By Rotimi Fasan
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has been spending the last couple of few weeks fence-minding the relationship between their presidential flagbearer, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and his closest rival and challenger at the convention that produced the presidential flagbearer, Nyesom Wike.
The winning side of the contest initially acted like a short visit to Wike, whose hope of being selected as the winner’s running mate was not only dashed when Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta State governor, was picked over and above him, but was also portrayed as patently unfit for any position outside the one he presently holds as governor of Rivers State- the Atiku team acted as if snubbing Wike in the manner it did required nothing more than an advertised short visit of party members to his home to soothe his bruised ego.
This it promptly did and went about its way planning for the next phase of the presidential contest while its foot soldiers went about with their narratives of triumph, highlighting the unmarketability of an Atiku-Wike ticket on account of the real and perceived inadequacies of Wike that are too well-known to be repeated here.
But these lines of explanation had a touch of convenience about them. They amounted to mere excuses that gave short shrift to Wike’s contribution to the survival of the PDP at its momentof great trial. Then it survived on the financial oxygen of Wike, all thanks to the affordances of the monetary war chest of his state’s oil fund.
It is true that Wike leveraged on his financial advantage to browbeat other party members, including other state governors that he alienated by his abrasive ways and comments; installing and dethroning the party chair persons and other officers of the PDP.
Wike did all of this and more but those who could abided by his rules while enjoying the generosity of his huge purse that he deployed far and wide across states in which the PDP had full control or a fighting chance of returning to the centre of state or national politics. He was the beautiful bride and close friend of Northern politicians like Aminu Tambuwal who, like Wike, had his eyes set on the seat of president.
The two, among others, were seen and went about their activities like potential running mates in a presidential contest.
Wike it was who provided the staying power of the PDP and remained a committed, if self-willed, party member. He never for once entertained the idea of jumping ship nor did he pull punches when it came to fighting opponents and critics of the party or of his personal style. All of this until the May convention where he emerged the frontrunner for the flagbearer’s ticket despite the presence of Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice President, perennial presidential aspirant and leading member of the PDP.
Atiku’s profile had been diminished by his fair-weather friend link with the PDP, a fact driven by his ambition to be president since he left as Vice President in 2007. He was at different times, after 2007, a member of the PDP as he was of other political formations and parties like the All Progressives Congress, APC, where he was until shortly before 2015 when his ambition to be president again sent him running back to the PDP where he stood for president. He stood again for president in 2019 with Peter Obi, current presidential candidate of the Labour Party, LP, standing as his vice-presidential running mate.
There was every reason to believe that the PDP convention to produce the party’s presidential flagbearer was for Wike to lose given his financial and other investments in the PDP. And he was apparently coasting home to victory until things got upended the moment Tambuwal stepped down and urged his supporters to give their votes to Atiku.
Atiku, therefore, snatched victory from the jaws of possible defeat. For many Nigerians there was no other explanation for Tambuwal’s about-face than the need for regional, ethnic or religious solidarity.
Put starkly, Tambuwal’s volte-face was seen by Nigerians, except those invested in such underhand politics as a stab in the back of Wike, with some going further to view the situation as a mark of the innate disloyalty of the average Northerner who can never be trusted to live by their words.
But that for me will be taking it too far and a clear misreading of the way of a few persons or a group of persons bounded by class interest for the whole.
The character of the average Nigerian politician is not and should not be seen as representative of the people or region they come from and in whose name they routinely mismanage the country to the worst detriment of their own people. The question now is that the Bola Ahmed Tinubu candidacy presents politicians of Northern extraction another opportunity to either prove or disprove the claim that they cannot and should not be trusted in matters of power. Like him or not, Tinubu has played a key role in the APC even far more than can be rightly credited to Wike in the PDP. His ambition to be president, like that of Atiku Abubakar, may seem like an obsession but he has worked for it no less, if not far more, than any of those standing for the next election.
His emergence as the flagbearer of the APC should have been considered done, sealed and delivered even before the first ballot was cast at the APC convention for their presidential flagbearer. But that was not to be as everyone, including President Muhammadu Buhari, whose success as president in the face of three failed attempts, was only made possible by the bloc support Tinubu gave him from the South-West, looked askance and pretended they did not know it was, by their own code of morality as politicians, payback time.
In the name of being impartial, the president stood offish while the party’s chair, Abdullahi Adamu, started touting the name of Senate President, Ahmed Lawal, as the consensus candidate. Again, there was no explanation for this behaviour other than the need to ensure power does not leave the North, many mused.
While Tinubu demanded no special favours, despite his past contribution to the APC in its past and present incarnations, he was still going to be duped in plain sight as his putative Northern supporters looked on as they have been doing since he chose Kashim Shettima, a Kanuri, as his running mate, as opposed to someone from the entrenched Fulani establishment.
The success or failure of Bola Tinubu in the 2023 elections will be hard to divorce from the disposition of the Hausa and Fulani North to his ticket.