Nigerian politics on summer holiday
I received a call from Ehigie Edobor Uzamere, former senator representing Edo South senatorial zone the other day. He was in the senate for two terms. We had chatted a few days before, our subject of engagement typically revolving around Nigerian politics. I asked him if he was in Benin City, capital of his state, or Abuja, where he lives. “I dey America,” Uzamere answered. “How madam and the children,” he asked?
Code-switching between pidgin and conventional English has typified conversations between Uzamere and I for almost 50 years now! Yes. And you better believe. I grew up with his younger brothers notably Albert, George, Wellington, as a young schoolboy, while I attended the Immaculate Conception College, Benin City, in the old Midwestern State. Within the African context, he is my elder brother and that is how it has been.
Uzamere was a fixture on the entourage of Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s former vice president, in the course of the latter’s recent cross-country blitzkrieg, holding consultations on his presidential quest. Atiku vied for the presidential ticket of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP) and was virtually in the air shopping for delegates, in the weeks and days preceding the presidential primary. Together, Uzamere and Atiku undertook those breathtaking tours from Abia to Adamawa, Bauchi to Bayelsa, Kebbi to Kogi, Potiskum to Port Harcourt, sometimes covering two states in one day. And then of course, the gruelling, grinding, racy, suspenseful primary of Saturday May 29, which flowed into Sunday May 30, 2022.
There were also those many nights of yawning and sleeplessness, herding the delegates from infiltration by other presidential aspirants, in the bullish stock market, which our politics has preposterously become. Dino Melaye, former parliamentarian representing Kogi State, and broadcast mogul, Raymond Aleogho Dokpesi, were also visible on those Atiku movements. Uzamere and I concluded our discussion when he told me he would be away for just two weeks, after catching some rest out there. Melaye by the way, announced his arrival in the U.S. about a week ago, in one of his regular tweets. He scribbled in Yoruba that “when a child works hard, he deserves some rest.”
Atiku jetted out of the country Friday June 17, the day after he announced Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa as his running mate for the 2023 presidential election. That expressed preference for Okowa as deputy going into the poll, has caused grave disaffection within the ranks of the PDP. Nyesom Wike the Governor of Rivers State who posted second position at the presidential primary, was favoured for that placing. Wike has been a “Rock of Gibraltar” behind the PDP over the past seven years, since the ouster of the party from the centre. Eleven out of 13 governors voted in on the platform of the party, boycotted a recent programme organised by the party. Only Okowa and his Taraba State counterpart, Darius Dickson Ishaku attended the event.
The programme was the inauguration of the national campaign team constituted to rally support for the forthcoming governorship election in Osun State. Wike’s colleagues stayed away from the event ostensibly in solidarity with their own. Atiku meanwhile, had to honour a medical appointment in Germany, before proceeding to the United Arab Emirates, (UAE) where he is taking some time off in Dubai. Pictures of Atiku having a meal in some resort, with Ndudi Elumelu, minority leader of the PDP in the House of Representatives, and Timi Frank, former spokesman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), have been trending on the social media.
Wike has also been photographed in Istanbul the Turkish capital, with two of his colleagues, Okezie Victor Ikpeazu of Abia State, and Seyi Makinde of Oyo State. Ikpeazu and Makinde, alongside Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, and Samuel Ortom of Benue, were an ever present quartet behind Wike on his nationwide travels and tours, interfacing with elder statesmen and engaging delegates. In one of the pictures, Wike was sporting a pair of shorts, t-shirt, loafers and face cap in real holiday mood. Ikpeazu and Makinde who flanked him, were donning casuals too, all three gentlemen with legs crossed, smiles playing on their lips. In contemporary Nigerian street lingo, they will be described as flexing, having fun that is. And why not? There’s no better way to temper the ever-boiling cauldron of the socioeconomic temperature back home. I’m told that Wike and Makinde genuinely deserve a break on account of how diligently they have served their people over the years.
Followers of Abia State politics, however, are saddened by the lack of performance and novel divisiveness which they claim Ikpeazu has introduced into Abia politics. It is said that he has barely impacted his state in any way, into the eighth year of his two-term dispensation. Ikpeazu is accused of reversing the rotational template for the governorship seat, which has proceeded seamlessly since 1999, between the three senatorial zones in the state. Orji Uzor Kalu, Theodore Ahamaefule Orji and Ikpeazu from Abia north, central and south respectively, were governors in that order. The governorship is expected to return to the north of the state in 2023, but Ikpeazu thinks otherwise. He is said to have propped up a candidate from Abia south, Uche Ikonne, a professor and former Vice Chancellor of Abia State University, (ABSU). There are fears this may impact on the party’s chances at next year’s election.
