Nigeria 2023: Can Nyesom Wike stop Atiku this time?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Thursday, 10 March 2022 18:10, updated on Friday, 25 March 2022 11:53

Former Vice-President and People's Democratic Party candidate in upcoming presidential election Atiku Abubakar attends the party's emergency meeting in Abuja
Former Vice-President and People's Democratic Party candidate in upcoming presidential election Atiku Abubakar attends the party's emergency meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

After failing to stop Nigeria's former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar from emerging as the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2018, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, is ready for a rematch ahead of the 2023 Presidential election. Will he be able to stop Atiku this time?

In October 2018, some 12 notable northern politicians converged on Port Harcourt, the capital of Nigeria’s oil-rich Rivers State to battle for the presidential ticket of the PDP. Some of them include: former Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State; Governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Dankwambo; former Governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa; Senate President Bukola Saraki, ex-Senate President David Mark; ex-Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State; former Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State, and a host of others

However, it was general knowledge that the main battle was between Atiku and Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, who was being supported by Wike, undoubtedly the most powerful PDP governor in the country. The voting continued into the night with many wondering what the outcome would be.

But Nigerian newspapers the next morning painted a picture of what transpired at the PDP presidential primary with screaming headlines like ‘Dollar rains at Port Harcourt PDP Presidential Primaries 2018’. In the end, Atiku would win the primary with 1,532 votes while Tambuwal came second with 693 votes.

Wike eventually ate the humble pie, saying: “I supported Tambuwal fully and I have no regrets supporting him. But the party has made a choice and as a loyal party man, I stand by that choice. I will support Atiku to ensure his victory in 2019.”

However, Wike’s allies soon accused Atiku of failing to carry the Rivers governor along during the Presidential campaign. Specifically, Atiku was accused of picking former Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State as his running mate without consulting Wike and other key leaders of the party.

Tensions reached its peak when Wike, who was the south-south coordinator of the Atiku campaign, made moves to resign from the campaign. However, he was stopped by Wike. But reports stated that Wike didn’t give his all to the campaign, especially in the area of financing.

Atiku ultimately lost the election to President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), garnering about 41% of the total votes cast. Efforts to overturn the result in the courts were also unsuccessful.

Atiku’s hiatus

After his unsuccessful Presidential bid, Atiku relocated to Dubai temporarily where he spent nine months. PDP leaders accused him of absenting himself from critical party activities including the successful governorship campaign of Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, which was coordinated by Wike.

He contested in 2019; that was the best outing. He put up a good effort and we lost the election. He left us in the lurch right here in Nigeria and relocated to Dubai for two and a half years. No general will take his own troops to the warfront and after the war, when the dust of war has not simmered, you abandon your troops.

It also helped Wike to assert himself as the undisputed leader of the PDP as he provided the necessary financing for the party members in several parts of the country.

Upon his return, however, Atiku told a gathering of PDP leaders that he was out of the country for a Masters degree programme in International Relations as suggested to him by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. However, this was not enough to assuage the feelings of several Atiku supporters, many of whom had crossed over to Wike’s side.

“He contested in 2019; that was the best outing. He put up a good effort and we lost the election. He left us in the lurch right here in Nigeria and relocated to Dubai for two and a half years. No general will take his own troops to the warfront and after the war, when the dust of war has not simmered, you abandon your troops. You are supposed to take your troops back to the barracks and reposition, but he did not do that,” says Kassim Afegbua, a former Spokesman for the 2019 Atiku Campaign Organisation.

In Atiku’s absence too, the APC grew stronger and laid the groundwork for the defection of three PDP governors and their supporters to the APC.

Wike kicks out Secondus

Having established himself as the most influential governor of the PDP, Wike orchestrated the removal of the national chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, who he had handpicked three years prior to be the chairman of the party.

Secondus had been engaged in a supremacy battle with Wike but lost out. In his absence, the party hurriedly held its national convention and picked new leaders. Feeling aggrieved, Secondus subsequently headed to court. The matter is now before the Supreme Court.

