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Nigeria 2023: Will Wike vs Secondus sink opposition PDP?

By Dele Yusuf
Posted on Friday, 20 August 2021 14:56

A woman selling groundnut, walks past a billboard campaigning for Nyesom Wike, People's Democratic Party candidate in River state, along a road in Mbiama village
A woman selling groundnut, walks past a billboard campaigning for Nyesom Wike, People's Democratic Party candidate in River state, along a road in Mbiama village, the border town between Nigeria's Bayelsa and River states February 28, 2015. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

The next general elections in Nigeria are fast approaching, but the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seem unable to coalesce into a fighting force. And it is the party -- not any external factor -- providing the greatest challenge. An inside view of the tussle for power between key party financier Nyesom Wike and the PDP national chairman Uche Secondus.

A longstanding dispute between Uche Secondus, national chairman of Nigeria’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers State and a major financier of the party, spilled over on 3 August when seven officials resigned from their positions at the party’s national secretariat, with more people threatening to step down as well.

Before they resigned, the party had been trying to put its house in order after losing three governors to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in eight months. The officials who stepped down argued that they can no longer continue to work with the Secondus-led National Working Committee (NWC), the party’s main executive organ.

Another party leader told a local TV station that Secondus was “looking for personal gains” rather than “managing the party that will lead us to victory in 2023.”

However, insiders believe their resignation was engineered by Wike as part of a grand plan to get Secondus out of the way as their cold war rages on.

From friends…

Prior to his emergence as the PDP national chairman in December 2017, Secondus had been in politics for almost 40 years since 1978 when he emerged the youth leader of the now-defunct National Party of Nigeria in the Second Republic and later, a two-time chairman of the PDP in Rivers. He had also been the deputy national chairman of the PDP and was once chairman in an acting capacity.

But only his experience as of when he was vying for the chairmanship position was not enough to hand him the chairmanship position, with other top shots like Bode George, Tunde Adeniran and Raymond Dokpesi were also in the race.

Enter Wike, his longtime ally in their home state Rivers. The duo had been close since the early 2000s during Governor Peter Odili’s administration and had worked together on many occasions including during the 2011 and 2015 presidential elections, when they handed former President Goodluck Jonathan 3.3 million votes, his highest from any state in the two polls.

In the buildup of the PDP convention in 2017, Wike went all out in campaigning for Secondus. He was said to have been the brain behind the popular ‘Unity List’ that listed preferred candidates for various positions, including Secondus as chairman, while, behind the scenes, he reportedly financed him and pulled together the needed funds that none of the other candidates could match.

…to foes

The first signs that their relationship had turned sour was in 2018 when the presidential ambitions of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State pitched them against each other.

Wike worked tooth and nail to ensure the emergence of Tambuwal, his close friend, but Secondus and other bigwigs within the party were said to have been rooting for Atiku as they thought he stood a better chance at defeating Buhari than Tambuwal, who had no deep political background except his short time as governor and as speaker of the House of Representatives.

After Tambuwal lost the PDP presidential ticket to the former vice-president, Wike withdrew his support for the party. The situation was resolved following the intervention of PDP leaders, but only after several months.

The second sign of discord came in the buildup of the Edo governorship election when Wike clashed with the party leaders amid efforts to hand Governor Godwin Obaseki – who had just joined the party from APC – the party’s governorship ticket. Wike pulled out of efforts to reconcile aspirants aggrieved over the choice of Obaseki after he was accused of stalling the process, but not without first hitting the party leadership hard.

“I told them that in Edo State, we must handle the issue carefully and carry everybody along. They must respect human beings and not behave like tax collectors,” he had said of the NWC. “They are tax collectors. Let them challenge me and I will come out with more facts. Nobody will rubbish me by raising false accusations against me. I will fight back.”

The last straw

The tension between Wike and Secondus boiled over towards the end of 2020 when the race to enthrone the former’s successor in Rivers became more intense.

According to a PDP official with a deep understanding of developments between the duo, Secondus has made it clear that he wants Tele Ikuru, his cousin and former deputy governor, to be the next governor of the state while Wike is adamant on deciding who he wants to succeed him.

“Wike is saying he is the governor and has to appoint whoever his successor will be, while Secondus is claiming that his cousin wants to be governor, and as the chairman of the party, he will give it to his cousin. But Wike said, ‘no…that I can’t even be negotiating with you. I brought you here and you now want to be negotiating with me’,” the official told The Africa Report on condition of anonymity.

Governors and party leaders pick sides in a divided house

Amid efforts to save the party from implosion, The Africa Report understands that the governors and leaders at the state level began to side with either Wike or Secondus.

Wike hinted at this in December 2020 when he accused the National Working Committee under Secondus of working to “sow a seed of discord among governors for their own selfish interest.”

Not holding back on criticisms against his one-time friend, Wike had also said his leadership was “not interested or doing anything to take over the realms of government in 2023” and that “when your interest is to remain in power, you are no longer interested to win election.”

Acting as referees in the unfolding drama, senior PDP chieftains such as Atiku and former Senate Presidents David Mark, Bukola Saraki and Iyorchia Ayu are making concerted efforts to save the soul of the party while some governors continue to weigh options for a common ground.

“Most of the fights are as a result of the fight between Wike and Secondus,” The Africa Report’s source says, adding that “most of the leaders in the states are picking sides [and] everybody now wants to show that [they are] in charge.”

On his part, Secondus openly spoke his mind on the issue for the first time recently on Wednesday, 4 August, when he said via his media office that a “strong party chieftain bent on hijacking the party structure for destruction is still on the loose.”

He said the unnamed chieftain’s agenda is to use “all devious means” to “dent [his] image.” And although no name was mentioned, all eyes have been on Wike – and some key leaders of the party including Adamu Mustapha, its national auditor, who once accused the Secondus-led NWC of financial impropriety.

How will things pan out?

“In Rivers, Wike will either leave the party or Secondus will stop being chairman,” The Africa Report’s source says of the crisis rocking the PDP, the ruling APC’s only obstacle in retaining Nigeria’s seat of power in 2023.

He adds: “The PDP would rather sacrifice Secondus than lose Wike because people know the governor has the money and influence.”

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