By Biodun Busari
The task of becoming the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a daunting one. And, understanding this explains why all the presidential candidates are probably facing one of the most difficult moments of their political careers.
Undoubtedly, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar contesting on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has the toughest job among the three main contenders. He has a hurdle of the Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike to scale if he must return to Aso Villa, which he left in 2007 as the vice to former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
While Wike’s challenge looks insignificant to the eye, he’s hydra-headed and eventually posing as a door – to either Atiku’s win or defeat. A lot of other issues are attached to Wike, all of which will be treated in this report.
Why is Wike larger than life? The Rivers State governor does not only have people in the party who share his sentiment, he shoulders the interest of all aggrieved members in the party. From the South that was schemed out of 2023 presidential race to the rise of Peter Obi of Labour Party and romance with the ruling party, among other petty political Lilliputians seeking relevance, Wike still remains the link bridge connecting them all.
Wike’s cronies also include his counterpart governors and some members of the National Working Committee (NWC). Hence, it is substantial to say that Wike has turned the fight into a South-North dichotomy.
In a nutshell, Atiku has to win this internal battle before marching to the warfronts against his counterparts – All Progressives Congress (APC) and Labour Party (LP) presidential candidates – Bola Tinubu and Peter Obi respectively. If he eventually reconciles Wike to his side, he would have won half of the scuffles ahead.
Atiku and Okowa’s emergence
The battle for Atiku began the moment he emerged as the standard bearer of the main opposition party. It’s not the status itself that poses a challenge, but the process that brought him in. This doesn’t affect only him, his running mate, Governor of Delta state, Ifeanyi Okowa is also in the picture.
Prior to the PDP primary election in Abuja, in late May, Wike had pledged to support whoever emerged as the party’s flag bearer. He also assured he wouldn’t leave the party, regardless of what happened.
It was almost certain to conclude that Wike would emerge to fly the party’s flag going by his political muscle. Sadly for him, his colleague from Sokoto state, Governor Aminu Tambuwal withdrew from the race and urged his delegate supporters to vote for Atiku. This, obviously won the battle for the ex-vice President. Wike was obviously outplayed by a ‘friend’.
Rivers Governor could stomach Atiku’s victory at the primaries, but his ego was bruised when his neighbour in the South-South was picked to be the vice presidential candidate. Up till now, Wike has neither publicly congratulated Okowa nor commented on the issue.
Wike insistence on Ayu’s removal
Asides from other grievances that sprang up aftermath of the emergence of both Atiku and Okowa, Wike has admitted that his main rancour with PDP leadership is the failure of the party’s national chair, Senator Iyorchia Ayu to resign.
He claimed that there was an agreement during the zoning debate that both the presidential candidate and the national chairman cannot come from the same region.
Since Atiku is from the North, Ayu cannot remain as the PDP helmsman because he also hails from the North. Notwithstanding the resignation of Walid Jibrin as the chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT), Wike insists Ayu must go. Amid this, members of the National Executive Council (NEC) passed a vote of confidence on Ayu. As much as Ayu remains as PDP chairman, Wike cannot work for and with Atiku.
South-South battleground and Rivers electoral value
Whatever Atiku calculated to have chosen Okowa as his vice ahead of the 2023 general elections has arguably boomeranged. This has divided his votes in the South-South already unless the internal wrangling is resolved amicably before Nigerians head to the polls next year.
In the wake of the brawl with the Atiku camp, Wike, while commissioning recent infrastructural projects in his state. Imaintained that he would help PDP not to win elections. This will only change if his demands are met.
But, Atiku must hold on to the belief that the South-South region is a cherished stronghold that would give him votes in the South. By extension, he should strategise not to let Rivers slip away from his grasp even if it means sourcing for a powerful figure in Wike’s state.
Rivers will deliver for Atiku because, in the 2019 presidential elections, Atiku scored 473,971 votes against Buhari who polled 150,710 votes.
However, while Wike’s clout cannot be underestimated in Rivers, Atiku can rake in massive votes in the region including Wike’s state if he plays the game well. The states in the region with the exception of Cross River belong to PDP. He just has to work with Okowa and find a charismatic party chieftain to be on his campaign train.
Makinde and unfriendly South-West terrain
The South-West is a no-go area for Atiku but anything can happen in politics, even at the last minute. Tinubu displayed that during the APC’s presidential primary election, as a political journalist said, “While other presidential candidates go for the delegates, Jagaban goes for the presidential candidates themselves.”
The region is for Tinubu except for Oyo state just like the South-South is for Atiku. But this doesn’t mean there won’t be trickles to gather for both of them in each region.
Going back to Tinubu’s tactics at his party’s primaries, Wazirin Adamawa can adopt such a strategy by enticing the bigwigs in Southwestern Nigeria to his camp if he wants to defeat the national leader of APC in his backyard.
On September 14, 2022, Atiku met with Oyo state governor, Seyi Makinde who is also Wike’s closest ally. Atiku knows he needs Makinde if he has to get a substantial number of votes from South-West. Makinde wanted what Wike wanted. Don’t forget that Wike is a door. Atiku can decide to open or shut.
