By Law Mefor
The issue is the bruised ego of Gov Nyeson Wike who feels so wronged he is said to constitute the reason the return of the PDP to power is hanging in the balance. Some other political parties’ leaders are wooing Wike to join them, turning him into a beautiful bride of a sort.
The electoral value and popularity of Wike are not in doubt. Twice, he won the guber election of Rivers, a swing state, by a landslide. In his second term, Wike subtly launched his presidential campaign by inviting many important Nigerians of all walks of life to commission his many completed projects in Rivers state. That way, he earned for himself, deservedly or not, the appellation, Mr Project.
While he hugged the klieg lights and the Nigerian public with the media blitz the hearts of many Nigerians were taking pictures. Apart from his early campaign, which may have been lost on Nigerians, Wike made conscious efforts to ensure that former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, remained out of the picture while at the same time chiding him publicly not to join the APC or the presidential race.
In a normal party democracy where party discipline works, it was Goodluck Jonathan’s right of first refusal to fly the PDP flag in 2023. Republicans in the US still look up to Trump. But the likes of Wike whose inordinate ambition to become President of Nigeria turned into huge elephants in the room, trashing and trampling everything on their path, will not allow democracy to take root in Nigeria. Even South Nigeria’s strategic interest and solidarity were nonissues to them. Wike is not alone; Bola Ahmed Tinubu can be seen as also rocking the nation’s democracy with his Muslim-Muslim ticket, which he wants to shove down the throats of Nigerians.
Like Wike, Tinubu said the APC ticket was his and it became his. Wike is saying the same but unlike Tinubu, the PDP ticket could not become Wike’s, and a man whose life ambition eluded him is deserving of public sympathy, and that is what Wike is getting in quantum with his house now like a political Mecca.
But let us leave Tinubu and his suicidal Muslim-Muslim ticket out of this, and focus on Wike whose sense of entitlement is at issue. To be fair to him, Wike’s sense of entitlement is somewhat justified. At one point, he was about the only man standing. He became the main opposition voice and took the bullets for the PDP. It was also the time he pushed in Ali Modu Sheriff, a dyed-in-the-wool former APC governor and senator from Borno, to become the PDP Ag National chairman. Sheriff nearly sank the PDP. Though he might mean well, it nonetheless spoke volumes about how rash the man, Wike, could be.
Wike travelled around the country, paying solidarity visits to the PDP governors who were in distress, and doled out millions in naira as interventions. He similarly visited Sokoto and Benue. He donated N500m to the Sokoto state govt. during a market fire disaster, and N200 m to Benue during one of their numerous Fulani herdsmen massacres. This show of solidarity was what endeared Wike to Gov Samuel Ortom and why Ortom wanted Wike as running mate to Atiku at all costs.
Wike has been a pillar of the PDP and therefore there the party most time since they lost power at the centre in 2015. But PDP has at least a dozen governors that Wike ought to share the burden of keeping the PDP afloat, which include Tambuwal and Ortom who Wike had had to help financially.
The PDP experience has shown there is no political party system in Nigeria in the real sense of the word. What obtains is just an iron law of oligarchy as enunciated in a political theory developed by the German-born Italian sociologist Robert Michels in his 1911 book, Political Parties. He asserted that rule by an elite, or oligarchy, is an “iron law” within any democratic polity, which translates to only a handful of men ruling.
In the political parties in Nigeria, members pay no dues and the party has wage bills for regular staff to pick up and keep the party running. Governors do not care unless there is something in there for them like offering bribes to railroad candidates they want to impose. This was the lacuna that Wike exploited in the PDP and turned into a huge political capital and blackmail tool. To Wike, therefore, the PDP presidential ticket was his for the asking.
