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Monday 11 July 2022

2023: The Scramble For Wike’s Support


2023: The Scramble For Wike’s Support

Intrigues as PDP, APC, others woo Wike

FELIX NWANERI reports that the Rivers State government house and private residence of Governor Nyesom Wike in Port Harcourt, has become a Mecca of some sort for politicians, who visit almost on a daily basis to seek his endorsement ahead of the 2023 presidential election

The build up to the 2023 general election is becoming interesting by the day as the various political parties and gladiators step up strategies for the contest, which many say, would be the most contested poll in Nigeria’s history since Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999.

Part of the strategies includes mobilization of members and supporters; consulting of relevant stakeholders and groups, alignment and realignment of political forces, and to some extent, testing of the political waters by endorsement of possible candidates for the various elective offices up for grabs.

While these tactics are not new to the nation’s electioneering process, the spate of visits by some leaders of the two leading parties – ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as well as emerging political forces like Labour Party (LP) and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) to the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, has turn him to a beautiful bride ahead of the polls. Rivers State government house has practically become a Mecca of some sort for politicians across the various divides.

While anti-PDP forces are courting Wike to frustrate the main opposition party from, the PDP leadership, on its part, is doing everything possible to mend fence with Wike, who contested and lost the party’s presidential primary election to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Such visits by the anti-PDP forces include separate stopovers by the presidential candidates of LP and NNPP, Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwankwaso, respectively.

Obi, an ex-governor of Anamba State was initially in the race for the PDP presidential ticket alongside Wike and others but later pulled out to join Labour Party. Similarly, Kwankwaso, a former governor of Kano State, was formerly of the PDP.

While Obi’s visit on June 22 came amid speculations that Wike may defect to Labour Party in protest of the fallout of PDP’s presidential primary, the Labour Party presidential candidate later took to his official Twitter handle to give a hint on why he met with Wike.

According to him, their meting centred on vital national issues. “Earlier, I visited Port Harcourt, to confer with H.E. @GovWike on vital issues of national interest,” Obi’s tweet read. Kwankwaso’s visit to Wike was less than 24 hours (June 23) after Obi left, and as expected, details of their discussion was not made public.

However, analysts said it may not be unconnected to the 2023 general election.

Catalogue of visits

Besides Obi and Kwankwaso, Governor Wike has equally played host to other top politicians.

They include Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed; Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi and a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose. Interestingly, all the visitors and their host were aspirants in the recent presidential primary elections conducted by the ruling APC and main opposition PDP. Governor Mohammed and ex-Governor Fayose contested the PDP primary election alongside Wike, while Governor Umahi was part of the APC contest.

Like during other visits, issues discussed by Wike and Mohammed during the latter’s call were not made public as the meeting was behind closed doors. It was the same scenario, when Wike met with his Ebonyi State counterpart, Umahi.

No doubt, it was mum after each of the separate between Wike and his visitors but Fayose’s revelation after his meeting with the Rivers State governor revealed what may be in the offing ahead of the 2023 elections.

The former Ekiti State governor, in  a series of tweets on June 29, insisted that Southern Nigeria must produce the country’s president in 2023. He pinned his argument on the party’s constitution. His words: “The PDP constitution provides for a rotational presidency. Section 3(c) provides that the party shall pursue its aims and objectives by ‘adhering to the policy of the rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice, and fairness.’

“The current president of Nigeria is a two-term Northern presidency, thus implying that it MUST be a Southern presidency in 2023 or NOTHING. Awa ‘South’ lo kan.’ (It is the turn of the South). Nigerians should await details soon.”

APC governors join the fray

While many were not taken aback by Fayoye’s position despite the fact that his party will field a presidential candidate of northern extraction in the forthcoming polls given his advocacy for power shift to Southern Nigeria, Friday’s visit of three APC governors to Wike, was more than a call to “reflect on national issues,” which has usually been the claim.

The position of the former Ekiti State governor, who was surprisingly on the entourage of the APC governors, is in synch with  hat of Governor Wike, equally campaigned on the basis of power shift to the South. Much meaning would not have been read into their visit but the APC is fielding a southerner – Asiwaju Bola Tinubu – as its presidential candidate, apparently to honour the power-sharing arrangement between the North and South.

The APC governors, who conferred with Wike in Port Harcourt, are Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo) and Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos). Others in their entourage include Fayose and Ekiti State Governorelect, Biodun Oyebanji.

Politics behind the scene

Although the purpose of the visit by the APC governors to the Rivers governor was not made public, there is no doubt that it was all about politics, particularly the 2023 presidential election. The trio of Fayemi, Akeredolu and Sanwo-Olu are in the vanguard of Tinubu’s presidential project.

Fayemi is the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), a political power bloc that cannot be ignored in the country’s politics, while Akeredolu doubles as chairman of Southern Governors Forum, another power bloc. Sanwo- Olu, on his part, is the governor of Tinubu’s home state.

Before the APC governors’ visit, there was a report that Tinubu and Wike met in France but it was disclaimed by a media aide to the APC presidential candidate, Tunde Rahman.

While denial has always been part of politics, emerging developments seem to point towards the APC governor seeking to cash in on the crisis in the PDP, particularly over Atiku’s choice of Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as his running mate over Wike to woo the Rivers State governor to their side. Wike trailed Atiku in the PDP presidential primary, polling 237 votes against Atiku’s 371 votes.

Following his loss, Wike accused party stakeholders from the South of “betrayal.” His frustration was made worse when Atiku snubbed him as running mate and picked Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa. Many had thought that his performance at the shadow election would earn him the party’s vice presidential ticket but that was not to be. As expected, the choice of the Delta governor was greeted by mixed feelings.

Fourteen members of the 17- man panel set-up by the party to advise it on the issue were said to have recommended the Wike as vice presidential candidate but Atiku in his wisdom, opted for Okowa, an action that infuriated members of the River governor’s camp.

Whereas some leaders of the PDP have continued to play down on the rift in their party, the recent disclosure by Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom points to fact that all is not well within the opposition party. Ortom had in an interview with a television station television station last week, declared that he was yet to receive God’s approval to support Atiku.

According him, he is still “fasting and praying” for divine guidance before deciding to support the former vice president, who is the presidential candidate of the PDP for the 2023 elections.

The Benue governor, who praised Wike as “somebody who stood for the party and made sure that things worked,” noted: “Some of us believed in him” as the party’s best choice for the vice presidential candidate.

His words: “All of us have our weapon; Wike can be ‘something something’ but when it comes to mobilisation, impact, value addition and reaching out to make sure that the party works, the man is an instrument.

He’s somebody who stood for the party and made sure that things worked. Some of us believed in him, but unfortunately, it was somebody else. But the party is supreme.

“However, some of us have resorted to prayers. I have been in hibernation. We’ve resorted to prayer: ‘Lord God, where do we go from here.’ I believe as a Christian that power belongs to God.

The Bible says a man can receive nothing except it is given to him from above. “I am praying. I have gone into hibernation. I am fasting and praying. So, in the end, if God directs me that I should support Atiku, why should I not do it?

After all, he’s my party member. But I am waiting for him to do more. I expect him to reach out to Wike, who came second in the presidential primary. “The man denied the popular view of the PDP member, 14 out of 17, who said Wike should be the vice presidential candidate. I expect more explanation. I expect him to talk to Wike, whom we are supporting. I expect him to reach out to some of us, so that together we can work as a party.”

While Wike’s supporters have continued to threaten to leave the PDP, Atiku, on his part recently allayed fears over the crisis in the party, saying he would ensure reconciliation. The assurance, notwithstanding  one thing is clear.

Wike is not known to be supporter of the former vice president and has never hidden his indifference to his presidential ambition. It would be recalled that the Rivers governor spearheaded the 2019 onslaught against his presidential ambition by throwing his weight behind Governor Aminu Tambuwal for the PDP ticket although Atiku eventually clinched the Ticket but lost the main election.

Wike also mobilized whatever he could to stop Atiku in the recent PDP presidential primary election and probably would have succeeded if not for the last minute political horse-trading that saw Tambuwal withdrawing from the contest and backing Atiku. No doubt, the Rivers governor vowed to support whoever emerged as PDP’s candidate during the presidential primary election; it is not clear whether he will walk his talk. Politics is not only a game of interest, masquerading as contest of principles, but an endavour in which anything is possible.

It is against these backdrops that some analysts are of the view that some chieftains of the APC may be working to get Wike’s endorsement for Tinubu, who fits into the latter’s calculation of a president of Southern Nigeria extraction.

Ignoring Wike

Though loved and loathed as well by many, there is no doubt that Wike has redefined Nigerian politics with his style of politics. He has not only been vocal when it comes to national issues but persistently been critical of the APC-led Federal Government.

The conviviality the Rivers governor enjoys among the masses is not in doubt. Unlike some of his colleagues, who respond to issues diplomatically, apparently, not to offend the powers that be, Wike is not a man of protocols, ceremonies and courtesies.

He is blunt to a fault. Wike has also been able to strike a balance between idealism and pragmatism as great leaders are known to be high in ideas and lowly at heart. He has equally been the polished cosmopolitan man of the polite society and the rugged personality of the ghetto.

These qualities, perhaps, explain why he has been able to navigate the murky waters of politics, weathering the storm associated with the power game, and in most cases, have emerged unscathed. He had to pass through the Biblical eye of the needle before he became the governor of oilrich Rivers State in 2015.

The battle for the coveted seat had to traverse the various levels of courts up to Supreme Court before it was resolved in favour of the Ikwere born lawyer turned politician even when he won the election with a landslide margin of 1,029,102 votes to defeat his closest rival, Dakuku Peterside of the APC, who polled 292, 878 votes.

