A committee given the arduous task of appeasing Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike will begin sitting on Monday in Abuja. Mr. Wike had been at daggers drawn with the presidential candidate of his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, since the latter pipped him to the presidential ticket in Abuja on May 29.
Atiku managed to make the governor even angrier by when he picked Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as his running mate, rejecting a recommendation to placate Mr. Wike with the position.
The angry governor over the following weeks refused to speak with Atiku or his emissaries and was instead allegedly sending coded threats to the candidate and party. The issue has escalated into a major crisis in the PDP as a group that Mr. Wike leads is demanding the immediate reconstitution of the party’s leadership.
Nyesom Wike; An Unavoidable crisis
To be fair, that crisis is an unavoidable consequence of Atiku’s victory in the primary election. His nomination put all the major positions in the party in the hands of the northern members.
While pushing for the nomination of the party’s standard bearer for the 2023 election from the South, in line with the PDP’s principle of power rotation between the two regions amalgamated in 1914 to form Nigeria, southern members had backed Iyorchia Ayu to become national chairman, after Uche Secondus, a southerner from Mr. Wike’s Rivers State, was sacked from the position in a leadership crisis.
Ironically, however, Mr. Ayu, who is from Benue State in the North-central zone, supervised the jettisoning of the rotation principle, thus allowing his long-time associate, Atiku from the northeast zone, to once again take the presidential ticket.
This has given the northern wing a clean sweep of the key national positions. Now, the chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees, Walid Jibrin, is from the same North-central zone as Mr. Ayu, while the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, is from the North West.
The lopsidedness of Nyesom Wike’s Problem
To redress the lopsidedness, Mr. Wike and his friends want the northern and southern wings to swap their party positions, beginning with Mr. Ayu yielding his office immediately to a southern member. Mr. Wike’s aides said Atiku had agreed with him on this at a meeting the two men held a few days after the party’s presidential primaries.
However, Atiku appears to no longer be committed to that agreement, if ever he was. He now supports Mr. Ayu and other members of the National Working Committee of the party who insist such changes should wait until after the general elections next year. But the Nyesom Wike group senses mischief in that position. It fears Mr. Ayu would stay put if the PDP loses the February 25 presidential poll next year.
On August 12, a former Minister of Information and National Orientation, Jerry Gana, who is one of the many prominent leaders of the party on Mr. Wike’s side in the crisis, got the two principal gladiators to huddle at a meeting in his house in Abuja. That meeting produced a framework for reconciliation between the two men.
They agreed to appoint seven members each into a committee that would listen to the grievances of Mr. Nyesom Wike and his friends and recommends measures for amicable settlement. The recommendations of the panel would be binding on Atiku and the party, the two men further agreed.
Atiku has appointed Adamu Fintiri, the governor of his home state of Adamawa, to lead his team in the committee. Members of the team include a former Senate President, David Mark; a former Cross River governor, Liyel Imoke; a former PDP governorship candidate in Ondo State, Eyitayo Jegede; and a party leader from the South-east, Ben Obi.
On his part, Mr. Nyesom Wike appointed three former governors – Segun Mimiko of Ondo State, Donald Duke of Cross Rivers, and Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe; a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke; and a former member of the House of Representatives, Nnena Ukeje.
Confirming the development while speaking with journalists in Yola on Saturday, the Adamawa governor said he had been in Port Harcourt as part of the assignment to speak with Mr. Nyesom Wike.
Mr. Fintiri said the committee members had started talking and were hopeful that the two men would sign a peace accord soon. “I can assure you that we’ve started talking and will soon solve the problem and become one family. I’ve just returned from Rivers State where I met with my brother Governor Nyesom Wike. I can guarantee you that the reconciliation process has begun. It is going well and PDP will succeed,” he said.
Adamawa State Governor, Ahmadu Umaru added that his unique position as a friend to both Atiku and Mr. Nyesom Wike places him in a good position to broker a truce between them. “Politics is all about discussions, meetings, and give and take. As leaders, we will ensure that we put everything into this reconciliation to ensure that Atiku and Wike’s camps are back as one- and united-party members for the success of PDP,” he said to the journalists.
