By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
By the time the dust settled on the Edo state gubernatorial election, new political realities had crystallized. The sun had set, it seems, on the career of a putative godfather; quite obviously, the era of Adams Oshiomhole as the King of the Edo political landscape, was over. But as the Yoruba would say, the king is dead, long live the king!
A new political king in Edo is born, and thus goes his name: GODWIN OBASEKI!
Whereas Obaseki sits on the throne in Edo, however, another king has cemented his place in the country’s political landscape. Of course, Obaseki’s victory may be the main narrative of the giddy political events of the last few months, but the deeper significance is the rise to the full bloom of a new political maestro, the true lion of Niger Delta; the dynamic and awesome voltage of the swashbuckling governor of Rivers State; Nyesom Wike.
In the build-up to the Edo polls, Comrade Oshiomhole was said to have announced to the Nigerian public that he was the lion, and Obaseki was a mere lizard. His argument being, perhaps, that the contest was one between a lion and a lizard. He is not, however, the first to lay claim to the kingship of the Niger Delta ‘jungle.’ Before him was a popular politician there, who at the height of his power proclaimed himself a lion. But a lion, goes a saying, doesn’t have to roar to be a lion, for even when he purrs the whole jungle knows that he’s the king. Indeed this true lion, Wike, never had to proclaim himself a lion, he simply demonstrated he is king of the jungle, and the hyenas ran, tales between their legs, away from the pride land.
Perhaps to underline the crucial role Wike played in his victory, Obaseki chose his official abode, the Brick House, as his first point of call post-election victory.
“I’m with my brother and Governor of Rivers State, H. E. Nyesom Wike, to express appreciation for his support before, during and after the Edo governorship election,” Obaseki said. “As the chair of the national campaign council, he applied himself diligently to task. Indeed, he is a true brother.”
The elated Edo governor went on: “After I was pushed out of my former party, this house was the first place I sought solace. You took me in as a brother, out of the storm, changed my clothes and gave me food to eat.
“It was in this house, the campaign council met to work out the key strategies that led us to victory. You mobilised people across the country. You moved to Benin, went through the humiliation and attacks. You supported us and we won. It will be a sin against God if we do not come to say thank you. Even if the victory we are celebrating is from God. He has used people like you to make it happen.”
The full import of that visit was not lost on political observers who have noted that it came even before the visit to the Presidency.
Of course, this would not be the first time Wike would be playing such central roles in the polity. Indeed he has become an avatar, a powerful catalyst whose views, alliances and interests largely determine the flow of events both within the PDP and nationally. It is largely courtesy of him that the opposition party is witnessing a rebirth and is poised to challenge the APC headlong in the 2023 general elections. He has stood up to the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC administration on several occasions, criticising when necessary and commending when appropriate. In the process, he has emerged almost effortlessly, as one of the most powerful Nigerians. In a yet to be published research conducted by this newspaper, Wike emerged in the top ten brackets of its index of Nigeria’s top 100 people of Power and Influence.
But the question which many people are pondering is, how did this man who was a just local government chairman not too long ago become so powerful, influential and charismatic? How did he become, in the words of one commentator, ‘the governor other governors are talking about?’ Indeed, how did Wike become?
For Chie Rufus Jolaosho, however, Wike’s emergence as a major player in the nation’s political landscape should not be a surprise to anybody given that he “emerged from a political clan soaked in political intrigue, combat and ambition.”
The conventional wisdom among the crowd in the various centres of power in the country today is that Wike holds the key to a possible PDP victory in the 2023 presidential elections. Kolade Ajao, a political commentator captures it rather vividly, “it’s obvious that he is central to the future of the PDP. What he does, how he does it, who he supports and who he does not support… will all go a long way to determining the future of the party and outcome of the elections!”.
Indeed Wike’s rise to national prominence has left even his most ardent critics grudgingly envious. His achievements have since overshadowed that of his mentors.
“Wike’s courage and audacity is what the Niger Delta, nay, Nigeria needs to move to the next level,” says former member, House of Representatives, Hon. Tunde Lakoju. “He motivates the youth and shows the older generation why they must wake up from their sleep.”
The Rivers governor has, however, faced battles. But in those, he has fought like a true lion. He battled to win the Rivers State governorship election in 2015, ahead of his APC challenger, Dakuku Peterside, then backed by his predecessor, now Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, and has since continued to grow from strength to strength. It bears repeating that he is arguably the strongest political force within the ranks of the country’s main political party. This, he demonstrated clearly in 2017 during the party’s national convention.
It was exactly 3:59 am Sunday morning, December 10, 2017, at the Eagle Square, Abuja when the national anthem played. The elective convention of the PDP had come to an end with Prince Uche Secondus emerging chairman of the party, having scored a total of 2000 votes after what was a battle of wits, deals and compromises. His closest rival, Prof Tunde Adeniran came a distant second with 230 votes, while media mogul, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi got 60 votes. Wike had done it.
With notable figures like Chief Bode George; Prof Adeniran; former governors Gbenga Daniel and Rasheed Ladoja and media mogul, Chief Dokpesi, among others initially in contention, few people could have predicted a landslide victory for Secondus, especially given that there had been suggestions that the post is ceded to the South West. But in the end, Wike, who backed Secondus, proved beyond doubt that he was the new power bloc in town. Against the wishes of some of the party’s founding fathers, including Prof Jerry Gana; Ibrahim Mantu; former head of state, Ibrahim Babangida and even the immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan who had allegedly favoured the South West bid, the governor not only succeeded in having his way, but did so in style. It was the first major sign that a new power broker had been born.
