shema and Ayo Fayose, former governors of Kastina and Ekiti states respectively. It referred Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom to the PDP National Disciplinary Committee.
Expectedly, that move deepened the schism within the party, with Wike and Anyim berating the national chairman. Not a few leaders believe that in the aftermath of 2023 polls, where the PDP performed badly, the preoccupation of the party leadership ought to have been how to heal the wounds and chart a new course.
For instance, Anyim, in a statement, noted “the action ( his suspension) of the NWC is, to say the least, disappointing. I thought the concern of the NWC now would be how to undertake a thorough self-examination on why they performed so poorly in the 2023 elections rather than seek to further divide the party by shifting blames.
“It smacks of arrogance for the NWC to put up a bold face instead of showing remorse and being sober for leading the party to such colossal loss in the 2023 general elections, thereby dashing the hopes and expectations of party members and indeed Nigerians.
“It is clear that arising from the leadership style of the NWC, many members, intentionally and proudly, worked against the party including members of the NWC. Therefore, it is a display of innate cowardice for NWC to choose soft targets to suspend and fear those that daily demonize them.”
Similarly, Wike, who dismissed the suspension of Fayose, and the decision to refer Ortom to the National Disciplinary Committee, as a nullity, had argued that “If there is any person deserving suspension, it should be you (Ayu), who played anti party by refusing to obey the constitution of the party on zoning of political offices as is required.
“So, whoever tells you that you can suspend people, please tell the person that he is not serious. if you are talking of anti-party, it is you who could not even deliver your unit, deliver your ward that is involved.”
Pundits say that despite Ayu’s optimism that it is only the PDP NEC that could sanction him, the days ahead will be tough for the opposition leader, as he battles to return his seat, judging by the antecedent of the opposition party. In the history of the PDP, no national chairman has survived an onslaught from his state.
For instance, former PDP National chairman, Okwesilieze Nwodo lost his seat, prior to 2011 general elections, after a court in his home state of Enugu restrained him from parading himself as chairman of the opposition party.
Similarly, Ayu’s successor, Uche Secondus, lost out in the power game in the opposition party, after his ward suspended him and some party members followed it up with a court order giving force to the suspension.
Therefore, it is yet to be seen how the former Senate President will navigate the tightrope.
Already, the Wike camp sees Ayu’s suspension from the party as an opportunity to send him packing but it is not clear the level of support the embattled party leader will enjoy from the Atiku camp, which has been demoralised by the outcome of the general elections.
Yesterday, the PDP Deputy National chairman (North), Umar Damagun has taken over the affairs of the party in acting capacity. Damagun is expected to be in charge of the party pending the resolution of all the contending issues.
Nevertheless, not a few wonder if this is the end of the line for the embattled former Senate President, under whose watch the PDP recorded its most humiliating electoral defeat in its 24 years history? Or will he bounce back from his travails to complete his four year tenure?