Nigeria 2023: Tinubu, Peter Obi’s chances rise as Wike moves to sink Atiku’s campaign 

By Eniola Akinkuotu
Posted on Monday, 12 September 2022 17:57

Peter Obi on 20 August 2022 (photo twitter: @PeterObi )

With just two weeks before the formal opening of Nigeria's presidential campaigns, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is in disarray with the influential Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and his clique of governors, which is now threatening to undermine presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar. 

In recent weeks, Nigerians have almost on a daily basis been entertained by the sheer spectacle of Governor Wike’s frequent dancing on live television. Wike’s spontaneous body movements are often triggered by playful songs targeted at his political rivals. As the hype man sings his praises, Wike relishes the music seeping from the speakers. 

After the singing and dancing comes the jibes he makes at his enemies. Although this is not entirely strange in Nigerian politics – especially in an election season – Wike has been making the front page of all major newspapers and dominating discussions on social media because his attacks are not targeted at opposition politicians, but members of his own party: the PDP. 

“God has given me what it takes for me to crush my enemies,” he says. “I’m going to flog them with pepper.” 

 The genesis 

The crisis rocking the PDP can be traced back to late last year when the Rivers governor orchestrated the removal of his erstwhile ally, Uche Secondus, who was the national chairman of the party. Wike and his clique of governors then financially supported a northerner, Iyorchia Ayu – who at the time was a spent force – to be the new chairman of the party.  

The thinking was that with a northerner emerging as the chairman of the party, the presidential candidate would be from the south since it is customary for the chairman and candidate of the party to be from different regions of the country. With Wike, a southerner, harbouring a presidential ambition, he believed he was in pole position to clinch the party’s ticket. 

Whatever happens to the PDP will definitely work in Tinubu’s favour more than Obi’s favour.

However, northern elements in the party like Atiku, who also had presidential ambitions, included a caveat, which stated that the fact that the chairman was a northerner would not preclude a fellow northerner from emerging as the party’s presidential standard bearer. 

It was also agreed that in the event that a northerner won the presidential primary, then Ayu would resign as chairman, a deal he publicly agreed to. 

“If the PDP says I should step down after a presidential candidate emerges and happens to be from the north, I will be very glad to do so because what we want is to take over the government and run it in the interest of Nigerians. I’ll sacrifice anything to ensure that my party wins,” Ayu said on Arise Television last year. 

Having successfully helped Ayu become the national chairman, Wike expected the new chairman to support him at the presidential primary, ignoring the fact that Ayu was a longstanding ally of Atiku and had even served as the latter’s campaign manager when the former vice-president was running for president in 2007. So confident was Wike that he even bragged openly that he would give Atiku a bloody nose at the convention.

However, to his utter dismay, Atiku, a northerner, clinched the party’s ticket. To add insult to injury, Ayu, who Wike had helped to become chairman of the party, openly celebrated Atiku’s victory, an indication that he played a role in the former vice-president’s emergence. Wike would never forgive Ayu for this seeming betrayal. 

Worse still, Atiku snubbed the recommendation by party leaders that he should nominate Wike as his running mate, instead picking Ifeanyi Okowa from the oil-rich Delta State as his running mate. 

Ayu must go 

Having been betrayed by Ayu, the aggrieved Rivers governor insisted that he resign as the chairman of the party. His argument was that the PDP could have a northern presidential candidate and national chairman at the same time. Besides, the PDP’s board of trustees, which is the party’s apex advisory body, is also headed by a northerner.  

However, Ayu suddenly made a u-turn, saying he would only step down after Atiku wins the presidential election in February, a proposition that Wike and his clique have rejected. Wike’s clique, which included Governors Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu) and Samuel Ortom (Benue), subsequently launched a massive campaign against the PDP chairman. 

Frustrated by Wike’s incessant jibes, Ayu described the Rivers governor and his clique as politicians who were children when he joined politics. 

Wike swiftly responded by calling Ayu an ingrate whom he “picked from the gutter” and vowed to help the PDP lose next year’s election. 

“Dr Ayu said we are children. Yes, the children brought you from the gutter to make you chairman. Now we have seen that you don’t want the party to win [the] election, we will help you,” he said. 

Wike also lambasted all those who publicly took sides with Atiku and Ayu. He also relieved Atiku’s supporters from leadership positions in Rivers State, and ordered the police to arrest some notable politicians loyal to Atiku for illegal oil bunkering, but they described it as a witch-hunt. 

