The Wike rebel gang’s meeting in London promises to ruffle political permutations at home, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
It’s like the rebellion in the Peoples Democratic Party has reached a point of no return. Led by Nyesom Wike, governor of the oil-rich Rivers State, the rebelling governors, Seyi Makinde, Oyo State; Samuel Ortom, Benue State; Okezie Ikpeazu, Abia State; and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Enugu State, have assembled in London ostensibly to determine the presidential candidate they would support in the forthcoming general election.
Recent efforts by Aminu Tambuwal, governor of Sokoto State, who is also the director-general of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council; and Udom Emmanuel, governor of Akwa Ibom State, also the chairman of the council, to put out the bush fire in the party would appear to have come to nothing. Both had engaged Ortom last week to find a middle ground for the resolution of the dispute. But the outcome was inconclusive as the Benue State governor stuck to his gang’s position: Iyorchia Ayu, the national chairman, must go!
A day after the first dry Xmas in decades, the news broke of the trip of the G5 governors to London to meet. It’s the second since August after another one in Spain. They are torn between Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress and Peter Obi of the Labour Party. Tinubu is scheduled to meet with them at the weekend.
It promises to be a hard choice given the well-known opposition of Bode George, one of the group’s leaders, to the APC candidate. But the majority of the gang trends away from the LP candidate on the ground that he lacks the concrete political structure on the ground to win a presidential fight across 36 states and Abuja as well as 774 local government councils. Obi’s party is known to be fielding a paltry number of candidates for the nation’s 109 senatorial districts, 360 federal constituencies, 36 governorship slots, and 991 state constituencies. Meanwhile, the APC is fielding candidates for all the available slots nationwide.
Given the state of play in terms of the capacity to tackle the PDP in all the 176,974 polling units nationwide in the presidential election, it is obvious where the pendulum should swing except the objective of the aggrieved governors is just to make a point to their party leadership. But in practical politics, no serious-minded politician engages the process to make a point. The primary goal is not only to win but also to enjoy the fruit of their labour, including a share in the booty.
However, there are concerns about the implication of the electoral rebellion for the gang in their states. Apart from Wike, who is not on the ballot, Makinde, Ortom, Ugwuanyi, and Ikpeazu are candidates in the polls. While Makinde is on the governorship ballot for a second term, the others are senatorial candidates whose ballot holds on 25 February, the same day the electorate would vote for the presidential candidate of their choice. Will the electorate in the rebel governors’ states be able to discern among the presidential, senatorial, and federal constituency ballots and vote discriminatively? For instance, would they be able to vote for APC presidential candidate and at the same time switch allegiance to the PDP senatorial and federal constituency candidates?
Apparently, Wike and his gang have considered this issue and have answered the question affirmatively. But there are many analysts who advise caution given the interplay of political forces. Without a doubt, both sides have electoral history on their side. During the 1992 Gen. Ibrahim Babangida military transition elections in Lagos State, the Social Democratic Party fell into an internecine crisis over the choice of its governorship candidate.
When the quarrel descended into a street fight, Babangida disqualified Femi Agbalajobi and Dapo Sarumi, the two leading and warring aspirants. This forced the party to present Yomi Edu, thought to be a compromise candidate. The outcome of the poll, however, showed that the settlement was half-heated as Michael Otedola of the National Republic Convention won the duel against the run of play even as the SDP picked all the 40 state constituencies seats on the same day and at the same polling booths both elections held.
But a more appropriate analogy occurred during the 2011 presidential election in the same state. Following the breakdown of negotiations between Tinubu’s Action Congress and Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change, the AC switched support to the PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan. In that federal election, the PDP won the presidential election while the AC won all three senatorial seats and the 24 federal constituencies seats in the state.
However, earlier in 2003 conspirators got bloody noses. Five of the six Alliance for Democracy governors, including Lam Adesina, Oyo State; Segun Osoba, Ogun State; Bisi Akande, Osun State; Niyi Adebayo, Ekiti State; and Adebayo Adefarati, Ondo State; went behind their party leaders to conspire with PDP’s President Olusegun Obasanjo to frustrate the AD’s effort to present a candidate for the presidential election. Tinubu, who was the sixth governor, cautioned against the implication of the conspiracy and refused to go along with them. Although the party’s senatorial and federal constituencies candidates scaled through along with Obasanjo, all five conspirators lost out in the governorship election that followed two weeks later. Only Tinubu survived the PDP onslaught.
So, the conspirators in London must have political consultants who would have pointed their attention to these aspects of the nation’s electoral history to guide what they are contemplating. It’s definitely a rough road ahead of them except they have the right political strategy to navigate the delicate forthcoming contest.
Ortom, Ikpeazu, and Ugwuanyi need to weigh their options more critically. Their ballot will be cast on the same day their party’s candidate, Atiku Abubakar will be facing the electorate. Meanwhile, they will have to deliver their governorship candidates two weeks after. The task of getting the electorate to vote one way in the presidential ballot and vote the other way in the senatorial and federal constituency polls on the same spot may not be that easy except, of course, they have it all wrapped up.
Wike and Makinde are on familiar terrain. They came into office in 2015 and 2019 respectively after their presidential candidates had lost the race two weeks earlier. Wike, in particular, literarily had to go to war to return in 2019 as all the military and police formations in his state were deployed against him. But he made it somehow. He would be counting on whatever strategy gave him that lifeline. The challenge, however, is that he is going into battle this time around with a divided army as several PDP stakeholders are up in arms against him in the state.
Makinde has a similar challenge. Carried into power by a coalition of forces, those soldiers have in the last four years been dissipated. Will he make it on his own? Time will tell.
Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from firstname.lastname@example.org