Admitting his role in the ouster of Secondus to the BBC, Wike stated, “I have never denied being involved in the removal of Secondus. He was not doing well so his ward first suspended him and I am glad they did that.

“I am not the type of governor that denies his actions. I know I have a hand in his removal and I’m not afraid to say it. I did that because if we allow him to continue as PDP chairman, the party will die.”

Atiku, however, publicly remained neutral as the feud between Secondus and Wike raged.

The zoning challenge

With the PDP’s convention done and dusted, the new challenge became which part of the country would produce its presidential candidate.

While many southern elements believe that the party’s next candidate should be from the south, given Buhari is from the north and has almost served two terms, the northern elements believe the north can still produce the party’s presidential candidate since Buhari is not a member of the PDP.

They also argue that the PDP’s focus should be to win the election and the party’s chances of victory would be much higher if a northerner gets the ticket since the region has a superior voting power.

Riding on this argument, some top northern PDP politicians have now joined the presidential race. They include: Atiku, Tambuwal, and Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State. They have also begun consulting with stakeholders across the country.

Wike, who supported Tambuwal in the last primary, now seems to have shifted his support to Governor Mohammed. Speaking highly of Mohammed at an event a few weeks ago, the Rivers governor said: “I will prefer if God makes the ticket fall on him (Bala Mohammed), it means our chances are very, very bright.”

The new found closeness between Wike and Mohammed has spun rumours that the two may be running on a joint ticket. If this is the case, it means things may have just got tougher for Atiku.

Atiku boasts of victory

But Atiku is not one to give up easily as presidential campaigns are not new to the former Vice-President who first ran for President in 1993. And after five attempts at the Presidency, he now believes that 2023 will be his lucky year. He strongly believes that he can clinch the PDP’s presidential ticket.

“Have I ever failed to get the ticket? I’m confident that I will still get it,” he said boastfully while taking questions from journalists shortly after a meeting with former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Atiku, who is 75 years old, also dismissed calls for him to step down for a younger aspirant. He called on youths to join him in the ring to slug it out.

But Wike quickly fired back, telling Atiku that he would be in for a big disappointment this time around.

“I didn’t expect him frankly speaking to say that he will always take the ticket of the party. That is going too far and taking the delegates for granted. People should watch. There will be shock as far as PDP convention is concerned. People should watch what is going to happen. People like to underrate so many persons and it is not good in politics,” Wike said.

CanWike stop Atiku this time?

Analysts argue that unlike 2018, the PDP governors now have firmer control of the party and are bent on ensuring that one of them emerges as the presidential candidate of the party while the likes of Atiku have been relegated to the periphery. But Atiku – who is one of Nigeria’s wealthiest and most influential politicians – would surely be no pushover.

Atiku will still win if Wike, Tambuwal and Bala Mohammed fail to form a strong alliance…

Deji Adeyanju, convener of the human rights group Concerned Nigerians, tells The Africa Report that Atiku’s wide network would give him an edge over the Rivers State governor.

He adds that the only way Atiku could lose was if Wike and all other governors join forces against the former Vice-President.

“Atiku will still win if Wike, Tambuwal and Bala Mohammed fail to form a strong alliance. Atiku has been in politics for decades and he will win the ticket because over the years, he has some delegates who are constantly loyal to him. The only thing that can stop people like Atiku and Tinubu is for opposing forces to unite against them,” Adeyanju says.

But Kamilu Fage, a professor of political science at the Bayero University, Kano, believes that if the PDP zones its Presidential ticket to the South, then Atiku will lose out. He, however, says if the race is thrown open, Atiku will have the advantage over Wike.

Fage argues that while Atiku has a strong base in several parts of the country, Wike’s base is primarily in the south and is not too popular among northern politicians due to some of his outbursts in the past.

“Based on zoning, I think Atiku will not likely get it but if you take other factors into consideration, Atiku may get it over Wike. Even though Wike is from a very rich state, I don’t expect him to spend money the way Atiku would. Another advantage Atiku has is the political structures in various parts of the country. So, he can rely on that and get the party’s ticket,” says Fage.

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