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Wike and the PDP, By Reuben Abati

It is about time Atiku Abubakar begin to unify the party, as promised.



Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers State is the biggest issue in the politics of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the moment. To put it differently, Nigeria’s major opposition party, the PDP, has a Wike problem. The extent of that has now been formally acknowledged by the party, when the chairman of the Board of Trustees (BOT), Walid Jibrin, announced that major stakeholders in the party, led by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his chosen running mate, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta, all PDP governors, members of the BOT and other major stakeholders, must go to Port Harcourt to appeal to Wike not to leave the party, not to remain angry, and not to do anything against the party. Wike is the governor of Rivers state. He claims that since the PDP lost power in 2015, he has been the one carrying the party on his back, providing resources and leadership at a time the PDP, out of power, began to behave like fish out of water. Wike filled the void. And now in 2022, he presented himself as an advocate for the shift of power to the South, and his good self as a presidential candidate.

By some alchemy, the PDP ignored Section 3 its own constitution and decided, through a 37-member committee, that the party would jettison its zoning formula, the same formula that was appropriated by the rival All Progressives Congress (APC), Nigeria’s ruling party, and hence the party threw the presidency on its platform open. Nyesom Wike didn’t think that was right and so he threw his hat into the ring and decided to run for the position. His ambition has turned out to be a teachable moment and a reality check, and perhaps, in the long run, a reminder of his own naivety. Twenty-four hours to the PDP Presidential Convention, held in Abuja on May 28, everyone thought that the Southern agenda would prevail and that Wike or any of the other Southern aspirants, including former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, and former Senate president, Bukola Saraki, would get the nomination of the party.

Within the said 24 hours, everything changed. Northerners are better politicians than Southerners, be it in the PDP or any other political party. Southerners talk too much. Northerners think and strategise. While the latter think of community and group interests, the egoistic, Mercedes Benz crowd down South thinks only of ego and personal ambition. At the PDP National Convention, as it happened, Governor Aminu Tambuwal stepped forward and openly declared support for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. This was the game changer. In 2019, Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers State, supported the same Governor Tambuwal. On May 28, Tambuwal disappointed him and threw him under the bus. I have not seen or heard of any attempt by Governor Tambuwal to say sorry or reach out to Wike. Instead, he got a hero’s welcome on his return to Sokoto and has since picked up the PDP senatorial ticket for Sokoto South.

Wike did not just suffer open humiliation from and treachery by Governor Tambuwal, he came second on that account. Tambuwal is from the North-West, a zone which controlled the majority of delegates at the PDP Convention. Wike’s supporters continue to blame Tambuwal for Wike’s loss. They insist that he violated the principle that “one good turn deserves another.” Wike came second in the PDP presidential primary process. What then remained was for the party to choose a running mate, and even in that regard Wike lost out. Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, behaving like a Wike henchman, said on international television that Wike is the best thing that has ever happened to the PDP, post-2015, and that a committee of which he was a member, having selected him as the right person to be running mate to Atiku, feels doubly disappointed that Atiku chose someone else – Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, the PDP governor of Delta State. He admits, nonetheless, that Okowa is eminently qualified, having run the entire gamut of the public service administrative experience from local government chairman, all the way to the top. But he thinks Atiku Abubakar has erred by rejecting Wike, who was chosen by 14 out of a 17-member panel. Wike’s supporters are mourning. They think they have been short-changed. They think Wike’s contributions to the party have been thrashed to spite and humiliate him. Politics is a mad house. Wike’s supporters also want to prove that they cannot be treated shabbily. There is indeed a new brand of madness growing like marijuana in the PDP that may offer an undeserved advantage to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), or the now much identified Third Force in Nigerian politics represented by the Labour Party and the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).

It is therefore good reasoning that the leadership of the PDP is reaching out to Nyesom Wike. It also makes sense that the chairman of the party’s BOT, Alhaji Walid Jibrin has told party members and stakeholders to stop misbehaving. There are persons within the party who have said Wike is a nobody and can be discounted. They forget that in 2019, Rivers State, under his watch, delivered the highest number of votes to the PDP. The big problem with the PDP is that it has too many big men, who think they are larger than life. They seem to have forgotten that the party failed to rule for 60 years, as a party leader once predicted, and that the times have changed. Following the BOT chairman’s directives, Atiku Abubakar and Ifeanyi Okowa should visit Wike and make peace. The simple principle is that you cannot spank a child and not expect him to cry. Let him cry. He cries. You mollify him. But the question to ask in that regard is: Why Wike? Why is he the only one weeping? There were others in that race: Anyim, Saraki, Ohuabunwa, Dele Momodu, Bala Muhammed, Mohammed Hayatudeen, Ayo Fayose, Udom Emmanuel… 13 aspirants, so why is Wike the only one crying as if he has lost his precious toy? Why does he and his supporters feel so entitled?

