The rift in the National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party took a fresh twist on Friday, as Saturday PUNCH reliably learnt that 16 other members who had yet to refund the controversial housing allowance to the party were under intense pressure to do so.

This, according to findings, is to pit the NWC members against the party’s National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, whom some party members, led by Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, asked to resign in order for peace to reign in the party.

A credible source in the party told one of our correspondents that “there is a tendency for most of them to return the money. Some are waiting for the national chairman to return before making a decision.”

The PUNCH reported on Friday that six NWC members, including the Deputy National Chairman (South), Taofeek Arapaja; National Woman Leader, Prof Stella Effah-Attoe; National Vice Chairman (South-South), Chief Dan Orbih, and three others returned what was termed housing allowance into the party’s coffers.

This came after Ayu was accused by the Rivers State governor of inducing NWC members with huge sums of money in a bid to conceal his alleged financial recklessness.

While Arapaja returned N36m, the five others returned the sum of N28.8m each with letters addressed to Ayu, giving reasons for their decision to reject the allowance.

The 21-member NWC includes the Deputy National Chairman (North), Umar Damagun; National Secretary, Samuel Anyanwu; Deputy National Secretary, Setoji Kosheodo; National Treasurer, Ahmed Mohammed; and the Deputy National Treasurer, Ndubisi David.

Others are the National Organising Secretary, Umar Bature; Deputy National Organising Secretary, Ighoyota Amori; National Financial Secretary, Daniel Woyegikuro; Deputy National Financial Secretary, Adamu Kamale; National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba; and Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Ibrahim Abdullahi.

The list also includes the Deputy National Women’s Leader, Hajara Wanka; National Youth Leader, Muhammed Suleiman; Deputy National Youth Leader, Timothy Osadolor; National Legal Adviser, Kamaldeen Ajibade; Deputy National Legal Adviser, Okechukwu Osuoha; National Auditor, Okechuckwu Daniel; and Deputy National Auditor, Abdulrahman Mohammed.

‘Allowance legitimate’

Meanwhile, Osadolor has taken a swipe at his colleagues, who returned various amounts of money to the party, accusing them of playing politics with the controversial housing allowance.

In an interview with Saturday PUNCH, Osadolor, who is the party’s deputy National Youth Leader, said it was unfortunate that those who pressured Ayu to approve the allowance were the same people feigning morality.

He said, “It was a housing allowance for the NWC members and it is unfortunate that those who are now playing politics of malice with their housing allowance were even those who pressured Ayu into signing and approving such an allowance for them.

“They have been on the man for the past three months to approve the housing allowance for them – that it is their entitlement. The man has been stalling and saying, ‘We have major work at hand’.

“They had been on him saying they all came from different parts of the country and that they had yet to get a befitting accommodation matching their national status and all of that.”

He said part of their argument was that since it was part of the establishment code and manual of the party, they were entitled to housing allowance because they were working for the party.

“The chairman succumbed and followed due process. They all sat down on the NWC table, took minutes of it, voted and signed. Coming to the public now to play to the gallery for what they partook in is nothing but a wicked act and an act of mischief,” Osadolor added.

The youth leader said he would not allow himself to be used by forces bent on destroying the party and its chances of winning the 2023 elections.

He added, “I will never be under any form of pressure to be used by evil spirits, because whatever is pushing these people now is not pushing them in the right direction.

“It is not a good spirit that is pushing them and wherever it is pushing them, I can only wish and pray to God Almighty that they find their way back to redemption, because what they have just done is to mark themselves out as not only saboteurs, but as people who are not credible and lack integrity.

“If they had integrity, they wouldn’t be doing this, because this is something that they requested, demanded over three months, pressurised the man (Ayu) and made him look like a bad person and eventually got approval. They are now using it to play politics because one man is pressing their remote button from Port Harcourt. It is laughable, painful and unfortunate.”

Meanwhile, a member of the National Executive Committee of the party and ex-minister confided in Saturday PUNCH that Ayu ought to have returned to the country by now, given the worsening crisis engulfing the PDP.

According to him, the decision of Arapaja to lead other NWC members to refund money into the party’s account was an indication that Ayu would return to preside over a divided committee.

He stated, “I hate to say this because Ayu is my friend. It is not looking good for him at the moment. I heard that he was supposed to return from London on Tuesday. I don’t know what he is still doing there even though (the deputy national chairman, North, Iliya) Damagun told us at the Presidential Campaign Council inauguration that he (Ayu) travelled for health reasons.

“Let us not deceive ourselves; Wike and his group have succeeded in splitting the NWC. He did exactly this to a former national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, and before you could say Jack Robinson, the man was gone. The decision to resign is Ayu’s to make, but he can’t afford to be away anymore.”

 Payment legal – Ologunagba

The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Debo Ologunagba, said the money paid to the members of the NWC was legal, noting that there were records to back up the payment.

“No need to argue over the payment. It is legal. There are records at the party’s secretariat to back up the payment,” he told one of our correspondents on Friday.

