OPINION: PDP Peace Talks: Wike is Shaking Hands With a Clenched Fist, By Law Mefor

The Indian iconic leader, Mahatma Gandhi, once observed; ‘Nobody shakes hands with a clenched fist.’ The nation’s leading opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has been embroiled in crisis since its special national convention, which produced Atiku Abubakar as its preferred presidential candidate. Recall that Governor Nyeson Wike of Rivers state, before the primaries, publicly declared that he was not an aspirant for the PDP presidential ticket but a candidate. Wike further told the public after the party presidential primary that he was shortchanged. He hinged his claim on the way and manner Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto state stepped down for Atiku to give him (Atiku) an undue advantage over him.

Dr Law Mefor

Wike looked forward to the vice presidential slot as a fitting compensation. But Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta state was again advisedly chosen instead. Wike felt deeply slighted and wounded. Wike was the man whose sense of entitlement led him into believing that he was the candidate of a leading political party that was yet to hold its primary.

Since then, Wike and his supporters including Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state who midwifed the jettisoning of the PDP constitution to throw open the PDP ticket, have been fighting as though they want to take the party, PDP, down with them. Wike and his group are now holding the PDP to ransom and have made very serious demands before they will back down and work with the party for victory in the 2023 presidential poll.

Standing out amongst their demands worth interrogating is their stand that Dr Iyorchia Ayu must step down as the PDP national chairman to pave the way for that office to move South. Ordinarily, one would think that that ought to be the case if the north happens to produce the president in line with the party’s zoning of party offices and not before. What is more, the swapping ought to affect all the PDP party offices, not just singling out the office of the national chairman. What this also means is there will be a national convention of the party to new party officers, all before the general election around the corner.

Many can recall that Wike had interpreted Ayu calling Governor Tambuwal the hero of the convention to mean there was a script and collusion to edge him out. He refused to see Tambuwal’s sportsmanship for what it was, which Ayu acknowledged in his commendation.

Wike’s demand for Ayu to quit before the February presidential election has many implications. Chief of these implications is that it further underscores the overbearing nature of Wike as a person, one of the many reasons that cast him as unsuitable for the subdued role of the vice president.

Before returning to this point, there is a bigger issue of Ayu vacating office before the PDP’s victory in 2023. The only justification for activating this referenced understanding that party national chairmanship to move south is only if the PDP wins the presidential election and its candidate is sworn in as president. That is the time one can say substantially that the north holds both the office of the president and party national chairmanship at the same time. Doing so when the north is only flying the flag of the party, which will expire once the election is held in February 2023 will not be reasonable or necessary.

Since this is the case, and Wike and his team are aware of it, why then are they insisting on the exit of Ayu? The reason is not far-fetched. The group is on a vendetta mission and fighting a grudge war, and may be out to ensure that PDP remains distracted and possibly lose the election while they may jump ship at the nick of time when the party can hardly recover. Nobody should be surprised if Wike leaves the party for APC, and not for Labour for a reason I will shortly adduce.

With this plausibility, the PDP will be the wiser for it if it begins to plot its path to victory with such worse possible scenario that Wike and his team may not eventually stay. While keeping the door open for them to remain than leave and paying less attention to their grudge war.

There is a moral burden for Wike in all this. Wike is believed to have played a role in recruiting Ayu as national chairman and for that reason, believed the man owed him a debt of gratitude. It meant he had expected that Ayu ought to have helped him emerge as the party flag-bearer. But the former university don who was also a former senate president and multi-time federal minister chose an honourable path: a free and fair PDP presidential primary.

Wike has also failed to take responsibility for failing to clinch the PDP presidential ticket. Given his immense influence, Wike was in a position to ensure the PDP zoned the presidential ticket and not throw party ticket open. By not doing so, Wike underestimated Atiku, a man arguably the most experienced politician in Nigeria today. Like Tinubu would say about the APC ticket, ‘Emi lokan’, Wike, long before the PDP presidential primary, declared likewise, ‘I am not an aspirant; I am a candidate.’

That ominous declaration by Wike was reminiscent of a quote attributed to Louis XIV by legend – ‘I am the state ( “L’état, c’est moi.”). Such declarations are emblematic of absolutism and dictatorial inclination, and the PDP leadership should have seen the red flag and seen that Wike was appropriating the party to himself and reject it before it blossomed into this monstrosity. Though Wike helped the PDP when it mattered, he has always seen himself as indispensable, and that is why he said the party presidential ticket was his well in advance.

One of the ways the wise excel is always keeping an elbow room for manoeuvrings and that is what makes some persons politically sagacious. PDP is a national political party and not an individual’s property as Wike wanted to make of it by appropriating it with the sole aim of being its presidential flag-bearer. Such ambition is a bit too inordinate as it is overbearing. This is a democracy and not a dictatorship.

The party is bigger than anybody, including Wike. However, Wike and his supporters should be carried along if the group is open to peace and amicable resolution of the overhyped conflict.

Lastly, if Wike’s aim is protecting himself in post-2023 Nigeria when he would be a former governor and has doubts that he would get it under the PDP, then the reconciliation effort may well be an exercise in futility. Either way, PDP is better off moving on with or with Nyeson Wike.

Dr Law Mefor, a Forensic/Social Psychologist, is a Fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought and can be reached via Tel.+234- 913-033-5723; Twitter: @DrLawMefor; email: drlawmefor@gmail.com

(The opinion expressed in this essay is entirely that of the author).

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