In 2013, five PDP governors defected to APC, giving APC an upper hand at the polls. Can the power play between the PDP and Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike, swing undecided voters in Nigeria’s fourth most populous state?
Rivers State is Nigeria’s fourth most populous state, with 3.77 per cent (3,532,990 voters) of the 93 million total registered voters ahead of the 25 February polls, after Lagos at 7.57 per cent; Kano at 6.34 per cent; and Kaduna at 4.65 per cent. This makes it one of the determining states in Nigerian elections.
Swing states could potentially be won by either candidate, as such, presidential candidates focus their energy and resources in those states through the campaign period. Rivers has been instrumental in determining stakes at the elections, after giving former president Goodluck Jonathan and former vice president Atiku Abubakar—both under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) 1,487,075 and 473,971 votes in 2015 and 2019 respectively.
On 22 February, the campaign season for the 2023 political cycle would come to an end, in line with Independent National Electoral Commission’s calendar. The four major presidential candidates; Atiku Abubakar of PDP, Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peter Obi of the Labour Party, and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), would have rallied across Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, for followers’ support as they vie for the bulk of the 93 million eligible voters needed to see them into power.
However, power plays between politicians across—and even within party lines can influence the stakes at the poll. A player whose actions could contribute to swinging the pendulum is the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike—famed for his theatrics, but no lightweight when it comes to politics.
WIKE’S BID FOR PRESIDENCY AND THE BOAT ROCKING AT PDP
In May 2022, Wike made public his interest to run for the presidency. At the time, Wike had declared that irrespective of the outcome of the primaries, as a party faithful, he was going to throw his full support behind whoever emerged as the party’s flag bearer. A last minute change would see Aminu Tambuwal, Governor of Sokoto state, pull out of the race and urge his delegates to vote for Atiku. Atiku Abubakar then won the party’s primaries ahead of Wike, scoring 371 votes. Wike, on the other hand, came second with 237 votes.
The loss at the primaries was a blow to Wike, which he publicly grieved. However, with Atiku’s choice of Delta State governor Ifeanyi Okowa as vice president, Wike’s actions have underscored the internal tussle within the party leadership and five out of PDP’s 14 states. Following the VP snub, Wike, in attacks directed at Ayu, said in a 2022 interview that he was going to ‘help’ PDP lose in the forthcoming elections.
The G5 Governors—Wike, Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, Samuel Ortom of Benue, Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), have been at the centre of the in-fighting at PDP. In 2022, they called for the removal of national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, saying the party presidential candidate and the national chairman should not come from the same geopolitical zone. Ayu insisted on seeing his four-year tenure through, even as the G5 made his resignation a precondition to endorse Atiku in their states.
On 15 February, PDP cancelled its presidential campaign rally in Rivers State over the threat to the life of its members and supporters of Atiku Abubakar. This action was preceded by a series of power plays from Wike, including shutting down Atiku’s campaign offices in December. Wike explained that he sealed off the campaign offices because they were without government approval. The executive orders prohibit political parties from using public school premises and residential areas for their political rallies without mandatory approval and payment of N5 million non-refundable security fee.
According to Wike:
Some people put their campaign offices where people are living. Somebody is coming back to his house, he can’t enter his house. Why? Because they are holding political meetings. We say this thing has to be regulated. It has to be in a non-residential area. They say they will not, I say you will. If you dare it without approval, you will go to jail.
Wike’s snub for Okowa was met with a variety of reactions from his colleagues, who were not at par with the decision. In an interview on Channels TV, Benue state governor and fellow G-5 member, Samuel Ortom, weighed in saying Wike should have been contacted by Atiku before making the announcement.
For me, post-nomination of vice-presidential candidate, the activity that followed is what I’m complaining about. Wike should have been reached out to. I should have been reached out to, and many other people who said that it should be Wike.
With the increase in voters’ registration by 9 per cent from 2019, Rivers could play a major role in securing a win for PDP. The state has played a role in determining elections in previous cycles, after securing votes for Jonathan and Atiku in 2015 and 2019.
Comparing regional strongholds, In the south, Rivers State is crucial to PDP as Kwankwaso enjoys considerable support in Kano, after serving as Governor from 1999-2003 and 2011-2015 and APC will look to capitalize on the 15 states in the North West, North Central and North East under their banners. This is not to suggest that Atiku would not secure any votes in the North. Being a political heavyweight in the region, Atiku is certain to command an amount of support from loyalists as promised by the state presidential campaign council.
However, the lack of support from Wike and his faction could jeopardize PDP’s victory at the polls. In Oyo state, Makinde boycotted Atiku’s campaign and in Benue State, said he was ready to sacrifice his senatorial ambitions for the emergence of Peter Obi as president. The failure of party support in previous electoral cycles aided the rise of APC as the predominant party across Nigeria.
In 2013, five PDP governors defected to APC and the party’s woes were compounded by the removal of former national acting chairman Abubakar Baraje. Baraje, alongside Sam Jaja, a former deputy national leader were expelled by the National Working Council on the recommendations of the national disciplinary committee for anti-party activities. The disgruntled Abubakar Baraje faction then signed a merger pact with APC.
At the time, faction spokesperson, Chukwuemeka Eze, said:
History will record it that it was under their watch that a ruling party changed roles and became an opposition political party. Their eyes will clear when a rejuvenated APC dislodges the torn umbrella from the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in 2015.
The breakaway group and the defection of governors Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano, Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto, Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara, Murtala Nyako of Adamawa and Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers gave APC the upper hand at the 2015 general elections.
One might wonder if history is on the verge of repeating itself in the wake of Wike’s manifestations. Though Wike has said he remains a faithful member of PDP; if he were to leave, high profile members will follow to protect their interests. This could prove cataclysmic for PDP, not only at the 2023 elections but at its further attempts to return to power.
The internal crisis rocking PDP needs to be resolved before the general elections if the party intends to secure a win. The foregoing leaves little to speculate about: a house divided cannot stand⎈
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