Why has the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike become the most sought-after figure in Nigeria’s political space ahead of the 2023 general elections? What is the limit to his influence? Can he decide who wins or loses the presidential election scheduled for February 25, 2023?
Love or hate him, the governor of the oil-rich state has become the proverbial beautiful bride of Nigerian politics, wooed and sought-after by different suitors. He is serenaded with offers by leading presidential candidates and parties in almost similar ways he and ‘his band’ entertain Nigerians during his political outings.
Wike, who has remained in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since his emergence in the political space as a local government chairman and federal minister, became a sought-after bride after losing the presidential ticket of the party to a former vice president and serial contestant, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who polled 371 votes to Wike’s 237.
Atiku’s choice of the Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as running mate despite the alleged recommendation of Wike by the selection committee constituted by the former, strained their relationship. It was learnt that Wike felt betrayed as it was Atiku and his camp who convinced him to consider the vice presidential slot after losing the primary in Abuja. Moreover, the camp of the former vice president had proposed an Atiku-Wike joint ticket before the primary, which was rejected by the governor, who also decided to test his popularity and acceptance among the party’s delegates. If not for the last-minute decision by the Sokoto governor, Aminu Tambuwal, to step down for Atiku at the primary, Wike was projected to have clinched the party’s presidential ticket.
Wike, together with his team, played host to the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, Labour Party’s (LP) presidential candidate, Peter Obi and Atiku in London, where issues of political interest were discussed. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo also attended the meeting with Obi.
The Rivers governor had, in the last couple of weeks, played host to some prominent chieftains of the APC, such as Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos, Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo and David Umahi of Ebonyi State.
Other top chieftains of the APC that have visited Governor Nyesom Wike’s Port Harcourt residence are former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.
These visits by the presidential candidates and their loyalists are seen as a way of wooing Wike to support their ambitions.
Wike’s influence in the PDP grew when he emerged as the rallying voice of the PDP in 2015 after the party lost the presidential election to the APC. With prominent chieftains either defecting to the APC or retiring to their shells after the defeat, Wike mobilised resources to keep the party afloat. He, alongside a former governor of Ekiti of State, Ayodele Fayose, were the most vocal among opposition figures criticising the Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government.
With sufficient financial resources to most state chapters of the PDP, Wike became influential in determining the state executives and earning their loyalties. Little wonder he and his camp also decided the chairman and majority of the members of the National Working Committee of the party since 2015. From Senator Ali Modu Sheriff to Ahmed Makarfi, Uche Secondus and the current party’s national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, the camp of Governor Wike has been the major determinant in their emergence, as well as their departure from the exalted office.
In response to Ayu’s insistence that he would not step down, Wike said, “Dr Ayu said we are children. Yes, the children brought you from the gutter to make you chairman.”
Wike’s generosity to state chapters, NWC, as well as the ability to withstand the machineries of the APC-led federal government, drew him closer to the hearts of many stakeholders of the party.
He also used his well-oiled presidential campaign tour to gain more friends and loyalists in the party. He visited the 36 states of the country, including the Federal Capital Territory, where he canvassed for votes and made lots of friends. Sources close to his presidential campaign team informed our correspondent that the governor gave out huge sums of money to party leaders in each state he visited during the campaign.
It is believed that Governor Wike’s influence transcends Rivers State and the South-South as he also controls the structure of the PDP in the South East. For example, he enjoys the support of the Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, members of the party in Ebonyi and Anambra, and to some degree, Imo. However, Atiku’s loyalists, such as a former Imo governor, Emeka Ihedioha, Senator Ben Obi, Senator Chris Uba and Senator Uche Ekwunife, have whittled down his influence in Imo and Anambra states.
Ugwuanyi, who led PDP governors in the South East to endorse Wike during the PDP presidential primary, is said to be uncomfortable with negotiations with other parties by the Rivers governor’s camp.
In the South West, the only PDP governor in the region as at today, Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, is a leading voice in Wike’s camp. Formers governors Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo and Fayose of Ekiti are also with him.
