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Mission to London: What’s in it for Nigerians?­

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh (Deputy Bureau Chief), Leo Sobechi (Deputy Politics Editor) (Abuja) and Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt)
27 August 2022   |   4:30 am
London where the destiny of Nigeria was once shaped to fail by colonial masters is again playing host to political leaders and concerned citizens are wondering, what’s in it for Nigeria’s future?

Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu (left), Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike and Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom at the Port Harcourt International Airport, on their arrival from London… yesterday.

London where the destiny of Nigeria was once shaped to fail by colonial masters is again playing host to political leaders and concerned citizens are wondering, what’s in it for Nigeria’s future?

October 1, 2023, will make it clear 60 years after Nigeria attained the status of a sovereign republic. It was on that date that Britain, the country’s former colonial overlords, withdrew its oversight of the political developments of Nigeria. Her Majesty, the Queen of England, took down the Union Jack and in its place, Nigeria’s Green-White-Green flag, was unfurled.

Within the week, in what was seen as reminiscent of the various steps that led to Nigeria’s independence, including meetings at the Westminster and Lancaster House, some political leaders hibernated to London, where they held a series of meetings.

Although there was no doubt as to the centrality of the 2023 general election to the various confabulations, Nigerians were left to ask what was in it for them, particularly given that issues that would define the forthcoming poll revolve around their socio-economic survival, welfare and safety.

In the three high profile meetings, Rivers State governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, was seen as the rallying point, thereby giving the impression that the entire conversation could be geared towards power capture rather than serious discourse on how to improve the socio-economic condition of Nigerians.

However, it is instructive that despite the praises showered on the Bimordal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) as the panacea for electoral malfeasance, such schemes by political actors leaves the impression that voters do not matter in leadership selection.

Kicking off the series of meetings was the Presidential candidate of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who told Nigerians that becoming the country’s President was his life ambition.

Tinubu was later to inform Southwest leaders of his party that it was his turn to occupy the seat of Nigeria’s Presidency, recalling how he had been ceding the position to others.

The APC presidential contender’s meeting with Wike in London sparked off defection rumours back in Nigeria, with APC faithful expressing optimism that the Rivers State governor, who was given a short end of the stake in his party, PDP, would collaborate with APC to retain the Presidency in 2023.

But Nigerians were aghast when the same Wike got into another round of discussions with the standard bearer of the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi. The element of surprise in Wike’s meeting with Obi was the presence of Nigeria’s former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

The fact that the meeting had former Cross River State governor, Chief Donald Duke in attendance also created the impression among Nigerians that the Wike camp was being wooed to throw their weight behind Obi and LP.

Obasanjo has always advocated that it was the turn of the Southeast geopolitical zone, one of the country’s ethnic tripods, to preside over the affairs of Nigeria.

Yet, not prepared to leave anything to chance and in a bid to ensure that Wike, a strong pillar of his party, PDP, was not ‘poached’, the Presidential candidate of PDP, who is also Obasanjo’s former deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakr, jetted off to London. The Atiku and Wike camps within PDP held what was obviously the last of the ‘London Conference 2022.’

Some stakeholders, including the former Managing Director of Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) Prof. Sam Amadi and Prof. Arthur Martins-Aginam of Baze University, Abuja, dismissed the meetings as wasteful and lacking any benefit to the common man.

Martins-Aginam stated: “Well, I am at a loss as to why these meetings seem to all hold in London. It reminds us of the constitutional talks preceding Nigeria’s independence most of which were held in London.

“It underscores the seriousness of these so-called political leaders and their abject lack of understanding of how bad things are for most Nigerians, whose votes they are asking for.

“When you calculate the first class air tickets, the luxury hotel accommodation and other sundry expenses associated with these trips, you should be thinking in the hundreds of millions of naira. And, remember, they likely travelled with aides and family members.

“What prevents these meetings from being held in Nigeria? These folks are out of touch and have no understanding what Nigerians are going through. They may well stay in London for their campaigns. Again, it underscores the abject lack of ideology in our politics; the fact that Wike is looking to forge an alliance with anyone. This is plutocracy, which is government of the rich, for the rich and by the rich, at its best.”

