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Presidency: How northern power brokers stopped Wike

Presidency: How northern power brokers stopped Wike

By Ifreke Nseowo

‪“Aliyu thinks it was that time they were moving around saying they were fighting PDP. I would flog the hell out of him. I would flog the hell out of him here.” – Governor Nyesom Wike, May 25, 2021.

Babangida Aliyu is a former governor of Niger State. He served in that capacity from 2007-2015.

He was amongst the 7 PDP governors that threatened leaving the party in 2013. All of them were northerners except Amaechi who had his issues with Jonathan and the wife. They didn’t want GEJ to do a second term in 2015. They said it was it was time for the north to complete its turn as Yar’Adua died 3 years in to office.

5 of the governors eventually defected. But two stayed back. Babangida Aliyu (alias Chief Servant of Niger State) and Sule Lamido of Jigawa stayed back and worked against Jonathan and the PDP. Even as sitting PDP governors, they made sure the party lost in their domains.

Governor Wike is a brutally frank fellow, and plenty times he laces his frankness with insults. He doesn’t know how to hide feelings; he knows no diplomacy.

He has told the likes of Aliyu, Lamido, and others the truth to their faces that they betrayed the party in 2015.

In the heat of the Wike/Secondus face-off, Aliyu had labeled Wike a godfather and dictator for moving to remove Secondus as National Chair. The Rivers governor responded by saying Aliyu is a mole, chronic liar and serial betrayer of the PDP. In fact, he said he would flog the former “chief servant” of Niger State.

Then came Wike’s presidential ambition. Lamido and Aliyu worked for Atiku to emerge PDP candidate. They were part of the northern politicians that convinced Governor Aminu Tambuwal to withdraw and hand over his delegates to Atiku. A masterstroke that finally nailed Wike at the presidential primary.

After he lost out to Atiku on May 28, Wike again indicated interest in the VP slot. An advisory committee was set up to make recommendations to Atiku and the PDP on the best candidate(s) to fill the slot.

Wike got the votes of the overwhelming majority of the committee members. Okowa got three. Babangida Aliyu and Sule Lamido who were members of the committee were among those that gave Okowa the three votes he got.

The recommendation of the committee which placed Wike as the party’s best for the VP slot was sent to the National Working Committee. The NWC voted in support of the recommendation placing Wike ahead of two other Govs who were equally considered.

By that recommendation, Wike was some hours away from being officially announced by Atiku as running mate.

Same day the NWC endorsed the committee’s report, Aliyu and Lamido in concert with the National Chairman – Ayu and other northern elements moved swiftly and told Atiku to ignore the recommendation and go ahead with his initial plan of picking Okowa.

Aliyu is the chairman of the former PDP governors. To some extent, a powerful bloc in the party.

Aliyu and his kinsmen fear Wike. He has the tendencies of President Trump and the North Korean guy – Kim Jung-un.

They leveled several allegations against Wike. They are worried about the VAT case which Wike instituted against the FG. They say if Wike succeeds with the court case and eventually becomes President or even VP, VAT collection will be domiciled in states. The northern states don’t have much IGR. If Wike succeeds, northern states will get peanuts as federal allocation and their IGRs won’t take them nowhere. By this, the north will be impoverished.

They have tagged him anti-North. They say he demolished a mosque in Rivers State. But in the heat of the allegation in 2019, some northern leaders including governors had visited PH and found out that the alarm was actually a ruse by former militant leader, Asari Dokubo, himself a muslim who has an axe to grind with Wike.

Aliyu and other northern leaders say Wike declared Rivers State a Christian State, hence hates Muslims. They argue that having on the joint ticket will hurt Atiku’s chances of having more votes in the north.

They fear that Atiku who is 75 is at risk with an over ambitious Deputy like Wike. At 75, Atiku may have atleast one ailment he is managing, hence his visits to Dubai for regular check ups.

They don’t want a repeat of the Yar’Adua/GEJ episode. They want a deputy they can manage in case anything happens to Atiku. And they got a perfect lackey in the person of Okowa.

They know Wike is not like GEJ who tried to please the north. They think it won’t be business as usual for the north if Wike found his way to the presidency either as President or Vice.

Atiku eventually went with the advice of his northern brothers. Shunned the recommendations of several organs of the party. Shoved aside the advice of most of the governors that Wike is his best bet in getting the job done at the polls. The likes of Govs Makinde, Ortom, Ugwuanyi, were with Wike.