Another challenge came in 2019. Having seen his party, the APC disqualified from taking part in the Rivers elections of that year by the country’s apex court, Amaechi, determined to prove a point against him, adopted the candidate of African Action Congress (AAC), Biokpomabo Awara. And on election day, sought to dethrone the governor with a full complement of armed soldiers. But in the end, Wike still held his head high, beating Awara by nearly 700,000 votes.
“From Port Harcourt to Abalama, Abonnema, Ahoada, Ataba, Bane, Bonny, Buguma, Elele, Emohua and Igrita, just to mention a few, the people are most proud and independent. They believe that they should be able to choose their leaders without any external intervention,” said Dr Godday Anabrara, a lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt.
“Unfortunately for Amaechi, Wike stoked the embers of regional politics to his own advantage and Amaechi, though not officially on the ballot, witnessed the first major defeat of his political career and eventual demystification.
“Wike is a person who can go to any length to achieve his aim. To me, he is at home with a popular maxim, ‘the end justifies the means.”
Indeed, as the country braces up for the 2023 general elections in less than three years, with the evident unravelling of the President Buhari-led APC, political punters are already assessing the alchemy of factors that will throw up Nigeria’s next most powerful and influential leaders. And top on the pecking order of a number of analysts is the ambitious, cerebral and streetwise governor of Nigeria’s second richest state.
“With the stupendous wealth at his disposal, Wike is in a position to buy whatever he wants. In fact, the APC leadership realizes the danger of having him and other oil-rich South-South governors with trillions of naira at their disposal to run riot,” says Chief Bayo Adedoyin, an APC chieftain in Lagos.
“With so much money at their disposal, Wike and his likes portend grave danger, not just to President Buhari and the APC, but to his opponents.”
The Wike mystique is as complex as the explanation of how water slides into the husky tomb of a coconut shell. It embodies brilliance, guile, shrewdness and, as some have claimed, ruthlessness.
“Wike is a principled and courageous man with a load of dexterity,” noted former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Austin Opara. “A reliable ally and that is Nyesom Wike.”
The sixth civilian governor of Rivers has all these attributes and more. He has achieved so much, so fast that his peers look like Lilliputians described in Daniel Defoe’s famous allegorical fantasy, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. But what else would one expect from an ardent student of the famous Peter Odili clan?
His ebullient demeanour gives an insight into the enormous political strength he carries and reflects his true capacity to move issues along lines that suit his interest. It is an effective tool he has repeatedly used to the eternal regret of his political rivals.
“Gov Wike is a courageous man with a very large heart. He has added immense value to Rivers State, the PDP and Nigeria,” noted former governor of Imo State, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha.
Wike is in fact an astute political strategist. As a result of his ever bellicose reputation, many unsuspecting political adversaries had, to their own peril, seen him as unstable and one to be ignored. However, many who have ignored him have done so at huge political costs.
An adept and ruthless student of politics, his emergence on the national platform was not without its challenges. It took a lot of patience and skill for the former Obio Akpor local government chairman to survive intrigues weaved against him by forces in both his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling APC.
A student of power, he learnt the ropes well from Odilli and Amaechi who dominated Rivers politics for more than 16 years and rose through the ranks from the grassroots, becoming Chairman of his Obio/Akpor LGA in 1999, deputy president and later president of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, whose link to the Commonwealth Local Government Forum allowed him to gain exposure beyond Rivers State.
From that moment on, it was clear that he would aim for more. It came as no surprise when Amaechi as governor in 2007, appointed him his chief of staff for four years. He went on to become the director-general of Amaechi’s campaign for the second term.
From there, he became a minister in 2013 and used the position to cement a good relationship with the then President Goodluck Jonathan, as well as building a formidable grassroots support for his governorship ambition.
In 2015, he achieved his ambition of becoming Rivers governor despite stiff opposition from his former principal, Amaechi. Since then, he has never looked back.
But perhaps, his greatest strength has been his ability to endear himself to Rivers with his numerous developmental projects. Regarded as Mr Projects, Wike has continued to perform infrastructure wonders in the state, and this performance has solidified his support base in the state he calls home. This was, of course, clearly seen during the 2019 polls when women, men and youths trooped out in their numbers to resist the military in their attempt to subvert their will and install another governor.
“He is visionary, forthright and does not seek from both sides of his mouth. Governor Wike strives for excellence and is passionately committed to leaving an enduring legacy wherever he finds himself,” said the State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim. “He is bold and courageous; stands for the truth no matter whose ox is gored.”
Even his former employees have only but glowing tributes for the Rivers governor.
“His achievements rest more in the road, education, health and sports infrastructure. His ability to put the PDP together at home and at the centre is commendable,” says Emma Okah, former Commissioner for Information.
“Positiveness, self confidence, courage, intelligence and smartness is what defines Gov Neeson Wike (the people’s Gov)
“He is focused, aggressive and tenacious in all his pursuits. A believer in God, friendship and fairness. Wike killed fear in annas of his life that is why he threads where others dread”, noted his former Special Adviser, Barrister Gloria Akor.
In the words of former Charge d’Affaires for the Embassy of Nigeria in The Hague, Netherlands and Consul-General of Nigeria in Atlanta, Georgia, Ambassador Joe Keshi, Wike is an interesting phenomenon, enigmatic and talented who is often misunderstood.
“I think people should try and understand him and see how they can work with him for the good of the state, the south-south and the country. ln this way, his real potentials will manifest,” Keshi stated.
Second Republic politician and Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, describes Wike as an “active member of the PDP who is working in concert with others for the success of his party.”