Atiku, in particular, needs to pay attention. In 2019, it was said at a point that he had chosen or had promised the now embattled Senator Ike Ekweremadu that he would be his running mate. He ended up choosing Peter Obi. In the 2019 presidential election, he didn’t get the kind of support he expected from the South-East, because he, himself, mixed things up. Obi went into that election with him, while many of his kinsmen were divided by Atiku’s choice. In 2022, Atiku has done the same thing again. As former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s vice president, the same issue that Atiku faced was that of trust and loyalty. He says he wants to unify the PDP, the community and the general society. He must embark on that task without trust deficits. What is his response to the PDP BOT chairman’s directive that a high-powered PDP delegation would visit Wike? As of the time of this writing, I have not seen or read any direct response from him, but whatever it is, he must refrain from the twin temptations of contempt and arrogance. Let him visit Wike. Politics is all about recognition, respect and relevance (the three Rs). That is all Wike wants. He needs that even if all it does is to energise his political libido. Let him visit all the aggrieved stakeholders of the party too, if he must.

There are some Wike extremists within the PDP who insist that Okowa must be removed and replaced with Wike. I don’t think that would happen. The party and the candidate have gone beyond that. Governor Okowa in his own right has excellent credentials, although he too can’t find his Secondary School Leaving Certificate! He is eminently qualified and experienced, they tell us. Nobody doubts that. It would be stupid to say that he should step down. Indeed, his own supporters claim that the furore that has been generated by Wike not being chosen as presidential candidate and his being ignored as a possible running mate was a strong vindication of Atiku’s choice and the preference for a quiet stakeholder and partner like Okowa. Someone in fact told me that Wike has shown that he would have created conflict in the presidency, if the party wins. I was tempted to say that Atiku did precisely so during Obasanjo’s second term, and such a future situation would have been Karmic. But I kept quiet. Politicians don’t always like to hear the truth. What we know is that compatibility is crucial, and Atiku has chosen the man he feels comfortable with.

So, what is next? Wike’s supporters argue that if Okowa cannot be dropped, then Senator Iyorchia Ayu, the party chairman, must go. Within 48 hours of the PDP presidential Convention, Senator Iyorchia Ayu went straight to visit Tambuwal in Abuja to declare him the “hero of the convention.” I thought that was very bad conduct on the part of the party chairman. He was meant to be an impartial umpire, but by showing his bias so openly, he courted the current enmity that has been thrown at him. But beyond that is his own promise that if the presidential candidate of the party came from the North, he would step down and allow a Southern chairman of the party to emerge. Balance. Federal character. Equity. Since the Convention, Senator Iyorchia Ayu has refused to move. He is the easiest victim within the PDP leadership hierarchy, nonetheless. If there must be a sacrificial lamb that would bring peace to the party, he must be willing and ready to take the bullet. He won’t be the first party chairman to make such sacrifice. Let him know this: Even if Wike and gang forgive Atiku and embrace Okowa, they would not tolerate Iyorchia Ayu. Bite the bullet, Senator Ayu.

Nyesom Wike has since returned from his much-publicised vacation in Istanbul, Turkey, where I guess he ate a little turkey and licked some ice cream. My advice to him is that he needs to chill out, as they say. When a child is beaten, he has every right to cry. When an adult is betrayed, he has every reason to be angry. Wike wanted to be presidential standard bearer. He failed. He also lost the running mate slot. He was betrayed by those he didn’t expect would do so. He has been openly angry enough. The whole world has heard him. But he must take one lesson away from it all: In Nigeria, when you want something so desperately, nobody will give it to you. There would be more than enough people who would deny you that which you crave, to humiliate and humble you. Wike is, without doubt, a victim of his own hubris and expectations, but he is also a victim, for the want of a better term, of the sadomasochism of the Nigerian elite political class. He should stop knocking his head against the wall.

Traditionally, when a child is aggrieved and he starts crying, every effort will be made to mollify him, but if he keeps on crying and wailing, after a while, he would be left alone and those seeking to appease him would adopt a wait-and-see position in the expectation that once he gets tired, he would keep quiet. Wike should not stretch his matter to that point. He also needs to avoid a situation where he would become the easy and convenient reference in the event that the PDP loses the 2023 presidential election or the butt of jokes if the party triumphs. No tree makes a forest, except of course you are cut in the mould of an Obafemi Awolowo. And Wike is not of that mould.