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Atiku raises team to woo Wike, Rivers gov’s camp adamant

Atiku raises team to woo Wike, Rivers gov’s camp adamant

The  Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has set up a  committee to pacify and woo the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike and some other aggrieved members of the party.

The initiative was instituted by Atiku based on the need to go into the 2023 general elections with a united front.

The PUNCH reports that the opposition party has been rocked by crisis following the choice of the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as Atiku’s running mate.

Wike, Okowa and Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa-Ibom had appeared before the screening panel set up by the PDP to nominate a vice-presidential candidate to the PDP presidential flagbearer.

Okowa was nominated by the PDP presidential candidate after rumours had it that Wike had been selected by the party advisory committee as the vice-presidential candidate the day before.

But findings indicate that the PDP feared Wike might work against Atiku’s ambition following his loss as the party presidential candidate and running mate to Atiku.

Signs that the PDP might run into stormy waters became pronounced with the defection of some of Wike’s supporters from the party in the last 24 hours.

Aside from the resignations of two allies of the Rivers state governor-a former minister of Niger Delta, Godsday Orubebe and an ex-commissioner in Edo State, Kassim Afegbua, a mass exodus of party members was also said to be looming.

Sequel to the ominous signs in the party, Atiku was said to have constituted a team to appease and fully bring back Wike into his campaign council, ahead of the 2023 general elections.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a PDP chieftain who was privy to the decision, said, “ Atiku wanted to tell Wike about his choice of Okowa one-on-one but then, he heard that Wike had returned to Rivers. That clearly showed good faith. Even though Wike was not the selected candidate, Atiku wanted to accord him respect by letting him know before the news got to the public.

“Atiku has set up a reconciliatory committee to reach out to Wike and mend the cracks. Atiku understands the need to go to the 2023 elections with a united front. Everyone will be pacified. Not only Wike but every aggrieved person within the party.”

Corroborating the development, a top Atiku confidant stated, “Our people (PDP members) are still aggrieved and when you are doing mediation, you don’t give the impression that you are not sincere but it is a serious undertaking.“His Excellency, Governor Wike is strategic to Atiku’s victory, make no mistake about it. Whatever anybody may say, that is a party man through and through. He understands the times we are in and that was why he threw his hat in the ring; that is why he wants to be president because he feels that he has what it takes to lead the country so also the other candidates who contested.

“Now, that the contest is over, we really have a responsibility to bring everybody together. You don’t go to a battle with a disunited army. Wike is the kind of man you can go to battle with, you don’t leave him behind. You do all you can to bring him on board. The enemy is not within PDP; the enemies are those who have enslaved us; people that have impoverished us.”

Asked about the composition of the reconciliation panel, the source declined to release their names, noting that the job of the members was sensitive.

According to him, the team would approach those known to have Wike’s ears and get them to talk to the Rivers State Governor to close ranks with Atiku.

On the timeframe for the committee’s work, the source added, “No timeframe, it is an ongoing process. We are working very hard and I can assure you that a lot of work is going on. I know because I have spoken with one of those involved.”

The media adviser to Atiku, Mr Paul Ibe, could not be reached for comment while the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, declined to speak.

Wike’s camp

Meanwhile, the peace moves by Atiku may, however, be heading for the rocks as the loyalists of the Rivers State Governor have dismissed the initiative as unnecessary.

A PDP chieftain in Rivers State and former member of the House of Representatives, Ogbomna Nwuke, described the Atiku reconciliation committee as a contradiction.

Speaking to The PUNCH on Tuesday, he said, “On one hand, somebody says he (Wike) is one who talks too much, who probably is uncontrollable. And then, on the other hand, you want him to help your cause. You want victory and you think he can contribute to your victory. Is that not a contradiction?

“There was an attempt to draft a man who was not interested in the vice-presidency into the vice-president; a committee set up, the caucus spoke, the national working committee of the party spoke favourably about Wike and it was not honoured.”

Nwuke further stated, “Atiku did what he wanted to do. So what committee is he setting up again? To do what?  It doesn’t make sense.

“When the convention was over, nobody showed him the way to Wike’s house. If he wants Wike to work with him, he should walk to the Governor of Rivers State and speak with him. We don’t need committees, what will the committee do? It doesn’t make sense to me.

“I don’t know why relationships shouldn’t be exploited. What is this committee thing?  You have something else in your mind, you set up a committee to do something else. What is the meaning of that?”

“For the avoidance of doubt, Governor Wike had said no matter what happens he would not leave the PDP. That was what he said.

“The implication is that a man who is committed to the PDP will work for the PDP, whether you set up a committee or not. And that is my personal opinion,” Nwuke stated.

