Wike as beautiful bride and opposition rallying point
Up until the May 29 and 30, 2022 Special Convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during which the party elected its presidential candidate, it was as if the party had only two options: to stand strong together or fall apart into splinter interest groups.
As the various presidential aspirants campaigned for the party’s ticket, the unmistakeable sign was that two individuals represented the two broad options open to the former governing party in the country.
Those two tendencies were personified by Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and fourth republic Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who as the 2019 presidential standard bearer of the party craved the right of first refusal to lead PDP, once again, to the 2023 electoral battle.
While Atiku demanded the right of first refusal, Wike and some of his colleagues said it was the turn of the South to produce the party’s presidential candidate, arguing that in 2019, it was an all northern-aspirants presidential primary in Port Harcourt.
Seeing that the incumbent state governors elected on the party’s platform were exhibiting solidarity among themselves, one of the presidential aspirants, Mr. Peter Obi, resigned from the party and later pitched tent with Labour Party (LP).
Two days later, specifically in the morning of the convention day, May 28, another aspirant, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen quit the race also. But, instead of moving away silently like Obi, Hayatu-Deen, a former Managing Director of defunct FSB International Bank, disclosed in a letter to the PDP national chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, that he was quitting because the primary had become “obscenely monetised.”
Having lost two out of the 12 presidential aspirants before the convention, it became apparent that the battle was going to be between the north and south, specifically between Atiku and Wike. However, as the convention kicked off and the aspirants were called upon to make their last pitch to the delegates, another aspirant, Dr. Nwachukwu Anakwenze, said he was opting out, regretting that PDP failed to observe its constitutional provisions and need for fairness.
However, just as the stage was set for balloting to begin, chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who was also a contender, indicated his intention to make further remarks. The entire Velodrome of the Moshood Abiola Stadium was quiet.
It was gathered that out of fear that the Rivers State governor, Wike, who was said to have cornered all the delegates from Kano State, could win, some influential northern leaders, particularly former military officers, pressured the Sokoto State governor to step aside and direct his supporters to vote for Atiku.
Incensed by the additional time given to Tambuwal, Wike wanted to protest, but was pacified on the understanding that such could disrupt the process and give easy victory to the governing All Progressives Congress (APC). At the end of the day, after balloting, collation and counting, former Vice President Atiku carried the day.
Nonetheless, based on the recriminations that followed the primary, Atiku embarked on reconciliatory visits to all the losers, assuring them that they are part of the move to rescue the country from the inept APC administration.
As things turned out, it was Atiku’s promise to involve PDP stakeholders in the search for his running mate that opened the party to another round of ill feelings. Not minding that he had previously promised the Delta State governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, of his (Atiku’s) intention to pick him as running mate, a committee headed by Chief Tom Ikimi, was set up to screen potential presidential running mates.
Although the general impression among party faithful was that the position should go to the first runner-up, Wike, the committee recommended three candidates including Wike, Okowa and Akwa Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel. Incidentally, Atiku picked Okowa, thereby sidestepping the committee’s recommendation.
Piqued by that inglorious outcome, Wike left Abuja the night before the unveiling of Okowa as the PDP Vice Presidential candidate. The cold treatment given to Wike united some governors behind him, even as speculations of his planned defection started making the rounds.
FOLLLOWING his overt disgust at the ignominious way he was treated after screening, Wike recoiled to his Port Harcourt base and easily became a beautiful bride sought after by many suitors from other political families.
Although Ebonyi State governor, David Nweze Umahi, who contested unsuccessfully for the APC presidential ticket, was the first to visit Wike after the loss of PDP’s VP slot, it was the visits by Peter Obi and Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, presidential candidates of LP and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) respectively, that exposed Wike as a bargain store.
Obi and Kwankwaso visited separately. But, on account of the political alliance talks by their respective parties – LP and NNPP – the two presidential candidates’ call on Wike sparked conjectures that the Rivers State governor was being lured into the bourgeoning Third Force being programmed to sack APC and PDP.
While speculations of Wike’s possible alliance with the Third Force candidates were swirling, former Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, also arrived the Port Harcourt Government House, where he also conferred with Wike. Despite Fayose’s ambivalent posture, he was said to be more associated to the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, than he is to Wike. It was that cross alliance that threw up the possibility that Wike and Tinubu must be up to some political games.
Unknown to many, Wike and Tinubu share political comradeship, which was put into good use during the Rivers State governor’s supremacy contests with his former ally, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi for the control of the oil rich state.
Sources said though Wike would not defect from PDP as is popularly insinuated, he would stay back and requite the party for its insult, while reciprocating Tinubu’s gesture to President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 presidential election. The former Lagos State governor, then in Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), was said to have worked for the electoral victory of PDP presidential candidate at the expense of the ACN flag bearer.
However, of all the retinue of callers at the Rivers State Governor’s lodge, it was the visit of the Ebonyi State governor that surprised many. Questions were raised over the possible reasons for Umahi’s newfound solidarity with Wike after a prolonged soured relationship between them.
At about 9pm penultimate Saturday, Umahi had visited Wike, in what he described as “a friendly and brotherly visit.” No official statement was made regarding the outcome of their meeting. Like Umahi in APC, Wike had unsuccessfully contested the PDP presidential primary.