Also, by February 2023, Osun state governor-elect, Senator Ademola Adeleke would have assumed office, but it is not certain if he would have garnered the political experience to deliver large votes for Atiku.
Mark, Ayu, Ortom and North-Central factor
The Middle-Belt of Nigeria is another PDP’s biggest armoury if Atiku’s political antenna is receiving a signal. He must woo another Wike’s ally and staunch critic of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government in the person of Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state. Ortom lamented a few days back that all is not well with PDP.
Whether Atiku sidelines Ortom or not, he has the shoulders of the former Senate President David Mark to ride on. Mark is a big fish in Benue politics. It is noteworthy that Ayu is also from Benue, and Atiku might not succumb to Wike’s threat of sacking Ayu. It is resourceful to use his status in gaining prominence in the state and the region at large.
Other states in the North-Central, especially those plagued by the atrocities of killer Fulani herdsmen will embrace Atiku and this might smoothen his cruise to victory in 2023.
Kogi and Kwara states are APC states but Atiku can use his influence to wage war against them in dividing the votes. The heavyweight ranks of former Kogi Senator who is also Atiku’s spokesman, Dino Melaye and former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki are strong waves to ride on.
South-East, Igbo presidency and the ‘Obidients’
Any politician that jettisons the wave of the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi does so to his detriment. Obi is not only the Igbo presidency that the region longs for, he’s a political figure that the disgruntled young Nigerians want to install via their votes in 2023.
It is expected that Tinubu and Atiku understand this. How they would surmount that hurdle is a test of their acumen. The former VP cannot convince Igbo men with ‘Okowa is also an Igbo’ status to lure their votes.
Although, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo has reiterated that it would have preferred that APC and PDP choose a Southeasterner to vie for the highest political office.
The Igbo leaders wanted a repeat of 1999 when PDP and defunct All Peoples Party (APP) fielded Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae respectively who are Yoruba people.
And since Ndigbo didn’t get this, the ethnic sentiment that Obi is more Igbo than Okowa is a card to play. An Atiku would struggle to win this debate.
The Obidients are also everywhere. They are the youths that want to pay back APC and PDP in their coin for many years of the nation’s woes. These are energetic and resolute Nigerians who are ready to share spoils with Atiku and Tinubu for Obi’s advantage.
Having said this, Atiku cannot totally lose out in the South-East, another former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim and the new Board of Trustees (BoT) chairman, Adolphus Wabara will not hesitate to embrace Atiku to oust the APC government.
Dicey North-West, North-East’s strongholds
The core North, despite APC’s damage to security and economy, will still most likely queue behind Tinubu who is promising a facelift of Nigeria in the pattern of Lagos when he was governor and other gimmicks he and his party will push out to Nigerians.
Governors like Nasir el-Rufai, Abdullahi Ganduje, Aminu Masari and Bello Matawalle of Kaduna, Kano, Katina and Zamfara states are key to Tinubu’s win. Kano’s votes are instrumental. In 2019, Buhari polled 1.4 million votes in a landslide.
Whoever between Tinubu and Atiku owns Ganduje automatically owns those Kano’s votes. How Atiku would get an appreciable fraction of those votes is also important.
However, Atiku can slug it out with Tinubu on the basis of the son of the soil. He’s a Northerner. He can appeal to the ego and sentiment of the Northern political class and stakeholders from the region.
Atiku is the most prominent politician in the North-East. This would have been a free ride for him but Tinubu chose his running mate, former governor of Borno state, Senator Kashim Shettima to spoil the show for Atiku.
The ex-VP needs to possess the North-East as his home. He must campaign vigorously to weaken the APC even in the terror-laden Borno. He’s a politician who knows what his campaign programmes should hit at.
Kwankwaso: the beautiful bride
As integral as Kano’s votes are to winning the presidential election, the former governor in the state, Rabiu Kwankwaso is a major stakeholder. He has massive followers through his Kwankwasiyya movement.
All along, whoever Kwankwaso supported would reap Kano’s votes, but this time around the former Defence Minister is running for President under the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). If he doesn’t step down, it is almost certain that Atiku, Tinubu and Obi should forget Kano as a determining factor in winning.
There are speculations that Kwankwaso would align with any of the three front runners at the dying minutes – and Atiku might have to lobby to win him over.
Nigerians own the votes
The 2023 presidential election largely depends on the aggrieved, hopeful and optimistic Nigerians who desire and demand a better, safer, richer and greater country, and would do all within their reach to achieve this. They are the ones Atiku should appeal to. They are the voters he should convince. He will definitely use the inadequacies of APC against them. But, he needs more than that. Nigerians want practicalities.
With the new Electoral Act, political analysts have supported the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to say it would be difficult for politicians to rig elections. So, 2023 is for Nigerians, Atiku and other candidates in the race must understand and work with that fact.
But, the ball is in the court of Nigerians whether to continue with the status quo or have a paradigm shift. Whichever way, Atiku has a bigger challenge than Tinubu and Obi in winning the election. Since his entry into politics in 1989, he had contested five times in 1993, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. And he knows more than anyone that 2023 is probably his last chance.