Nwuke, who was also a former commissioner for Information and Communications in Rivers State,  also took a swipe at a former governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu, who accused Wike of being loquacious and rude.

Aliyu had in an interview on Channels Tv on Tuesday said that the PDP presidential candidate did not pick Wike as his running mate because he wanted someone that could complement him, rather than one that talks too much like Wike.

But Nwuke, who represented Etche-Omuma federal constituency in the National Assembly, dismissed Aliyu’s criticisms, saying he didn’t understand the difference between politicking and administration.

He argued, “The Wike that this man (Aliyu) is talking about has been chief of staff. As chief of staff, he never went against his principal. He spoke and did not go beyond his brief.

“This same man (Wike) had served as the Minister of Education. While serving as minister he did not also speak out of tune. Of course, he knew who the boss was, he knew what his role was and he played his role.

“And so people should draw a fine line between politicking and administration. They are not the same thing.

“Everybody who knows Wike knows that he is a team player. In trying to help build the PDP he worked with a team of committed PDP people. And together, they were able to bring the PDP from where it was, in defeat to where it is today.”

Efforts to reach the chairman of the River State PDP, Desmond Akawor, and the party’s spokesman, Sydney Gbara, proved abortive as they did not respond to calls.

Also, Kelvin Ebiri, the media aide to the Rivers State Governor could not be reached on his mobile phone as of the time of filing this report.

But the Commissioner for Information,  Delta State, Charles Aniagwu, in an interview with The PUNCH,   disclosed that the leaders of PDP were already on the move to pacify aggrieved members.

Meanwhile, political analysts have faulted Atiku’s committee, saying this was not the right direction for reconciliation.

Mr Adekunle Akinola said Atiku erred by allowing the PDP advisory council to interact with Wike and Okowa in the run-up to the selection of his running mate.

Another analyst, Mr Tonye Isokariari, said that the pacification was unnecessary. He noted, “It makes no sense; if I am Wike, I will feel insulted because if he knows he did the right thing he would not have set up a committee to pacify him and people like Wike will not take such an insult. ”

The leadership of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State says it would shock the PDP and take over the Government House in 2023.

The state APC chairman, Emeka Beke, who disclosed this during an interview with one of our correspondents in Port Harcourt, also said the party would deliver the state for its Presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.  ,,

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Ondo Rep offers N50m scholarship to 1000 students

Ondo Rep offers N50m scholarship to 1000 students

A member of the House of Representatives from Ondo State, Mr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, has launched a N50 million scholarship scheme for 1000 indigent students, who are indigenes of Akoko area of the state.

The lawmaker, representing Akoko North-East/North-West Federal Constituency, said the scheme was to assist the indigent students who were in tertiary institutions across the country.

In a statement made available to our correspondent on Monday, Tunji-Ojo, who is the Chairman, House Committee on Niger-Delta Affairs, said the gesture was part of his efforts to contribute to the educational development of his constituency and state in general.

According to the statement, the registration for the scholarship scheme, which had commenced on Monday, was for indigent students who were from the Federal Constituency.

The statement read, “This is in fulfillment of my education support drive which has seen me facilitate several blocks of classrooms, computer sets, educational materials, free Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination forms and coaching for 2,000 students and other notable interventions in the education sector.

“The education support drive is to help reduce the burden of education on the parents and also ensure that no child is denied access to quality education.”

“The registration form is totally free and can be obtained from presidents of students’ bodies in each community in the Federal Constituency. This is to ensure that nobody is denied access to the form.”

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US WNBA’s Star Brittney Griner appeals her Russian prison sentence

US WNBA’s Star Brittney Griner appeals her Russian prison sentence

Lawyers for American basketball star Brittney Griner have filed an appeal of her nine-year Russian prison sentence for drug possession, Russian news agencies reported Monday, amid talks between the U.S. and Russia that could lead to a high-profile prisoner swap.

Griner, an eight-time all-star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was convicted Aug. 4 after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

Griner admitted that she had the canisters in her luggage, but said she had inadvertently packed them in haste and that she had no criminal intent. Her defense team presented written statements that she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.

Her February arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine. At the time, Griner, recognized as one of the greatest players in WNBA history, was returning to Russia, where she plays during the U.S. league’s offseason.

Lawyer Maria Blagovolina was quoted by Russian news agencies on Monday as saying the appeal was filed, as was expected, but the grounds for it weren’t immediately clear.

The nine-year sentence was close to the maximum of 10 years, and Blagovolina and co-counsel Alexander Boykov said after the conviction that the punishment was excessive. They said that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole.

Before her conviction, the U.S. State Department declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained” — a charge that Russia has sharply rejected.

