Nigeria 2023: Will Wike play the spoiler for Atiku’s campaign?

By Akin Irede

Posted on Monday, 4 July 2022 07:04
Former Nigeria Vice President Atiku Abubakar adresses the People's Democratic Party delegates during the Special convention in Abuja
Former Nigeria Vice President Atiku Abubakar adresses the People's Democratic Party delegates during the Special convention in Abuja, Nigeria May 28, 2022. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Barely a month after winning the Presidential ticket of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar may just be on his way to a 6th defeat because of an emerging crisis in the party caused by his refusal to pick Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State as his running mate.

When on 15 June, 2022 a committee set up by the PDP recommended Wike as Atiku’s running mate, many supporters of the Rivers State governor had already begun congratulating him. In fact, Wike was trending at number one on Twitter. All that remained was an official announcement by Atiku which many saw as a mere formality.

However, many in the party were shocked when Atiku announced Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as his running mate. Sources close to Atiku stated that the former VP decided to choose Okowa because of his cool temperament and because Wike had been rejected by some influential northern politicians who saw him as a loose cannon and too radical.

While many have congratulated Okowa for emerging as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the PDP, Wike and other influential governors in his clique have failed to do so.

Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, who is very close to Wike, fumed on local Arise Television recently when he was asked if he would be supporting Atiku. He simply said he would only support Atiku if God asked him to, adding that it was wrong how Wike was treated.

“I expect him to reach out to Wike, who came second in the presidential primary; the man he denied the popular view of the PDP members. Fourteen out of 17 (members) said Wike should be the vice-presidential candidate. I expect more explanation. I expect him to talk to Wike — whom we are supporting — first. I expect him to reach out to some of us so that together we can work as a party,” a visibly angry Ortom stated.

On Twitter, controversial ex-Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, who is very close to Wike, stated that he and Wike would not support Atiku. Fayose, who also lost the PDP Presidential primary, insisted that since President Muhammadu Buhari – a Muslim northerner – had almost spend eight years in office, it would only be fair for a southerner to succeed Buhari, indirectly stating that Atiku, who is a Muslim northerner, should forget the Presidency.

The spoiler?

Since being denied the PDP’s VP ticket, Wike, who is known for his talkativeness, has reduced his public engagements and seems to have recoiled into his shell, licking his wounds. However, opposition politicians have now begun meeting him, a development which is troubling the PDP.

About a week ago, the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, visited Wike to consult with him over his ambition. About a day later, the Presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, Rabiu Kwankwaso, also visited Wike to seek his support.

Apart from Ortom, Wike is believed to have about three governors on his side including Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State whom he travelled along with to Turkey. Sources say that the All Progressives Congress standard bearer, Bola Tinubu, known as a master strategist and political negotiator, has also begun reaching out to Wike through proxies.

“Wike will not join the APC because it is too late to make such a move at the moment. Besides, his enmity with his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi, could rock the boat if he joins the APC. However, Wike could play a spoiler by refusing to release funds and indirectly supporting another party’s Presidential candidate,” said an associate of the governor who wished to remain anonymous.

PDP’s vote bank

Analysts say the emerging crisis ahead of the crucial Presidential election could prove costly for Atiku. For the last 22 years, the PDP has been winning elections in Rivers State both in state and federal elections. In 2015, the PDP recorded its highest number of votes in Rivers State with 1.4 million votes as opposed to the APC’s paltry 60,000 votes. Similarly, in 2019, the PDP polled 473,971 while the APC got 150,710 votes in an election that witnessed unprecedented violence.

With the PDP not having Wike’s full commitment, the party now seems vulnerable, says Prof. Kamilu Fage, a political analyst and lecturer at the Bayero University, Kano.

“It will definitely affect Atiku’s campaign,” says Fage.

“The leaders of the party seem not to have learnt from history. Something similar happened ahead of the 2015 elections. The ongoing crisis could be history repeating itself. Governors are very powerful. If the aggrieved governors are not assuaged, they can sabotage the party from within and this will compromise the chances of the PDP,” he told The Africa Report.

Analyst and newspaper columnist, Adeniran Adedokun, adds that Atiku desperately needs to unite his party ahead of the election as failure to do so could cause him to lose to Tinubu who has never lost an election in his life.

“Unless the PDP can reconcile its factions, it will be very difficult to win. Atiku is facing a very formidable candidate in the person of Tinubu who has been in politics for decades. Tinubu is very much prepared. If you are facing Tinubu, you must come with all weapons in your arsenal.

“To make matters worse, many Nigerians are already disenchanted with the APC and the PDP and a third option is now being considered by the electorate. So, anyone coming into this election with a divided house in my opinion will fail,” he adds.

In a post on Facebook, Atiku, who has been in Dubai for the last couple of days, assured supporters of his willingness to unite the party.

“The PDP will remain united. Focus on our actions. We are taking action to address the feelings of all party members. The unity in our community is my priority. Our resolve to unify Nigeria starts in our party and moves to the community, then on to society,” Atiku stated.

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