passion politics

Nigeria 2023: The Wike-Tinubu Bromance – where will it end?

By Donu Kogbara

Posted on February 17, 2023 10:39

On Wednesday, Nyesom Wike, the belligerent and never-dull Governor of Rivers State, instructed his acolytes to don baseball caps emblazoned with photographs of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party’s presidential candidate, who was in the Rivers State capital, Port Harcourt, to star in an election rally.

Wike and a crowd of fellows wearing supportive headgear then warmly welcomed Tinubu to Wike’s residence, where both men sang each others’ praises like members of a mutual admiration society; and Wike made it clear that he will be delighted if Tinubu triumphs on 25 February and that he intends to help him win.

Traditional and social media outlets, both print and electronic, are awash with pictures, videos and accounts of this chummy get-together, which shocked most onlookers because Wike is a veteran member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – APC’s arch enemy.

So how did this alliance that many regard as unholy come to pass?

Let’s rewind to November 2017.

Nyesom Wike was in London. And so was I.

Wike had been invited to Chatham House to highlight the multiple challenges he faced as a vocal opponent of President Muhammadu Buhari’s APC and as the Chief Executive and Chief Security Officer of the richest and most turbulent oil-producing state in Nigeria.

Tinubu pied a terre

I am a native of Wike’s domain and was quite friendly with him in those days; and while I was hanging out with him and members of his entourage in their Park Lane hotel, we got wind of the fact that Bola Tinubu, a one-time Governor of Lagos State and one of the most prominent APC chieftains, also happened to be in London and was quietly grieving because he had just lost his son, Jide.

Wike, then a doggedly loyal PDP man who was still smarting from the PDP’s defeat by the APC in the 2015 election, felt that this was no time to dwell on political differences and wanted to meet Tinubu to express sympathy. But neither he nor his aides knew how to reach Tinubu, so I contacted someone I knew on Tinubu’s team and wound up escorting Wike to Tinubu’s spacious West End pied a terre.

We were well-received, but the vibe was polite rather than effusive. There was no emotional bonding. They were, after all, both frontline players in parties that had been at each others’ throats for years – and were always accusing each other of terrible crimes.

But if “a week is a long time in politics” (British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, circa 1964), five years is an eternity; and during the half-decade that has elapsed since that condolence visit, so much has changed.

Tinubu became the APC’s presidential candidate last year but is being comprehensively humiliated by many senior colleagues he has helped in the past, including Buhari and his kitchen cabinet, who aren’t even pretending to root for their own party’s flagbearer.

Betrayed by the PDP

Wike, meanwhile, now feels utterly betrayed by the PDP, which he almost singlehandedly funded for seven years; and he is at loggerheads with Atiku Abubakar, who beat him to the PDP’s presidential nomination in May 2022.

At the risk of sounding trivial in the midst of an article that’s meant to be serious, let me say if I were asked to recommend a personal anthem for Wike as he is now, I’d go for “It should have been me!”, Yvonne Fair’s robustly bitter ditty about being jilted.

So, Tinubu and Wike are both alienated from the main leaders of their respective parties and disgruntled, to put it mildly; and I have watched them, from afar and with mounting fascination, gradually transforming a casual acquaintanceship into a genuine relationship and slyly manoeuvring themselves into the same political camp.

Tinubu, a Yoruba from the South-West, is much older and infinitely smoother than Wike, a brash Ikwerre from the South-South. They come across as being on different planets, culturally. But they actually have a lot in common beyond being victims of treachery.

Neither is a stranger to corruption allegations. They both became billionaires when they gained access to government coffers and have yet to explain the sources of their stupendous wealth.

They both possess rebellious streaks and aren’t afraid to fight the powers that be. Tinubu was a pro-democracy activist when Nigeria was a military dictatorship. Tinubu has also, like Wike, been a courageous regional opposition champion. Both have gone through phases of boldly lobbing missiles at the powerful Federal authorities.

Both are master tacticians who have legions of devoted footsoldiers and aren’t accustomed to losing the battles they wade into.

For all of the above reasons, their burgeoning bromance should come as no surprise to anyone. But while Tinubu’s position is understandable – he is just desperate to secure as many votes as possible and will accept any help he is offered – Wike’s position is, in my opinion, not justifiable.

Justifying the unjustifiable

Wike constantly complains about being let down by adversaries within the upper echelons of the PDP but he ain’t no saint himself and is also skilled at letting people down.

He will tell anyone who will listen that he is committed to zoning – the rotation of party offices between Northerners and Southerners.

I agree that zoning is necessary for a country where several ethnic groups and two major religions jostle for relevance. And, given that Buhari, a Northern Muslim, is about to complete an eight-year tenure, I share Wike’s view that the PDP should not have chosen Atiku, another Northern Muslim, as its presidential candidate.

I also share Wike’s view that the PDP and Atiku should at least compromise and replace its current Chairman, Ayu Iyorchia, a Northerner, with a chairman from the other half of the country, to compensate the South for missing out on the presidential ticket.

But guess what?

When it suits Wike, he doesn’t respect zoning principles either.

Within Rivers State, he has consistently and ruthlessly marginalised ethnic groups like the Ogonis. Furthermore, he didn’t hesitate to grab the governorship in 2015, even though his immediate predecessor was from the same Ikwerre tribe as himself.

Also, if we are going to be sanctimoniously super-strict about zoning, why should Wike be the PDP candidate when he comes from the same zone as Goodluck Jonathan, a recent ex-President?

Ethnic exclusion

If Wike believes in justice, why does he practise ethnic exclusion? Why didn’t he urge the PDP to choose a candidate from the South East, a zone that has never had the presidency?

Peter Obi, a South-Easterner who is now the popular presidential candidate of the Labour Party, had to leave the PDP last year because Wike used his financial muscle to sideline Obi.

As far as an increasingly imperial Wike was concerned, he was the only Southern aspirant whose name should appear on the ballot.

If truth be told, Wike and Atiku are on the same self-serving page when it comes to this zoning issue; and Wike should quit interminably bellyaching about being outsmarted by an equally unprincipled rival and stop using that as an excuse to sabotage the party.

Even worse than Wike’s hypocrisy on the zoning front is how he is injecting more instability into an already volatile terrain that is so notoriously violent during election seasons that people often talk about the state drowning in “Rivers of blood”.

He will have to unleash mayhem on the long-suffering indigenes of Rivers State to ensure victory for Tinubu. I doubt he will succeed because most Rivers people – including a significant number of Wike sidekicks – can’t identify with Tinubu and are either pro-Obi or pro-Atiku, which means Wike is going to face a lot of secret and overt pushback.

It doesn’t help that there is almost no cash in the system, thanks to the Central Bank’s currency swap policy, which is triggering protests. Fuel shortages are also a major concern.

With Nigerians furious, the present is no time for grandstanding that will only further inflame passions.

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