His re-election in 2019 was however made much easier as the APC was barred by the apex from a candidate for the governorship poll. Born on December 13, 1963 to the family of Rev. and Mrs. Nlemanya Wike of Rumuepirikom Community in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State, Wike attended the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, and holds degrees in Political Science and Administrative Studies as well as Law.

He attended the Nigerian Law School and worked briefly at a private firm before he ventured into politics. He served twice as chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area (1999 to 2002 and from 2004 to 2007). He became Deputy President   Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) in 2004 and later elected as ALGON President during his tenure as council chairman. He also represented Africa as a member of the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth Local Governments Forum (CLGF).

It was therefore not surprising, when in 2007 he was appointed Chief of Staff, Government House during the Chibuike Amaechi administration. It was this position he used in convincing doubters of his deep understanding of Rivers politics.

It was after Wike left office as Chief of Staff that he shot to national limelight, following his appointment as Minister of State for Education in 2011 and several battles with then Governor Amaechi.

PDP allays fears

As APC hopes of a possible twist that may see Wike ditch his party, the leadership of the PDP is confident that the Rivers governor will not leave the main opposition party. This is as the party hierarchy promised to everything possible to thwart the plot by the APC or any other party to lure Wike.

The chairman of the board of trustees (BoT) of the PDP, Walid Jibrin, who spoke on the issue recently in Kaduna, said: “We in PDP know how to solve our problems. We know that Governor Wike may not be happy. It is the intention of this party to constitute a reconciliation committee that will meet Wike to talk to him, appeal to him, and pray that he will not leave our party.”

Jibrin, who described Wike as “a great man who has been fighting for the party, and the party will not want to see him move to another party,” added: “We will all visit Wike together and if it means kneeling to Wike, we will kneel for him.”

PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, who also spoke on the issue on Friday, described Wike as a man, who held the party together and sustained it at a time and therefore cannot leave it at the moment.

His words: “I don’t speak for Governor Wike; I must put it on record. Governor Wike is a phenomenon in this country; he is a politician of note. He is not a mean politician, he is experienced, he is gifted, and he is very deep. He is a man you can vouch for to speak wisely when it comes to matters of politics.

“He understands the issues, 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, his steadfastness, his support and his passion for the party. That has never been in doubt. “He knows better than many of us when it comes to politics and we are confident in his membership of our party and in the critical role he has to play in fulfilling the mission and the mandate of our party, which is to rescue, rebuild and re-direct our country.

We have no doubt about that.” A former President of the Senate and Chieftain of the PDP, Bukola Saraki, who also expressed confidence that Wike will not leave the PDP, told journalists in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital at the weekend that Friday’s visit of the APC governors to the Rivers governor is an exercise in futility.

“Governor Wike is an important member of our party and I am very confident that 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 an issue like this is 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.

The fact that some APC governors went to see their colleagues, 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 a crack they need to latch on. Fortunately, we are not going to give him (Wike) to them because the election ahead is too important.

“The destiny of millions of Nigerians is too important and even bigger than any party or individual. I appreciate that; all our stakeholders appreciate that and Governor Wike himself appreciates that.” Saraki said.

Wike, on his part, had before now assured members of the PDP that he will not leave the party. Disclaiming a viral report that trended on social media last month of his purported plan to defect to the APC, the Rivers governor in a statement by his Special Assistant Media, Mr. Kelvin Ebiri, declared that he will never leave PDP. Wike noted that the excerpt of the interview in circulation had been deliberately manipulated by some desperate and unscrupulous persons with obnoxious agenda.

According to him, the intent of the video being circulated was intended to mislead the unsuspecting members of public, particularly members of the PDP. The statement read in part: “Our attention has been drawn to a manipulated video circulating on social media, purporting that the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, intends to defect from the PDP.

“It will be recalled that in June, 2021, Governor Wike was interviewed on Arise Television, following the defection of Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, from the PDP to the APC. During the interview, Governor Wike while reacting to reason given by Ebonyi State governor for his defection, dismissed it as untenable.

“The excerpt of the interview in circulation has been deliberately manipulated by some desperate and unscrupulous persons with obnoxious agenda. The intent of the video being circulated is intended to mislead the unsuspecting public, particularly members of the PDP.

“We, hereby urge the public to disregard the manipulated video. Governor Wike has repeatedly maintained that he will never, under any circumstances, defect from the PDP, which has offered him the platform to excel in his political career. “We urge the public to ignore the distorted video.

Those behind it are desperately wicked and intend to mislead the public. Governor Wike remains a faithful, committed member of the PDP and will never leave it for the cancerous APC.” While politics is a game of the possible in which nothing is ruled out, the question over Wike is: Will the Rivers governor heed to the several pleas, forgive and join hands with the PDP to turn the table against the ruling APC or seize the opportunity of the coming elections to extract his pound of flesh from the party?

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