In the meantime, investigations by Saturday PUNCH indicated that the leadership of the party was considering releasing the minutes of the NWC meeting where the decision to pay the rent and other allowances was debated and reached.

A highly placed source told one of our correspondents that Ayu was not even present at the meeting where the decision was reached.

The source claimed that Damagun presided over the meeting.

He said Nigerians should also ask those who returned the money why they did so on the same day.

He added, “There is no point for anybody to play god. We all know who is behind this, but Nigerians should ask these people some questions. Why were the letters written on the same day? Why did they return the money weeks after it was paid into their accounts? How did the party get their account numbers? Did the party go round the banks in the country to inquire about the account details of its NWC members?

“Why was the refund in drafts and not transferred into the party’s accounts the way the payment was made? Details of the meeting where the issue of the allowance was discussed will soon be revealed. The minutes and the contributions of everyone will be revealed.

“When this money, which is in line with our condition of service, was approved, the national chairman was not even around. The decision was reached in our meeting about three months ago. The meeting was chaired by Ayu’s deputy.

“We nearly fought with the national chairman before he agreed to pay. The money was paid after the allowances of the members of staff had been paid. Do you pay a bribe into accounts? It is usually paid in cash so that it can’t be traced. So, it is wrong to politicise everything in the name of trying to bring down the roof of a building.”

But a member of the NWC and loyalist of Wike, who is among those who returned the money, said he and his colleagues chose to write Ayu to notify him of their decision to return the money because they knew he lacked the powers to approve the sum.

“Yes, the money came from the account of the party but does he have the power to approve anything above N10m?” the member queried.

The NWC member further defended their decision to return the money the same day, saying, “Is there any law that says people who are convinced that they want to do anything should do it on different days?”

Allowance illegal – Odeyemi

Reacting to the issue, the immediate past Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Diran Odeyemi, said party officials do not get appointment letters upon their election, adding that the said housing allowance was nothing but financial inducement.

He stated, “There is no letter of appointment. In our time and even now, there is no letter of appointment. The money was meant to pacify the NWC members not to follow Wike and (Governor of Oyo State, Seyi) Makinde.

“But the Wike group got wind of this and blew it out. They should just own up and stop playing smart. They have spent close to a year in office, why is it now that the party suddenly wants to pay their rents?”

Odeyemi warned that there could be danger ahead should the leadership of the party ignore Wike’s camp, while going about the presidential campaign.

“They can’t call the NWC meeting now because they don’t want Wike to embarrass them. As a result, their focus now is the campaign and because Wike and Makinde are not in the presidential campaign council, they will be running the party without them. This will not be good enough for the PDP,” he added.

 Group tasks Ayu

Meanwhile, a group affiliated to the party, the Youth Advocate for Equity, has called on Ayu to emulate Arapaja, Orbih and others, who on Thursday refunded millions of naira to the party’s coffers.

While reacting to the controversy the refund has generated, the spokesperson for the group, Sodiq Olaiya, said in a statement, “Ayu, through the national publicity secretary of the party, has argued that the unfounded allowance went through the due process of the party in line with the conditions of service and entitlement of staff and principal officers of the party.

“We found this claim to be outright false and to save face in order to conceal the real intention of disbursing the money. The backdoor arrangement through which Ayu approved the money is criminal and a ploy to cover up his track. If truly the NWC members are entitled to housing allowance, why delay it till this time when they have already spent more than nine months in office?

“Defending the indefensible will not be expedient for Ayu and his allies at this time, but the honourable thing for him and his co-travellers is to retrace their steps and give an accurate account of the PDP’s funds.”

 Ex-NWC member speaks

Meanwhile, a former National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, has said the money returned by some members of the committee was lawful.

Speaking on Arise TV on Friday, Ologbondiyan said the party had the tradition of paying allowances to its officials in lieu of monthly salaries.

“It is completely not normal for people to continue to debate on these things that are unlawful and seem to be a bribe. It will be strange for any of the members to say that it was not discussed as a committee and that there was no agreement in the committee,” he stated.

 ‘Expect more crises’

A chieftain of the opposition of the All Progressives Congress and Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu, has said the PDP should expect more crises for not following its constitution on zoning.

In a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, Okechukwu said, “They are trying to tell us that after a northerner has presided over the country for eight years, they want another northerner to continue. That one is at the root of trying to divide the country. Atiku that calls himself a unifier has shown that he is not a unifier, but a divisive candidate.”

The presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, Mr Omoyele Sowore, also mocked Atiku over the crisis in the PDP.

He said, “The crises in these parties did not start today. They are of two categories. The first crisis is that of credibility, while the other is of the sharing formula. They are yet to agree on how to share the collective patrimony of the Nigerian people; the reason for the whole fight. It’s never in the interest of the people.

“For the ruling party, the APC, they shouldn’t be campaigning at all. If there are still people with any iota of shame in the party, they should be doing a house-to-house apology. Both evil parties are not credible before the Nigerian people.”