Nigeria: How Tinubu’s ‘Zero Commitment’ At London Meeting Forced Wike Back to Atiku

Minna, Kano — Last week’s London meeting between the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and the aggrieved Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governor of Rivers State, Mr. Nyesom Wike, though shrouded in secrecy, was actually not a successful engagement, THISDAY has learnt. Tinubu was alleged to have declined committing to all of Wike’s conditions precedent to working together during next year’s presidential election.

By implication, the subsequent engagement between the Rivers State governor, his colleague governors, and the presidential candidate of PDP, Atiku Abubakar, also in London, was timeous and face-saving for embittered Wike and friends.

Meanwhile, fresh facts have emerged on the covert involvement of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was equally in London at the time and met with Wike and the rest of them, in some of the ongoing discussions ahead of the 2023 polls.

Although Obasanjo denied backing any candidate ahead of the presidential poll, he was believed to be rooting for the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, for reasons of balance of power among Nigeria’s major ethnic nationalities, in the interest of justice, equity and fairness.

Relatedly, Obasanjo said yesterday in Minna that he would unveil his own agenda for the 2023 general election soon. He stated this after visiting two former Heads of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, at their residences.

In another development, former governor of Kano State, Senator Ibrahim Shekarau, was billed to formally join PDP today at an elaborate ceremony, believed to have compelled Atiku to cut short his Paris trip in order to officially receive the ex-governor and his people into the opposition party.

Wike and his friends – Governors Samuel Ortom (Benue), Seyi Makinde (Oyo), and Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) – had met in London with Tinubu to consider the possibility of working together. This was after Wike lost out at the PDP presidential primary held May 28, and was also unable to clinch the running mate slot.

The Rivers State governor, who was bitter over his loss, had been openly engaging in what could pass for anti-party activities. He blamed his loss on religion, betrayal by the party leadership, especially, the national chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, and the Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, whose sudden decision to stand down for Atiku, he claimed, allegedly tilted the presidential primary result against him.

Ever since, Wike had been working against the interest of PDP, holding meetings with leaders of other political parties in a deliberate effort to undermine his party in next year’s presidential election. Besides APC leaders, Wike had met with leaders of LP and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), ostensibly, mulling his options.

The governor had been meeting with different people in search of a better deal, and he had hoped for a fruitful engagement with Tinubu, a move he believed would undo his party’s candidate at the presidential election.

However, after he allegedly tabled his demands before Tinubu, soon after their discussions, the former Lagos State governor was said to have failed to commit to any of his demands and explained why he could not accede to his terms. According to sources at the meeting, Tinubu believed Wike’s demands were largely unrealistic and way above what he could realistically bring to the table.

For instance, Wike was said to have demanded that the APC candidate “ensures if he wins the presidential election, which comes first, he will ensure he does not influence the outcome of the governorship and House of Assembly polls in Rivers, Benue, Oyo and Abia states, so that candidates in his camp and those of the other governors could win maintain control of the states”.

The sources said of Wike, “He also wanted assurances that their men should be allowed to win Senate and House of Representatives seats, including the governors contesting senatorial elections. There was no headway on this demand either, since the presidential and National Assembly elections would take place same day.

“Tinubu, however, didn’t make any commitment and that was a red flag for Wike. The APC candidate only said, yes, he could look into the demands for Rivers, but he cannot do same for Oyo, Benue and Abia; that it would be very difficult and will not want to come across as deceptive.”

The sources said Wike wanted Tinubu to force the APC candidate in Rivers State, as well as those of Oyo, Abia and, especially, Benue, where the APC candidate, a cleric, is believed to be very popular, to drop their ambitions.

But Tinubu failed to commit to the demands, except for Rivers, which he promised to look into, despite the fact that a prominent member of the APC, former governor of the state and immediate past Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, is from the same state as Wike.

According to THISDAY sources, Wike and the others left the meeting with Tinubu disappointed. However, they were excited to learn that Atiku was on his way to meet with them in London and as such, used the window provided to save face and re-align with the party.

Although they also tried to grandstand with the PDP candidate by giving conditions, which some of Atiku’s men dismissed as untenable, nevertheless, it was not a difficult situation for the former vice president to manage, being members of the same party, as he simply told them he would look into their demands. The demands bordered mainly on the removal of Ayu as national chairman to allow for a southerner to be produced by the Wike group.

Sources believed that Atiku was not unaware that the options before Wike and allies were limited but he refused to rub it in their faces. He played along, especially, as he did not want to appear insensitive to their plight as the leader of the party de facto.

