By Bolanle Bolawole
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Gov. Nyesom Wike of Rivers state must at this time mean different things to different people. For those like the PDP national leader, Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George, who believe in Wike’s cry for justice within the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Rivers state governor is a hero and a voice that must not be silenced but should, instead, be listened to and his advice heeded. But for those at the receiving end on Wike’s advocacy for fairness and fair play in the PDP, like former Gov. Sule Lamido of Jigawa state, Wike is a villain; a loud-mouthed irritant that is needlessly and endlessly fouling the air and must be firmly and quickly deflated and put in his place. But like an international newsmagazine once described the Prince Charles/Princess Diana saga with a front page headline that “Diana will not go away quietly”, it does not appear as if Wike will also go away quietly or go away at all any time soon! If anything, the Rivers state governor has turned his grouse with Atiku Abubakar, his party’s presidential candidate, into something akin to the Russian/Ukrainian war!
Western powers who had thought the fire would burn briskly and die down, like bamboo fire, have since been disappointed as their enemy, Russia, has turned its invasion of Ukraine into a war of attrition, and is even now counting its age-old ally, General Winter, to do additional damage for it! Wike may be loud-mouthed but it must be getting increasingly clear to Abubakar Atiku and his supporters that the governor also has some grey matters upstairs. By now Wike would have been worse off if he had remained rooted on the premises that he, and not his Delta state counterpart, Ifeanyi Okowa, should have been named by Atiku or PDP as the presidential running mate. That way, he would have been seen as fighting a personal and selfish cause and very few people would by now have still remained in his corner. Having made the point that he, Wike, should have been the running mate; that Atiku did actually promise him the position only to later renege without having even the courtesy of getting back, Wike was smart enough to raise the stakes by positioning himself as a champion of the South and of equity, justice, fairness and fair play in his party. This is a surer and firmer pedestal and it is difficult for anyone with a sense of equity to fault him.
Chief George, a retired Naval Commodore and long-standing chieftain of PDP, reinforced Wike’s position when he asked the rhetorical question of how party leaders in the South will, in clear conscience, mount the rostrum and campaign for Atiku and PDP in the South (especially so in the South-west from where the rival All Progressives Congress has picked its flag bearer) when the two topmost positions in the party – the candidate and chairman – are held by the North! And if Wike is to be believed, other leading positions in a yet-to-be-won and yet-to-be-formed administration have already been shared out by Atiku and PDP, mostly to politicians of Northern origin! Are we, then, to expect a continuation of the Muhammadu Buhari era of naked nepotism that has turned Southerners into second class citizens in their own country while elevating a minority ethnic group that is not autochthonous to this place and whose coming can be traced to 1804 and their roots to the Fouta Djallon, into blue-eyed royals riding roughshod over the polity?
Wike was smart enough to quickly move away from “I” to “We” narration but that is not to say, however, that he was not pained by the way the conspiracy of the Northern political cabal wrestled the PDP presidential ticket from his hands. Wike worked really hard for the PDP ticket. He spent money, real money. He invested time and energy into the project. At a point he was so sure of victory that he asked that people stop referring to him as an “aspirant” but as the PDP flag bearer-in-waiting – but he celebrated too early and did not reckon with the clannishness and rabid tribalism of a cabal that will do anything to retain power, which they have come to regard not just as their birthright but also as their own “industry”. Wike failed to understand that when it comes to power, the cabal that he thought were his friends have no permanent friends but permanent interests. Like Brutus did unto Caesar – and Tambuwal to Wike at the PDP presidential primary – they would stab you in the back and theirs would be the unkindest cut of all!
Wike was on the way to winning the PDP presidential primary when the North struck. Right there on the convention ground, Tambuwal stepped down for Atiku, thus enabling the perennial and serial presidential aspirant to zoom past Wike, pushing the Rivers state governor to the second position. On account of that alone, no one should expect Wike to cosy up to Atiku. Four years earlier in Port-Harcourt, Wike and his friend, the then Ekiti State Gov. Ayodele Fayose, had pulled no punches in giving their unalloyed and undiluted support to Tambuwal against Atiku. And when Atiku beat Tambuwal to the PDP ticket, it was as if Wike and Fayose were bereaved. On account of Tambuwal’s betrayal of Wike, I do not expect the Rivers state governor to ever put his trust again in any Northern politician. So, it was a wounded and bitter Wike – expectedly and justifiably so – that took the result of the PDP presidential primary with equanimity. Losing was one thing; being betrayed and stabbed in the back was another. If we shout “unity”, chorus “one country” and lay claim to being “brothers”, how do we justify Atiku and Tambuwal’s actions?