Ikpeazu it is suggested, has upset the foundations of equity, justice and fairplay in the politics of the state, and enthroned impunity and hate. His style is reported to have polarised Abia politics into four distinct blocs. Former Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, a pioneering member of PDP has decamped from the party, to the All Peoples’ Grand Alliance (APGA). This followed Ikpeazu’s decision to appropriate the PDP senatorial ticket of Abia south to himself, denying Abaribe, a PDP ticket to the upper legislature. Abaribe a high-ranking parliamentarian, is easily one of the most cerebral, fearless, outspoken and respected lawmakers, who is aspiring to a fourth time in the upper house. In the post-2023 election political block-building, Abaribe’s ranking may ordinarily privilege the south east a principal office in the senate, if he were still in the PDP.
Abaribe by the way, is one of the elders of the senate recently despatched to the UK to express solidarity with the embattled former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu and his wife Beatrice. He loses some of the three-week holiday recently granted to all federal parliamentarians, in service to colleague and country. Darlington Nwokocha, a PDP ranking member of the lower federal parliament has left the PDP for Labour Party (LP), in his quest for a seat in the upper house, to represent Abia central. Emeka Atumah, an erstwhile PDP lawmaker in the House of Representatives, is flying the banner of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in the same zone, for the same office. Atumah has floated around a bit, initially anchoring in the Social Democratic Party (SDP), before his recent move to the APC. Such is the extent and manner of decimation and discombobulation attributed to the Ikpeazu-era PDP.
As rumours of the ouster of Iyorchia Ayu, national Chairman of the PDP flew around early in the week, I tried to get the correct picture of the situation. It was about then that the four-time minister over several administrations in Nigeria, put out a statement to the effect that he was on a two-week break. To this effect, he formally handed over the administration of the party to one of his deputies, Umar Damagum. PDP’s Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, also handed over to his deputy, Phillip Shuaibu as he proceeded on break.
Side by side with this was news of the trip to France of the APC presidential flag bearer for next year’s election, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for his medicals. Instructively, the news story I gleaned reported Tinubu will be accompanied on the trip by his political advisers and strategists. Despite apprehensions about his health, Tinubu successfully underwent a tasking schedule lately, courting the support of party leaders, stakeholders and delegates, across the country, for the presidential primary of his party. He won by a landslide. For the strongman of Lagos politics, however, this trip is a mix, a bouquet of rest and work. Rotimi Amaechi, immediate past minister of transport, who contested the APC presidential primary, has also been sighted on a boat somewhere in the world, savouring aquatic serenity.
President Muhammadu Buhari has not relayed to us that he is proceeding on a holiday as yet. But he has never lost any opportunity to travel out of the country for various reasons, ever glad to leave us behind with our medley of worries and woes. In the first six months of this year, Buhari travelled out of the country, ten good times. In February, he was in Belgium for the Sixth European Union-African Union Summit, and in Ethiopia for the 35th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union of Heads of State and Government. He was in the UK for a two-week medical break in March, and onwards to Kenya for the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations Environmental Programme, (UNEP).
In May, Buhari was in the UAE on a condolence visit over the loss of the nation’s immediate past helmsman, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nayan. He was also in Equatorial Guinea for an Extraordinary Summit of the African Union, (AU) and in Cote d’ivoire for the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. In June, Buhari was also in Spain at the invitation of his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sanchez, during which visit he met King Felipe VI, Head of State of the Spanish nation. In the same month, he attended the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda. He turned around almost as soon as he returned to Abuja and proceeded on a visit to Portugal, as guest of President Marcela Rebelo de Sousa.
Significantly, in all his comings and goings, Buhari has neither visited nor invited Rotimi Akeredolu, Governor of Ondo State, to get a briefing about the recent Owo Catholic Church massacre, which claimed 40 innocent lives. He has not summoned Timipre Sylva, his Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, or Mele Kyari, Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), to interrogate the subsisting petroleum products scarcity. Even as state governors are calling for firearms to be legitimised following government’s inability to protect its citizenry, Buhari has not called Bello Matawalle of Zamfara to find out the gravity of the security situation in his state. Ortom of Benue recently informed us that he has not been allowed to see the president in two years, despite the serial affliction of the state with invasions by rampaging Fulani herdsmen.
