The tango between the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and the party’s erstwhile henchman, Governor Nyesom Wike, is proving a rumble in the Creeks, and many are hoping to gain a ringside seat. Considering that Atiku is a tested political war general, and that Wike in the past few years has shown great braggadocio, are we going to see a replication of the ongoing contest between President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine?
We recall that Putin at the invasion of Ukraine boasted that Russia, a major world power, was going into a three-day special operation in Ukraine. Accordingly, Russia’s intention was to flush out Zelenskyy from office, “demilitarise and de- Nazify Ukraine” and ensure that Ukraine does not join the Western defensive alliance, NATO. The western media are now mocking Putin that after nearly six months, Zelenskyy is entrenched in office, and Ukraine is now heavily armed and closer to joining NATO than it was at the onset of Russian invasion.
There is no doubt that the scheming Atiku is gathering the arsenal to assault Wike’s political stronghold on PDP in Rivers State and his overall influence in the southern part of the country. But are there chances that like Zelenskyy, Wike has enduring sympathy amongst the PDP leaders across the country, especially in the south, to counter Atiku’s game plan? In the run up to the PDP presidential primary, and even after, there is no doubt that the majority of the decent members of the party in the southern and middle part of the country craved for Wike as their preferred candidate.
And their reason is substantially because when Atiku and his company betrayed the PDP, and ran to the opposition to feather their nest, Wike stayed back and nurtured PDP back to life. Using the enormous resources at his disposal, as governor of oil-bearing Rivers state, Wike became the rallying point for the starved PDP national secretariat. The governor even went ahead to financially bail struggling states like Benue, and claimed Edo for the party, when Governor Godwin Obaseki lost out in the power struggle for re-election on the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC).
Again, like Zelenskyy who has successfully resisted the bullying by Putin, and is presently luxuriating in the protection of western powers, will Wike cross over, to embrace the APC to provide him a shield from the bullying tactics of Atiku? The chances are high that he will, considering the flurry of activities involving him and major APC stalwarts in the past week. Should that embrace happen, the APC’s chances of winning the presidential election becomes even more likely, while Atiku’s presidential plan crumbles further just like Putin’s war plans.
While politics is a game of interest, it does not diminish the need to wear the armour of honour in the sweepstakes. This column does not perceive Atiku Abubakar as ever being interested in wearing the badge of honour in the game of politics. As the vice president to Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, Atiku obtrusively tried to torpedo his principal’s second term ambition, and it took extra-ordinary craftiness on the part of Obasanjo to outwit him. To gain Atiku’s support President Obasanjo reportedly prostrated before him, and Atiku has been paying a heavy price for that indiscretion.
When PDP became too hot for Atiku, he sought refuge in Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Interestingly, in Atiku’s recent confession, after gaining the presidential ticket of the party, he betrayed his benefactor Tinubu, by denying him the vice-presidential ticket, in purported deference to religious balancing. Again, when he thought that the PDP might provide him another chance to realise his presidential ambition, he returned to contest the presidential election in 2011, which he lost.
When he saw that President Goodluck Jonathan, as an incumbent, was determined to contest again in 2015, Atiku turned a renegade and joined forces with other disgruntled party men to kick his party to the dust, as he worked with the emerging behemoth, the APC. Joining the new party with only a limp of PDP, and without gaining the trust of the main components of the new party, he lost out in the presidential primary to President Muhammadu Buhari, who went ahead to win the election.
Without any worry about the badge of honour, Atiku again returned to the PDP, claiming that it was his natural habitat. In fairness to him, he seems to be right. Otherwise, if the party leaders like Governor Aminu Tambuwal were honest, how could they agree to jettison the earlier consensus to allow the presidency go to the southern part of the country, and rather support Atiku to emerge the presidential candidate of the party. The gentlemen within the PDP, who supported Wike at the primary, turned out as minorities, as some southern governors were also moles.
As if to say that was not enough abuse, Atiku further dishonoured Wike, by rejecting his selection as his vice-presidential candidate, by a selecting committee set up by the party with the alleged concurrence of Atiku. To sprinkle salt on the festering injury, Atiku said he chose Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, of Delta State over Wike, because he is stable and someone he can leave the affairs of governance for at a short notice. Since the multiple assaults, Wike has been plotting how to pay Atiku back in his own coins.
Last week, at the flurry of the commission of projects executed by Governor Wike, by APC stalwarts and the political enemies of Wike’s political enemies, led by APC leader in Sokoto State, Senator Aliyu Wamakko, Wike engaged in a sort of peremptorily macabre dance at the graveside of his political enemies. Like President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, who gains confidence after each visit by the leaders of the western powers, Wike after each interaction with the APC chieftains, gains more bounce to confront Atiku.
Will the contest between Wike and Atiku bear uncanny resemblance to that between Zelenskyy and Putin, where a battle many thought would be a short one has turned into a long-drawn battle, with several surrogates throwing in homemade ogbunigwe to help the weaker party? One thing is clear, Atiku has the pride of Putin, and the arrogance of a veteran, while Wike is succinctly acting the victim, and gaining a lot of sympathy.
How PDP’s internal wrangling will shape the 2023 presidential election will be seen in the days ahead. Will Atiku show cluelessness like Putin, after his initial bluster that Wike has only one vote, and allow the crisis degenerate into a debacle for his presidential ambition, which has become a permanent feature of every election cycle?