By Kazeem Akintunde
At 55 years of age, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike has done well for himself politically. An indigene of Ikwerre from Rumuepirikon in Obio-Akpor, Rivers State, Wike was elected as a two-time chairman of Obio Akpor Local Government Area between 1999 and 2007 before he was appointed Minister of State for Education on July 14, 2011, by the Jonathan administration. Since he gained national prominence after his election as Governor of Rivers State in 2015, he has positioned himself as a politician of repute and one that should be taken seriously.
In the build-up to the 2023 general elections, Wike, a lawyer turned politician, has created a niche for himself and seems to have become a beautiful bride to be courted by all. Loud, boisterous, with the ‘I-can-do-it’ attitude, Wike, contested the People’s Democratic Party, PDP’s, presidential ticket alongside former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Senator Bukola Saraki, Governor Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom state among others. During the PDP National Convention held in Abuja at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium on May 28, Atiku emerged victorious after polling 371 votes to beat Wike, who came second with 237 votes; Bukola Saraki got 70 votes; Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, 20 votes; his Akwa Ibom State counterpart, Udom Emmanuel, 38 votes; Mr Pius Anyim, a former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, 14 votes, and Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, boardroom titan, one vote.
A last-minute decision by Tambuwal to throw his weight behind Atiku during the primary dealt a mortal blow on Wike’s chances. The decision by Tambuwal to back Atiku at the convention did not go down well with Wike, who felt betrayed. To rub it in, Ayu, while speaking at the end of the exercise, described Tambuwal as the hero of the convention when he agree to step down for Atiku, which tilted victory in favour of the Turaki of Adamawa.
While the Rivers governor was still licking his wounds, another shocker awaited him. His supporters had expected that he would be picked as the presidential running mate, but this was also not to be. Atiku, who, perhaps, learnt a lesson from his 2019 experience, consulted critical organs of the party, including the PDP Governors’ Forum, Board of Trustees, and National Working Committee with each expressing different views. He subsequently set up a committee to recommend a list of candidates from which he was to pick one. The names sent to Atiku were: Wike, who was the first choice recommended by the committee and supported by many PDP Governors, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta) and Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State.
Atiku, in his wisdom, settled for Okowa. However, this obviously didn’t go down well with Wike and those sympathetic to his cause. Some of his colleagues in this category include Governors Samuel Ortom (Benue), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Okezie Ikpazu (Abia) and Seyi Makinde (Oyo) among others. After the ignominious way he was treated after being overlooked by Atiku for the VP slot, Wike recoiled to his Port Harcourt base and decided to play the role of a spoiler for the party. He openly fraternized with opposition political parties and Rivers State soon became a mecca for opposition politicians. Wike became a beautiful bride sought after by many suitors from other political parties.
Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party and Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) respectively, visited Wike where they pleaded with him to join their party, promising him heaven on earth. Not to be caught napping, the ruling APC sent a delegation of four of its governors to Wike to discuss the possibility of his crossing over to the ruling Party. The Governor of Ekiti state, Kayode Fayemi, who is also the chairman of the governor’s forum, led his colleagues from Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; Osun State, Gboyega Oyetola and Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu to Port Harcourt to talk to Wike and convince him to move to the APC.
But the visit by the former Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, who also conferred with Wike at the Port Harcourt Government House, sent jitters down the spine of the PDP. It became clear that Wike may be up to something sinister which may hurt the party in the 2023 general elections. Despite Fayose’s ambivalent posture as a member of the PDP, he was more associated with the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, than he is with Atiku. It was that cross-alliance that threw up the possibility that Wike and Tinubu must be up to some political games.
Unknown to many, Wike and Tinubu share political comraderie, which was put into good use during the Rivers State governor’s supremacy contests with his former ally, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi for the control of the oil-rich state.
In a bid to send a strong message to those in the PDP, Wike dropped his fedora hat used mainly in the South South for Yoruba cap and started inviting APC governors to Rivers State to commission projects. Since then, Wike has remained aloof to the PDP and has vowed to teach the party one or two political lessons.
