With the success of Governor Godwin Obaseki in the just-concluded Edo State governorship election, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, may well be on his way to emerging the new Political Generalissimo, writes Ernest Chinwo
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike is generally being hailed now by his supporters and admirers as: “High Tension” or “Naked Wire” especially, after his political victories in the state.
These titles came mostly after he survived the fireworks generated by his election to office of governor for his first tenure. Then, it was a contest between him and then outgoing Governor of the state, Chibuike Amaechi, who had chosen Dr. Dakuku Peterside as successor.
It was a two-pronged battle. While Wike was fighting to win the governorship election, he was also bent on ensuring victory too for then President Goodluck Jonathan.
Amaechi, on the other hand, was fighting for victory for his anointed successor, Peterside, and wining the state for then major presidential contender, Muhammadu Buhari. Amaechi was incidentally the arrowhead of Buhari’s campaign Organisation and wanted to win the state for him at all cost.
The gubernatorial election was declared inconclusive and rerun elections were fixed in some local government areas, mostly in Rivers South East Senatorial district. Wike eventually won his election and Jonathan won the state. But while Amaechi and his candidate lost the state, Buhari won the Presidency.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) challenged the declaration of Wike as winner of the gubernatorial election and vowed that he will never be governor of the state. The APC also tried to use every means, including seeking injunctions, to stop him from being sworn in as governor of the state. Wike survived it and was eventually sworn in on May 29, 2015 as Governor of Rivers State.
But the APC could not stomach that and challenged the election at the governorship elections tribunal. Wike lost at the tribunal and Court of Appeal, but the Supreme Court upheld his election.
While Wike was congratulated for winning the state and successfully winning the challenge at the Supreme Court despite “federal might”, Amaechi was vilified for losing his home state and for causing the failure of his kinsman, Jonathan in the presidential election.
Wike had since been addressed as ‘high tension’ by his supporters, while Amaechi became the “Lion of the Niger Delta” to his supporters especially, those outside the Niger Delta, for ensuring that Jonathan lost and Buhari won the election.
The same scenario played out in 2019, when the governor was seeking re-election. The APC in the state vowed to use the opportunity to remove him from office. Even when the courts barred the APC from fielding a candidate for any position in the state, because of faulty congresses, the party adopted Biokpomabo Awara of the African Action Congress (AAC) to ensure that Wike did not come back.
In addition, as Wike insisted, some APC bigwigs in the state enlisted the support of the army, police and other security agencies in the state to take steps that would make the election unfavourable for him and also ensure that Buhari wins in the state.
At the end, Wike did not only win his re-election, but APC’s Buhari did not get up to 25 per cent of the votes even though Amaechi was still the campaign chairman. This re-enforced the “High Tension” fame of the Rivers governor.
On May 9, 2018, Wike added another feather to his cap, when the continental section of the 94-year old International Sports Press Association (AIPS) announced him as the Pillar of Sports (PoS) in Africa for his passionate support of sports in his home state, Rivers, and Nigeria.
Indeed, his nicknames come after major accomplishments. He was called “Ogbu Corona 1” (killer of corona) after his drastic steps to check the spread of the coronavirus in the state.
Using steps that were seen at the time by many as drastic and confrontational, Wike ensured total compliance with COVID-19 protocols in the state. He was seen regularly on the streets, ordering the arrest and detention of violators of restriction of movements during the lockdown declared in the state.
Indeed, many of his actions pitted him against the authorities and agencies of the federal government. While some heads of stations of federal agencies either lost their jobs or redeployed for cooperating with the governor, THISDAY gathered that there were even moves to declare a state of emergency in the state to pave the way for Wike’s ouster as the show of power raged between Wike and the federal government.
It is still believed that with the state as the oil and gas hub of the nation, Rivers State would have recorded much higher infection and death rates if not for the drastic steps taken by Wike to ensure the adherence of residents to COVID-19 protocols.
Again, as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) corruption saga raged, Wike was once again called “John Wike” (adopting the name of an actor in a popular American movie, John Wick), after his heroic rescue of Rivers State-born former Acting Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Dr. Joi Nunieh, from some operatives of the Nigeria Police Force, who allegedly wanted to ‘abduct’ and whisk her away to Abuja to answer questions about complaints against her.
To avoid being taken by the police, Nunieh locked herself in her Old GRA Port Harcourt residence while the police attempted to break in and force her out. It took the intervention of Wike, who stormed the place with his own security to rescue Nunieh and took her to the Government House, where she took refuge for a few days.
Many residents of the state still believed that Wike rescued Nunieh, just like John Wick did in his classic action movie.
Fast forward to present political dispensation, very few believed that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) could win the Edo governorship poll. Not with the array of federal might and the bragging of former National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, and current national leadership of the party that they would retain the governorship of the state through Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
Events leading to the emergence of Obaseki as candidate of the PDP in the first place were dramatic. When the APC, on the insistence and machination of Oshiomhole, declared that Obaseki would not run for a second tenure, the embattled governor ditched the party and switched to the PDP. But some entrenched interests in the PDP would also not accommodate him and give him ticket to fight his former party.
