How Atiku Survived the Wike Scare

How Atiku Survived the Wike Scare

Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, confirmed his staying power and knowledge of Nigeria politics by dusting 12 other gladiators to pick the coveted presidential ticket of the party.

He spoke little, from a carefully prepared script that avoided volatile faultlines and emphasized national unity. He burrowed deep into the national and intra party powerblocs to dislodge the younger gladiators who ganged up against him.

Governors Nyesom Wike, Bala Muhammed and Aminu Tambuwal, and former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, formed a formidable alliance with the hope that one of the quartet would emerge as the party’s presidential candidate.

They felt there should be a generational shift at the helm of Nigeria’s affairs. However, the alliance failed because of their individual ambition. Each wanted the ticket as desperate as the other.

First the north tried to have a consensus but this excluded Atiku and produced two aspirants – Muhammed and Saraki. Tambuwal felt it should be him and rejected it. And between Mohammed and Saraki, they could not agree on one person. So it failed.

The Party tried to arrive at a national consensus but also failed. The leadership of the party were in a dilemma. They are desperate to take power back from the All Progressives Congress, APC, and needed to do something radical to dislodge them. But the party had operated on power rotation principle and the Southeast were vociferous it was their turn.

To navigate this political mine, the party decided to neutralise the rotation principle and let the strongest candidate emerge.

Atiku and Wike emerged the strongest forces because of their politics and deep pockets.

The Southeast clamoured for the ticket and produced multiple aspirants but the most serious was Anyim Pius Anyim, a former Senate president. Like the North, the Southeast could not arrive at a consensus. Ideally, they could have united behind Anyim but each felt he was the best bet. And they all failed.

Anyim garnered only 14 votes, coming a distant 6th. Anakwenze and Ohuabunwa scored one vote each, making a total of 16 votes for all Southeast aspirants.

This clearly showed that the Southeast governors and power brokers did not support their aspirants. It was found that the 16 votes they jointly polled were from delegates that voted according to their conscience, despite the financial incentives.

Peter Obi saw the hand writing on the wall and resigned from the party. He was the best head for the job but not the right pocket. The average Nigerian desired a type of Obi politics but the power brokers favour the deep pockets. Obi is very rich but he is not ready to play money politics. He did not do that as governor of Anambra State. He does not do it in business, not in his personal life.

“ So how do you want us to run the party without money?” a top PDP member asked the magazine. He was not referring to the running cost of the party secretariat but the massive backline funding of party stakeholders. Their biggest fear was an Obi government. “He will starve the party,” argued the respondent, who insisted that Nigeria is not ready for Obi now.

Nyesom Wike, The Governor of Rivers State Photo
Nyesom Wike, The Governor of Rivers State

The Southeast governors and state party chairmen did not support Obi. How was he going to get the support of delegates? He also could not build alliances in the North because of the ambition of the northern aspirants. He found he could not actualiae his ambition in PDP and resigned.

The moment PDP decided not to zone its presidential ticket to the Southeast, the zone’s chances of picking the ticket crashed.

Two centrifugal forces knawed at not only the Southeast and South South votes but the whole South. The Southeast swayed the votes in favour of Atiku in 2019 and his influence remains. However, Wike was the rampaging bull in the market. The Southern Governors Forum insisted that power must shift to the South in 2023 and advised both PDP and APC to field Southern candidates. But they failed to walk the talk in PDP primary because of individual ambition, not the interest of the country.

Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State did not buy into the Wike project. He does not like Wike’s corrosive politics. Governor Udom Emmanuel did not buy the Wike project too. So he played the spoiler. He knew he would not win but taking away the Akwa Ibom votes from Wike puts him in a pole position to be considered for the slot of vice president. The 38 votes he scored are largely seen as that of Akwa Ibom’s 31 delegates and seven others from Cross River State. Those counted against Wike considerably.

Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi sat on the fence, or presented the picture of a man supporting multiple aspirants. Ugwuanyi has suddenly become very unpopular in Enugu State for what is seen as a wrong choice of successor. His politics in the PDP presidential primary has seen his popularity further plummeting to the lowest level since he became governor in 2015.

Wike was very bullish in his campaign. He was alleged to have deployed heavy financial assets and worked to get the votes of South and Middle Belt. He then hoped that his friendship with Tambuwal will count. A Wike-Tambuwal pairing was being anticipated. He had been building up the relationship over the years and his controversial donation of ₦500m to the government of Sokoto State after a market fire disaster was seen in this light.

Tambuwal’s volte face to step down for Atiku at the last minute shocked the Wike camp. He said, “In view of the situation of our country and the need for us in our party to minimise rancour and jostling for power, in any case, it is not always about an individual; it must always be about our country.

“I have come to the conclusion that to the glory of God Almighty, and from the results of what we are seeing throughout the country – millions of Nigerians suffering, and the need for us to close ranks in the party, and as one of the leaders of this party – I have come to a patriotic conclusion to step down my aspiration.

“Not only that, I would appeal to my supporters to take this in good strides and in the interest of national unity and patriotism, and not only that, those who are delegates here should vote for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.”

Abubakar responded on Twitter, “Thank you, H.E @AWTambuwal, for your spirited campaign. I look forward to working with you as we unite our party and our country.”

