Plot to unseat Damagum thickens as Atiku backs Suswam

The rivalry between the 2023 presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesome Wike, has become heightened ahead of the 98th National Executive Committee meeting of the party.

One of the major issues likely to take centre stage at the NEC meeting scheduled for Thursday, April 18, is the question of whether the party’s acting National Chairman, Umar Damagum, should remain in office or be replaced.

There have been calls to remove Damagum and choose a substantive Chairman.

Damagum, formerly PDP National Deputy Chairman (North), became the party’s acting National Chairman following the suspension of the party’s National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, by the court in March last year.

The court action leading to Ayu’s suspension was filed by a PDP member, Terhide Utaan, who based his request on an earlier vote of no confidence passed in Ayu by the executives of his ward, Igyorov ward, Gboko Local Government Area of Benue State.

Last week, 60 members of the House of Representatives demanded Damagum’s exit, adding that a substantive chairman should be picked from the North Central region.

Findings by revealed that a former governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, and a former Deputy National Secretary of the PDP, Dr. Emmanuel Agbo, are pushing for the position of the PDP National Chairman.

gathered while Atiku’s camp is backing Suswam, the Wike’s camp, supported by some PDP governors, is pushing for Damagum to be confirmed as the substantive chairman to complete Ayu’s tenure.

A credible source, who is a member of the PDP North Central Caucus, stated that Wike and his group want Damagum to continue.

According to the source, who craved anonymity because he had no official authority to speak on the matter, the Wike group also wants the North Central to produce the National Deputy Chairman.

Atiku and Wike fell apart in the build-up to the 2023 general elections after Atiku beat Wike to the PDP presidential ticket and also did not pick him as a running mate for the election.

Rather than pick Wike as running mate, Atiku picked ex-Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa.

The situation made Wike support the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, who eventually won the election and was sworn in as President.

Consequently, Atiku and Wike’s camps have been to work at cross-purposes.

Speaking on the power play ahead of the Thursday NEC meeting, the party chieftain from the North Central, who spoke to our correspondent, said, “We are aware that our zone is receiving the necessary support from Atiku. Many stakeholders from within and outside the zone, including Atiku, are backing Suswam. Consultations are ongoing, and the North Central will ensure that it nominates Ayu’s replacement.

“Wike and some PDP governors want Damagum to be confirmed as the PDP substantive chairman. They are supporting someone from the North-East to complete the tenure of a position zoned to the North Central for their selfish reasons. They want the North Central to nominate a name for National Deputy Chairman (North) to replace Damagum once he is confirmed. They simply want to undermine this party.”

Another source, a highly placed member of the PDP National Working Committee who is not authorised to speak for the party, reiterated that the position of the PDP National Chairman is currently occupied and not vacant.

He said, “Since Ayu is in court, the position is not vacant. The PDP Constitution does not specify the duration or tenure for someone to assume the role of acting party leader. Therefore, Damagum will continue to serve in that capacity.”

When contacted, Atiku’s Media Aide, Paul Ibe, said he was not aware that the former Vice President was rooting for Suswam.

Ibe said, “I don’t know about that. You see, it is not about Atiku as an individual; let us make no mistake about that. Yes, he is a stakeholder, a leader, and the presidential candidate of the party in 2023, but the situation that the party is confronted with at this point in time requires more than an individual. It will take the collective effort of well-meaning leaders of the party working together to do what is right for the party.

“So, Atiku will do that in tandem with our leaders. Atiku cannot act in isolation; he will never act alone. That is what is important as the party faces a very crucial test on how to reinvent itself. I believe that he is having conversations with all the major party stakeholders and at the end of it they will do what is right for the party.”

Attempts to elicit a response from the acting National Chairman of the PDP, Damagum, were unsuccessful, as he neither answered our correspondent’s calls nor responded to a text message.

On his part, Suswam mentioned that Atiku, having been a presidential candidate, holds a leadership role within the party. Therefore, anyone who has faith in the PDP as a party would naturally regard Atiku as a leader, given his status as a former presidential candidate.

The former Benue State Governor, who insisted that the North Central should produce Ayu’s replacement, declared that the suspended National Chairman is not in court.

Suswam, during a media chat with selected journalists in Abuja over the weekend, explained that he declared his candidacy because he hails from the North Central region.

He added that the consensus nominee from the North Central will replace Ayu as the substantive National Chairman of the PDP.

He said, “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. However, the North Central should not be shortchanged. When Bamanga Tukur was removed, Muazu was brought in from the North-East. After Muazu, Modu Sherif came in. So, there’s a precedent for that. I don’t see any reason why this should be an exception.

“When Solomon Lar’s first tenure expired, it was moved to Gemade to complete the second tenure. Of course, when Gemade was removed, Audu Ogbe completed the tenure. So, there is a precedent for this, and there is nothing unusual about what we are demanding from the North Central.

“We believe that with the three meetings convened by the National Working Committee of our party, a decision will be taken, and one of us will emerge as a replacement for Ayu to complete his tenure.

“I aspire to complete that tenure. It is true that I have intensified consultations within the North Central. Ordinarily, it would have been solely a North Central affair because the North Central is expected to nominate a replacement. This is not an elective contest but rather a process for people to come together and decide on the individual they believe has the capacity to complete Ayu’s tenure. So it’s not as competitive as some perceive it to be.

“However, because it concerns the position of National Chairman and involves various interests due to the influence wielded by the National Chairman of a party like the PDP, there are divergent interests. Some individuals will be comfortable with certain candidates, while others may not. This is why it appears as if it is a national contest; however, it is not. Even when the North Central convenes to select a candidate, I believe it will not lead to an election but rather to discussions and consensus building, as is typically the case.

“We are hopeful that during the NEC meeting on the 18th, a decisive decision will be made because there is significant agitation within the North Central.”

Suswam stressed his extensive expertise in all aspects of the PDP, highlighting his deep understanding of its various dimensions and intricacies. He emphasised that this comprehensive familiarity equipped him to effectively address the wide array of concerns and grievances within the party.

Responding to a question on which camp he belongs, he said, “No, I don’t believe there are factions within the PDP. We are one PDP. Our focus is on having strong leadership. Regarding Wike’s position as the Minister of FCT and his affiliation with the President, I refrain from commenting. Atiku was a presidential candidate, and by that position, he was a leader of the party. Therefore, any person who believes in the 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.

“As for the purported G5 group, they were individual governors who united as a pressure group during a previous election. However, since that election, the group dynamics have dissolved, and they are now ex-governors. If they wish to maintain their association under the G5 name, they should now be referred to as ex-G5 governors.

“The PDP is founded on inclusivity, a principle I strongly adhere to. Since joining the party in 1998, I have remained committed. Having served in various capacities within the party, I possess a comprehensive understanding of its workings. This places me in a prime position to address the current internal issues and grievances.”

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