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Southwest APC Governors’ foggy mission to fish out Wike

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
14 July 2022   |   2:47 am
The three Southwest All Progressives Congress (APC) governors’ recent visit to their Rivers State counterpart, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) did much to reopen old wounds

[FILES] Former Governor of Ekiti State and PDP stalwart, Ayo Fayose (left); Ekiti State Governor and Chairman of Nigerian Governor’s Forum, Kayode Fayemi, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and his Lagos State counterpart, Babajide Sanwo-Olu (right) during a private meeting with Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike (2nd right) in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State…

The three Southwest All Progressives Congress (APC) governors’ recent visit to their Rivers State counterpart, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) did much to reopen old wounds, especially the internal contradictions in their two parties’ preparations for the next year’s general election.

  
Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu led the chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo and the outgoing governor of Ekiti State, Dr. John Kayode Fayemi in their call on the Rivers State governor’s private residence.
    
To an extent, the confabulation in Port Harcourt looked more like a celebration of failure than a search for a progressive way forward. Recall that on July 5, 2021, at a meeting of the 17 Southern governors at the Lagos House Marina, the governors declared that the 2023 Presidency of the country should be zoned to the South after President Muhammadu Buhari’s eight years’ stint.
   
Apart from Sanwo-Olu and Akeredolu, the other governors including the former Ekiti State helmsman, Ayo Fayose, contested for the presidential ticket of their respective parties.
   
A look at the picture of the visitors and their host exposed their sneaky intentions: Sanwo-Olu and Fayemi’s attires contrasted with the all-white caftan of others, including Senator Olaka Nwogu, thus betraying the incongruity of the meeting.
  
It could be recalled that in the build-up to the APC and PDP presidential primaries, the incumbent governors left the impression that one of them should fly their parties’ presidential flags for next year’s poll.
    
However, at the end of the day, after the delegates’ votes were counted and collated in the course of their various parties’ presidential primaries, the incumbent governors failed woefully to live true to their pre-primary rating.
  
While hard fighting Wike ended up as a first runner-up in PDP presidential primary, Governor Kayode Fayemi, who doubles as Ekiti State chief executive and Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) succumbed to Southwest leaders’ pressure to step down for the eventual winner of APC’s straw poll, Tinubu.
 
  
But, while the governors of APC led by Jigawa State chief executive, Alhaji Abubakar Badaru, succeeded in ensuring that the party’s presidential ticket was zoned to the South, their PDP counterparts were confused, even as Wike’s confidence in picking the presidential ticket ended in a narrow miss.
    
Through their joint statement and resolve, the northern governors rebuffed the attempts by some of their leaders, including Presidency insiders, not to do the right thing, by insisting that presidential power should shift to the South in line with the power rotation principle in the country. There were attempts to foist the Senate president Ahmed Lawan on the party. But the governors resisted it, even though it was to secure their place in the power race.
  
In PDP, it was not so. Even when former Vice President Atiku Abubakar reminded the Southern governors and presidential aspirants that the only way zoning could make meaning in the party as if it was micro-zoned to the Southeast, the Southern PDP governors chose South/South, where Wike and Governor Udom Emmanuel hail from.
   
Also, within the APC, defying the argument from some influential players from the Presidency that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo should be supported for the presidency in line with the promise made to Southwest, Tinubu declared that it was his turn to take the slot of the Southwest.
  
Consequently, while the Northern governors deride their Southern counterparts for their inability to get their acts together, the Southwest governors seem content to run errands for their political godfather.
   
Viewed against that background, untangling the three APC fisher-men governors’ visit on Wike last Friday created the impression that they were in Port Harcourt to remind the Rivers State governor of the resolutions of the Southern governors one year ago as well as seek his support for the APC presidential contender, Tinubu.
  
Although some observers hinted that Wike’s pain at the short shrift handed him in PDP’s power calculations motivated his Southwest counterparts to woo him to their party, there were also suggestions that the busybody governors were acting to capitalize on the interim instability in the PDP to reap where they did not sow.
   
However, given that upon his return from a short vacation in Turkey Wike restated his resolve in joining hands to sack APC from power and declared that he was not leaving PDP, prevailing political circumstances make his rumoured defection not feasible.
    
For instance, with his preferred candidate for the 2023 Rivers State gubernatorial contest in PDP, it becomes unthinkable that the Rivers strong man should go on a voyage of doubtful political excursion to APC. Moreover, having resolved to drag the APC governorship candidate, Tonye Cole and the former Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi through the court, it becomes improbable that the governor would join his adversaries in APC.
  
In the rush to court Wike’s support for their 2023 presidential ambitions, both candidates of Labour Party (LP), Mr Peter Obi and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, had early embarked on a similar political pilgrimage to the current occupant of Brick House, Port Harcourt.
   
