By Zainab Suleiman Okino
Thank God it is January, the month that will unravel so many things. Governor Nyesom Wike, the arrowhead of the G-5 rebellious governors of the PDP, also known as the Integrity Group, will finally reveal his presidential candidate.
February and March will finally put the drama, theatrics, horse-trading, name-calling and negative vibes of the 2023 election campaigns behind us, so that we can focus on governance — good governance, that is — direly required by Nigerians to bring the country back from the road to perdition that it has been on in the last few months. Hopefully.
But in the interim, the five governors — Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, and with Nyesom Wike of Rivers State as their leader —are almost at the end of their game of suspense. Very soon their junkets, even to the moon, will become immaterial, because all of them, with the exception of Governor Makinde, who may or may not return, would become exs, irrelevant and free-fund-less. This is because, like it or not, they all currently operate at the expense of their states, which pay their bills, including estacode. Others who want to be senators, even if they win, will become a few fractions of 109.
But even to get to that level, the embittered governors cannot afford to sit on the fence forever. Neutrality is not optional, though some of them have declared their support for Peter Obi, making it impossible to say which party they belong to. It is said that if you don’t believe in something, you can fall for anything. The governors claim to be fighting for justice, fairness and equity, but what happens in the event that they do not have their way and still have to belong somewhere? We should recall that the G-5 governors emerged after Wike lost out to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar at the PDP presidential primary election, and also the vice presidential slot of the party was offered to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, and not Wike still. They have since been demanding the removal/resignation of the party chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, for being from the North, the same zone with Atiku Abubakar, against the party’s gentlemen’s zoning arrangement.
In their kind of game (Nigerian politics), it is either you ship in or ship out and loyalty can only be to one political party. That day of reckoning is almost here. The governors originally had the sympathy of many Nigerians, but now they appear to be losing the emotional war, owing to their recalcitrance. Unfortunately, the Nigerian situation makes being out-of-office a lonely road to travel — you become rejected, dejected and irrelevant, because of our notion of the ‘winner-takes-all’. So, which party will be “home” to the five governors?
Unfortunately for these governors, the presidential and National Assembly elections hold on the same day (25 February), which further complicates their matter. How do you tell largely illiterate voters, on election day, to vote for different parties, using a ballot paper that has only party initials and logos? How awkward will it be to admonish voters to “vote for party A for president and party B for senator?”
The G-5 governors are playing with fire, which has the capacity to engulf them too. Their antics remind me of what happened in the 2015 presidential election in most states. In Kogi, when the PDP realised the overwhelming APC tsunami under the now President Muhahammadu Buhari as presidential flagbearer could consume them, they (PDP candidates, especially for the Senate and House of Representatives) devised a way of pairing their pictures and that of Buhari on their posters, while encouraging the people to vote APC for the presidency and PDP for the Senate and House of Reps. APC quickly capitilised on this hollow and illogical arrangement, telling voters to vote for “papa and pikin”, a reference to APC for both the presidency and National Assembly. It worked perfectly well, as the PDP presidential candidate, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, and National Assembly candidates of the party were roundly defeated.
While we wait for the five governors to tell the electorate how to make a distinction between “papas and pikins”, the battle has now shifted to their doorsteps. How they fight and the decision they take will also determine their own political survival and relevance, going forward.
Meanwhile, political annihilation for Wike is almost here, however the game goes and whoever wins. There is a saying that a prostitute’s mother’s funeral attracts more mourners than the prostitute’s death. The age-long proverb to underscore the near endgame for Wike is important. As governor, he has invited all the who is who, from the political circles to the business community to the technocrats and royalty, for one commissioning or the other in Rivers State.
Here lies Wike’s dilemma, whether as a PDP man or as supporter of the opposition. If the APC carries the day in the February presidential election, its members won’t see Wike as an ally to be trusted. If the PDP wins after all the ‘injuries’ he inflicted on the party, Wike will be treated like a pariah. Therefore, give or take, Wike will be a loser; he is walking the tight rope and is already at the edge of the tethers.
Each of these events, in most cases, is subsumed under Wike’s verbal umbrage at his opponents. Good enough that he has built a lot of infrastructure that needed unveiling and exposure, but his utterances always hide the focus of the invitation of the VIPs. Anyway, in the next few months, Wike will no longer be governor, he will have no projects to commission, and so no invitation to any political leader. If he does invite anyone, no one will honour it, and all the junkets and visits will become private affairs.
He is lucky that in Rivers State, the APC is in a court-induced disarray and the SDP is no match for it; otherwise even his hand-picked successor for the governorship election would have been in trouble, and unsure whether his principal (Wike) is with him in the PDP or not.
Governor Ortom is at the twilight of his many battles that did not include good governance and the provision of infrastructure. Benue State is as poor as ever. He fought Fulani herdsmen to a standstill. The sentiments he created around the Fulani domination narrative earned him a second term, after abandoning the APC he once rode on to power. And now, joining others to fight “injustice” is his baby project. It remains to be seen whether he can win the heart of the people in his senatorial ambition under the PDP. Meanwhile, the APC has a formidable candidate in Reverend Fr. Hyacinth Alia. Can Ortom weather the Reverend Father’s storm? Will the “injustice” sentiment card play in favour of Ortom again?
There are also the bigger consequences of a possible expulsion of the five governors. Except for a show of party supremacy, expulsion will not add much to the damage that awaits the five governors in my own opinion. There is a limit to everything; time to express anger, time to talk, and time to act. Whatever their cause, their grouse and grievance, and in whosoever’s interest, the G-5 governors are at their wits end, as the ovation is diminishing and the curtains are being drawn to a close. Going forward, anything done at a certain stage by them may only have nuisance value. I doubt if that’s the kind of legacy Wike and co. will want to be remembered for.
Zainab Suleiman Okino is Editorial Board chair of Blueprint Newspaper and a syndicated columnist. She can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.