While the party is polarised in Ogun and Osun states, a former deputy national chairman of the PDP and its leader in Lagos, Chief Olabode George, who commissioned projects in Rivers State on Thursday, also agrees with Wike that Ayu must go before the commencement of the campaign.
The Rivers governor has also been able to extend his influence to the North, where he has Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, a former governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Dankwambo, former Minister for Justice and Attorney-General, Mohammed Adoke among his prominent loyalists. During the PDP presidential primary, delegates from Kano, who were said to be loyalists of former Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso, openly displayed support for Wike by wearing caps with his picture. He also exhibited his influence in Kogi State when he backed Tajudeen Yusuf, a member of the House of Representatives, to defeat Atiku’s loyalist and former senator, Dino Melaye in the Kogi West senatorial primary election.
He also enjoys good relationships with Senator Philip Aduda, who represents the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), former Senator Garba Lado (Katsina), a former First Lady of Niger State, Zainab Kure, PDP governorship candidate in Nasarawa, David Ombugadu, among other party chieftains in the North.
Wike has travelled with some of his allies, including a former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, to different countries, where they strategised. Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that regular meetings among members of the camp have strengthened their bond.
He is also loved by the people of Rivers State because of the developmental projects he embarked on as governor. Even his greatest critics will admit that although his politics is combative, it is also progressive and developmental; hence he is dubbed Mr Project.
The state has remained one of PDP’s strongholds, even during presidential elections. For example, former President Goodluck Jonathan got 1,487,075 votes against Buhari’s 69,238 in 2015 despite that the then Governor Rotimi Amaechi defected to the APC. Also, in 2019, Atiku scored 473,971 votes to defeat President Buhari, who had 150,710. However, results were not collated from six local government areas: Bonn, Asari Toru, Okrika, Ikwerre and Ahoada West and Emohua.
Recent innovations by INEC have brought down the number of ‘votes’ coming out from River State.
Also, Wike is not expected to have it easy, especially as there are forces who can threaten his influence.
The cold war between him and Atiku took another dimension recently when the governor alleged that there were plots by some politicians to unleash mayhem in the state.
He made the allegation in a statewide broadcast few days after he stripped Atiku’s supporters in the state of their various leadership positions in the party. Those affected include a former governor of the state, Celestine Omehia, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Opara, and Senator Lee Meaba.
While Meaba was removed as the chairman of the Governing Board of the state-owned Elechi Amadi Polytechnic, Austin Opara and Celestine Omehia were removed as leaders of the party in Port Harcourt City and Ikwerre local government areas. Our correspondent learnt that their removal was a result of their secret romance with Atiku. The trio were said to have attended several meetings with Atiku without clearance from Governor Wike.
“Wike is not hiding the fact that he is fighting Atiku. And he said he was ready to fight to the finish.
“We don’t know what he is planning to do because when campaigns start, we are qualified to campaign too. We are waiting to see how he would stop us from campaigning. This is a joke taken too far.
“Yes, he called Omehia and Chief Opara as leaders of the party in Ikwerre and Port Harcourt City and humiliated them before their people because we went to pay a solidarity visit to Atiku.
“All of us knew Atiku before him. Austin Opara, who has been in the House of Representatives since 1999, was deputy speaker when Atiku was vice president. At that time, Wike was struggling to be a local government chairman. So, if Opara has to take permission from him to see Atiku, then something is wrong,” Senator Maeba said, adding that nobody is in charge of Rivers’ votes.
Wike and the ‘Obidient’ movement
The majority of Igbo youths in Rivers State are rooting for Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party. The last Saturday solidarity match in Port Harcourt, the state capital in support of Obi’s presidential bid is a pointer to the fact that the ‘Obidient’ factor would take a good chunk of the number of votes in the state.
The Igbo race, where Obi belongs, constitutes a good percentage of the entire registered voters in the state.
While Wike is hard-pressed to remain in his beloved PDP, he is afraid of being made irrelevant by Atiku’s men after the election, especially as his influence is expected to wane after he leaves office on May 29, 2023.
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