Wike got 16 votes from the committee members while Okowa got 3. But Atiku’s mathematics textbook says 3 is greater than 16. After all, is it not in this same country that some (PDP) governors said that 16 is greater than 19?

But this is the same Atiku who said that Buhari finished second in the 2019 election but was announced winner by INEC. So, what moral justification does he have to have cried blue murder back then if he doesn’t respect a simple democratic process in the choice of running mate? The adhoc advisory committee was just a comouflage. He thought Okowa would come out tops so it would paint a picture that he consulted widely unlike 2019 where he unilaterally picked Peter Obi to the chagrin of South East governors and stakeholders.

He announced Okowa as his deputy. Most governors stayed away from the event. Only Udom, Bala and Obaseki attended.

Atiku had entered into an agreement with the Delta governor months before the primary. The Delta man gave Atiku his delegates and equally pumped in money for Atiku to get the ticket.

Revenge is best served cold. Aliyu and other northern elements whom Wike had “insulted” got their pound of flesh.

Wike has lost twice consecutively. He lost at the presidential primary. He lost his bid to become Atiku’s running mate.

In politics, and life generally, you win some and lose some. Wike has had his way several times in the party. He installed Amodu Sherif who plagued the party for years. He also brought his kinsman Uche Secondus whom he also hounded out of office as National Chair.

Against the wishes of some senior members of the party, he ensured that the PDP 2018 Special National Convention was held in his state capital – PH. He wanted to install his now estranged friend, Governor Tambuwal as the presidential candidate of the party for the 2019 election. His friend lost to Atiku because some retired army generals intervened and ask that Atiku should be made candidate.

You may not be a fan of Wike because of his combative, garrulous and combustible approach to things but he was the South’s best bet to stemming the nauseating overbearance of the north. He would have done that as President. Even as Vice to Atiku, his hands would not have been tied like Osinbajo or GEJ. He wouldn’t see any anti-south agenda and turn a blind eye because he wants to look good in the eyes of the northern oligarchs.

The north won in the game plan because the south was divided. Wike has made enemies both in south and north. His political enemies from both regions connived and defeated him in his most recent battles.

Wike is quite some character. Not many in their right senses would chose to work with him. But the Atiku/Okowa ticket is drab.

Atiku employed the winner takes it all approach. He emerged presidential candidate and still picked his running mate from his camp. Politics is a game of compromise. Even if he didn’t pick Wike, he would have sought his input for an alternative. Remember the Attah/Akpabio episode in 2007 when Attah was asked to nominate a deputy. This was done to carry all factions along and head into the election with a united front.

The aim would have been to win the election first with a popular VP before devising means of “taming” him. As an incumbent, Atiku would have been in a vantage position to drop a VP and go for another one he is comfortable working with. In his second term, Akpabio dropped Ekpotu whom Attah nominated and took Nsima whom he had preferred in 2007.

To get the votes of the Christian-dominated southern Kaduna people, Governor El-Rufai ran on a Muslim-Christian ticket in 2015 but he dropped the Christian deputy and flew with a Muslim running on mate in his second term. He had the luxury of doing that because he was an incumbent. Oyo governor, Seyi Makinde recently dropped his deputy from the second term ticket.

A Muslim-Muslim ticket in Nigeria is very unideal but Tinubu will go for it because that is the APC’s best bet to winning in 2023. If Tinubu wins, he may decide to go for a Christian deputy when he vies for second term.

The scenarios maybe slightly different but the above mentioned governors/candidates went for pragmatism over convenience as a means of getting into power.

Wike cannot be wished away in the politics of PDP. Atiku needs Wike more than Wike needs Atiku. This is ATIKU’s last shot at the presidency and definitely his last. I don’t think Wike will defect from PDP. If he is not properly pacified, Wike may employ the pattern Aliyu and co used in 2015. That is, staying back in the party and sabotaging Atiku. He may cut a deal with the APC so as to avoid being hounded by EFCC post-2023.

By picking Okowa ahead of Wike who would have given him political mileage especially down south and made the joint ticket exciting, Atiku made a tough but convenient call. But it will be a long walk to 2023 for him.

  • Ifreke Nseowo is a journalist and political analyst based in Uyo.
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