Then, the race began in earnest for three years now, reaching a frenzy with the works of the two PDP committees on zoning. The first was the Gov Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi committee on the zoning of the PDP party offices. The Ugwuanyi committee quickly told the world the committee’s assignment did not cover zoning the office of the president. Though this was true, the question is: why didn’t the Ugwuanyi committee zone the PDP chairmanship to the North without aligning it to the divide that would produce the PDP presidential flag-bearer? The second committee headed by Gov Samuel Ortom of Benue state was specifically on the zoning of the presidential ticket and, with the votes of the representatives of all the 17 Southern states without any exception, the Committee unanimously recommended throwing open the PDP presidential ticket, which the PDP NEC simply upheld.
One thing irrefutably stands out – Wike shot himself in the leg. Here was a man who had an overarching influence on both committees but could not insist that the ticket be zoned South. Many had wondered why? The reason is also relatively in plain sight: the Southeast factor. As the clamour for zoning of the presidential ticket of the PDP to South reached its crescendo, many had pointed out the fact that though the PDP Constitution had prescribed zoning of the office of the president to be between North and South since the South-west and South-south had taken their turns in producing the president and the vice in this current dispensation in the persons of Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, zoning this time around, should not just be to the South but the Southeast.
Atiku Abubakar went a step further by offering to step down from the race if it would be agreed that the touted zoning to the South would mean micro-zoning to the Southeast. Wike and the rest could not take the Atiku challenge maybe because Atiku would likely back Peter Obi, who was his vice-presidential running mate in 2019 and an ally. The prospects of Peter Obi picking the ticket if PDP zoned South was so real compelling Wike to go for an open contest, believing he could pick it up ahead of Atiku, Tambuwal and Bala Mohammed, given his large war chest.
As it turned out, underestimating Atiku Abubakar, a veteran of many presidential elections dating back to 1993 and former Vice President Federal Republic of Nigeria, was a gross and fatal error of judgement. A day to the D-day, it was clear that Atiku would carry the day and the icing on the cake was his ultimate political sagacity in getting Gov Waziri Aminu Tambuwal, another front runner, to step down for him. This masterstroke, which only the grandmasters can pull off, happened within the last hours into the special convention and Wike had no chance of recovering from such a TKO.
Political gladiators like Wike trust in their chariots and mammon rather than in solidarity and social justice. Though it is said that politics is a complex game, Wike made the same mistake twice. One gathered that he was privy to the voting done by the committee shortlisting the 3 running mates. That action was blackmail against Atiku who was trying to avoid the mistake he made in 2019 in his selection of Peter Obi as running mate. What the committee should have done was give Atiku 3 names and highlight the strengths and weaknesses for each. But instead, they wanted to choose the running mate for Atiku, a role assigned to the presidential flag bearers by the electoral act.
Atiku chose Okowa instead of Wike and by doing so he averted a storm in his presidency should he win with the man as vice president. The Vice president is a subdued office and the occupier is supposed to be seen and not be heard, and in a presidential democracy, the VP is heard through his principal, the President of the country.
Wike, given this job description, though a good and popular man, cannot be a typical or good vice president; he is bound to rear up as another captain on the ship. Atiku averted it.
Atiku also averted the likelihood that Wike would depress the PDP votes in the core North and the Southeast. Wike had pushed certain policies that most northerners have interpreted as anti-north. He went further to tell the Igbos that he is not Igbo. These two factors are bound to crop up in the heat of the campaign and Atiku would find himself defending Wike with the valuable time he would use to sell his manifesto. Atiku’s best decision was therefore not picking Wike.
Unless that is the reason Wike desperately wants the presidency, the only real thing in the vice-presidency for somebody like him is immunity from trial while in office. While he is savouring his new status as the beautiful bride of Nigerian politics, he should equally accept responsibility for his fate. He lost the chance to fly the PDP flag when he worked against the South-East, renounced his Igbo ancestry, promoted anti-north policies and for his impolitic and alienating approach to politics. The injury he nurses, therefore, is self-inflicted for which he should blame nobody but himself.
•Dr Law Mefor is a Senior Fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought; Tel.: +234- 905 642 4375 E-mail: [email protected]; follow me on twitter:@DrLawMefor.