Tinubu, Obi, make their move 

Eager to exploit the crisis, Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), travelled to London to meet Wike and other governors in his camp. 

The next day, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, also met with Wike and his clique along with ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. In a bid to save his campaign, Atiku also hurriedly travelled to London where he met with them separately.  

“Whatever we were talking about was in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians. It is not parochial and tied to one person or group of persons. We believe that […] what is going on will be for the interest of Nigerians at the end of the day,” Wike said when he was asked about the details of the meeting. 

Sources however tell The Africa Report that Wike and his allies are unlikely to leave the PDP, but could work against the party, something the Rivers governor has publicly threatened to do. 

“Wike cannot go anywhere because all his boys are running for office in the PDP. Will he tell voters to vote for the APC at the presidential election and then vote for the PDP at the governorship election?” says a leader of the PDP who sought anonymity. 

In his latest tirade, Wike alleged that someone in President Muhammadu Buhari’s camp was working for Atiku and this was the source of the former vice-president’s overconfidence. He threatened to expose the person. 

“Why are they being so arrogant? […] They are arrogant because they believe somebody at the presidency is backing them, but what they don’t understand is that the same person at the presidency backed someone during the APC presidential primary and the person failed.  

“I will tell Nigerians at the appropriate time who […] is backing them and making them arrogant,” Wike said.

Will Ayu resign? 

So far, efforts to get Ayu to resign have proved futile as the leadership of the PDP recently passed a vote of confidence in him. Additionally, party leaders tell The Africa Report that the northern establishment believe it would be dangerous to give in to Wike’s demands as it would make him too powerful. 

“The danger now is that if the PDP bows to Wike’s wishes, he will make further demands and this will make him too powerful. On the other hand, if we ignore him, he could hurt the party, so it’s a catch-22 situation,” says a chieftain of the PDP who asks to remain anonymous. 

Whether the cock crows or not, the sun must rise.

The Africa Report has also learnt that should Ayu resign, he will still be succeeded by a northerner because the PDP’s constitution says whenever a chairman quits, his successor must be someone from his zone. It therefore remains to be seen how a southerner would emerge as the chairman as demanded by Wike. 

Party leaders tell The Africa Report that the inability of the PDP to address its internal crisis has been preventing Atiku from formally inaugurating its presidential campaign team. 

This week, leaders of the party are expected to make a final visit to Wike with a view to getting him and his allies to support the party. Should this last effort fail and Wike refuse to support Atiku, could this in any way affect the candidate’s chances at the poll? 

“Whether the cock crows or not, the sun must rise,” Atiku’s aide, Phrank Shuaibu, tells The Africa Report. 

The spokesman for the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, says: “We are doing well. We are happy. We are smiling. We are fine and we are set to go.” 

Even so, political analysts tell The Africa Report that the PDP’s protracted crisis could definitely affect it at the polls. 

For the last 22 years, the PDP has been winning elections in Rivers State both in state and federal elections. Enugu and Abia are also historically PDP states. Should they refuse to work for Atiku, then this could work in favour of Obi who is also from the southeast while Oyo State, which Atiku won in 2019, would most likely fall into Tinubu’s hands. 

Analyst Dare Atoye-Ariyo, who is also the Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, tells The Africa Report that there is no doubt that the crisis will affect Atiku greatly. He, however, says since elections are still five months away, there is still time to make amends. 

“Atiku is definitely being affected by this crisis in the party and it is reducing the PDP’s electoral value and appeal because Nigerians will say a party that cannot deal with its internal crisis cannot effectively run a country, but I believe there is still time for the PDP to resolve these differences and appeal to Nigerians,” he says, adding that the party would need to sacrifice Ayu. 

Abimbola Oyarinu, a public affairs analyst and historian, says Tinubu would be the biggest beneficiary of the crisis in the PDP because Wike and his allies are likely to pitch their tent with the candidate who stands the best chance of winning. 

“Whatever happens to the PDP will definitely work in Tinubu’s favour more than Obi’s favour. Before the crisis, we believed that there would be a run-off but it looks more like a smooth ride for the APC. Wike is definitely playing a script because he is playing a battle of survival and relevance after he leaves office. Tinubu would be the safest option for him and his allies,” Oyarinu says. 

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