Ordinarily, a visit of such nature should not elicit interest, especially due to the fact that both men still hold the reins in their various states as chief executives. But, posers made the rounds after the visit following the no-love-lost relationship that had existed between them as they worked at cross-purposes to achieve their presidential ambitions.
Before the visit, both governors had abused each other to the extent of calling for open debates, while enlisting their lieutenants into their political crossfire. Their disenchantment had affected the collective desire of southern governors, especially within the PDP, which had wanted the presidential slot ceded to the south.
Wike, as governor of Rivers State remained a strong pillar of PDP. He had never jumped party platforms. He contested the elections that saw him win his seat for two terms on the party’s platform. He had also wanted to rule the country had he succeeded in the PDP presidential primary.
That could not be said of Umahi. The Ebonyi State governor had actually won elections for the present seat he occupies on two occasions using the platform of the PDP. But in November 2020, he had ditched the party for the APC over what he termed the injustices of the PDP. He had told those that cared to listen that he had chosen to tango with the APC as a way of repaying PDP for its inability to repay the support by the southeast region.
Few days after his exit from PDP was made public on November 17, 2020, Umahi disclosed that he wanted to be a martyr that could be sacrificed to achieve the much- sought Igbo Presidency.
“I have to lead the protest against the marginalisation of the Igbo by the PDP and I don’t have to consult anybody to lead such a protest. I don’t want the PDP to collapse in the southeast but it can collapse itself in the zone if it does not heed the people’s advice to entrench justice, fairness and equity.
“The PDP should be bold to declare its stand on zoning of the presidency to the southeast and if it cannot, should tell us why we are not capable of holding such a position but will come for our votes during elections,” he had said.
This was the point of departure between the two men. Wike was angered by Umahi’s assertions. He had insisted that he felt offended by Umahi’s attempt to justify his decision on the purported injustice meted on the southeast by the PDP. He had described Umahi as a liar and accused him of being unfair to the PDP, which gave him the party’s governorship ticket in 2015 against all odds and repeated the same feat in 2019. He stated that the lure to become president in 2023 was why Umahi left PDP and not the injustices assertion.
Wike demanded that Umahi retracts the statement that PDP had been unfair to the southeast region, stressing that under PDP, the region produced senate presidents, National Vice Chairman of the party and Secretary to the federal government.
He had insisted that it was erroneous for Umahi to accuse PDP of injustice, when he had unilaterally imposed his younger brother as south east zonal Vice Chairman of the PDP, adding that, “In life, power is sweet, but conscience is important. It is most offensive and insulting for a man to lie against his party because of power.”
A war of words had broken out as Umahi fired back, asking Wike to mind his responsibilities. He went as far as accusing the Rivers State governor of behaving as if PDP was his personal property, adding that he (Wike) spoke like an “emperor”. The disagreement between the two men was imported into their southern governors meeting. Umahi stopped attending the meetings of the group including the ones held in Enugu and Lagos.
In March this year, a Federal High Court, Abuja, had sacked Umahi, his deputy, Kelechi Igwe and members of the State House of Assembly for defecting to APC with the mandate of the PDP. Umahi had accused Wike of masterminding the judgment that sacked him.
Wike on the other hand, had told the embattled governor that the PDP would stop at nothing in reclaiming the state, stressing that there was a big lesson which Umahi must be taught on how not to be greedy about power.
On April 14, this year, when he had gone to Ebonyi State to canvass support of the PDP delegates for his presidential ambition, he had described Umahi as one of those who will reap and abandon those that helped them and reiterated that the party must recover the mandate given to him.
Umahi on the other hand, had dismissed Wike’s statement, describing him as “a lawyer that does not know law.”
“I am calling him to a debate; he wants to be president, I want to be president, let us do a debate so that the world will see how intellectual property will be deployed”, he noted.
Unfortunately, both men had gone into the presidential primaries of their various political parties and failed to clinch the tickets. They had left the exercises complaining and accused the delegates of betrayal. Umahi, who secured 38 votes had accused not only APC delegates of Igbo extraction of betrayal, he had further expressed disappointment with the leadership of the apex Igbo socio- cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo over its alleged failure to galvanise support for his aspiration.
Wike on the other hand has continued to nurse the injury of his defeat at the primary election and has blamed the party leadership for its “compromised stance” in ensuring that he lost the election. But while Umahi had returned to declare support for the winner of the presidential primary in the APC, the PDP are still battling to convince Wike on why he should support the aspiration of the presidential candidate of the party.
Now, what could have informed the meeting with Umahi who originally dumped the PDP for APC to achieve the presidency? Was it to mend fences so as to stall the recovery of the mandate of the PDP, which Umahi ran into the APC with? Was the meeting aimed at repairing their fractional relationship and paving the way for Umahi’s return to the PDP or on the other hand, for Wike to join APC? Was it to consider who to support between PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar and the APC flag bearer, Bola Tinubu in the 2023 elections?
Unlike Wike who has remained a strong voice in the south-south as well as in the PDP, Umahi can no longer reckon as one for the southeast. He lost his place the moment he left the PDP for the APC and leading the zone’s governor’s forum.
A source however stated that both men could still pull the strings that could benefit their parties in the elections, adding that the way the presidential primaries had gone, there was the need for forces to combine to achieve a stronger bargaining power for their people in the coming dispensation.