It’s no news that Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, has been at loggerheads with the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the presidential candidate of the party, Atiku Abubakar, in the aftermath of the party’s May presidential primaries.
Wike had led 4 other PDP governors namely: Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, and Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, in insisting on the sack or resignation of the national chairman of the party, Iyorchia Ayu.
Wike, who has threatened to work against the party’s interest in the forthcoming presidential election, has been receiving entreaties from the major political parties who have been lobbying for his support in the presidential election.
Some of the southwest governors of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had, a few months ago, paid a visit to Governor Wike as part of consultations in the build-up to the 2023 presidential election with the presidential candidate of the party, Bola Tinubu, alleged to have also held some meetings with Wike and his group outside the country.
Even the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, and that of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Rabiu Kwankwaso, are not left out as they had on several occasions, visited Governor Wike in Port Harcourt in an apparent bid to get his support in their presidential aspirations.
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Negotiations: Again, Peter Obi, at the inauguration of the Nkpolu Oroworukwo flyover in Port Harcourt, publicly appealed to Governor Wike to support his presidential ambition with a promise to talk to his party people and negotiate to allow PDP to win other positions in the state.
Obi said, “I will talk to my people and we will negotiate. If we leave the state for him (referring to Wike), he will leave the federal for us. We will negotiate it. We know you’re in charge.
“We will not quarrel with you. Anybody who quarrels with you doesn’t know what he is doing. I will not try it. I’m begging. Please give us this one and take the other one. We will leave it for you. I will accommodate them in the other one.’’
The strategy: The question on everybody’s lips is ‘why Governor Wike and Rivers State’s votes are very strategic to these presidential aspirants, especially Peter Obi, who publicly begged for his support?’
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Population: According to the last record released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Rivers State is among the top 4 states with the highest number of registered voters, over 3.5 million.
Over 1.56 million citizens voted in the 2015 presidential election, with the then-ruling PDP getting over 1.48 million of those votes. However, the number of voters went down considerably in the 2019 presidential election to over 670,000 due to widespread violence across the state.
In any case, the state is very strategic for any candidate or party that wants to win the presidential election due to the large number of eligible voters in the state.
The Wike factor: Governor Wike is a consummate politician, well known for his doggedness and leadership qualities. Wike, who is a former local government chairman in Rivers State, and a minister under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, is said to have spearheaded efforts aimed at sustaining and galvanizing the PDP after their shock loss in the 2015 presidential election.
He appears to be ahead in terms of political dynamics in Rivers State and has remained the strongest political figure in the state since the 2015 general election, with a wide political network. Despite several cases of alleged intimidation and widespread violence, his party, the PDP, won nearly all the elective positions in the 2019 general election, a confirmation of his political strength in the state.
Also, just recently at the inauguration of 100,000 special assistants on political unit affairs, Wike announced plans to increase it to 200,000. This huge number of people, which is unprecedented in the country’s political history, is expected to be his foot soldiers in the upcoming general election.
Huge financial war chest: The task of running for a presidential election in Nigeria is a very daunting one, especially when it comes to raising finances for a huge project.
Rivers State is regarded as one of the richest states in the country, with huge crude oil and gas deposits. It’s no coincidence that most of its governors under the current political dispensation, starting from Dr. Peter Odili, to Rotimi Amaechi, and now Nyesom Wike, are alleged to have been very generous when it comes to mobilization and doling out funds to further their political interest.
Wike has been described as the single largest financial contributor to the PDP, with reports suggesting that he has been funding quite a number of the state chapters of the party.
Money is very critical in elections, and Governor Wike seems to have access to it in abundance. If Governor Wike decides to support Peter Obi, this will be very important, especially as the Labour party is reputed to have no structure, unlike the 2 main political parties with many elected officials.
Growing political influence: Governor Wike, who is reputed to be quite vocal in whatever he believes, has recently seen his influence in some parts of the country, especially the south, really grow with almost a larger-than-life image.
He does not only have friends within the PDP but seems to have friends and influence across party lines and in different parts of the country.