NEWS of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate rushing into a jet bound not for Dubai of sweet escape but for London of grudge matches can only rankle those not conversant with the currency of power. Atiku’s trip was after Bola Ahmed Tinubu had embarked on similar journey and came a day before Obasanjo and Obi visited Wike and his group in same London.
The fear of Nyesom Wike is the beginning of 2023, and another loss for an old man longing for power since 1992 will be the stuff of stroke. Atiku knows this and so does Sule Lamido, the ex-Jigawa State governor and PDP stalwart who momentarily chose to forget that the last presidential candidate who fought a River State governor became not a president but a philosopher. In Wole Soyinka’s The Trials of Brother Jero, we learn that prophets do not like to be frightened, but the truth is that politicians have greater fear of fright. The Rivers State governor has, since being served breakfast of betrayal at the PDP presidential primary in May, left no one in doubt that he means to drag Atiku through the mud for denying him the coveted presidential ticket and the consolation prize, and Atiku even when he plays with words (“Governor Wike was not rejected. Nobody was rejected in the party.”) knows that he must act fast lest, as the Yoruba say, Wike pours his (Atiku’s) pot of medicine into the fire. Wike, knowing that it is the South’s turn to rule, preferably through himself, denounced any thought of the vice presidency following the gang-up against him at the PDP presidential primary by northerners intent on perpetual power, but it was all bluster.
It is Southern Nigeria’s turn to occupy Aso Rock, but Atiku, a northern Muslim, is poised to capture power after eight years of another northern Muslim even with the widespread outrage over the murderous activities of herders of their ethnic subscription who have made the country a river of bloodshed. Strangely, the party’s presidential candidate, national chairman and Board of Trustees (BoT) chairman are all from the North, worsening the power equation. Worse still, Wike was in his corner minding his business when PDP announced him as a consensus vice presidential candidate, only for Atiku to choose Delta State’s Patrick Okowa, a man of demonstrably milder temparement and calmer demeanor, as the crown prince. Atiku did not stop there: he announced to Nigerians that in Okowa he had chosen a man with “the potential to succeed me at a moment’s notice, that is, a president-in-waiting.”
Violating the street principle, “Always resist the urge to salaye” (Avoid giving explanations; that is, in delicate cases), Atiku had gone on to say the following: “In other words, the person must have the qualities to be president.” The import of Atiku’s words was not lost on Wike, who had been PDP’s saving grace while Atiku, Aminu Tambuwal and other friends-turned-foes jumped ship to be part of Buhari’s Change hurricane. To make matters worse, Atiku’s loyalists such as Babangida Aliyu, ex Niger State governor and Lamido appeared on television giving reasons why Wike would have been an extremely poor choice. Feeling used, betrayed and scorned, Wike plugged his rage into a socket and began unleashing fire on Atiku and his acolytes. He has been hosting politicians from across the political spectrum, drawing attention to his influence and taunting the Turaki.
Wike is no Peter Odili, his predecessor by many years who was betrayed on the very night of his supposed coronation in 2007 but kicked up no ruckus. He is, per Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, not a “gentleman like that”” but a man who speaks his mind and takes no prisoners, a fact well known since he burst into the political scene as the Executive Chairman of Obio Akpor Local Government Area in Rivers in 1999, got appointed as chief of staff to Governor Rotimi Amaechi, and then as Minister of State for Education by President Goodluck Jonathan, who would later give him the substantive portfolio in September 2013, a position which offered him the latitude to run for governor in 2015 and 2019.
A brutally frank, if rather incautious and irreverent speaker, Wike famously called a traditional ruler resplendent in the full regalia of his heritage and seated right before him at a parley in Port Harcourt “a small boy” who used to run errands for him (Wike) in secondary school. He added for good measure: “You just go and wear something that is bigger than you…when someone is looking for power… You’d think he’s an elderly person. Very small young man, this boy. I know when I was in school, he was running around us, going on errands. Now he’s wearing Usman Dan Fodio…”
Justly famous for his fearless disposition, Wike has fought long-running battles with errant federal agencies. He stopped the invasion of the homes of judges in Rivers State by the secret police. He took the anti-graft agency, EFCC, to court and won, and he it was who in August 2021 secured the landmark judgment of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, outlawing VAT collection by the Federal Government. In a move hailed by many southern governors, Wike signed into law a bill which authorised the Rivers State government to henceforth collect VAT in the state, thereby undertaking a vital part of the restructuring that the country desperately needs through the law. Wike is just like the ex-Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, but with greater fire, in large part because he runs a much more violence-prone state. Certainly, no one who means to be taken seriously will accuse Wike of non-performance in office, but his greatest assets are easily undercut by his tragic flaws. In terrible displays of power, Wike undertook needless demolition of hotels during the COVID-19 lockdown and ordered the remand of an essential services worker in an isolation centre. But he executes projects with the same ferocity.
Wike is a fighter’s fighter, but even the greatest fighters know when to allow others to take over their advocacy and retreat into the tactical background. A fight-to-finish mentality risks inevitable descent into what the Yoruba call alagbara ma m’ero, (the powerful but thoughtless). There is wisdom in learning the power of silence and restraint from mud-fights because of the gradual onslaught of the cottonhead of age. But of course, the opposition would do anything to keep the fire of internal civil war burning, intent on profit from PDP’s self-wrought pain.