Hero abroad, commoner at home
By Dirisu Yakubu
Nigeria’s immediate past President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan morphed from a political orphan who lost an election, to a somewhat global symbol of democracy by conceding defeat to Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. By conceding defeat, the man averted what would have translated to bloodletting of a huge scale.
Since losing power five years ago, the zoologist-turned politician has become a celebrated figure in Africa and indeed the world. If he is not monitoring elections in the African continent, he would be elsewhere sharing ideas on peaceful polls and constitutional democracy.
Back home, however, Jonathan has since become a leader treated with little respect even by some leaders of his political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
In the build up to the governorship election in his home state of Bayelsa which held last week; Jonathan had pushed and supported the aspiration of his political associate, the former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Mr. Timi Alaibe.
However, outgoing governor of the state, Seriake Dickson had other ideas. Not only did he argue that only members of his “Restoration Family,” had the stuff of leadership acumen to succeed him, Dickson deployed resources to back Senator Duoye Diri, who eventually picked the PDP ticket but lost disappointingly to David Lyon, candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Jonathan, a day the APC won the poll was captured alongside his wife, Dame Patience playing host to the APC contingent led by Jigawa state governor, Abubakar Badaru.
With condemnation trailing the defeat, a worried Dickson in veiled attack on Jonathan flayed those who blamed him for the loss of Bayelsa. According to him, he consulted the former President and personally visited him 16 times until penultimate Saturday’s poll.
It appears that apart from Dickson, the PDP is not in the least impressed with Jonathan over the Bayelsa election. On Wednesday when he turned 62, only Governor Bala Mohammed deemed it fit to take a paid advertisement to celebrate a man he described in glowing superlatives. The PDP neither did this nor in the least, issue a statement in his honour.
A chieftain of the party and former Minister who spoke with our correspondent said the “silence” that greeted Jonathan’s 62nd birthday is fallout of trust deficit.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the chieftain said, “The former President does not command respect from the party’s hierarchy. But he Jonathan is partly responsible for this. He does not attend party’s meetings and except when absolutely necessary, he does not speak as an ambassador of the party on whose platform he became President. So, that is an issue.”
That said, the ex-Minister also blamed the party for according Jonathan little respect as would have been expected, saying “Whatever his faults, a former President deserves more. When it appeared he was not respected in the build up to the governorship race in Bayelsa by a man he brought from the House of Representatives, the leadership of the party ought to have stepped in and told Dickson some home truths,” he added.
In a dramatic twist however, it was the ruling party’s leading opposition figures who took out a few pages to felicitate with Jonathan on Wednesday- Minister of State (Petroleum), Timipre Silva, Bayelsa state governor-elect, David Lyon and Senator Orji Uzor Kalu in separate advertorials, celebrated Jonathan and prayed God to grant him good health among sundry wishes. Pray, where are the governors of the PDP? Has Jonathan lost it? Or rather, has PDP continued to lose it?
What can this PDP do without Wike?
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state is perhaps, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, biggest asset today and in the past few years. Quite a significant number of people will opt for former Vice President and Presidential candidate of the party in the February 23, 2019 election, Atiku Abubakar in place of Wike. For those who see Atiku as the man (apologies to World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE super star, Seth Rollins); his vast political connections and deep financial war chest are sufficient to have him perch atop the pyramid of this ladder.
Events in the past few years however showed that Wike, not Atiku has been the political figure(for good and for bad) of the party. For a party that produced President Goodluck Jonathan who lost his re-election bid in 2015 to the then serial contestant, Muhammadu Buhari; one would have expected the tough-talking governor to at least play second fiddle in the pecking order. No: Wike is first and when he clears his throat, the party runs for cover until normalcy returns. So, how did this lawyer-turned politician become so powerful?
Wike first came to the limelight with his appointment as Chief of Staff to the then Rivers state governor, Rotimi Amaechi while they were both in the PDP. In what appeared a vote of confidence, Amaechi would later anoint him as ministerial designate in the cabinet of President Goodluck Jonathan, where he got the education portfolio. As it were, relationship broke down between Amaechi and Jonathan, leaving Wike as the ultimate beneficiary.