With the unease in the PDP on which pedestal he is running for president, Atiku has his job cut out. How he manages the multilevel fissions, anger and angst in his party, barely seven months to the election, is the ultimate test of his credentials as a pacifist, team player and unifier. Retired governors like Ayodele Fayose, and many serving governors in his party, are presently disaffected. Before Wike took some time out, his Port Harcourt residence became a Mecca of sorts, politicians of various hues visiting him and courting his support.
He received Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, and his counterpart in the New Nigeria Peoples’ Party (NNPP), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. Wike’s Bauchi State co-contestant at the PDP presidential primary, Bala Mohammed, has also dropped by.
While Wike has repeatedly reassured that he will not dump the PDP, the resources and goodwill he commands, are major assets to any party or candidate he decides to support. Rivers State contributes the third highest voting figures in elections in Nigeria bettered only, maybe by Lagos and Kano. Tinubu’s long serving, unrelenting apostle, Joe Igbokwe, advanced the other day, that the APC national leader has extended an invitation to Wike from his holiday abode in France, an encounter Wike has since debunked the said meeting, preferring to nestle with his governor colleagues in the Turkish capital.
Wike also refused to grant a private audience to Adamu Waziri, a former Minister of Police Affairs, despatched as emissary by Atiku to interface with him in Istanbul, towards cultivating a new rapprochement. He is reportedly committed to power shift to the south and may be inclined to support a southern presidential candidate, one of Obi and Tinubu. Just maybe. There have been calls for Atiku to abridge his holiday to attend to pressing issues back home, one of which is the imperative of meeting Wike and other incensed party leaders. The PDP must be a cohesive unit at all levels, going towards 2023.
Despite his profile as a master strategist and “logistician” par excellence as he has been recently thrown up by his erstwhile protégé and incumbent Works Minister, Babatunde Fashola, Tinubu has a palpable hydra on his plate. The task of convincing the people about the positivity of the legacies of his potential predecessor, as springboard for his own project, is herculean. Buhari whose office he covets, is not a favourite of many Nigerians and potential voters. Into the eighth year of his maximum two terms of four years each, Buhari’s rule has become synonymous with hardship, difficulties and disappointments on many fronts. Insecurity, lawlessness, inflation, unemployment, hunger, corruption, religious intolerance, ethnic suspicion and cultural disaffection, rule the national space. One simple example of the unthinkable inflationary trends is that the pump price of diesel has hit the roof, ascending from N187 per litre in August 2020, to N830 per litre in June 2022. As I write this, 40 bakeries in Abuja have shut down because of unbearable inflationary levels. Such inane dislocations cannot be justified by any economic theory or hypothesis.
Not too much has been heard about Obi and Kwankwaso with regards to whether they are equally savouring reinvigoration and renewal by way of a holiday. Obi’s message seems to be catching on, especially among the youths. He is seen as a refreshing difference from the suffocating permanence of those who have dominated the nation’s politics into the third successive decade now. Obi, however, has quite some work to do. The question about what manner of “structures” he will ascend to the high stool, is very, very pertinent. Does LP have offices and representation in all 774 local government areas in Nigeria? Does it have presence in all 360 federal constituencies; 109 senatorial zones and 36 states? These various rungs are on the ladder to the topmost office. They cannot be skipped, not even by the most dexterous pole-vaulting.
Obi also has to repackage himself with regards to building a political entourage on his visitations. Doyin Okupe, the Director-General of his campaign, is perhaps the sole member of Obi’s campaign team we see with him. Our political culture has yet to adjust to such Obi-style simplicity. I was campaign press secretary to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, between November 1998 and March 1999. We flew a Dornier 228 turbo-prop aircraft, which sat about 17 people, during the consultations and campaigns. You could see a mini-Nigeria around Obasanjo during those tours and thereafter. Obi should stop moving around like an orphan.
Nigeria’s political space should get busier and bubblier, the air suffused in campaign rhetoric, the media steeped in discourse and disputations after the present lull and quiet. Nigerians can’t wait. Holidaying newsmakers should return in earnest so that campaign trucks blaring with jingles and songs on city streets will fill in for the present eerie hiatus. Nigerians earnestly need these fillers to enable us envision a new regime to succeed the outgoing reign of disorientation, despair and discomfort. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti most probably would have said, second base o jare.
Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE).