Yesterday, former President Olusegun Obasanjo met with Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of Labour Party, and Nyesom Wike in London. The meeting, which added another piece to the puzzle of who the Rivers State governor will support during the next presidential election, was attended by Wike’s allies: Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State; Samuel Ortom of Benue State; Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State; and Donald Duke, former governor of Cross River State, among others.
Recent developments in the Nigerian political space involving Wike have left many observers and watchers wondering what the first runner-up in the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) presidential election is up to ahead of the 2023 general election.
This is as Wike appears to be rejecting all peace moves by his party, the PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, but rather seems to be romancing with the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate, Bola Tinubu.
It all started at the PDP presidential primary in May, when former Vice President Abubakar won the party’s presidential ticket with 371 votes to defeat his closest rival, Wike, who polled 237 votes.
Former Senate President Bukola Saraki scored 70 votes; Udom Emmanuel, governor of Akwa Ibom State, got 38 votes; Anyim Pius Anyim, former Senate president, obtained 14 votes; Bala Mohammed, governor of Bauchi, garnered 20 votes; Sam Ohabunwa and Olivia Tariela scored one vote each.
Many intrigues had played out before, during and after the PDP presidential election that produced Atiku.
For instance, a few hours to the primary, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen, an investment banker, announced his withdrawal from the presidential race.
About 24 hours to the primary, two aspirants, Charles Ugwu and Chikwendu Kalu, announced their decision to step down from the race and support Wike.
Also, a few minutes before the commencement of the election, Aminu Tambuwal, governor of Sokoto State, announced his decision to step down from the race and gave his support to Atiku.
Wike, who from all indications was the man to beat at the convention, had before the commencement of voting at the convention vowed to support whoever may emerge as the PDP presidential candidate.
He said: “I want to speak on two subjects. One is the party. Let me vow today: anybody who emerges here, I’ll support the person to the fullest. I’ll support the person to the fullest because I’m a committed party person, because I love this party.”
Atiku had visited Wike in less than 48 hours after the primary election in Abuja and solicited the Rivers governor’s support to fight their “common enemy” – the APC.
The Wazirin Adamawa emphasised the need for everyone to work together as one to unseat APC and put all the events of the convention behind them to achieve this goal.
Still, the strongman of Rivers pledged to keep to his word of firmly supporting whoever wins the ticket, saying he was “a party man who has been in the party since 1998” and will continue to work for and remain loyal to the party, adding that he was “going nowhere.”
Then the battle shifted to the nomination of vice presidential candidate, and after all the political rigmarole, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State was chosen for the position despite permutations about Wike being considered for the slot.
Thereafter, Governor Samuel Ortom, a close ally of Wike and chairman of the PDP vice presidential selection committee, criticised Atiku for not choosing Wike as recommended by the committee.
Ortom, who spoke in a live interview with Arise Television, said 14 out of the 17 members of the committee had recommended Wike for the position of vice-presidential candidate.
“Some of us rooted for him (Wike); I was amongst the 17-member committee that was set up by the candidate himself and the party of the PDP. And some of us said that for the vice presidency, for those of us in PDP, we needed Wike to be the vice president so that he can bridge the gap,” he said.
This was, however, contrary to Wike’s earlier claims that he was not running to negotiate for vice president but he was running to be the president.
“Let it be known, I’m not running to negotiate for vice president; I’m running to be the president of Nigeria. I’m not collecting any other form. The only form I have collected is the presidential form and I will win,” he had said.
For the fear that the Atiku/Wike feud would not augur well for the party in its resolve to take over the reins of power from the APC, PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), being the ‘conscience’ of the party, waded into the matter.
Consequently, the BoT brokered a meeting between the duo which was held at the Abuja residence of Jerry Gana, a former minister of information and a member of the board.
Though the meeting took place behind closed doors, sources privy to it said both actors indicated the willingness to mend fences and work together ahead of the general election amid conditions.
Also, the PDP set up a reconciliation committee to resolve the face-off between Atiku and Wike and after several postponements, the team finally met the Rivers governor in Port Harcourt last Friday.
However, the meeting ended in a deadlock sequel to the insistence of Wike on the removal of Iyorchia Ayu, the PDP national chairman, who he accused of playing a role in the emergence of Atiku as the party’s flag-bearer.
That notwithstanding, Walid Jibrin, the PDP BoT chairman, on Tuesday, said the board was eagerly awaiting the report of the reconciliation committee and “thereafter the BoT will thoroughly discuss it and inform the public accordingly no more no less”.
In the face of these efforts by the party, Wike still appears adamant, and is becoming more friendly with APC and allies of its presidential candidate, who seem to be wooing him to their side.
Evidently, last month, three APC governors: Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo, along with Ayodele Fayose, former Ekiti governor and PDP member, visited Wike in Port Harcourt.
Similarly, Femi Gbajabiamila, speaker of the House of Representatives, a close political ally of Tinubu, was also, at the instance of Wike, in Rivers recently to commission the state legislators’ quarters.
Though Gbajabiamila had carefully chosen his words but was very suggestive when he told the governor: “Do not let anybody intimidate you. At the appropriate time, you will tell them; you will choke them.”
Then the media was awash on Wednesday with reports that the Rivers governor met Tinubu in London, possibly to forge a common front ahead of the 2023 general election.
According to sources from the Tinubu camp, in attendance at the London parley were most of the governors who had visited Wike much earlier and some PDP governors, including Makinde, Ortom, Ikpeazu and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu.
While the details of the meeting are still sketchy, it becomes uncertain what Wike is up to politically in the build-up to the general election.
Speaking to BusinessDay, Nats Odaudu, a political analyst, reasoned that Wike wants some level of commitment from Atiku to be sure that his interest as a stakeholder and a future ‘former governor’ is protected.
The former aspirant for the Kogi State House of Assembly urged Atiku to “meet Wike privately and personally too, and make decent compromises.”
He said: “Recall as a staunch believer in Goodluck Jonathan, he (Wike) witnessed first-hand the betrayal they suffered and the dramatis personae; he might have learnt a lot to inform his present disposition.
“He is negotiating and may settle for a greater deal. I sense some level of arrogance on the part of some people in Atiku’s camp and this may have informed the stubbornness from the camp of Wike.”
To Christian Okeke, a political science lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, what Wike is doing is serious politicking to gain and retain national relevance.
Okeke, however, said the PDP must either appease the Rivers state governor “on his own terms or call his bluff and accept the consequences.”
He said: “Wike is a pillar and no push-over in PDP. Sincere members of his party know this fact. What he is doing at the moment and the way he is taking centre stage in PDP politics attests to the fact that he is a strong factor in national politics.
“He strongly felt betrayed, conspired against and rewarded with evil by the party that he served in critical times as its backbone. Obviously, the governor is not begging his fellow partymen. From the body language of the governor, he is determined to take his pound of flesh.”
“He is creating a huge suspense and causing his partymen great distress. But I am of the view that what Wike is doing is real politicking that justifies his huge relevance in national politics. He has carved that niche for himself and maximises it,” Okeke added.