The then First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan saw in Wike a man fit enough to take over the governorship of Rivers from Amaechi, with the later not in the least impressed with the permutations coming from the first family. The rest became history as Wike succeeded Amaechi on the platform of the PDP.
Following the loss of power at the centre coupled with the exit from the PDP of some A-listers such as Atiku Abubakar, Bukola Saraki, Aminu Tambuwal, Yakubu Dogara and a host of others; Wike nurtured the party to a respectable opposition platform that helped in no small measure in keeping the then newly formed All Progressives Congress, APC, on its toes.
He funded the party almost single-handedly and ensured that its national secretariat, Wadata Plaza, Abuja was not left in the cold. Thus in the build up to the 2019 election, the party had waxed so strong, vibrant and competitive, sufficient to bring back the likes of Atiku and Saraki who left the party owing to some reasons that are already public knowledge.
The tiger bares his teeth
In the December 2017 national elective convention of the party, a ‘unity list’ believed to have contained the names of Wike’s preferred choices for the various leadership positions of the party’s National Working Committee, NWC swept the polls at the Eagles Square, Abuja. Few hours to balloting, Prince Uche Secondus and Professor Tunde Adeniran were the front-runners for the plum office of the PDP national chairman. While Wike stood behind Secondus, prominent northern leaders including former Information Minister, Professor Jerry Gana rallied behind Adeniran. In the end, Secondus garnered 2,000 votes out of the total 2,296votes cast by party delegates, leaving Adeniran with a paltry 231 votes as runner and Raymond Dokpesi with 66 votes in distant third. With this feat, Wike became the de facto national leader of Nigeria’s biggest opposition party.
The Port-Harcourt Convention
As twelve aspirants left for Port-Harcourt, striving to outbid one another to pick the Presidential ticket of the party for the 2019 election; Wike had his plans. Of the dozen aspirants, he settled for Tambuwal and tasked the leadership of the party to host the event in Port Harcourt. Some of the aspirants kicked against the choice of the Garden City, leaving the leadership to temporary flirt with the idea of an alternative venue. But Wike reminded whoever cared to listen that he was the boss. “If they try it (takes the convention away from Port Harcourt), they will regret it. Let me warn the party, if you dare, Rivers State will teach the party a lesson. Those days have passed when they took Rivers State for granted. Nobody can use and dump Rivers State. No presidential aspirant can use and dump Rivers State.”
A week later, Port Harcourt hosted the event and Atiku beat eleven others to emerge the pick of the party. As a mark of respect, Secondus took the former Vice President on a thank you visit to the peerless governor who though failed to deliver his anointed candidate (Tambuwal), savored the taste of his political ascendancy.
House minority brouhaha
The PDP NWC had in June this year mandated its members in the House of Representatives to vote for Honourable Kingsley Chinda as Minority Leader. Many described Chinda’s choice as one that had the blessing of Wike. However, in circumstances not far from political intrigues, Honourable Ndudi Elumelu emerged instead, fueling internal crisis within the party. Swiftly, Ndudi and his co-travelers were suspended even as some called for caution on the part of the NWC.
A fortnight ago, the party issued a statement calling on Ndudi and six others not to take any decision on behalf of the PDP as “the suspension placed on some PDP members who connived with others to supplant the party decision with regards to party positions in the House is subsisting and has not been lifted.”
The party also noted “that the NWC in its wisdom, knowing that nature abhors a vacuum and consistent with its position on the matter which has not changed, directed that the affairs of the PDP caucus of the House of Representatives be organized and managed by: Hon. Kingsley Chinda, Hon. Yakubu Barde, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema and Hon. Muraina Ajibola.”
A party official who does not want his name in print said but for Governor Wike, “The PDP would not have been any different from the scores of mushroom parties we have today.” Many would disagree with him, saying that his role has even deepened the crisis in the party. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the lanky fellow continued, “Give Wike some credit. He is the soul of the party. He is backbone of the PDP and you can’t call the bluff of the man who is paying his dues and more. Without him, it is difficult to imagine what would become of the PDP.”
So, what becomes of him at the expiration of his second term in office in 2023? Will he make the Senate his retirement abode in keeping with the tradition of former governors? Will he eye the big price as some are already speculating? What shape will PDP take then considering what they are facing now? Time will tell.