True to type, Alhaji Ibrahim Masari, a close ally of All Progressive Congress, APC, and Presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, recently said that Wike will work for the success of Tinubu in next year’s general elections. Masari, the placeholder for Tinubu before Kassim Shettima was eventually selected as the Vice Presidential candidate, was emphatic that Wike won’t leave the PDP but will work from inside for the success of the APC. Masari is not known to be a ruble rouser, and since he made the statement, neither Wike nor the PDP has come out to contradict him. In essence, Wike may work for the ruling APC against his own political party.
Masari’s statement was given a flip when Tinubu jetted out to London last week to meet Wike to explore the possibility of both parties (Tinubu and Wike) working together ahead of the poll. Sources in the know said that the only grey area yet to be worked out is the sharing formula that would accrue to both parties after Tinubu’s victory and the no-love lost between Wike and Rotimi Amaechi, former Minister of Transportation and Wike’s ally-turned-foe in Rivers politics.
Tinubu’s meeting with Wike is already sending jitters down the spine of many PDP bigwigs including Atiku, who has also embarked on a ‘political pilgrimage’ to London to meet Wike. Prior to the London meeting, the PDP had set up a reconciliation committee to meet Wike and other aggrieved members of the Party in a bid to resolve their grievances. Wike has given a long list of conditions to the party for peace to reign, one of which is for the National Chairman of the Party, Iyiochia Ayu, to step aside from the party. According to Wike’s ally, Ayu, before the PDP presidential primary, agreed to resign once a presidential candidate of northern extraction emerges as the flag bearer of the party. Wike and his ally had told whoever cared to listen that Ayu actually wrote a resignation letter which was handed to Senator David Mark.
With the emergence of Atiku as the standard bearer of the party, Wike is insisting that Ayu must go and that he should be allowed to pick Ayu’s successor. Wike has never hidden his disdain for Ayu since the role the latter played during the PDP convention. Asides Ayu, Wike is also demanding for a firm commitment from Atiku that he would rule for a single four years for power to shift to the South, the resignation of the PDP Deputy National Chairman North, which would pave the way for the PDP Deputy National Chairman South to lead the party.
A former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Chief Bode George, is now leading the move to oust Ayu in order to pave way for genuine reconciliation, as the many aggrieved PDP members of southern extraction are still not happy that the party jettisoned its rotational principles in the choice of Atiku as its presidential candidate. The party leadership has however described his calls a personal opinion which was not reflective of the majority opinion of party members.
National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, said, “Every member has a right to express a personal opinion, it is their right. This does not however represent the majority opinion of our members. Our party organs have met severally and have expressed confidence in the leadership of the Iyochia Ayu-led National Working Committee.”
He explained that calls for Ayu’s removal on account of zoning were uncalled for at this time because there is precedent. The spokesman noted that when President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, emerged as PDP candidate in 2007, Senator Ahmadu Ali, also a northerner, was National Chairman until Yar’Adua won the election before another Convention was held and a successor emerged.
It is still not certain whether Ayu will accede to the wishes of Wike and his group, a situation that has made the race toward 2023 presidential election a dicey one for the PDP.
Asides Atiku, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, was also not left out as he held a meeting with Wike in London too. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was also in Britain to meet the Rivers governor.
Expectedly, some members of the PDP are already calling for the head of Wike, describing his romance with opposition political parties as an act of indiscipline that must be punished. But many others are pleading with the party to tread cautiously. One of such persons is the former Governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko, who said recently in Port Harcourt while commissioning a project that Nigeria would have become a one-party state but for the efforts by Wike in funding the PDP when others left the party. ‘You were at one point virtually a one-man countervailing force, defending and protecting our dear PDP. You have also sailed through legal challenges, deepened the national consciousness on the defects in the running of our defective federal system.’
Indeed, Wike was the rallying point for the PDP after the 2015 general elections when even the presidential candidate of the party, Atiku Abubakar temporarily relocated to Dubai. But many of his traducers are saying that he is this powerful because of Rivers state oil money and that his ego should be cut to size. It remains to be seen how the PDP will resolve the Wike’ challenge. He is not likely to defect to another political party but what is the essence of staying in a party and working against its interest? Indeed, the build-up to the 2023 general elections is becoming quite interesting. Wike has succeeded in positioning himself as a one-man riot squad who has the balls of the PDP in his palm. Whether he will get away with it is another ball game entirely.
See you next week.