Reflecting the growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring Griner home, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of revealing publicly in July that Washington had made a “substantial proposal” to get Griner home, along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Blinken didn’t elaborate, but The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that Washington has offered to free Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. and once earned the nickname the “Merchant of Death.”

On Sunday, a senior Russian diplomat said talks about an exchange have been conducted.

“This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and U.S. citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our presidents,” Alexander Darchiev, head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America department, told state news agency Tass. “These individuals are, indeed, being discussed. The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout. The details should be left to professionals.”

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China announces new drills as US delegation visits Taiwan

China announces new drills as US delegation visits Taiwan

China announced more military drills around Taiwan as the self-governing island’s president met with members of a new U.S. congressional delegation on Monday, threatening to renew tensions between Beijing and Washington after a similar recent visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi angered China.

Pelosi was the highest-level member of the U.S. government to visit Taiwan in 25 years, and her trip prompted nearly two weeks of threatening military exercises by China, which claims the island as its own. In those drills, Beijing fired missiles over the island and into the Taiwan Strait and sent warplanes and navy ships across the waterway’s midline, which has long been a buffer between the sides that split amid civil war in 1949.

The latest trip began Sunday with little notice ahead of time. The delegation was due to leave late Monday.

China accuses the U.S. of encouraging the island’s independence through the sale of weapons and engagement between U.S. politicians and the island’s government. Washington says it does not support independence, has no formal diplomatic ties with the island and maintains that the two sides should settle their dispute peacefully — but it is legally bound to ensure the island can defend itself against any attack.

“China will take resolute and strong measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing Monday, after Beijing announced new drills in the seas and skies surrounding Taiwan. “A handful of U.S. politicians, in collusion with the separatist forces of Taiwan independence, are trying to challenge the one-China principle, which is out of their depth and doomed to failure.”

The new exercises were intended to be “resolute response and solemn deterrent against collusion and provocation between the U.S. and Taiwan,” the Defense Ministry said earlier.

It was not clear if the new drills had already started since the ministry gave no details about where and when they would be conducted, in contrast to previous rounds.

The U.S. lawmakers, led by Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, met with President Tsai Ing-wen, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and legislators, according to the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington’s de facto embassy on the island.

At their meeting, Tsai said her administration was working with allies to ensure stability in the Taiwan Strait and maintain the status quo — a reference to the island’s self-governance, separate from Beijing.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year has shown the threat that authoritarian nations pose to the global order,” Tsai said.

Markey responded by saying Washington and Taipei had a “moral obligation to do everything we can to prevent an unnecessary conflict and Taiwan has demonstrated incredible restraint and discretion during challenging times.”

The senator also highlighted legislation intended to boost political and economic ties with Taiwan, especially in the critical semiconductor industry. Taiwan is a crucial provider of computer chips for the global economy, including China’s high-tech sectors, and beyond the geopolitical risks of rising tensions in the region, an extended crisis in the Taiwan Strait could have major implications for international supply chains at a time when the world is already facing disruptions and uncertainty.

Markey is one of the few members of Congress still serving who voted for the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act that ensured continued relations with the island following the switch of U.S. diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The other members of the delegation are Republican Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, a delegate from American Samoa, and Democrats John Garamendi and Alan Lowenthal from California and Don Beyer from Virginia.

China says it wants to use peaceful means to bring Taiwan under its control, but its recent saber rattling has emphasized its threat to take the island by military force. The earlier drills appeared to be a rehearsal of a blockade or attack on Taiwan that would force the cancellation of commercial flights and disrupt shipping to Taiwan’s main ports as well as cargo passing through the Taiwan Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The exercises prompted Taiwan to put its military on alert, but were met largely with defiance or apathy among the public used to living in China’s shadow.

The American “visit at this time is of great significance, because the Chinese military exercise is (intended) to deter U.S. congressmen from visiting Taiwan,” Lo Chih-cheng, the chair of the Taiwan legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee, said after meeting with the U.S. lawmakers.

“Their visit this time proves that China cannot stop politicians from any country to visit Taiwan, and it also conveys an important message that the American people stand with the Taiwanese people,” Lo said.

A senior White House official on Asia policy said last week that China had used Pelosi’s visit as a pretext to launch an intensified pressure campaign against Taiwan, jeopardizing peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region.

“China has overreacted, and its actions continue to be provocative, destabilizing, and unprecedented,” Kurt Campbell, a deputy assistant to U.S. President Joe Biden, said on a call with reporters on Friday.

Campbell said the U.S. would send warships and planes through the Taiwan Strait in the next few weeks and is developing a roadmap for trade talks with Taiwan that he said the U.S. intends to announce in the coming days.

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