Wike versus Atiku’s dilemma
No one can stop Rivers State governor Nyesom Wike from gloating over the defeat of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar in the February 25 poll. The two politicians have had a running battle since the former vice president upstaged the governor during the party’s primary last May.
The Rivers governor and a section of the opposition party had insisted on the PDP respecting the informal zoning arrangement guiding the nomination of the party’s presidential ticket. The deal was not respected. Worse, instead of shuffling executive positions within the party, in this instance the chairmanship, to compensate the Southern chapter for the loss of the presidential ticket, party leaders, particularly Alhaji Atiku, deferred the reshuffle till after the party must have won the February poll.
In reaction, the party fractured irretrievably, while party leaders mocked the Rivers governor and dared him to do his worst. The PDP then lost the poll, leading to Mr Wike gloating on March 6, the day PDP leaders organised a protest rally to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office in Abuja.
Incensed and chastened by the peculiar manner in which Mr Wike expressed his delight at the frustrations of the PDP leadership, Alhaji Atiku called the sanity of the governor to question and dismissed him as irrational and feckless for abandoning his fellow ‘rebel’ governors in the Group of Five (G-5). But addressing his supporters after the PDP protest, Mr Wike had said, “As they were protesting, I just sat down and took a 40-year-old whiskey. I called some of my friends and opened the 40-year-old whiskey as they were protesting.” Unable to stomach Mr Wike’s insolence and the indignity of being described as a bad loser, Alhaji Atiku’s communications adviser exploded in fury: “The protest that was led by Waziri Atiku Abubakar on Monday, March 6, 2023 was against the stealing of the mandate of the Nigerian people, which in itself was a noble cause.”
The adviser, Phrank Shaibu, added: “At this point, I would love to commend the nearly 300,000 Nigerians who have signed the petition for Wike’s visa sanction. This is a step in the right direction. This is a man who in every election he has ever been involved in has been characterised by rigging and violence so much so that under his watch, the media tagged his state, ‘Rivers of Blood’.” Mr Wike’s gloating was probably anchored on the fact that as a lawyer, he knew that the objective of the protest was unachievable. He knew that Alhaji Atiku’s call for poll cancellation and fresh elections would be impossible to actualise. It cost billions to conduct the February 25 presidential and National Assembly polls. No elected lawmaker would back such reckless advocacy. And no government would appropriate fresh funds for an election that was conducted in largely peaceful atmosphere and which ended with variegated outcomes that benefited all the parties, including the undeserving. More importantly, neither the government nor INEC could on their own cancel the poll. The law is clear on that. Mr Wike knew all that, noted the finality of the poll, and exulted over the outcome. He will continue to gloat.
After weeks of futile campaign for the cancellation of the poll, not to say two days of feeble protests in Abuja, the PDP has retired to the courts where it first sensibly made recourse. The real battle will start and end in the courts, not on the streets, nor in flimsy barricades. Here again, Mr Wike is set to gloat. He knows that given the manner the PDP was badly fractured into at least four parts during the February 25 poll, it was impossible for any one part to triumph over the fairly united and single-minded All Progressives Congress (APC), the party in office. It is of course impossible to prove mathematically that had the four parts united to flush out the APC from office they would have succeeded. But united, their chances would have been far above average, and given the contradictions exhibited by the departing Muhammadu Buhari presidency, those chances would have received catalyst. Clearly, Mr Wike knows all this. Sadly, too, Alhaji Atiku senses the hopelessness of his cause, hence his resort to street advocacy and legal options. Neither, in the end, is likely to yield fruit.
This may be the main reason the Atiku camp is backing the imposition of visa sanction on both INEC officials and Mr Wike: INEC men for organizing a shambolic election, and Mr Wike for using strong-arm and underhand measures to ‘thwart’ the will of the electorate. Here, also, Alhaji Atiku will come to grief. The Western countries the PDP and Labour Party advocates are pressuring to extend visa ban know through diplomatic communications and cables that the elections were on the whole free, fair and credible. They have said as much in their responses to the February poll, even though their few misgivings have been twisted out of context and proportion. No visa ban is likely to be imposed on anyone, regardless of the number of people who signed the petition. Those countries are not as frivolous, sentimental and irrational as the petitioners hope. It is shocking that ex-vice president Atiku lends his diminishing and litigious weight to a futile campaign.
But perhaps Alhaji Atiku’s main dilemma is how to save face from a loss that flowed from his miscalculations and political awkwardness. He was unable to heal the fractures in his party before the polls, and he also backed the unpopular naira swap policy in the hope that it would favour his bid for the presidency. Everything failed him, his magic touch having departed him in what is evidently his last race. There will be no recovery. And for now, Mr Wike, to Alhaji Atiku’s immeasurable exasperation, is laughing last and best.
•Written By Adekunle Ade-Adeleye