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Nigeria: Wike, PDP feud returns as senate nominates minority leader

By Ben Ezeamalu

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Posted on July 3, 2023 15:36

 © File photo of Rivers state former governor Nyesom Wike. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA/AFP)
File photo of Rivers state former governor Nyesom Wike. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA/AFP)

The face-off between former Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, and his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), has resumed as the main opposition party in the Nigerian Senate begins the process of nominating a minority leader.

Sources say Wike is not favourably disposed to the emergence of Aminu Tambuwal, his former ally and senator representing Sokoto North district in the National Assembly. Tambuwal is reportedly backed by former vice president Atiku Abubakar.

Wike, who handed over the reins to his successor on 29 May, is currently not occupying any public office. Tambuwal is a former speaker of the House of Representatives and a two-term governor.

Wike vs Tambuwal

It is unclear when the relationship blossomed between Wike, 55, and Tambuwal, 57. Though both are lawyers, political watchers say their paths likely crossed in 2007 when Tambuwal defected from the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) to the PDP.

Prior to then, Tambuwal had become a House of Representatives member in 2003. At that time, Wike was serving as a local government chairman in Rivers State.

Both men’s political profiles rose swiftly such that by 2011, Tambuwal had emerged as the speaker of the House. On his part, Wike had become a federal minister as well as a kingmaker in Rivers politics.

The duo maintained their ties, despite Tambuwal leaving the PDP in 2014 for the All Progressives Congress (APC), where he contested and won the election as the governor of Sokoto State a year later. In the same year, Wike was elected as the Rivers State governor on the PDP platform.

Wike’s support

Tambuwal returned to the PDP in 2018 and declared his intention to run for president in the 2019 general election. But, first, he needed to win the party’s presidential ticket.

With the backing of Wike and his Rivers oil money, Tambuwal went into the PDP presidential primaries in 2018 as a major contender against former vice president Atiku Abubakar and former senate president Bukola Saraki.

Analysts say Wike’s support – and millions – was instrumental in the former speaker being able to go head-to-head with the former vice president.

With Wike having secured his home turf, Port Harcourt, as the venue of the PDP primaries, the Rivers governor was determined to see Tambuwal victorious by fighting off attempts to move the event to a neutral ground.

“Let me warn the party. If you dare, Rivers State will teach the party a lesson. Days have passed when they took Rivers State for granted,” Wike said during a visit by then Gombe State governor and PDP presidential aspirant, Ibrahim Dankwambo.

“I don’t know why anyone who wants to be president will be afraid of the venue. Then you are not prepared for the election.” At the end of the PDP presidential primaries, however, Atiku polled 1,532 delegate votes to defeat Tambuwal, his closest challenger, who secured 693 votes.

Ahead of the 2023 elections, both Wike and Tambuwal declared their intention to run for president on the PDP platform, with the former announcing his intention one week after the latter did.

‘Hero’ Tambuwal

In the run-up to the PDP presidential primaries in Abuja on 22 May last year, Atiku, Tambuwal, and Wike were considered the major frontrunners.

But on the day of the primaries, Tambuwal suddenly announced he was withdrawing from the race and urged his supporters to back Atiku, swinging the contest in favour of the former vice president.

That act saw Atiku clinching the PDP presidential ticket for the second consecutive time. He secured 371 delegate votes to edge Wike who got 237 votes. After the primaries, the PDP chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, visited Tambuwal and hailed him as the “hero of the convention.”

Tambuwal himself described his action as a sacrifice “for the good of our party and the country.” But a furious Wike lashed out at the party for violating the primaries’ guidelines, especially the decision to allow Tambuwal a second speaking slot – after all the aspirants had been allotted five minutes to address the delegates – so he could announce his withdrawal.

“There are people you think they are human beings but they are not human beings,” Wike said days after the primaries.

The events of the 2022 PDP primaries served as the main catalyst for the party’s dismal performance in the 2023 general election. The subsequent clamour by Wike, four other state governors, and other notable party members to cede the party chairmanship position to southern Nigeria divided the party.

The five PDP state governors, who came to be known as the G5 governors, led by Wike, demanded that since Atiku, who is from the north, is the presidential candidate of the party, the party should replace Ayu, another northerner, with a southern party chairman.

Senate minority race

The National Assembly went on recess two weeks ago, adjourning plenary till 4 July. When the lawmakers reconvene, one of the major tasks before them would be the nomination of principal officers.

With the PDP, the main opposition party in the 10th National Assembly, designated to produce the minority leader in the Senate, two opposing groups have emerged within the party.

On one side is the Atiku group backing Tambuwal for the minority leader position and the other group, backed by Wike, opposing the move.

Mohammed Bello, a former spokesperson to Tambuwal, says the situation is akin to what occurred before the general election.

“The same former governor Wike that we are talking about, I’ve not heard him come out openly to say that he is against his friend (Tambuwal),” Bello tells The Africa Report.

“It is the position of the G5 that is being bandied around. As it is, we don’t know who is speaking for the G5 now.”

Critics of the former Sokoto governor accuse him of having a history of undermining the party, such as in 2011 when he connived with opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives to emerge as the speaker, against the PDP leadership’s wishes. They also blame him for contributing to the party losing the presidential election in 2015 after he and other key party members defected to the APC less than a year before the polls.

Trading words

Kola Ologbondiyan, who served as Atiku’s campaign spokesperson, confirmed to The Africa Report on Saturday evening that the party is officially yet to anoint a nominee. He said the party was “still working towards it.”

Bello says Tambuwal is “eminently qualified” for the senate minority leader position, having served as a former House speaker and governor as well as a two-time presidential aspirant.

“The party doesn’t have a nominee, but it will eventually have one. If you’re talking about seniority, exposure, patriotism, and statesmanship, former governor Tambuwal has all it takes.”

Supporters of the two former governors have, however, continued to trade words against each other.

Groups loyal to Wike accuse Tambuwal of betraying the former Rivers governor by his action on the day of the presidential primaries last year.

On 1 July, a group, the PDP Action 2023, issued a statement ‘Who is Afraid of Tambuwal?’ in which they accused political opponents of levelling spurious allegations against Tambuwal.

“They have consistently tried to pin on him the issue of betrayal of some of his friends because of the patriotic role he played during the PDP National Convention,” the group said in a statement by its leader, Rufus Omeire.

Wike is APC in spirit, PDP in body. There is no way he will support their party at the national level or anything the PDP will be doing that is not in his own favour.

“We cannot hold brief for Tambuwal, but at the appropriate time, the relevant question would be asked: Who betrayed who?

“Tambuwal had shown interest in the PDP presidential nomination long before some people suddenly appeared on the scene and expected him to drop out for them just because they believed that they had more financial resources than him, whether they had better programmes for Nigerians didn’t matter.”

Sources claim that Wike, although allied with the ruling APC, is backing a different senator for the minority leader position. “They are not claims, they are facts because people saw how those G5 activities were transacted,” Bekee Anyalewechi, a Port Harcourt-based communications strategist, tells The Africa Report.

“Wike is APC in spirit, PDP in body. There is no way he will support their party at the national level or anything the PDP will be doing that is not in his own favour.”

Kelvin Ebiri, a former Wike spokesperson, declined to comment on this story. But Tambuwal’s former spokesperson, Bello, says despite their disagreement, the former speaker and Wike have remained good friends and still “relate very well.”

“I don’t see any bad blood [between them] except the one that is being bandied around in the public sphere.”

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