Nigeria 2023: The choice(s) before Governor Wike

Kasirim Nwuke
By Kasirim Nwuke

Economist with more than 25 years of experience at the national and international levels. He works and writes on economics, science, technology and innovation, and society with special focus on the digital economy.

Posted on Tuesday, 10 January 2023 10:00, updated on Wednesday, 11 January 2023 09:30

Presidential hopeful and governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike attends the opposition Peoples Democratic Party's (PDP) primaries in Abuja, on May 28, 2022.( Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike is expected to reveal, in January 2023, which presidential candidate he will support. The announcement could have an impact on the outcome of the elections in Nigeria, which are set for February 2023. So who is he likely to endorse?

Revealing his candidate later than the end of the first week of January, or early in the second week, could reduce the possible impact his choice will have on the outcome of the elections. It is thus highly likely that he will because publicising his endorsement on the weekend of 12/13th January will be too late.

Political endorsement matters in a country such as ours. Most voters have limited information on the candidates seeking their votes. They also do not know much about their policy platforms, their values, their histories, and their political antecedents. Given this asymmetry, many voters trust their leaders to tell them who to vote for.

Those leaders could be religious, political, business, etc. Nigerian politicians know this. The presidential candidates know this. It is for this reason that they seek the endorsement of well-known political figures, including their former “enemies”.

Wike’s endorsement will matter. Given what transpired between former VP Atiku Abubakar and Wike after the PDP presidential primaries, it is highly unlikely that Atiku is in Wike’s choice set. One is not even sure that Atiku will accept Wike’s endorsement if it is offered. A person with and of integrity will not. However, Nigerian politicians, who are known to seek power by all means necessary, are not generally known for their integrity.

It is thus clear that there are only two candidates in Wike’s choice set: former Governors Peter Gregory Obi of the Labour Party and Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).

Speculations abound

There have been speculations that Wike will back Tinubu. Analysts have pointed to Wike’s endorsement of Governor Sanwo-Olu, the current governor of Lagos State seeking re-election on the platform of the ruling APC. Others have [surmised] Wike’s goal of getting “even” with his chief political “adversary” in Rivers State, former governor Chibuike Amaechi. The argument here is that Wike wants to displace Amaechi completely in the APC and [prevent] him from exercising any more political influence in Rivers State.

These speculations are not, in my view, grounded in reality; for a couple of reasons. First, Wike is a good politician who is unlikely to make a very important decision, such as the endorsement of a presidential candidate on the basis of emotions or seeking vengeance. His support/endorsement of Sanwo-Olu was based on reciprocity. Gov Sanwo-Olu supported Wike on VAT litigation when most PDP governors did not. Wike reciprocated. Second, Wike’s decision will be based on the political reality in Rivers State.

The APC is in a coma in Rivers State after more than 6 years of “civil war”.

The reality in Rivers State today is that APC is neither popular nor doing well. President Buhari is not, has never been, and will never be popular in Rivers State. Therefore, there is no Buhari coattails in the State that can give Tinubu victory in Rivers State. The leaders of the APC in Rivers State have lost a lot of influence and political followership due to the party’s inability to resolve its internal problems and serve as a credible opposition party. The APC is in a coma in Rivers State after more than six years of “civil war”.

Furthermore, anecdotal evidence in Rivers State does not suggest that APC’s presidential candidate Tinubu is popular in Rivers and Bayelsa states. Tinubu’s negatives far outweigh his positives and voters are sick and tired of the Tinubu hagiography unleashed on Nigerian voters by the Lagos media.

Most voters in the State do not support the Muslim-Muslim ticket and are petrified by the possibility that the former Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, given his alleged links to Boko Haram and his fundamentalist views and derogatory comments about Eastern Nigerians (in a leaked audio), could be a heartbeat from the presidency. Finally, most voters in Rivers and Bayelsa have not forgiven Tinubu for the abominable role that he played in chasing their son, Goodluck Jonathan, from the presidency.

Legacy choice

It is thus safe to conclude that Wike’s choice – assuming that he decides to make his choice known – will be former Governor Obi of the Labour Party. Any choice of candidate other than Obi, by Wike, could kindle the weakening of the dominance of PDP in the State, clearly, a legacy that Wike will not want to leave behind. Governor Wike remains popular in Rivers State even in the sunset months of his tenure.

It will not be in his long term political interest to misapply this popularity like his predecessor did. On a personal level, he appears to have a genuinely positive chemistry with Obi. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the plurality of Rivers voters will cast their votes for Obi for president of Nigeria next in a free and fair election. Given Obi’s momentum in the State, it could be immensely difficult to deny him victory by other means.

Wike has been accused of scuttling the micro zoning of the presidency to the Southeast by Atiku and his supporters. A number of southeasterners blame him, unfairly and unjustifiably, for the tragedy that occurred in Oyigbo during the End SARS protests. Many accused him without evidence of being anti-Igbo. Governor Wike will lend credence to these false accusations should he support the opposition candidate Tinubu against a credible and viable candidate of Igbo extraction.

Finally, Wike, by coming out openly to support Obi, will help bury once and for all, any remaining vestiges of the bad memory of “Abandoned Property” and kick-start real reconciliation between the people of Rivers State and their brethren, the people of the southeast zone of Nigeria.

In conclusion, I predict that Governor Wike will follow the lead of the plurality of Rivers voters and endorse Governor Obi for president of Nigeria in 2023 because Obi is the best candidate for that office in this election cycle. He will endorse Governor Obi in the interest of the country and the State. He will endorse Governor Obi for personal political interests too.

Of course, there could be an exchange of favours between parties: Rivers State Labour Party could form an “alliance” with Rivers State, which could have it throwing its weight – in exchange – behind the PDP gubernatorial  candidate in the state.

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