Can Atiku Crack the Wike’s Puzzle?

By Tordue Simon Targema 

The Rivers State Governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike’s puzzle is proving extremely difficult to crack by the presidential flag bearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), His Excellency Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Like the proverbial lizard on the edge of the water jar, Wike has proven to be Atiku’s biggest dilemma in his current presidential bid. The options before him are weighty: to ignore Wike and put up with the consequences given the latter’s influence in the leading opposition party and seaming control over the party’s structure especially in the South-South geopolitical zone; or give in to his weighty concessions as an act of either compromise or cowardice and subjugation to the whims and ego of an emerging emperor in the party’s fold. These are certainly weighty options, serious enough to cost an ambitious aspirant- desirous of occupying Nigeria’s topmost seat as a crowning moment of his age long political career- his precious sleep.  

As events in the aftermath of the party’s presidential primaries continue to unfold, Wike has emerged the most sought-after political bride in Nigeria. Just last month, he was entangled in a series of meetings in London with the three topmost aspirants– Bola Ahmad Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) and his arch political rival, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP who is at the centre of the whole palaver. The meetings were graced by household names in Nigeria’s political arena such as former President Olusegun Obasanjo, incumbent governors and several other political stakeholders. Prior to these marathon meetings in London, his Port-Harcourt residence has suddenly turned to a venue of political pilgrimage by Nigerian presidential hopefuls and their emissaries. 

Apparently, Wike’s grudge seem like one massaging his personal ego after suffering a resounding defeat in a keenly contested jostle for the main opposition party’s flag. This explains why he has not hidden his rift with the party’s National Chairman, Senator Iorchia Ayu. A day after the primary election, when Wike was busy nursing the agonizing wounds of the defeat, Ayu was caught on camera- flanked by His Excellency Atiku Abubakar- showering praises on Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State as the “man of the match”. Of course, Tambuwal’s abrupt withdrawal at the last minute was influential to Atiku’s victory, a move that Wike interpreted as a well-orchestrated conspiracy, laced with ethno-regional bigotry to edge him out of the race. 

From that moment, he made his instant decision- and publicly so- that Ayu must go as the preeminent condition for peace to reign in the camp. However, subsequent developments have further deepened the crisis in the camp and made it messier for the party in general, and Atiku Abubakar in particular, to handle. For instance, having lost the flag, one would have expected that as the first runner up, Atiku would compensate Wike with the vice presidential slot to run a joint ticket, or at least, give him the benefit to nominate a protégée to run as a move towards reconciliation. Incidentally, having won the ticket from the North, the vice presidential slot automatically was expected to come from the South, and as the leading figure of the party in the region, all eyes were on Wike for the vice presidential slot. 

Atiku’s snubbing of Wike for the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa is clearly understood by many political analysts. Everyone would prefer a calm, cooperative and more introverted vice to a lousy, boisterous, loquacious, egoistic and power-drunk demigod who is so full of himself and intoxicated with self-invested powers and a sense of relevance that defies all principles of logic. Yes, this is my personal opinion about the person of Governor Wike, but I am sure many would share the same opinion about him, and it is likely the foremost reason why His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar snubbed him without a second thought to the damning consequences to his campaign. 

Yes, Wike would have been a difficult candidate to sell especially in the Northern region where his controversial position on states control of the Value Added Tax (VAT) that Rivers State has the lion share, restructuring and other controversial national issues lurking the Nigerian federation leave him with more enemies than friends. Yet, others dislike him for being excessively assertive and domineering, dictatorial in his approach to handling complicated political situations and crude in his dealings with delicate political matters without minding hurting sensitivities and stepping on toes. All these understandably culminated into Atiku’s eventual preference of Okowa, who is more subtle- if one is careful of using diplomatic- in his political approach as a co-flag bearer. 

But having made his choice- barring all consequences, the effects are right here with him, and have, at the moment, overwhelmed the leading opposition party. How best His Excellency Atiku Abubakar and his party navigate the challenges confronting it and form a formidable all-inclusive campaign team remains to be seen, as all efforts to woo Wike and his allies back to the fold have, so far, proven abortive. In fact, the complications that confront the PDP are capable of repeating the ugly 2015 nightmare. Yes, Wike is a force to reckon with. It is to his credit that he sustained the PDP in states where it was nose-diving to oblivion. His macho in odd-hour elections such as Edo, Osun and Anambra among a host of other states confer on him, the prestige in the party that is second to none among his fellow governors. It is no wonder that they rally around him in his moment of great travails. 

Secondly, there is the notion of power shift to the South which is shared even among Southern politicians that are not positively disposed to Wike. Indeed, all political stakeholders in the party are unanimous in their conviction that power should shift to the South, as President Muhammadu Buhari is completing a second term, an uninterrupted eight-years Northern presidency come 2023. This conviction has earned what many in the South would have ordinarily termed ‘Wike’s unnecessary self-centred nagging and ranting’ some form of legitimacy, giving him strong strength to bargain on the negotiation table. Worthy of note is the fact that even though Atiku dreads this negotiation table like a house infested with leprosy, he has no option than to face it, and fillers from the discussions so far indicate that the standard bearer is not finding it funny yielding to the demands of his ego-centric demigod of a rival.

