Watch out! Wike is coming
By Uche Ugboajah
I first heard of the name, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, sometime in 1999. Then, he was thedashing chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State. He hadcontested the local government election as the candidate of the Peoples DemocraticParty (PDP) and had to reclaim his mandate through the court. A staunch believer inthe rule of law and the efficacy of the judicial process, Wike has a rich history ofengagements in this critical arena that under-girds society and anchors democracy.And he is a consummate lawyer to boot. Beyond the realm of law, it is noteworthythat Wike has remained faithful to the PDP, since its formation. Unlike many fairweather politicians in the country, he has not been swayed by the vicissitudes ofpartisan politics and its changing fortunes to leave the PDP. This uncommon traitspeaks to consistency, principle and loyalty to his political party.Wike drew deeply on his grassroots mobilization skills when together with somefriends they audaciously confronted the PDP apparatchiks in Abuja, in the matter ofchoosing their party gubernatorial candidate in their state – Rivers. For them, theimportant matter of who takes over from the amiable Peter Odili as governor ofRivers State, was a local matter that must be decided by Rivers PDP members, not bythe commanding heights of the party in Abuja.8Thus they stood their ground and ensured their candidate, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi,then speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly won the primaries. Thisinfuriated the former president and leader of the PDP, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.President Obasanjo was to unilaterally annul the candidature of Amaechi, declaringhis nomination as PDP candidate, as “having a k-leg”.But Wike, the nimble director of the campaigns for Rotimi Amaechi, and his groupsoldiered on, even after a fine gentleman, Celestine Omehia, was anointed as the PDPcandidate for the election. Omehia won the election for the PDP but Wike and hisgroup continued the battle again in the courts, a familiar terrain for him as a lawyerand democrat.According to reports, while the legal battle over who was the authentic candidate ofthe PDP in that 2007 election raged, Amaechi was out in Ghana for security reasonswhile Wike, the ‘field commander’, took charge of the home front not minding all theattendant risks, including threats to his own life. Such is the bravery, commitment andselflessness of Nyesom Wike!Wham, the Supreme Court declared Rotimi Amaechi as the rightful candidate of thePDP in the 2007 gubernatorial election and ordered that he be sworn in immediatelyas governor. Wike was subsequently appointed Chief of Staff. In his first term asgovernor, the fact which his enemies cannot even try to controvert is that Amaechiposted a superlative performance.Yet not a few would argue that the stability and the galvanization of interests, whichWike provided on the political fronts contributed immensely to that performance.Wike was to be appointed minister by President Goodluck Jonathan later.
analysts believed that appointment was a strategic plan by Amaechi to try and curtailthe growing popularity of his former chief of staff at home by pushing him off toAbuja, since all politics as they say, is local.If that was Amaechi’s thinking, from hindsight, it was a monumentally flawedstratagem. Thus from Abuja, Wike launched out and even became more relevant inthe local politics of Rivers State. To cut a long story short, Wike ended up as thegovernor who took over from Amaechi in spite of the latter’s best efforts to torpedo it.Interestingly, it is as governor of Rivers State that Wike has made his best mark sofar. He has become a myriad of things to different people. For some, especially thoseat the federal government perch and people sympathetic to them, Nyesom Wike is justa rabble-rouser, a showboating individual or at best a power-drunk governor. Yet nomatter how they despise him or how they struggle to diminish him, the people inAbuja know deeply inside them that Wike is no pushover.If they were to be honest, on a few occasions they had collided with the Wike force,like the proverbial tortoise, Abuja would readily admit that two strong men squaredoff on that ground. If there was one PDP state the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC) had decided to capture by any means, just before the 2019 general election, itwas Rivers State. Their desperation to capture Rivers State was just not because of theoil wealth, but even more so, to tame the allegedly recalcitrant Wike.Oh, how they would have loved to see Wike beg them! But the hugely popular Wikefought like a lion and literally shamed his traducers. When the history of the Buharigovernment will be chronicled, the conduct of security agencies on the order of thegovernment in the 2019 Rivers election perhaps will remain unrivalled in the chapteron abuse of power. Yet as in all good stories, good overcame evil and as indemocracy, the majority won.More importantly, to his people Wike is not just a mere governor. He is their owngovernor they made with their own hands. And the man is going about doing justiceto the confidence his people repose in him. While his haters are busy accusing him ofmere braggadocio, Wike is busy transforming his state. He is confronting headlongthe problem of insecurity, as a result of cult wars, which he inherited by cooperatingwith security agencies and whatever they would need to tackle the menace.Another governor may not have supported and assisted the police and the military theway Wike does because of their very obvious hostility towards him during theelection. Yet for the Rivers State governor, the protection of lives and the property ofhis people is preeminent. On the side of infrastructure, Wike is awarding andexecuting contracts for road constructions everywhere in his state.For instance, on one occasion, he told a construction firm, “We have awarded you thiscontract and paid you in full to deliver this road in two years’ time. We paid you inthis raining season, so we don’t want to hear that you cannot deliver because of therains”. Such is his bluntness in pushing for performance. As he is constructing roads,he is rebuilding and equipping schools, hospitals and providing first class housing forjudges and other categories of public servants in the state.