The PDP constitution upholds rotational presidency but the party jettisoned this on the altar of expediency. PDP leaders reckoned they stood a better chance of winning the presidency in 2023 with Atiku as the party’s flag bearer. Justice, equity, fair play and the PDP Constitution were thus put to the sword. The South, always accommodating and forever long-suffering, can be pushed around ad infinitum and be made to grovel at the feet of the North – but thanks to Wike! Someone in the South is, at last, standing up to the cabals of the North and is asking pertinent questions! If Atiku really loves his party, the PDP, why upturn its zoning formula? If he loves his country, Nigeria, why ignite a course of action that has the potential to heat up the polity and set the entire country on fire because of his personal interests? Why does Atiku think that after eight years of Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani/Northerner/Muslim as president, another Fulani/Northerner/Muslim is the most appropriate person to take over power from him? How does that make sense to any rational human being in a plural society like ours? Where is the inclusivity that the Nigerian Constitution, as imperfect as it is, projects?
Wike’s demands should make a lot of sense to any right-thinking person. He has moved on from his loss of the ticket to Atiku. He has moved on from the treachery of many of his colleagues in the South who openly canvassed that the presidency move to the South in 2023 but later made a volte-face by supporting Atiku, a Northern aspirant. Wike has also moved away from not being made the running mate to Atiku. He has moved away from allegations that Ayu as PDP chairman and the Convention committee he empanelled worked wuru-wuru to the answer to ensure that Atiku emerged the flag bearer. Reports said Atiku visited Wike a day after the PDP primaries and promised him the running mate slot. Atiku was also said to have charged that the PDP chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, would be made to resign from his position so that a Southerner could take over and provide the much-needed balance and inclusivity to actually advertise the PDP as a national, and not a Northern, political party. Ayu himself was reported as having promised to step down as chairman if a Northerner emerged as the party flag bearer. The PDP BOT chairmanship, which is now being mischievously offered to the South – and which Wike has rightly rejected – was not what the South was promised in the event of the presidency going to the North, a position the South should never have conceded in the first place, in my own reckoning.
It is safe to conclude that Ayu made the promise to resign because he did not believe a Northerner would emerge as the PDP flag bearer – and he was right in his calculations! All indications had pointed to the fact that Wike was coasting home to victory and would have beaten both Atiku and Tambuwal hands down but for the treachery and gang-up against him by the North. Now that a Northerner is the PDP flag bearer, Ayu is also not willing to resign as chairman because he has no confidence the PDP will win the 2023 presidential election. If he has the confidence that PDP will win in 2023, he will gladly resign now and stop jeopardising whatever chances the party may have, being rest assured that once the PDP returns to power, he will have a plethora of juicy political appointments to choose from. But if he resigns now and PDP loses in 2023, what will be his gain?
One school of thought says Atiku and PDP would have saved themselves the Wike wahala if they had chosen the Rivers state governor as running mate: May be, may be not! Better still, maybe they would have solved one problem while creating another. For one, they needed to compensate some elements in the Party hierarchy and Convention committee that made the Atiku ticket possible in the first place. For another, some Islamic Mullahs were said to have raked up Wike’s alleged demolition of a mosque in his state (remember?), an allegation that remained unproven, but which was used, nonetheless, to knock Wike off the running mate slot. Then, of course, Atiku himself was wary of having a strong personality like Wike as running mate. The ex-Vice President cannot forget in a hurry his experience during President Olusegun Obasanjo administration and the kind of pepper he, as a very strong VP, almost squeezed into Obasanjo’s eyes. The wisdom of the elders says he who beheads others never let anyone with a sword get close to him!
Interestingly, a strong VP is what Nigeria needs to temper a very powerful Nigerian president. That, unfortunately, we do not enjoy in the present VP. Lame, lacklustre, timid, and genuflecting, he stands for nothing and represents no one – not his tribe (the Yoruba), not his region (the South), not his religion (Christianity), and not even his conscience, as some have volunteered. Wike would have been remarkably different. Fortunately – yes, fortunately – it is Atiku and PDP’s loss but whose gain remains to be seen!
- Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/Editor-in-chief of The Westerner newsmagazine. He writes the “ON THE LORD’S DAY” column in the Sunday Tribune and “TREASURES” column in the New Telegraph newspaper every Wednesday. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.
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