What are the Issues on the Negotiation Table By-the-Way? 

Fillers from the negotiation table indicate that Wike clearly wants to show Atiku that he is not a force to relegate in the opposition party that he strive hard to sustain from 2015 to date when most party big-wigs including Atiku deserted it for the APC and other political formations. From what is in the public domain so far, few things stand out from Wike’s litany demands. First and foremost: Atiku must do just one term and return the presidency to the South by the next election season, i.e. 2027. Secondly, Ayu must resign as the National Chairman of the PDP and a new chairperson for the party emerge from the South West to balance the power structure in the party. Thirdly, Wike will install key ministers in Atiku’s cabinet, etc.

Of course, these are not by any means, too difficult conditions to meet if the standard bearer is determined to unite his house and put forth a formidable campaign team to challenge the ruling APC and other emerging opposition parties. After all, politics is all about concessions. Already, His Excellency Atiku Abubakar has made his intention to run for just a single term known to the general public, even as such promises hardly hold water in politics if previous experiences in the country’s political landscape are worthy to go by. This is the more reason why Wike requires a concrete commitment to that effect, not just a promissory note that would likely bounce in the bank of equity when the time to cash it is due. 

The third condition too is not too difficult to meet, considering that Wike is considered a big name in the party in his zone and likely to pull substantial votes for Atiku in the South. Lest we forget that the ‘Obi-dient’ movement and Tinubu’s factors are critical factors that would collapse whatever structure Atiku has in the South but for the support of strong party pillars in the region like Wike. Indeed, Atiku needs a formidable team in the South, and no amount of concessions in terms of political appointments will be too big to woo the right people on board, his campaign train. 

Perhaps, the biggest hurdle right at the moment is for Ayu to accept to resign. As at the last minute, the third-republican political juggernaut is still holding unto his mandate, solidly. In fact, with an air of confidence like one who is firmly in charge, he describes those calling for his resignation from the party’s top seat as ‘small children’ who should not be taken seriously. Indeed, this boast followed a vote of confidence passed on him by members of the party’s National Working Committee in Abuja, recently which Wike simply dismissed as the same path that Ayu’s predecessor, Prince Uche Secondus followed in his inglorious exit from the party’s top seat. 

Indeed, all indications point to Ayu’s eventual resignation in no distant time. It is in line with this expectation which seems the only sure path for a likely truce that the Board of Trustees Chairman of the party, Senator Walid Jibrin resigned his position in Abuja recently as a move towards uniting the party. At the moment, calls for Ayu’s exit have reached advanced stage as all is set for formal commencement of campaigns later in the month. In a South-West stakeholders meeting of the party at Ibadan, Governor Seyi Makinde, one of the key members of the Wike’s camp reiterated their position that Ayu must go. Makinde described the need to reshuffle leadership positions in the party as the party’s demonstration of commitment towards restructuring which has been its mantra since 2019; although Atiku dismissed this premise and maintained that even if Ayu resigns, a northerner is constitutionally most likely to take over as the party’s henchman given the provision of the party’s constitution. A power shift in the party, Atiku explained, is only possible in the event of a constitutional review of the party’s constitution which is not likely in the current circumstances. 

In the meantime, Ayu jets off to Europe on vacation. Meanwhile, several questions bug the curious mind as follows: is this trip a tactical move to pave the way for peaceful transition in absentia? Is Ayu working on his transition notes to hand over to a new party chairman upon return from vacation in line with the demands of Wike’s camp? Is His Excellency Atiku Abubakar willing to sacrifice Ayu and broker a truce with Wike, or he is ready to call of Wike’s bluff and dare the consequences? By-the-way, does he has adequate time right at the moment to fully contemplate his options before formal commencement of campaigns later in the month? 

If previous experience is anything to go by, the revolution in the PDP that lead to the emergence of the new-PDP which eventually joined forces with the APC, thereby forming a formidable opposition party that sent PDP to the debris in 2015 is about to repeat itself with the Wike’s puzzle. Coincidently, Just like2015, the current travail of the party starts from Rivers State. One is, thus, curious to pose: is history repeating itself in the PDP camp? Can the Wike factor cost Atiku the price that former President Goodluck Jonathan paid in 2015 for ignoring Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi?

Wike’s puzzle is certainly a hard one for Atiku to crack, and until he is able to crack it successfully, it remains a cog in the wheel of what seems his final shot at Nigeria’s top job. How best he cracks this puzzle and steers the party to victory remains to be seen, as other political movements are restlessly cashing into the crack in the party to consolidate their holds on the South-South zone which, hitherto, was PDP’s stronghold.  

Tordue Simon Targema writes from the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Taraba State University, Jalingo. Email: 

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