All the tantrums and bickering we have seen and heard from Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike in the past months is nothing compared to what is coming in the next few months. So he said.
The governor said he has just started politics.
“All the ones I was doing before are not politics. It’s now I’m doing politics,” he said last week.
It was one of the many meetings the governor held and this time, he had almost everything he needed to make his regular utterances: a microphone, a solemn atmosphere and the right audience – the kind that completes his sentences and applauds after every phrase. The only thing missing at that rendezvous was his live band.
He wondered why the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would not stop sending emissaries to him to plead and convince him to support the party’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. He maintained that while he will not exit the party, he will play no role in its presidential campaign unless, of course, his demand is met – that the national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, resigns.
Earlier, the governor said there would be no peace in the party until Mr Ayu leaves and that he would fight till the end.
Hard as they might try to hide it, Mr Wike has been a cause for concern to Atiku and the party’s leadership. Although the PDP said campaigns will go on without Mr Wike and its other aggrieved governors, Atiku has sent several groups to plead with the Rivers governor.
In the penultimate week, the governor went after members who are loyal to Atiku in Rivers State. He derecognised Celestine Omehia as a former governor of the state.
In 2007, the Supreme Court removed Mr Omehia as governor over no offence that he committed in person. He had been asked to replace Rotimi Amaechi whom the PDP disqualified as its governorship candidate. Mr Omehia won that election easily.
But the Supreme Court later voided Mr Amaechi’s disqualification and declared him the rightful winner of the election – an election that he played no part in. Mr Omehia was not officially recognised as a former governor in the state until Mr Wike assumed office and recognised him as such.
Now, Mr Wike has changed his mind, describing the recognition as improper. He asked Mr Omehia to refund every kobo he has been paid as financial entitlements, amounting to about N600 million. His monthly pension of almost N100 million has also been stopped.
If anything, Mr Wike’s actions in the last two weeks are enough to show just how far he is willing to go to frustrate the efforts of Atiku and the PDP.
More shots at Ayu
Next was a media chat Mr Wike had with select journalists on Friday – the second media chat in three weeks. Many who came across the advertorial knew that he was about to spill some more beans about the party and Mr Ayu.
It generated just as many reactions as the cost implications for organising such media parleys. Many Nigerians on social media wondered why the governor, who is not running for any political office in the coming year, deems it necessary to always invite the press, pay for airtime and just rant.
This time, Mr Wike opened more cans of worms as he accused Mr Ayu of receiving a double pay of N100 million from a PDP governor and the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) for the same project.
“In fact, let me also tell you, Ayu collected N100 million from a governor that he was going to renovate our democratic institute and then he (Ayu) went back to the (PDP) NWC and took the same N100 million naira for doing the same work.”
He challenged Mr Ayu to deny it and said he would reveal more details about the double pay including the name of the said governor.
“If people know what we know, if we release what we have, Ayu’s children will go to him and say we are no longer your children,” Mr Wike said.
It is the second time the governor would accuse Mr Ayu of being fraudulent. Weeks ago, he said Mr Ayu collected up to N1 billion from members of the party. He also accused Mr Ayu of bribing some members of the party’s National Working Committee to have them on his side.
Mr Wike’s allegations generated more controversy when some members of the NWC began to return money to the chairman. At least four NWC members returned over N120 million. The sum ranged from N28 million to N36 million. In separate letters to the chairman, they said they had to return the money tagged ‘housing allowance’ because of allegations in the media that it was a bribe.
A stressed Ayu
Mr Ayu is stressed. Mr Wike’s tantrums are obviously taking a toll on him. After the back and forth he had with some of Mr Wike’s supporters weeks ago about who is a child and who is not and whether or not he should resign, the chairman decided to stop responding to comments made against him by the governor or his supporters – for the sake of peace.
But he was dragged out of his shell this time by a thorny Mr Wike who would not stop.
In fact, the first line in his response to Mr Wike’s recent allegations was “when the first allegation was made… I decided not to respond because we don’t want to cause alterations in the party… I have restrained myself from reacting.” Then he went on to say it became incumbent on him to reply because it touches his integrity and that of his family.
While he denied receiving N1 billion from party members, he confirmed receipt of N100 million ‘donation’ from a governor for the said project. He said he never personally collected money from anyone in the party or the NWC.
For the N1 billion, he said it was suggested by Atiku at the time, to borrow the sum from a bank which is owned by a former member. The loan was never collected, he said.
Despite the explanations, the controversy still lingers.
Until Mr Wike’s mention of N1 billion, there was no word about it from the PDP. Some NWC members returned money shortly after he talked about Mr Ayu bribing them. Whether or not it was truly a housing allowance or bribe, no one knows. But questions as to whether they would have returned the money if such accusations were not made, remain unanswered. Another unanswered question is whether they have received such money before and kept quiet about it.
Political pundits have said, if not contained, the fight between Messrs Wike and Ayu will only make them successfully work against Atiku.
Not Atiku shooting himself in the foot
It is exhausting enough to have to deal with Messrs Wike and Ayu throwing jabs at each other. It is also bad enough that Atiku has kicked off his campaign without some major southern governors. Atiku made things a little worse when he asked some northern leaders in Kaduna State to endorse him, a northern candidate, and shun Yoruba or Igbo leaders.
He said this at an interactive session with the Arewa Joint Committee at Arewa House, Kaduna. He was asked by the spokesperson of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, why Northerners should vote for him. His response was “What the average Northerner needs is somebody who’s from the north and also understands that part of the country and has been able to build bridges across the country.
“This is what the Northerner needs, it doesn’t need a Yoruba or Igbo candidate, I stand before you as a pan-Nigerian of northern origin.”
His comment has triggered outrage among many Nigerians on social media. It was captured in a video which has now gone viral. Many have described it as a careless statement from a candidate who calls himself a unifier.
Some of his supporters and spokespersons have attempted to explain his comment to mean the North needs a pan-Nigerian leader. And the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has since latched onto the remarks, tagging him as desperate for playing the ethnicity card.
His comment comes at a time when members, particularly southern members of the party, are still angry at the party for failing to zone the presidential ticket to the South-east. It also comes at a time when his major contenders are southerners.
Atiku and his team would have to do a lot of damage control to convince angered Nigerians that he did not mean it that way, especially since some major PDP governors from the South have opted out of his campaign.
He will hope that the southerners he has on his side and the backing of the former president, Goodluck Jonathan, will save him from the mess he created.
On a final note…
The idea behind appointing spokespersons is to communicate to the public the candidate’s plans, beliefs and promises. These spokespersons should, in one way or another, serve as middlemen between their candidates and the masses.
The spokespersons of the major parties, particularly the APC and PDP, seem to be getting it wrong. In the past weeks, the spokespersons have verbally attacked each other online and offline. They have picked holes in speeches or events of the rival parties and used them to attack their opponents.
At what point do we tell them that their acts are embarrassing to both the parties and Nigerians as a whole? No one wants to log on to Twitter or Facebook and see these men cursing and dragging each other.
Going forward, and with the campaigns taking the full course, one would like to see spokespersons do the job of spokespersons and not social media influencers.