By Zainab Suleiman Okino
Against the backdrop of the horse-trading and junkets in preparation for the general elections in 2023, it has been a mixed-bag of old, resuscitated, recycled issues cropping up, just as the political class is strategizing, aligning and realigning themselves to protect their political future, power base and interests. What is absent in all these brickbats and junkets is the interests of the Nigerian people.
One man who has succeeded in forcing his own narrative and personal interests on us is Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state. Love or hate him, you cannot ignore him. How can he be ignored when he is not just part of the plot; he is the news and the total package; so ubiquitous he has become, you’d be right to think he is the presidential candidate of either the ruling party or the main opposition party, or even the new sensation of the third force represented by Peter Obi. Reason? Wike has met with all of them, and more— all members of the political class, such that you’d wonder what he is looking for, or what those meeting with him are looking for. These days it does seem you are not accomplished enough as a politician if you have not interacted with Governor Wike.
Governor Wike is the most-talked about politician in the land today. Every day he graces the front pages and grabs the headline of major newspapers and it doesn’t look like we have seen or heard the end of the Wike story. For as long as Wike keeps mum on his political path to the 2023 general elections, he will remain germane in political discourse. But time is running out.
It all started when the governor lost his bid to become the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). After a hotly contested primary election, ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar emerged winner and candidate of the PDP.
Governor Wike felt betrayed, disappointed, used and dumped justifiably so, because he had supported Gov Aminu Tambuwal previously, and when it mattered most to him, the Sokoto state governor threw his weight behind Atiku and even made a public show of it. Wike expressed his disappointment in a few words (unlike him) then; since then the party has been embroiled in crises.
Much like the party, Wike has not been at ease, and unable to get over that loss, acting as if an electoral loss equals a death sentence or a loss today is a loss forever. But then, the governor cannot be denied his rightful place in the once all power ruling party.
Wike was known to have held the party together when it was in disarray after their shock defeat in 2015, when Atiku himself and a host of others ran to the emerging power bloc, and now governing All Progressives Party, (APC), and the party was practically left for Wike to spoon-feed and nurture back to life, before the likes of Atiku ran back for cover under its supposed umbrella.
But this is how politics is played in Nigeria; politics without principles or ideologies, where people go to bed as members of a political and wake up as stalwart of another; and where people reap bountifully what they do not sew. I thought Wike should know this.
In the interim, and in the last three months, Wike has not officially declared his support for Atiku, despite his avowal to support whoever emerged. To be clear, Atiku did not play his card well. What is the meaning of jetting out to the UAE shortly after the May 28 primary, when the house was still in disarray and he had not reconciled with all those who contested along with him and lost. The hostility of Wike to Atiku heightened after he passed over Wike, and chose Okowa as his vice-presidential candidate, despite Wike’s sacrifices and frittered funds. Again, what would it have taken from Atiku if he had put Wike into confidence, with the purpose of pacifying him?
However, as justified as Wike’s anger is, he cannot afford to put everyone on a cliff-hanger forever—APC and Labour Party being hopeful of Wike’s defection, and his party, the PDP angry and somehow expectant of a thaw.
Though Governor Wike has succeeded in playing the hide and seek game, and in turning himself into a beautiful bride, he should remember that flowers don’t bloom forever, and sooner than later, Wike has to come clean. His political journey ahead is a long haul; and politics is a marathon, and not a sprint. The way he plays his game today has a bearing on his future, which at only age 54 is pregnant with only God knows what.
Meanwhile at the last count, Wike has met all the APC bigwigs including their presidential candidate Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, some PDP bigwigs, Peter Obi of the Labour Party, and all the who is who in the political firmament in different parts of the world and within the country.
The question then is, what does Wike want and what is he up to? A neutral figure, friend to all and foe to none? The perception by some, is that being above the fray gives him an edge irrespective of who wins the presidency. He has said he would not want to be minister again.
But as a former ally of APC stalwart and former minister of Transport and governor of Rivers state, Rotimi Amaechi, whom he (Wike) fought to a standstill, and now proving more adept at politricks than his mentors (Jonathan and Amaechi), Wike has a lot to worry about most of the candidates of PDP in his state too. Pragmatic and redoubtable, Wike has the capacity to intimidate, and those who know him say he is a friend to have and keep, but he can as well intimidate.
His latest condition for reconciliation with the Atiku camp according those in the know are: that party chairman, Iyorchia Ayu should go, that Atiku should do only one term if PDP wins and the VP presidential candidate (Okowa) should be dropped. All these may seem unrealistic, but the party, surely cannot keep the chairman, board of trustees’ chairman and presidential candidate in the North while criticizing the APC Muslim-Muslim ticket. Equity and fairness demand a rejig of the PDP structure. All these can be negotiated if Wike is focused or makes up his mind on what he wants and where he wants to be.
Wike should not forget he has a lot at stake. In the tradition of governors choosing their successors, Wike has his anointed candidate as governorship candidate as well as Senate, Houses of Representative and Assembly candidates in Rivers state in the offing which he will have to superintend over. His attitude now can cast a shadow of doubt over their performance in the elections. Without reconciliation early enough, it is not just PDP that will lose, Wike also risks losing his state to the opposition and all of them will be damned.
Wike’s sense of entitlement can mar his chances of leading these people to success in an unpredictable general election in 2023. A political party is for like minds; no one should feel entitled to some favours, deserved or not. And if Wike was seeking for relevance as some pundits have pointed out, hasn’t he got enough attention across party lines already? To avoid being derided for his nuisance value, Wike should make hay while the sun shines else he could become politically incorrect if he gets his wishes fulfilled for now under any political platform.
Zainab Suleiman Okino chairs Blueprint Editorial Board. She is also the publisher of Verity News. She can be reached via email@example.com