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G5 and Its Unkept Promise
Postscript by Waziri Adio
January 2023 arrived and departed, but the Group of Five (G5) failed to redeem its voluntary pledge to publicly endorse a presidential candidate within the first month of the year. Endorsements have become two-a-penny, and it is doubtful that they carry as much electoral punch as the endorsers and the beneficiaries wish.
That notwithstanding, endorsements are not only bestowed but also actively sought and highly treasured. They have signalling appeal or they telegraph a measure of social proof or wide acceptance. And since electoral politics is a game of addition and not subtraction and voters are historically known to be risk-averse, any suggestion of additional support is valued by politicians, their strategists and their supporters. A vote is better than none.
The pledge or the threat by the Governor Nyesom Wike-led G5 was enchanting for two reasons. The first was the orchestrated suspense. After making itself available to every interested suitor, the rebel faction within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gave a three-month notice of an impending endorsement, and constantly reminded anyone who paid attention of a big announcement coming in January.
When in early January a BBC News Pidgin journalist reminded Governor Wike of the self-assigned deadline, he retorted, with dramatic flair: “Why are you in a hurry? Why are you in a hurry?… January… Did I tell you January 4th? Did I tell you January 10th? Did I tell you January 16th? You people are just errrr… Calm down!” This comical encounter, which became an instant hit on social media and was pressed to many hilarious ends, heightened the suspense. The bombshell would still drop in January. And Wike and his group had not a few salivating.
The second reason why the pledge by the G5 aroused significant interests was the embedded promise of high political drama. Clearly, Wike and company were not doing all the song and dance just to pitch their tent with the presidential candidate of PDP, their party. That would have been an anti-climax. But five sitting governors openly supporting and campaigning for a presidential candidate competing with the flagbearer of their own party would be quite a sight, a novelty actually, even in Nigeria’s highly treacherous and drama-laden political landscape.
However, despite the suspense and the theatrics, the G5 failed to drop the hit song, to the relief of some and the disappointment of others. Wike, G5’s indisputable leader, has tried to spin the no-show. At a midweek rally in Port Harcourt, he said he never promised to announce his preferred presidential on camera. The people of Rivers State, he added, already know who to vote for on 25th February. It is a smart attempt at word-play but it is naked.
It is without doubt that the G5 has chickened out of a promise it made without anyone putting a gun to its head. The natural questions are: why didn’t the group fulfil its promise and what is likely to happen next? A number of reasons have been hazarded on why the G5 reneged on the January deadline. I will stick to three here. One, that the group was divided on who to support between the two southern candidates on their shortlist. Two, that the personal preferences of the governors do not align with the widespread sentiments of the people of their states. And three, that pushing different parties for federal and state elections could confuse the voters or create a bandwagon effect that could see the governors or their candidates losing in the state elections on March 11th.
All these reasons are plausible and they are not mutually exclusive. Their point of convergence is that openly endorsing a presidential candidate from another party comes with heavy risks to most of the G5 governors. So, the rebellious G5 settled for playing safe. The endorsement may also hurt its beneficiary, especially if the PDP candidate is able to line up the north behind a southern gang-up narrative. Already, there is said to be a campaign slogan that translates to ‘yours is yours.’ An open endorsement by the G5 can make such narrative more sticky, more persuasive.
In a 1st January 2023 article on this page (titled ‘G5’s Flirtations and 2023 Electoral Permutations’), I anticipated how difficult it would be for the G5 to go ahead with its pledge and argued that the move would be a complicated proposition for some of the parties involved. I concluded that: “With the complications on all sides, the affair may not be openly consummated.”
Here we are, at least for now.
In terms of what follows next after the missed deadline, I see three possibilities. One, the G5 governors may reach a last-minute accommodation with the presidential candidate of their party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. If this happens, this will be a major boost for the PDP flagbearer, especially in Rivers, which has a sizeable number of voters at play and where a G5 governor is best positioned to enforce his will.
Two, the G5 governors may secretly endorse different presidential candidates based on their individual preferences and on local peculiarities. And three, they may still go ahead with an open endorsement of a candidate outside their party in the three weeks left before the presidential election.
In politics, especially in the Nigerian version, it is difficult to predict with certainty. But my money will be on the middle course.