23rd June, 2022
By Paul Obi
Between 2006 and 2007, at the tail end of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, then Governor of Rivers State, Dr Peter Odili, was almost coasting home to victory as the Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate. As a student then, I was among Odili’s student support group eager to hit the road for him. Then, a tsunami swept through, halting Odili’s ambition through subterfuge. A one-time lecturer and former Governor of Katsina State, the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was drafted in alongside Goodluck Jonathan as presidential and vice-presidential candidates.
That episodic turn of events left a remarkable imprint on how politics and leadership are factored in Nigeria. And that for all the hue and cry about good governance and great leadership, the primary definers of Nigerian politics and its electoral democracy lies squarely on the two monsters of ethnicity and religious bigotry. This has also been further compounded by the delegitimisation of the will of the people by a Federal Constitution that bestows more power to political cabals than affords citizens the right to have a say on who governs them and how.
Drawing strength from the above analogy, one would have thought that the likes of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, would be familiar with such political snares and traps lying in wait but to no avail. Caution was rather thrown to the wind in a funfair that was merely a fishing expedition for the clout and cosmetic applause. Now, the cost implication of Wike’s presidential run was huge, monumental and even a telling catastrophe of how not to run for Nigeria’s presidency. How does the Lion of Niger-Delta search his heart now?
Before these events, Wike stood firm in rescuing the PDP from the dungeon where the likes of Ali Modu Sherriff took the party and held her on the jugular. The current PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, had formed nPDP; left the party for All Progressives Congress, which led to the defeat of the PDP in 2015. It was the likes of Wike, Ayo Fayose and a few others that stood firm to ensure that PDP survives. Beyond that, he took the plights of fellow PDP-controlled states like his. A state like Benue almost became part of Rivers State, as Wike extended goodwill to the state and her people. Today, it is doubtful if a single Benue delegate cast his/her vote for Wike at the primaries. The open celebration at the National Convention in Abuja by top Benue politicians is obvious scorn and disdain they have for Wike. Has Wike learnt his lessons now?
In an article published in the Punch dated May 16, 2022, titled, 2023: Wike, Igbo and the handmaid of history, I argued that it was incumbent on Wike and history was on his side far more in supporting the South-East presidency than taking a shot at the PDP ticket. The nitty-gritty of that extrapolation was rooted in the fact that the South-East needed social justice by ascending the presidency more than the South-South and South-West. It was disingenuous and self-serving for the South-South and South-West to angle for the presidency after Jonathan’s six years and Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight and Prof Yemi Osinbajo’s eight years of the vice presidency. It would have even been more reasonable and tenable for the North to yield to the argument of the presidency of South-East extraction than the innocuous and nebulous clamour for the Southern presidency.
On that trajectory, Wike had an ample opportunity to make history and become a statesman under the plate of championing social justice for the South-East presidency than an inordinate presidential run. By entering the race, Wike’s ambition became a poison chalice neutralising the cohesiveness required to push for a Southern agenda. His run became self-serving and no longer the clamour for equity and justice to appease the South after the ruinous eight years of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). Consider if Wike had deployed all the energy and resources to push for Peter Obi or Anyim Pius Anyim’s candidacy or any other South-Eastern candidate within the PDP?
But how do Nigerian politicians prepare or think before considering a run for office? Do they just throw in the hat based on access to the national till or the paraphernalia of office or distorted and make-believe media optics? In her work, Becoming a Candidate: Political Ambition and the Decision to Run for Office, University of Virginia Commonwealth Professor of Politics, Jennifer L. Lawless, harped on the need for potential candidates to consider the prevailing socio-political campaign issues and, most importantly, the mood and feelers of their electoral constituents and constituencies. Thus, what was the import of a Wike run? Did the general and party mood stand in his favour before the PDP National Convention?
More so, that Nigerian politics is merely a cut-throat and treacherous game of tribalism and religious sentiment should have been a warning. So in the end, the North had to cut Wike to size; even as his Southern counterparts had a different agenda and served him a bowl of backstabbing. Now, with the crushing of his well-laid vice-presidential ambition, what will Wike do? Will he work for PDP victory at the presidential poll or stand by while the party sinks a third disastrous time? Will Wike pitch his tent with Obi’s tsunamic movement that is gathering momentum? What will Wike do now is the $24,000 question on the lips of most Nigerians?
Ordinarily, Wike like Rotimi Amaechi failed to read the mood of the nation and the deep scorn against the Rivers State Governor and his predecessor at the national level. People generally hate persons who are more advantaged than them. They see them, even erroneously, as arrogant and proud, and every opportunity is judiciously deployed to tame them in whatever form. That’s the mood Wike failed to read and prepare ahead. It is one blunder that every would-be Rivers State Governor should endeavour to watch and guide against. Even the PDP gubernatorial candidate, Fubara Siminialayi, if he eventually emerges the governor needs to learn from this. There’s no need and sense in embarking on extravagant expeditions across the country for a future presidential run. Or to deploy Rivers resources in a journey of pseudo-philanthropy to states like Benue in a country where poisonous politics of ethnicity runs deep. After Odili, Amaechi and Wike wobble presidential run, maybe, the next Rivers State Governor needs not run for a phantom presidential race but use Rivers State petrol dollars and establish Africa’s Dubai just like the Oil Sheikhs of Arabian Peninsula did with oil money.
For Wike, it is a repeat of history. But men in their true sense do not learn very much from history as the British philosopher, Aldous Huxley, posited in the opening quote, that has been the greatest lesson history has to teach all of us. As 2023 beckons, what is in for Wike after a disastrous outing? Rivers State votes are crucial to any serious presidential candidate. Will Wike recoil back to PDP and build the momentum that the party currently lacks for a victory in February? The PDP is still a party with the mien and men of 1999 propped up by military oligarchy: with some arrogance and swagger of dominance.
The plea is that Wike should join hands and save PDP from collapse. As the days approach, will he serve the PDP a vendetta, going by the speculations from his body language? Or will Wike consider giving Obi’s momentum some vibes, as some may want to speculate? Wike had the golden opportunity to become heroic and the handmaid of history by supporting the 2023 presidential candidate of South-East extraction. That has all gone into the winds like a puff of smoke.
Beyond some abstract victories Wike recorded against the Nigerian central government and projects executed, he will now have to struggle from freeing himself from the toga of a rigger of history. His predecessor after betraying the South in 2015 has returned to a non-political base, licking his wounds.
Times are hard, how does Wike reinvent himself? Will, he re-bounce by heeding the mood of the nation? In all, whatever direction Wike takes will also end in the history books for good or for bad. But in all, more is to come in Nigeria’s longest campaign season in history with Shakespearean long knives or will Wike consider giving Peter Obi’s momentum some vibes?
*Obi is a journalist and fellow at the Abuja School of Social and Political Thought