Amadi, who is a lawyer, said, “the meeting has no special significance. It is part of what seems like endless quest for deal between the two camps. They have approached their deal making with total abandonment of principles. It is pursuit of naked self-interest by both. We wait and watch how they will resolve their crises.”

While regretting that there has been a high degree of irresponsibility among Nigerian politicians, Amadi declared: “There is no benefits for ordinary Nigerians. They did not go there to discuss policies to address insecurity or economic stagnation.

“They went there to discuss how they will share political power if they work together and win. It is plainly about their political interests. It is not even about the well being of their different parties. Tinubu, Atiku, Obi and Wike are all engaged in these meetings to build string coalitions to win the 2023 presidential election.

“They behave as if they are not concerned about the degree of suffering and the dysfunction of the Nigerian state. They don’t mind holding routine meetings outside the country and spending so much in the midst of massive poverty.

“This behaviour does not show people who have real commitment to the well-being of the people. It shows a desensitised political class that basically holds the people in derision. Nigerian politicians are mostly irresponsible. They don’t inspire confidence that they can get the job done.”

At the meeting between Wike’s camp comprising Governors Samuel Ortom, Okezie Ikpeazu, Seyi Makinde and Senator Olaka Nworgu; and Atiku’s camp, which had Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, the two parties were said to have followed up on the recommendations of the Reconciliation Committee set up by the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.

Unconfirmed reports said the two camps formulated five areas to reach a rapprochement over the fallout of the presidential primary, as well as the selection of the presidential running mate.

The five issues said to be subject to further ratification by PDP caucuses, especially the National Executive Committee (NEC) and Board of Trustees (BOT), include that: (1) Iyorchia Ayu should step down immediately as PDP national chairman, with a promise of adequate compensation and to be treated with respect. Wike’s Camp to produce Ayu’s substitution from the South West Zone.

(2) Atiku to serve for only one term to pave the way for power shift to the South, even as Wike’s camp produces only the Senate President and some principal officers of National Assembly (NASS). Speaker of House of Representative not factored in.

(3) Wike’s camp to nominate for appointment Ministers for some key Ministries and Heads of Parastatals/Agencies, as well as nominate Director General (DG) Campaign Organisation, one Spokesperson and some other key positions in the presidential campaign structure.

(4) The agreement on power sharing to be signed by both sides and sealed by the court.

On the meeting with Tinubu, sources had disclosed that contrary to speculations that Wike was planning to defect to the governing APC, his meeting with the party’s presidential standard bearer was a mere gesture of respect.

A reliable source within the Rivers State governor’s camp told The Guardian that the meeting between Wike, Ortom, Makinde and Tinubu in Europe was not connected to any defection plans.

The source, a former northern governor, explained that the meeting, which was at the instance of Tinubu, followed the APC leader’s emissary to Wike, stressing that the Rivers State governor decided that some of his party men should accompany him to “hear what Tinubu had to tell him.”

Recalling that the APC presidential candidate had earlier sent some of Wike’s colleagues in the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), including Governors Kayode Fayemi, Rotimi Akeredolu and Babajide Sanwo-Olu to woo Wike in Port Harcourt, the former governor said courtesy demands that the Rivers State governor “reciprocates that gesture of respect and recognition.”

Expressing dismay at the strong words employed by the former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido while discussing Wike’s meeting with Tinubu, the source regretted that it was such tough stance that was feeding the flames of mutual suspicion in the party.

“I do not want to join issues with anybody, but the fact that we are in a political season does not mean that two citizens could no longer meet and share mutual respect. Wike has not committed any anti-party offence; at least, he (Wike) did not set out to meet with Tinubu.

“The question of defection has never arisen in any of our discussions. And the Rivers State governor has often declared that he would not run away from the house he built. Some of those adding fuel to the misunderstanding within our party had some time ago moved against PDP for what they perceived as injustice,” he added.

Meanwhile, Wike returned to Port Harcourt, Rivers State, yesterday after the London meetings.