Wike’s buildup shook Abuja. His visibility was immense and it frightened the north, who feel he will be a very radical president and pro-south. It also sent jitters down the spine of PDP officials who feel Wike will be unable to win the presidential election for the party. The Party is desperate to return to power after eight years of painful opposition.

Atiku is the only candidate with national appeal. At the primary he harped on national unity. In the 2019 presidential election won more votes in the South than in the North. He has nurtured relationship across the six geo-political zones.

In 2015, INEC declared Muhammadu Buhari winner of the presidential election in 19 states with a total of 15,191,847 votes to defeat Abubakar, who won the election in 18 states, polling a total of 11,262,978 votes. Abubakar in his election petition argued that he actually won the election. He, however, could not convince the court and lost the case. In 2023, it will be him and a new APC candidate, not President Muhammadu Buhari. This gives him the possibility to better his fortune at the polls. And gives PDP the hope of a return to power.

He was running neck to neck with Wike and both the north and PDP leadership were apprehensive that Wike could cause an upset. So pressure was mounted by northern political influencers on other northern aspirants to step down for Abubakar. The others stuck to their gum. Only Tambuwal reluctantly agreed at the last minute. Mohammed Hayatu-Deen had earlier withdrawn from the race, citing over- monetisation of the process.

But Sokoto’s 23 delegates could not have swayed victory in favour of Abubaker or Wike. Abubakar polled 371 votes, 134 more than Wike’s 237 votes. He garnered votes across the country to scale through.

Saraki made a good showing coming third with 70 votes. Kwara State had only 16 delegates. This means he got 54 votes from other states.

Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, came 5th with 20 votes, presumably the 20 delegates from his state. He obviously got no extra vote from other parts of the country. Anyim came 6th with 14 votes. His Ebonyi State had only 13 delegates. It means that his journeys around the country produced only one additional vote.

Former Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose’s zero vote shocked most people. As a two time governor of the state, his political capital had crashed so much he could not get even one of the state’s 16 delegates to vote for him. He came. He saw. And was conquered.

Abubakar enthused on Twitter: “Today, the march to rebuild and unite our great country moves forward. I am honoured to be named the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

“I look forward to speaking with Nigerians across the country, taking the message of hope and unity as we build one future for one people.”

Bola Tinubu, APC’s presidential aspirant has congratulated the PDP flag bearer

“I welcome the victory of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the just concluded primary. I look forward to squaring up with him as a worthy opponent in the coming election.

“I have known the former Vice President as a formidable politician and a patriot who believes in the unity and progress of our dear country.

“As we move further into the election season, I charge the PDP presidential candidate and all political actors across party lines that we should make this election season one that is devoid of bitterness, rancour and strife.

“We should make our campaigns peaceful and issue based. Election season should be a festival of ideas that will uplift our country and improve the living condition of all our people.

“Unfortunately for the PDP, its candidate will be burdened to explain why Nigerians should give it another opportunity, after squandering 16 years at the central government without much to show.

“Nigerians are yet to forget the national ruin and mismanagement of our country for 16 years by successive PDP administration, and this bad memory will dog the campaign of the PDP candidate.

“Nevertheless, I once again congratulate our former Vice President for his victory in his party’s primary.”

Nwachukwu Anakwenze, who scored one vote blamed his loss to the volte face on zoning by PDP. In a statement entitled “If you change the rule in the middle of the game, no decent competitor would stand a chance to compete fairly,” he said: “My decision to withdraw from the race is the inability of the party to stand by their zoning principle as enshrined in the PDP Constitution.

“I have consulted widely with my people, elders and followers across the country and in the diaspora to arrive at this unpleasant decision to pull out of the race. I felt if you change the rules at the middle of the game, no decent competitor would stand a chance to compete fairly.

“I, Dr. Anakwenze made this known in a statement today, May 28 2022 where I lamented that my attempt to work with the Igbo aspirants of South East Zone to forge a consensus which would give my people a renewed sense of belonging and hope to lead to the emergence of the party’s flag bearer could not be achieved by this abuse of the zoning principle.

“My interest was to bring quality leadership to the country, foster unity and restore the hope of young people and the women as have shown in my campaign manifesto.

“My decision to run for the office of the President with the great support of Nigerians in the diaspora was to bring in quality leadership that has eluded us as a nation for decades now, but this has been dashed.

“Many things have happened in the last few weeks that showed certain persons don’t stand a chance to compete favorably; so it is on this premise that I, painfully withdraw from the contest today May 28 2022 in full support of a Southern candidate which is largely the wishes of Igbo Elders, the Diasporas and the voice of the people.

“I thank the party for the opportunity to inform Nigerians about how well they can fair with an Igboman as President whose love for the country towers above the lust for power. Let all my supporters across the North and South who have shown me that there are good Nigerians that still believe in merit and would put that above primordial sentiment.”

Anyim has congratulated Abubakar in a show of sportsmanship but frowned at the manipulations.

“I’m proud to have gone through the race to the end. However, I am shocked that consideration for voting the PDP presidential candidate was not based on burning national issues and how to resolve them, but still on the old primordial sentiments. It appears doubtful if our search for nationhood is yielding any results.

“I deeply appreciate and thank all those who stood by me throughout this race, especially those that voted for me at the primary election.

“I want to assure all of you that we shall continue to stand tall until we birth the Nigeria of our collective dreams.

“Let me also congratulate His Excellency, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar for emerging the PDP flag bearer for the 2023 presidential election.”

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