One of the first persons he consulted was Wike. The meeting raised so much dust but in his characteristic controversial manner, Wike warned his party men not to use Obaseki’s defection and ambition for personal aggrandizement, that’s after he too eventually bought into the Obaseki project, given the bigger picture.
Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama went to court to restrain Obaseki from contesting the party primaries. But Ogbeide-Ihama later withdrew his suit and the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, presided over by Justice Emmanuel Obile struck out the suit, paving the way for Obaseki’s emergence as PDP’s candidate for the election.
With the controversy generated by Obaseki’s initial visit to Wike, it was a surprise to many that the Rivers State governor was appointed chairman of the PDP National Campaign Council for the Edo governorship election, with a mandate to coordinate the campaigns to ensure victory for the party and Obaseki.
That was perhaps the first time Wike would take his political prowess outside the state, and it came in a big stake game, where ego was at stake.
Accepting the responsibility, Wike went to work and in one of his first outings accused the APC of planning to use the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and federal security agencies to rig the election. He vowed to scuttle APC’s plan to use security agencies or any other institution to rig the Edo election, insisting that the APC was only confident to win because of its plan to rig.
According to him, “Governor Godwin Obaseki is not an ingrate like Adams Oshiomhole and Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who can do anything including betraying people to grab power. Obaseki is morally qualified and stands out as the best candidate for the September 19th 2020 election.
“Edo people cannot support and desire the handover of power to the APC candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who is a nomadic politician and ingrate, who lacks character. It is Oshiomhole who is an ingrate, because he told us that Obaseki served as the brain box of his administration that lasted eight years. How can such a person become an ingrate?
“Look at Ize-Iyamu, he is an ingrate too. He served as Secretary to the State Government in Chief Lucky Igbinedion’s administration. When he didn’t get what he wanted, he dumped the Party and moved to another Party. In 2015, people supported him for governorship, when he failed, he did not consult them but abandoned them for another Party.
“That is the life of a nomadic politician. Like his master, they are dangerously desperate, insatiable and can do anything for power.”
Wike reiterated that Obaseki was not a violent man like Ize-Iyamu, who has instructed the thugs he called “lions and tigers” to cause crisis. He challenged the Police and INEC to use the Edo election to correct previous mistakes by conducting free and fair polls.
“We consider the comment by INEC to cancel or suspend the election, because of violence as succumbing to the antics of the APC. All they want is violence because they cannot win the election. If the election is suspended, the implication is that Obaseki will serve out his tenure without election in November,” he said.
The PDP also effectively used videos of Oshiomhole’s campaign against Ize-Iyamu four years ago, when he (Ize-Iyamu) was PDP’s candidate. That presented the APC, Oshiomhole and Ize-Iyamu as liars. They also played up the issue of godfatherism, saying while the APC National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, may have succeeded in Lagos in installing his favourites as governor, “Edo no be Lagos”.
These were the sentiments that Wike and the PDP raised all through the campaigns and they were very successful and difficult for the APC to effectively respond to. Indeed, the APC was not only put on the defensive but also had to seek other ways to counter but unsuccessfully.
The last straw was definitely on the eve of the election, when Wike raised the alarm that he and other members of the PDP campaign council were under siege by the police and not allowed to leave their hotel rooms while their APC counterparts were allowed and even escorted by the police to go anywhere they wanted to in the state.
The police quickly withdrew, to avoid the wrath of the international community and civil society organisations that have been fully mobilised for the election. On Election Day, when the PDP suspected a delay in the announcement of results from some local government areas, it raised the alarm, forcing the electoral umpire to quickly absolve itself of any blames and announced the results.
Again, Wike, as chairman of the campaign council dared the APC and federal agencies, controlled the party and successfully delivered Obaseki as re-elected despite federal might.
Undoubtedly, Wike has shown that he is, in fact, the de facto, “Generalissimo” of Nigerian politics, currently. In his thank you visit to the Rivers State Governor, Obaseki said Wike was the second pivot, after God, for his electoral victory.
Obaseki noted the commitment of Wike in ensuring electoral victory for him by relocating to Edo State despite the needless attacks from the opposition.
His words: “After I was pushed out of my former Party, this house was the first place I sought solace. You took me in as a brother, out of the storm, changed my clothes and gave me food to eat. It was in this house, the Campaign Council met to work out the key strategies that led us to victory.
“You mobilised people across the country. You moved to Benin, went through the humiliation and attacks. You supported us and we won. It will be a sin against God if we do not come to say thank you. Even if the victory we are celebrating is from God. He has used people like you to make it happen.”
In his response, Wike said his support was informed by the fact that Obaseki was courageous and fearless in his fight against forces of godfatherism against him in attempt to protect the interest of Edo State.
“Our work would have been difficult if he did not make himself available. I cannot support a lily-hearted person. Governor Obaseki was firm.”
However, as Wike savours his unofficial emergence as Nigeria’s new political Generalissimo, it will be interesting to watch and see how he manages this new recognition especially, in the lead up to 2023, when he would have ended his second tenure as the governor of Rivers State.