The governor, who spoke on arrival at the Port Harcourt International Airport, with Ortom and Ikpeazu, explained that they were in London to consult widely with people who mean well for the country.

Wike, who confirmed their meetings with the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku, Tinubu, Obi and Obasanjo, stated that topmost on the agenda was how to make Nigeria better than what it is currently.

The Rivers State governor noted that all was not well with Nigeria, stressing that they were seeking remedies that would restore enduring hope.

“I can confirm that this is the first time as a team that we are meeting with the presidential candidates. We met with the presidential candidate of the APC. We met with our leader, former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo.

“We met the presidential candidate of Labour Party. We also met with our presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. For whatever it’s worth, consultation is ongoing.

“Whatever we are talking about is for the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians. It is not parochial and tied to one person or group of persons. We believe that with what is going on, it will be for the interest of Nigerians at the end of the day,” he said.

Wike decried the situation where standard, training and competence had always been traded for mediocrity, adding that leadership should not be about one individual and the interest of his family, but about the collective interest of everybody.

“Consultation is still ongoing. Never mind some people who do not believe in the existence of this country.

“Leadership is not about you and your family. Leadership is about everybody. It’s unfortunate that we are in a country now where a man finishes eight years as a governor and brings his own son as a governor too and as member of the National Assembly.

“It’s only in this part of the world that you can see that, when we are talking about poverty everywhere. These are people who do not mean well for this Nigeria.”

Wike also wondered why religion and ethnicity were being deployed as the tenable identity to describe Nigerians when competence is required.

“The only identity they have in this country is religion and ethnicity, nothing more. It’s either I’m a Christian or I’m a Moslem, I’m a Fulani or I’m an Igbo. Nigeria cannot move forward except they think it will be them. That’s where we are.

“We are in a country where someone with primary school certificate can be appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. That tells you how bad this country has become.

“But with our consultation, all these will be a thing of the past. No amount of intimidation or blackmail will deter us. We are determined to right the wrong.”

In his remarks, Ortom noted that they met with renowned persons in the last few days because of their belief that Nigeria was in distress and required concerted efforts to be rescued.

He stated that they had fruitful talks with those they met, stressing that it was beyond partisan politics, as well meaning Nigerians need to work together in ensuring that Nigeria survives.

“For us, we are looking at the larger picture. Nigeria today is in distress. It is about what can we do. No man or woman alone can get it right for our country.

“We are looking at how we can harness ideas and put ourselves together to ensure that we get out of the present challenge we are in Nigeria today.

“From top to bottom, consider what has happened from 2015 and where we are today. So, what we are doing is a concern that we have for our country, Nigeria.

“This is beyond partisan politics. We are looking on how we can come together and find a way of ensuring that Nigeria survives. Nigeria is on drip; Nigeria is on oxygen and it is about how can we get out of this,” he said.

Ortom stated that the three separate meetings they had within the week were worthwhile sessions for them, noting, however, that concrete hasn’t been decided.

“The consultation is going on and will continue to go on. We are still going to meet here. We are still going to meet some persons some other time and see how we can work to ensure that the project Nigeria works,” he added.

On his part, Ikpeazu emphasised that they were on a mission to rescue Nigeria, adding that they were mindful of the society to bequeath to the next generation of Nigerians.

“This is a country with great potential and we have to protect it well. We think that we need to engage across board.

“We are also looking at speaking with civil society organisations and those who have ideas, with Nigerians in the diaspora. All the resources available in this country have to come together at this time to see how best we can move Nigeria forward.”

However, following the meetings, The Guardian learnt yesterday that the PDP National Chairman, Ayu, has begun serious moves to protect his job.

It was gathered that as meeting between Wike and Atiku’s camp progressed in London, another meeting of party leaders sympathetic to Ayu also held in one of the North Central states to find ways of ensuring that Ayu remained chairman till the conclusion of the 2023 elections.

Ayu was said to have pleaded with notable leaders of the party particularly from the North to prevail on Atiku to resist the pressure from the Wike camp.