By Tordue Simon Targema
The Rivers State Governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike’s puzzle is proving extremely difficult to crack by the presidential flag bearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), His Excellency Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Like the proverbial lizard on the edge of the water jar, Wike has proven to be Atiku’s biggest dilemma in his current presidential bid. The options before him are weighty: to ignore Wike and put up with the consequences given the latter’s influence in the leading opposition party and seaming control over the party’s structure especially in the South-South geopolitical zone; or give in to his weighty concessions as an act of either compromise or cowardice and subjugation to the whims and ego of an emerging emperor in the party’s fold.
These are certainly weighty options, serious enough to cost an ambitious aspirant- desirous of occupying Nigeria’s topmost seat as a crowning moment of his age-long political career- his precious sleep.
As events in the aftermath of the party’s presidential primaries continue to unfold, Wike has emerged the most sought-after political bride in Nigeria. Just last month, he was entangled in a series of meetings in London with the three topmost aspirants- Bola Ahmad Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) and his arch political rival, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP who is at the centre of the whole palaver.
The meetings were graced by household names in Nigeria’s political arena such as former President Olusegun Obasanjo, incumbent governors and several other political stakeholders. Prior to these marathon meetings in London, his Port-Harcourt residence had suddenly turned to a venue of political pilgrimage by Nigerian presidential hopefuls and their emissaries.
Apparently, Wike’s grudge seem like one massaging his personal ego after suffering a resounding defeat in a keenly contested jostle for the main opposition party’s flag. This explains why he has not hidden his rift with the party’s National Chairman, Senator Iorchia Ayu.
A day after the primary election, when Wike was busy nursing the agonizing wounds of the defeat, Ayu was caught on camera- flanked by His Excellency Atiku Abubakar- showering praises on Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State as the “hero of the convention”. Of course, Tambuwal’s abrupt withdrawal at the last minute in support of Atiku was, no doubt, influential to the latter’s victory; a move that Wike interpreted as a well-orchestrated conspiracy, laced with ethno-regional bigotry to edge him out of the race and scuttle his ambition of occupying the country’s top seat.
From that moment, he made his instant decision- and publicly so- that Ayu must go as the preeminent condition for peace to reign in the party. However, subsequent developments have further deepened the crisis in the party and made it messier for the party in general, and Atiku Abubakar in particular, to handle.
For instance, having lost the flag, one would have expected that as the first runner up, Atiku would compensate Wike with the vice presidential slot to run a joint ticket, or at least, give him the benefit to nominate a protégée to run as a move towards reconciliation.
Incidentally, having won the ticket from the North, the vice presidential slot automatically was expected to come from the South, and as the leading figure of the party in the region, all eyes were on Wike for the vice presidential slot. Atiku’s snubbing of Wike for the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa is clearly understood by many political analysts.
Everyone would prefer a calm, cooperative and more introverted vice to a lousy, boisterous, loquacious, egoistic and power-drunk demigod who is so full of himself and intoxicated with self-invested powers and a sense of relevance that defies all principles of logic. Yes, this is my personal opinion about the person of Governor Wike, but I am sure many would share the same opinion about him, and it is likely the foremost reason why His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar snubbed him without a second thought to the damning consequences to his campaign.
Yes, Wike would have been a difficult candidate to sell especially in the Northern region where his controversial position on states control of the Value Added Tax (VAT) that Rivers State has the lion share, restructuring and other controversial national issues lurking the Nigerian federation leave him with more enemies than friends.
Yet, others dislike him for being excessively assertive and domineering, dictatorial in his approach to handling complicated political situations and crude in his dealings with delicate political matters without minding hurting sensitivities and stepping on toes. All these understandably culminated into Atiku’s eventual preference of Okowa, who is more subtle- if one is careful of using diplomatic- in his political approach as a co-flag bearer.
But having made his choice- barring all consequences, the effects are right here with him, and have, at the moment, overwhelmed the leading opposition party. How best His Excellency Atiku Abubakar and his party navigate the challenges confronting it and form a formidable all-inclusive campaign team remains to be seen, as efforts to woo Wike and his allies back to the fold have always hit brick walls.
Already, the presidential campaign team is set with Governor Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom State- Wike’s neighbour- as the Chairman and Governor Tambuwal of Sokoto State as the Director General. Key members of the Wike’s camp such as governors Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State and Wike himself are sandwiched in the list as members, with the exception of Makinde who is named the Vice Chairman (South).
The big question to ask at this point is: will these governors throw their weight behind the campaign as they should, given the prevailing state of affairs? Perhaps, some historical illusions would be in order to put things into perspective. One is tempted to infer that the complications that confront the PDP at the moment are capable of repeating the ugly 2015 nightmare.
Yes, Wike is a force to reckon with. It is to his credit that he sustained the PDP in states where it was nose-diving to oblivion. His macho in odd-hour elections such as Edo, Osun and Anambra among a host of other states confer on him, the prestige in the party that is second to none among his fellow governors. It is no wonder that they rally around him in his moment of great travails.
To be continued
Tordue Simon Targema writes from the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Taraba State University, Jalingo. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org