However, looking from the outside, the situation on the ground seems to belie Mr. Fintiri’s optimism. It would come as a surprise to many that both sides remained in contact after that meeting at Mr. Gana’s house on August 12. The tone of Mr. Wike’s statements and political engagements has hardly changed since then.
At the commissioning of some projects in Port Harcourt, wherein he invited a former governor of Sokoto, Aliyu Wamakko, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, Mr. Nyesom Wike remained bellicose in his political statements.
Aside from both dignitaries being leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), they are also known foes of Sokoto Governor Tambuwal, a principal target of Mr. Nyesom Wike’s anger in his beef with Atiku and the PDP. Mr. Nyesom Wike had described Mr. Tambuwal’s last-minute withdrawal from the presidential race and endorsement of Atiku at the PDP convention as both a breach of the rules of the convention and a stab in his own back.
Crossed the Rubicon?
Mr. Gbajabiamila seemed to indicate the governor has crossed the Rubicon and is on his way to the APC. But Mr. Fintiri does not believe this would happen.
“Who are his friends in the APC? Are you telling me that those who are now romancing Wike love him? I can assure you that with God, the party will put its house in order before the 2023 elections. Even Wike knows that he has been by far the biggest investor in the party; can he now walk away from all of his investment?
“We recognize that he loves his people and I can assure you that he will have a fair deal if it comes to that; we just need to put the crisis behind us,” the Adamawa governor said to dismiss the insinuation.
Before Mr. Nyesom Wike hosted his latest APC guests in Port Harcourt on Friday, a newspaper reported that he had sued Atiku and the PDP at the Federal High Court, asking to be declared the presidential candidate of the party.
Mr. Nyesom Wike and a chieftain of the PDP, Newgent Ekamon, were listed as the plaintiffs in the suit, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/782/2022. In the originating summons, the PDP is listed as the first respondent while the Independent National Electoral Commission is the 2nd respondent. Tambuwal and Atiku are listed as the 3rd and 4th respondents respectively.
However, the governor on Friday during the commissioning of the new House of Assembly complex by Mr. Gbajabiamila firmly distanced himself from the suit.
“People have called me throughout this morning and said all kinds of things that I went to court against Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. I want to say categorically if I have a reason for going to court, I will go to court, but I didn’t go to court.
“Yesterday too, they said I removed all PDP flags at Rivers State Government House. But I just have to say these things for Nigerians to know that I have kept quiet and been busy delivering dividends of democracy for my party to win the election in Rivers State.
“But I want to tell the candidate, it is the candidate’s group that is doing all these things. Let the world hear; they are the ones plotting all these things, thinking that they will spoil my name. You cannot!”
Mr. Nyesom Wike explained that he would have headed to court within two weeks after the primary if he had wanted to follow that course.
“I didn’t go to court; I have no reason to go to court. But those of you who are plotting and saying that I went to court instead, for you to have come out now to say Wike went to court. I say shame on you. Shame will be on all of you.”
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While the rebuttal of the report of a legal challenge of the primary may assuage Atiku and the PDP, he also let them know that he had not stopped being angry with them, “I have told the candidate; you will win or lose this election because of people around you,” he warned.
And he has been dealing with the old associates of the candidate in his state. A former senator, Lee Meaba, was one of the local PDP members who have felt the brunt of the governor’s anger with Atiku. Mr. Meaba said he was stripped of his appointment by the state government while the former governor, Mr. Omehia, and a former deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Opara, was removed from the leadership of their local chapters of the PDP; all of these for visiting Atiku in Abuja.
Rivers and PDP
But Mr. Nyesom Wike also denied that he was leaving the PDP. That too should please Mr. Fintiri and other members of his committee. It is difficult to see why he would take the risk of leaving a party that has very deep roots in his state.
No governor from any other party has governed Rivers State since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999. Mr. Nyesom Wike is the third substantive governor, not counting Celestine Omehia who was removed by the Supreme Court after he was sworn in on May 29, 2007 and replaced by Rotimi Amaechi whom the court declared the validly nominated candidate of the PDP in that year’s election.
