How feasible is the rumoured presidential bid of the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike? Ernest Chinwo asks
Many political pundits are gradually explaining away the need for the next president of the country to come from the South-south part of the country to complete the tenure of the region, which was truncated, when President Goodluck Jonathan lost re-election in 2015. Indeed, some have posited that Jonathan should be given the chance to run again to complete his tenure. This view is surely based on the dissatisfaction of many with the current political situation and the realisation that he actually did better than he was credited for during his reign. Many have also realised that the much-trumpeted change that was sold to Nigerians was actually a hoax.
But while Jonathan is yet to make any statement with regards to the 2023 presidency, one name that has received prominent mention, should the former president refuse to join the fray, is his ally and current Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.
The attention on Wike is not surprising considering his rising profile nationally, especially, after the last Edo State governorship election.
As Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Campaign Council for Edo Election, he dared the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and federal agencies controlled by the party.
Very few believed that the 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 the 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, insisted that Obaseki would not run for a second tenure, the embattled governor dumped the party and made a switch to the PDP. But some entrenched interests in the PDP would also not accommodate him and give him the ticket to fight his former party.
One of the first persons he however 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.
Obaseki finally got the ticket but with the controversy generated by the Edo governor’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 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 stakes’ game where ego was chief.
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.
By a series of political manoeuvre, he successfully delivered Governor Godwin Obaseki as re-elected despite federal might, and by that feat, showed that he is, in fact, the de facto “Generalissimo” of Nigerian politics.
Obaseki, indeed, acknowledged Wike’s contributions and described him as the second pivot, after God, for his electoral victory.
But if Edo governorship elections brought Wike’s political mastery to the limelight, his antecedents were no less remarkable. He was the face of the PDP especially when the leader of the party, President Goodluck Jonathan, lost re-election in 2015. The Rivers State governor was obviously the face and the binding force in the then rudderless party.
The events of the National Convention of the party hosted in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, on Saturday, May 21, 2016 and the final resolution of the leadership crisis in the party also placed Wike in a strong position in the party.
The ouster of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the party and the emergence of former Governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmad Makarfi, as chairman of the new caretaker committee, created both friends and enemies for the Rivers Strong man. Even though he was one of those blamed for the emergence in the first place of Ali Modu Sheriff who almost destroyed the party, Wike was the force behind his eventual ouster.
Despite that obvious mistake, Wike was unfazed and remained at the driver’s seat in the party and was instrumental to the eventual emergence of his kinsman and friend, Uche Secondus, as substantive national chairman of the party.
He was also instrumental to the state hosting the national primaries of the party in October 2018 in preparation for the 2019 general election, an exercise adjudged very transparent. While Wike’s preferred candidate and Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, lost to former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, Wike pledged his loyalty to the party and ensured that Atiku Abubakar won convincingly in Rivers State.
But before this, Wike was appointed Minister of State for Education on July 14, 2011. He was later appointed the Acting Minister of Education, after his boss, Mrs. Ruqqayatu, was sacked but resigned before finishing his term to run for the office of governor of Rivers State. As minister of state for education, Wike was noted for popularising education for nomadic almajirai.
Another thing that may count for Wike for the presidency is his success in making the APC almost extinct in Rivers State. Wike survived two tumultuous battles to win the governorship election in 2015 and 2019.
Indeed, in 2019, the APC could not field any candidate, because of faulty congresses as declared by the courts. Even efforts by the APC to adopt and back the governorship candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Biokpomabo Awara, to ensure that Wike did not come back did not yield any fruits.
Wike even insisted that 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, APC’s Buhari did not get up to 25 per cent of the votes even though the Minister of Transportation and former Governor of the State, Chibuike Amaechi, was still the campaign chairman, having held the same position when Buhari won his election in 2015. This re-enforced the “High Tension or naked wire” fame of the governor.
The spate of development projects in the state is another thing that speaks for Wike, who is now dubbed “Mr. Projects”. In 2015, when he was assuming office as governor, the opposition boasted that he would not even be able to pay salaries, much more carry out projects. But to the chagrin of his traducers, the state, especially the state capital, is dotted with landmark projects.
The Pleasure Park, the zero pothole scheme, urban renewal projects in GRA Phases One and Two, and signature flyover bridges at Rumuogba, Rebisi, Rumuogba, Okoro-nu-Odo and Rumuola along the Popular Aba Road obviously have changed the landscape of Port Harcourt. The state is also littered with several other projects, opening up the state to investments and development.
But in addition to the projects, Wike is seen as fearless and courageous, two qualities that have also pitted him against federal authorities. His approach to the containment of the spread of coronavirus in the state earned him accolades from his supporters while at the same time, condemnation from the federal government and opponents.
Using steps that were seen at the time by many as drastic and confrontational, Wike ensured total compliance of 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.
Again, his actions also pitted him against authorities and agencies of the federal government. While some heads of stations of federal agencies either lost their jobs or were 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 his ouster as the show of power raged between him 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 the governor to ensure adherence of residents to COVID-19 protocols.
As the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) corruption saga raged, Wike was once again called “John Wike” (like popular actor, 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 to some questions.
To avoid being taken by the police, Nunieh locked herself in her Old GRA Port Harcourt residence while the police attempted to break the doors to force her out. It took the intervention of Wike, who stormed the place with his own security to rescue Nunieh and take her to Government House, where she took refuge for a few days.
Many residents of the state still believe that the governor rescued Nunieh just like John Wick would do in a classic action movie. But there are factors that could work against the governor. He is generally perceived as brash and undiplomatic, and prone to actions that could impinge on the rights of people in a democratic setting. While these have earned him the sobriquet “lord of the manor”, most times he has been proven right and to have acted in the general interest.
He has also been criticised for not making the budget of the state public, and for not giving the state legislature free hand to carry out its constitutional duties. While these criticisms persist, the governor enjoys the cooperation of the legislators and has provided them an environment that is largely seen as conducive to operate.
In all, many analysts believe that Wike could confront the myriad of problems facing the nation fearlessly and protect the interests of the citizenry if given the opportunity. As events leading to 2023 unfold, Wike, is definitely one politician to watch.