Nigeria: What Next Now That Atiku, Wike Have Met?

Governor Nyesim Wike is at the centre of a crisis in the PDP and horsetrading among presidential candidates

For the main opposition party, PDP, it is safe to say a significant step to peace and reconciliation has been taken after the grand rendezvous between Atiku Abubakar, the party’s presidential candidate, and the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.

On the heels of speculations, rumors, small talks and leaked secrets, both men met at the Carlton Hotel in London on Thursday – a meeting that was highly anticipated especially by members of the party.

Thursday’s meeting was the third time the duo would meet physically since the party’s primary in June. Early this month, they met behind closed doors at the Abuja residence of a PDP chieftain, Jerry Gana. They first met, also in Abuja, days after the primary.

Both men have been at loggerheads since Mr Wike lost the party’s presidential ticket to Atiku at the primary.

The outcome of the primary birthed Mr Wike’s grouse who believed that the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal – who stepped down just as delegates were about to be called out to vote at the primary – not only betrayed him but also breached the rules of the convention.

Many say but for Mr Tambuwal’s withdrawal from the race, Mr Wike might have given Atiku a stiffer contest.

His grievance grew after Atiku ignored him to name the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as the vice-presidential candidate.

Although he initially said he was only interested in the presidential seat, Mr Wike and his camp hoped that Atiku would name him as the running mate – especially after a panel constituted on the matter, recommended him.

His next action would be to fly to Istanbul after Mr Okowa was unveiled. Some party leaders, like the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, stressed the need for the party (and Atiku) to not only apologise to Mr Wike but to also reconcile with him.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how Mr Wike shunned attempts by an emissary of Atiku to meet him in Turkey even though the former claimed Atiku never attempted to meet him.

The bad blood lingered until 4 August when they met at Jerry Gana’s. But even after that meeting, the disagreement continued.

While both men had agreed to set up committees that would meet and work out the reconciliation, Mr Wike’s public acts clearly showed he still held a grudge.

However, with the second meeting at the five-star hotel in London, there might just be a little ray of hope towards achieving peace in the party and reconciliation between the two.

Wike, the political bride

Habitually, at the build-up of general elections in Nigeria, many candidates pay visits to past presidents, heads of state and elder statesmen alike. But this year, Mr Wike is the most sought-after.

In the past few months alone, the governor has turned a political bride and presidential candidates of different political parties, including the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), have met with him.

Hours before the rendezvous with Atiku, the governor met with a former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, and the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, also in London. From this meeting, it was gathered that the former president hopes for a South-eastern president and is rallying support for Mr Obi.

Earlier on Monday was a meeting of the group with the APC presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu aimed at wooing the governor and convincing him to work for the APC and its candidate.

These two major visits by political suitors to the bride were preceded by call-ins from past and serving governors – especially from the APC. They either visited Mr Wike at the Rivers State Government House or honour an invitation to commission a project in the state.

Clearly, they were paving the way for Mr Tinubu to have a smooth sail when he showed up.

Just how much power does Wike wield to make a dent or an impact, many have asked.

Besides the notion that he fought for the survival of the party after it was defeated in 2015 and 2019, many also believe Mr Wike controls the PDP structure in the South-south and parts of the South-east.

Undoubtedly, votes from Rivers State and neighbouring South-south states have positively affected the PDP’s performance in previous elections.

In addition, as stubborn and coarse as he might seem, the governor is still influential and boasts of the loyalty of many past and serving governors, outside the South-south region.

These are probably some of the features that the political suitors see that is making them rally round to pluck it.

It could also be what prompted Atiku to tweak his ‘business trip’ to Paris, arrive in London and have dinner with Wike.

Now that they’ve met…

Details of the discussion the two men had at the meeting are no longer secret.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how Mr Wike demanded that the party’s national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, resigns before he would negotiate his support for the presidential candidate – a demand he has made before now.

The governor wants Mr Ayu to step down and be replaced by someone from the South-west region – to correct the lopsidedness in the party’s leadership. He also complained of the chairman’s style of leadership, which he described as divisive.

Already, his team is pitching Taofeek Arapaja, the party’s deputy national chairman, South, for the position.

The silence, particularly from Atiku’s camp, that has followed the meeting has been deafening.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, a former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, said the Rivers State Governor has no reason to be aggrieved because “no one has offended him” and will become a liability after his tenure expires in 2023.

He said he was fed up with Mr Wike’s “bombastic rants” and dismissed talks of reconciliation between the governor and Atiku, adding that Mr Wike was acting like an emperor.

However, after Thursday’s meeting, many are eager to see Atiku’s next move having promised Mr Wike that he would make consultations and revert.

While it is unclear whether Atiku would in fact convince Mr Ayu, who he considers his loyalist, to step down, party members are hoping the chairman would keep to his word and resign as he promised before the primary.

One thing is clear though, Atiku, at this juncture, would weigh the pros and cons. Should he fail to convince Mr Ayu to step down, he would have to campaign through to the elections without Mr Wike’s support.

Additionally, he would risk losing the support of Mr Wike’s Rivers State and some parts of the South-south to either the APC or Labour Party – a risk he might not be willing to take particularly because the supporters of Mr Obi, the ‘OBIdients’ already can hurt the PDP in the Southeastern region.

As there is no deadline, yet, for Atiku to make consultations and revert to Mr Wike, the latter will do nothing but bask in the attention he is getting and the mini fire he has started.

One more thing…

If all the political players actually listen to the people as they claim to do, they would know that many Nigerians have frowned at the frequent trips to foreign land to hold political meetings.

At least 11 Nigerian politicians flew to London last week to hold political meetings and make consultations ahead of the 2023 general elections. Most of the participants who met in London, had met before – in Nigeria.

Besides Messrs Obasanjo, Atiku, Wike, Obi and Tinubu, also present in London for the meetings and negotiations were Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde, Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, Abia State Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and former Cross River State Governor, Donald Duke – who accompanied Mr Wike.

Also present was Adamawa State Governor Ahmadu Fintiri on Atiku’s side and Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and his Ekiti State counterpart, Kayode Fayemi – on Mr Tinubu’s side.

In June, some of these politicians were in Turkey, where the negotiations and consultations first started.

Many Nigerians have condemned these frivolous spending.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how these politicians spend billions on foreign trips for political meetings despite the high costs in hard currencies, due to the decline in the value of the naira.

Worst still, many state governments currently default in the payment of pensions to retired workers and also depend on loans and bailouts from the federal government to pay salaries.

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