2023 presidency: Anti-climax as Nyesom Wike unravels, By Sufuyan Ojeifo

Tinubu, Atiku and Obi

I have never met Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers in flesh, nor have I even seen him from a distance within the circumference of some socio-political interactions. I only see him on TV. Virtually, the same thing applies to the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The only difference was that, at least, I was in an environment, which Tinubu’s presence excited with the positive atmospherics of his persona. That was the closest I was to Tinubu sometime in 2018 when he visited the then National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, in his Maitama office. I was on appointment to see Oshiomhole and was waiting in one of the visitors’ rooms to be called in whenever it was my turn. I later got to know that while I was waiting, watching TV, Tinubu had come and gone; but what I observed was the excitement in the air. I would soon get to know that that Jagaban had dropped some huge cash for the staff members in characteristic display of his eleemosynary acts.

Whereas, the subject of this piece is Wike, the principal ramification of his action is tangential to Tinubu’s presidential enterprise, which is up for determination by Nigerian electorate who troop out this morning to cast their votes for a presidential standard-bearer of their choice. Four candidates are in frontline jostle for votes: Tinubu (APC), Peter Obi (Labour Party, Atiku Abubakar (Peoples Democratic Party) and Rabiu Kwankwaso (New Nigeria Peoples party). The contest, as had been forecast, would be gritty, producing essential dialectics that are always associated with contestation in presidential power politics or for presidential authority. There had, before now, been permutations that were indicative of the possibility of the presidential poll going down to the wire. This is quite understandable, given the magnitude of the political weights that the frontline candidates pack into and behind their bids for the topmost position in the land.

It is in the context of this possibility that candidates have been making their moves to outfox one another. The four candidates have largely benefitted from alignments and realignments of political forces. In the process, significant accretions and discounts to political structures had been recorded prelude to the Election Day. Take for instance, Atiku Abubakar lost the association and support of five sitting governors, including Wike. Tinubu lost the support of some Christian leaders in the APC consequent upon his coupling of a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket. Peter Obi’s support incrementally grew, without losing his significant support bases or experiencing a diminished momentum especially around the support by the vast majority of the youth population who desire change. Kwankwaso’s “Kwakwassiya” movement somewhat expanded the frontiers of his presidential project.

Again, this piece is not about all the four presidential candidates. It is about Wike’s political activities, his ill-fated presidential run and its concomitant redeeming features (?). It is a fact of recent political history that Wike wanted to be president. He worked for it. He built requisite structures countrywide. He invested resources, time and energy and the consequences of the associated mental exertions are writ large on his visage. He has understandably lost some flesh despite the sumptuous meals at his disposal. The presidential enterprise is more psychological than physical, with obvious manifestations that explicate the extent of internal and secret contemplations.

He had set out right from his Rivers State to produce an exemplar in accountable leadership through iconic infrastructure development projects. By Wike’s governance strategy and commitment, democracy dividends became tangibles. For him, charity begins at home. He was hoping he would have the opportunity of replicating his “Mr Project” moniker on a national scale. But by some grand conspiratorial alliance within his PDP, his run was upended. With the burden of an ill-fated presidential enterprise further weighing him down, Wike became hysterical in his fight-back which he anchored on the linchpin of southern presidency. But then, he was ready to deal or compromise. He galvanized four other governors to form the G-5 or Integrity Group to insist on fairness and balance by asking that the national chairman of the party, Iyorchia Ayu, who is from the northern part of the country as the party’s presidential standard-bearer, Atiku Abubakar, should resign so that a southerner could step in as a national chairman to balance the power configuration. Ayu, supported by Atiku, did not concede.

While the back and forth on the issue went on, Wike constructed around himself a mythical political wall that first appeared impregnable. He also provided a persona that appeared inscrutable. He began to “Buga”, courtesy of Kizz Daniel. He boasted of what damage he and his colleague could do to the ticket. His characteristic riposte of “agreement na agreement” resonated well with his followers. Which agreement was he talking about? The agreement purportedly entered into by Ayu that he would step down as national chairman if a northerner emerged as the presidential candidate of the PDP. Ayu ended up not honouring the agreement to the pains of Wike and co.

It was clear that the G-5 was going to support another presidential candidate if Ayu and Atiku did not play game. They did not. But was the G-5 able to reach a consensus on supporting a presidential candidate in today’s election? Not at all. For those with candidates from their zones it was agreed that they should support the most popular candidates from there. That decision entailed those from the Southeast (Abia’s Ikpeazu and Enugu’s Ugwuanyi) throwing support for Peter Obi; those from Southwest doing the same for Tinubu. Seyi Makinde of Oyo State was expected to support Tinubu. But did he? Wike and Ortom who did not have a popular presidential candidate from their zone were free to support anyone of their choice. Ortom did not waste time to express his preference for Obi. He openly endorsed him.

This is the intersection where Wike created different impressions about himself. He dissembled and made his politics to suffer some credibility deficits. Wike announced that he was going to make his preferred presidential candidate known in January. He recrafted the narrative by saying that he only meant that he would communicate to his supporters where to go and not that he was going to make a television announcement of his preferred candidate.

But Wike had since unraveled in a manner that watchers of his politics consider to be an anti-climax of sorts after his much-publicized bragging rights. With his high sense of self-importance, which the opposition elements within the PDP who are loyal to Atiku Abubakar, deflated by rejecting his approval to use the Port Harcourt stadium for the presidential candidate’s presidential rally (Atiku ended not campaigning in Rivers State), Wike had become more indeterminate and somewhat confused, until he hosted Tinubu during his presidential rally in Port Harcourt. Subsequent events especially covert have since indicated that Wike had quietly directed his supporters to ensure that they deliver Rivers votes to Tinubu. Will they ba able to achieve that? In essence, Wike has done Kizz Daniel’s “Cough” dance with Tinubu. He did it as if he was not sure of the propriety and morality of his decision. If Wike had wanted a southern president, could he not have settled for Obi to further reinforce his claim that he does not have anything against the Southeast and in the interest of justice? By endorsing Tinubu, Wike has endorsed the contentious Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket of the APC. Could he have promoted that religious insensitivity by coupling a Christian-Christian presidential ticket if he had emerged as the PDP presidential candidate? These are the essential contradictions in Wike’s final “Cough” song with Tinubu, courtesy of Kizz Daniel.

Perhaps, Wike believes that Tinubu is likely to win the poll and therefore he should align himself with him for preservation of his political future especially when his rival and former brother, Rotimi Amaechi, who should have been a drum major for the APC and Tinubu in Rivers, decided to stand askance, watching the political drama going on, after his defeat in the presidential primary election in which he was first runner up to Tinubu. But what must have given him the impression that Obi could not win with his (Wike’s) significant support deployed in bolstering the Southeast’s sensation’s growing political gravitas?

Now that Wike has unraveled, time will tell if all his razzmatazz these past few months and his quiet endorsement of Tinubu were really worth the effort, nay the eventual gamble.

▪︎ Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via [email protected]

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