If therefore the Southwest emissary wanted to activate the July 5 Resolution of the Southern Governors’ Forum, they were latecomers, because as it stands, Wike had two Southern candidates, who were former governors to consider for the 2023 Presidency.
    
It is possible that the governor is being propped to play a similar role Tinubu deployed in 2011 when he sidelined the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) presidential candidate Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and propelled Southwest states, but one to support then President Goodluck Jonathan for a consideration.
 
   
If the three salesmen from Southwest were luring Wike to perform such political disloyalty against PDP, the Rivers State governor has Rotimi Amaechi’s experience as his guide. At the height of the political treachery against PDP and Jonathan in 2015, the former Rivers State governor, Amaechi, was the only incumbent governor from Southern Nigeria that joined the group of five governors to remove the rug from the feet of Jonathan and the party.
   
Although Wike recalled that former Niger State governor, Dr Babangida Aliu and his Jigawa State counterpart, Alhaji Sule Lamido, refused to defect like Amaechi and others, it is possible that the former Niger State governor’s recent jabs would make him (Wike) to play the ‘Judas’ against PDP and its presidential contender, Atiku Abubakar.
 
Though PDP chieftains express worry about the possibility of Wike not participating in the party’s presidential campaigns, they are sure that the issue of defection to another party is totally out of consideration. In a recent television programme, for instance, a member of the PDP Board of Trustees, Maina Waziri, gave some insight on what some of the governor’s allies plan to do, even as he alleged anti-party activities against them, particularly Fayose, who was at the meeting between the three APC emissaries and Wike.
   
Waziri disclosed that he was pleasantly surprised to run into Wike and Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, in Turkey, remarking, “We exchanged banters and pleasantries.”
 
 
The BOT member alluded to the understanding within PDP to the effect that should the presidential candidate emerge from a region, the party chairman should shift to another region. But, rebuffing the calls for a review of the party positions against the background of the North holding the party chairmanship, BoT chairmanship and presidential candidate, Waziri queried: “Have we got a President of PDP extraction?”
   
He contended that seeking a review of “the whole gamut of party leadership in the PDP, will entail calling for another convention when we are five months to the election.’’
     
But, while the speculations and insinuations of anti-party plots trail the Southwest governors’ visit on Wike, the chairman of NGF, Fayemi, told reporters that their visit was not for partisan political conversation.
   
He disclosed that the NGF has been engaged in discussions over the challenges of national security, education and the economy, adding that while in Rivers State they intended to meet APC members and “pay a courtesy call on our colleague.”
 
Despite Fayemi’s attempt to mask the real agenda of the closed-door meeting with Wike, PDP leaders dismissed the overtures to Wike in the wake of continued grumbling within the party after the presidential primary.  
   
Immediate past President of Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, told reporters in Ilorin, Kwara State that attempts by APC to stoke Wike’s defection would end in futility.
  
Saraki stated: “The fact that some APC governors went to see their colleague, trying to capitalise on what they think is an issue is a gross miscalculation. At the end of the day, their visit is going nowhere.
   
“The APC governors know that it is this kind of crack they need to latch on. Fortunately, we are not going to give him to them, because the election ahead is too important.
   
“The destinies of millions of Nigerians are too important and even bigger than any party or individual. I appreciate that, all our stakeholders appreciate that and Governor Wike himself appreciates that.”
 
The former Senate President affirmed that Wike is important to the PDP, stressing that the party won’t let him go, since according to him, “in no distant time, we will sit down and address all the issues.”
  
“There is no doubt about it that he has cause to feel the way he does, but there are better ways by which issue like this can be resolved. The good thing is that we are all talking to one another. We are on top of the situation and PDP will reunite and forge ahead to win the next elections. I assure you that PDP will definitely resolve the family issue that it currently has,” Saraki assured.
   
Meanwhile, as party faithful grumbles about the foreign trips by the national chairman and the party’s presidential candidate –Iyorchia and Atiku – at a time of unease in PDP, the National Publicity Secretary, Hon. Debo Ologunagba declared that as the man who held the PDP together and sustained it at one time, Wike cannot abandon the party.
   
“He is not a mean politician, he’s experienced, he’s gifted, and he’s very deep. He is a man you can vouch for to speak wisely when it comes to matters of politics. He understands the issues.
   
“And so, we are confident, because he has been a true party man. Governor Wike has not left the PDP one minute since his membership of the PDP. That tells you the character of this individual. His dexterity, steadfastness, support and passion for the party have never been in doubt,” Ologunagba remarked.
    
Upon his return from vacation, the PDP national chairman, Ayu, told reporters in Abuja: “I am back from my vacation and I will resume on Monday. There is nothing to worry about at our party. Our party remains strong and formidable.”
  
As Wike continues to dominate the centre of political discussions in the build-up to next year’s general elections, how PDP resolves its internal frictions would be seen next September when campaigns kick off.