If the dictates of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) timetable and schedule of activities were properly situated, they had clearly shut the doors of any realistic options against Wike and co. For one, all the activities in the electoral process are tied to time, with legal implications for any contraventions. This makes it difficult for Wike and others to leave the PDP.

Conversely, Wike’s candidates for the senate election, for example, are three as with other states, but he also has eight candidates for the House of Representatives, 32 candidates for the state assembly, a governorship and deputy governorship candidates, all of which come down to 45 candidates for the 2023 elections.

This same calculation is applicable to other PDP governors, including Makinde of Oyo State, who is itching to return to office for a second term, as well as Ortom of Benue State and Ikpeazu of Abia State, both of whom are senatorial candidates of the PDP.

Situated better, the options before them became even more impossible, given the understanding that the presidential and the National Assembly elections are holding first, the outcome of which could sculpt subsequent elections in 2023.

Thus, with their careers, political future and those of their followers at stake and at the mercy of whatever option they ultimately embraced, it became evident that Wike and others could not actually leave the PDP but were only seeking a better deal after the outcome of the presidential primaries.

Still on the pre-election permutations, indications that Obasanjo might be working for Obi as his preferred presidential hopeful manifested after their London meeting, when the former president allegedly alluded to the need for balance of power in other to achieve justice, fairness and equity in the polity.

One of the sources privy to the meeting and believed to be close to Obasanjo, explained, “OBJ’s support for Obi is borne out the desire to secure his place in the history of Nigeria, as a nationalist. It is his firm view that it is the turn of the South-east to produce the next president, since Hausa and Yoruba have had their turns. So, his support for Obi is rooted in that desire.”

Questions have been raised about Obasanjo’s support for Obi’s presidential bid and, ultimately, his victory. But the former president has also not hidden his disapproval of the ambition of other older candidates, whom he is always quick to dismiss, albeit in veiled references, as no longer capable of delivering result.

Yesterday in Minna, Obasanjo, who spoke about unveiling his 2023 agenda soon, did not, however, give details of the agenda to be released.

While declaring that he had no favoured candidate for the presidency of the country, as being speculated in the media space, Obasanjo said, “I do not have a special candidate; I only have a national agenda.”

Obasanjo said he was in Minna to see Abdulsalami, who had been indisposed, adding that the former leader “is very special to me. I came to see my brother, who has been a little indisposed. When he was in London, I wanted to visit him but the day I arrived in London was the day he left. So, that is why I decided to come and see him at home

“He (Abdulsalami) is very special and I am still strong to visit those who are special to me.”

Obasanjo arrived at Abdulsalam’s residence about 12.30 pm and after greetings with members of the family, he entered into a closed-door meeting with the former Head of State. The meeting lasted for a little over 30 minutes.

From the residence of Abdulsalami, Obasanjo visited former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, where he also held another closed-door meeting.

He left the residence of Babangida about 2.30pm for the Minna airport, from where he flew to Abuja.

On his part, Atiku, who flew into the country last night from Paris, alongside Ayu and other party officials, was scheduled to present the PDP membership card to Shekarau at his Mundubawa Residence in Nasarawa Local Government Area of Kano State.

An official of the party told THISDAY in Kano that the officials of the party had since held a closed-door meeting with Shekarau at his residence on Sunday to perfectly complete the arrangement for his movement to the party from NNPP.

A PDP official, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said, “As I’m talking to you now, we met Shekarau at his residence and we are busy arranging his defection along with his supporters into PDP. We perfected all the arrangements.

“Our party officials are fully engaged to ensure successful hosting of our presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and the national chairman of the party, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu. Atiku will stay in Kano for three days to articulate and woo many opposition members into the PDP. I am confident that the party will win the 2023 general election.”

The source stated that Atiku would meet with various groups of Islamic scholars, youth groups and women, students, young and old politicians, during his stay in Kano.

Shekarau had in 2014 defected from APC to PDP. That year, he protested against APC for giving the party’s structures in Kano to another former governor of the state and current presidential hopeful, Rabiu Kwankwaso, who was the governor at the time, following the latter’s defection to APC, also from the PDP.

Shekarau rejoined APC in 2019 and contested the Kano Central Senatorial position, a position he is still enjoying, and dumped the party for NNPP some three months ago. His defection followed weeks of lobbying from both APC and PDP, each trying to woo Shekarau to its side.

Last week, Shekarau explained that Kwankwaso and his group betrayed the trust reposed in them by aligning with NNPP months ago.

“All the agreements we had with him were betrayed by Kwankwaso and his boys and they did not accommodate one single person from my camp,” Shekarau said as he left NNPP.

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