During the heat of the Covid-19 lockdown, Wike denied himself a lot to physicallylead the enforcement of the laws made by the state assembly and even went into analtercation with the federal government in the bid to protect his people. Although hehas been criticized in certain quarters, without Wike’s hands-on enforcement of theCovid-19 protocols, there could have been a disaster of cataclysmic proportion in hisstate seeing the carefree attitude of our people.For those interested in a robust inter-governmental relations, Wike is gradually sellinghimself as the rallying point for true federalism. Unlike many of his colleagues Wikefully understands that he represents an important tier of government and notanswerable to Abuja. For this reason, he is clearly not one of the state governorsafraid of speaking up for their people when the federal government bares itsauthoritarian fangs.As the governor poignantly put it in his remarks at Eric Osagie’s book presentation inAbuja, “I am not one of those governors who run around in Abuja. I don’t like to stayin Abuja. Once am through with my assignments I quickly return to Port Harcourt.That’s where those who voted for me are”. This independent disposition in pursuingthe interest of his people who elected him has often put him in direct conflict withofficials of the government at the centre.As a result, Wike is gradually becoming the symbol of resistance against anoverbearing federal government in the Buhari era just as Ambrose Alli was in theSecond Republic. Can you imagine that nearly after a month that the lives of youngIgbo youths identified as IPOB members were wasted by security operatives inEnugu, no Southeast governor, not even Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, under whose nose thissenseless blood-letting took place, has uttered any word. Wike will certainly not keepquiet!Finally for the PDP, Nyesom Wike appears to be its single most important asset now.While some of his colleague-governors are PDP by the day and APC at night just tobe in the good book of President Buhari, Wike has remained unabashedly PDP at alltimes. He strongly believes that the political platform is still strong enough to winelections and that explains why he is doing everything possible to keep that partyalive.From the massive loss in 2015, Wike has helped PDP to claw back at least three morestates – Zamfara, Benue and Edo and suddenly PDP is becoming more attractive andformidable again. In the just concluded Edo election, Wike’s influence and hard-workadded to other important factors to deliver the state to the PDP and remove the verylast vestiges of APC in the South-south region. That is huge political victory for thosewho understand. “It was in this house, the campaign council met to work out the keystrategies that led us to victory. You mobilized people across the country. You movedto Benin, went through the humiliation and attacks. You supported us and we won. Itwill be a sin against God if we do not come to say thank you. Even if the victory weare celebrating is from God. He has used people like you to make it happen”, agrateful Governor Obaseki told his host, Governor Nyesom Wike a few days ago inPort Harcourt.
Yes, sometimes Wike can appear to be brash and intimidating. Yet he has fought forthis party with everything in him. And as 2023 beckons, PDP must do well to listen toNyesom Wike when he expresses his opinion. He sure knows what he is talkingabout.* Ugboajah, a political scientist, wrote from firstname.lastname@example.org