Mr. Wike’s substantive predecessors were like himself emperors during their tenures, each also very influential on the national political stage. Peter Odili was the frontrunner in the PDP presidential primaries of 2007 until departing President Olusegun Obasanjo handpicked Katsina Governor Umaru Yar’Adua and also overruled the recommendation of compensating Mr. Odili with the vice-presidential candidate slot.
Mr. Amaechi was the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum. After falling out with President Goodluck Jonathan over a local quarrel in Rivers State with the president’s wife, Patience, Mr. Amaechi fled to the newly formed APC where he played a pivotal role in the successful presidential campaigns of the party’s candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.
He became a powerful minister for almost seven years under Mr. Buhari, until he left the cabinet to run for the presidential ticket of the APC, which he lost in June to Bola Tinubu. Now, he is in the unaccustomed position of not holding a government position for the first time since 1999.
Oh, well, he was temporarily out of office between June and November 2015 when the new president delayed appointing his first cabinet and also the brief period when Mr. Omeha was the governor.
Mr. Odili handpicked his protégé as his successor but had to walk into the shadows after leaving office as governor, while Mr. Amaechi seemed to have lost his base in Rivers from the moment he defected from the PDP. Does Mr. Nyesom Wike think he can buck that trend by remaining a godfather sharing powers with the governor even if his own handpicked candidate becomes his successor next year?
That candidate is running on the PDP ticket. Will he want to accompany Mr. Nyesom Wike on a political gamble out of the PDP if he becomes governor?
And then, he has to consider the factor of his predecessor, Mr. Amaechi – an old political ally turned foe. The former governor has been chafing over APC chieftains and associates of Mr. Tinubu paying pilgrimage to Port Harcourt to see Mr. Nyesom Wike.
That seemed to Mr. Amaechi’s aides as if Mr. Tinubu is saying he is not impressed with the clout of Mr. Amaechi in Rivers. Should Mr. Nyesom Wike step out of the PDP, an aide of Mr. Amaechi said the latter would be willing to jump to Atiku’s side, given that both men too had been old friends.
Unless Mr. Nyesom Wike believes he can help stop Atiku from winning the election, he would not take the animosity with the candidate into the poll and risk facing the fury of a PDP federal government when he is out of office.
Atiku is under pressure too
However, the pressure for reconciliation is not only on Mr. Wike’s side. The PDP has always drawn one of its biggest haul of votes from Rivers. With the party facing an unprecedented challenge in another stronghold in the person of Peter Obi of the Labour Party, and with its share of the votes particularly in Kano under potential erosion by Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP); keeping hold of Rivers may be critical to success at the poll next year.
The opposition’s chances are always brighter when it is united. That is the reason why many believe the LP and NNPP may hurt the PDP more than they will the ruling APC. Mr. Obi appears to be running strongly in his home Southeast and among Christians in some other parts of the country.
Most of the votes from these areas went to the PDP and Atiku in 2019. But with the two newcomers likely to draw away some of the votes from those banks, the PDP will do all it can to protect its other bastions.
Add to that the fact that Mr. Nyesom Wike is also one of the biggest sources of funds for the party, which also makes his support essential. That makes appeasing him worth the effort.
Foot in Lalong’s mouth
Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong is the director-general of the presidential campaign organization of Mr. Tinubu. He took the appointment after being tapped for it by governors of the party. Mr. Tinubu had wanted to appoint his old ally and former national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, to the position.
The governors had demanded that one of them should take the position. But Mr. Lalong’s appointment appears shrewd as it also shows that not all Christian members in the North are walking away from the party over its same-faith presidential ticket.
Two senior members of the party – former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal – have been leading the pushback against the ticket. Ironically, Mr. Lalong was one of the most prominent names they said was unfairly ignored in the search for Mr. Tinubu’s running mate.
But Mr. Lalong immediately had his foot in the mouth as soon as he took the job last week. Speaking with State House correspondents after apprising President Buhari of the appointment, he claimed that the Catholic Pope had not raised any objection to his taking the appointment. That statement caused anger among some Christians and Mr. Lalong found himself issuing an apology over the remark.
That, however, did not appear to have slowed him down in the new job. On Saturday, he was at the campaign headquarters in the Central Business District of Abuja to inspect the facility and speak with the staff ahead of the campaign kicking off.