The harmattan is coming early for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In one week alone, the party lost at the presidential election tribunal, and also left daggers in the backs of two of its contestants in governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa, only a few months away to the polls.
As if that was not enough, one of the party’s most influential members and its main sponsor for a long time, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, declared war on the party, inviting heaven as his witness that he will stop at nothing until the “scoundrels” in his party have learnt their lesson.
Of the raft of troubles facing the party, Wike’s threat of war is probably the most serious. He described the committee set up to investigate how Ndudi Elumelu emerged as the House minority leader as “the most corrupt committee” ever set up by his party, and warned that Rivers would “fight the party to a standstill.”
The party will not take Wike’s threat lightly. For years shortly before and following the PDP’s defeat in the 2015 election, the party almost splintered beyond recognition. Wike kept the main faction on life support. Former Borno State Governor and life-time moss-free rolling stone, Ali Modu-Sherrif, was just as determined to wreck the PDP as Wike was determined to save the faction led by his stooge, Ahmed Makarfi.
Others chipped in their bit, of course. Ayo Fayose supplied noise and entertainment which was, quite frankly, all he could afford; the governors of the South East offered dubious solidarity, for which they are famous; while in the South South, the Bayelsa, Delta and Akwa Ibom governors were too busy quenching internal fires to care about PDP’s future.
But Wike put his money where his mouth was, fighting for PDP’s life all the way to the Supreme Court. To be sure, with his political foe and Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, snapping at his heels, Wike was also fighting for his own political life as well. The party’s survival and his own were, in a sense, intrinsically tied.
By the time the Makarfi faction won at the Supreme Court, Wike understandably believed he deserved the first fruit of the victory. The piper had earned the right to call the tune. And he planned to do so in a big way.
Not only did he install the Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, he cranked the machine to produce the party’s presidential candidate Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, and announced that the national convention – or coronation, to put it less elegantly – would also hold in Port Harcourt.
There was initial resistance to the venue – resistance which coincided with the formal announcement that former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, had switched parties and was now interested in running for the presidency on the PDP’s ticket. Atiku’s exit from APC was followed by the exit of other heavyweights, including Senate president Bukola Saraki, who after exiting was also touted as leader of the PDP.
That was adding insult to Wike’s injury. He was still grappling with the aggravation to his wound when the party whispered that it was planning to change the venue of the national convention and have it in Abuja, instead of Port Harcourt.
His response was ballistic. Nearly one year ago today, he issued the first ultimatum. Wike dared the party to change the convention venue and see if it would survive the fallout. In a strategic move, the party retreated to fight another day. The convention was held in Port Harcourt, in deference to Wike’s wishes.
Yet, Wike had only won the battle, not the war. When he thought he had the convention in the bag, that in addition to installing the party chairman, lining up the secretariat with his loyalists, and hosting the convention, he was now also going to produce the party’s presidential candidate, something went horribly wrong.
The old guard, comprising Nigeria’s military coup platinum-medalists under the omnipresent eye of General Ibrahim Babangida, struck just one more time. The guard dispatched its most dangerous asset alive, General Aliyu Gusau, to the convention venue with just one order: deliver the PDP ticket to Atiku Abubakar.
Gusau pulled it off, flattening Wike intrigue for intrigue and dollar for dollar. Wike had sustained the party for years, picking up every bill, including the bill for the Port Harcourt national convention, only to have someone else crowned in his home turf. It was an affront, utter humiliation hardly disguised by all the plastic smiles and contrived back-slapping during the subsequent campaigns. Wike was hurt and has been waiting patiently to get his revenge.
It is one year since. His latest spat with his party may well be his ultimate attempt at revenge. Insiders say there was a “gentleman’s” agreement by the party hierarchy to install Wike’s man, Kingsley Chinda, as the House minority leader. The party claimed to have written the House leadership endorsing him and during a plenary in July, Chinda in fact sat in the chair of minority leader!
But elements from the same group that peppered him during the Port Harcourt national convention, ambushed his candidate and dealt him yet another back stab.
Wike has vowed to fight back. But seriously, what can he do at this time? He sent a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, congratulating him on his victory at the tribunal. His foes on both sides – Amaechi and co inside Aso Rock and those outside – must be laughing, because they know as much as Wike does that the congratulatory letter was more spite than strategy.
It will take more than an unexpected letter from a short-changed political investor to fight PDP to a standstill. It will take more than a love affair with Governor Kayode Fayemi, such as we have seen in the last two weeks.
A furious blow may have damaged the party severely during its fragile, factionalised phase sometime back, but in its present state, it’s improbable that the PDP would succumb to the fury of one unhappy titan.
My guess is that there’ll be an attempt to patch things up, not necessarily because the party loves Wike or because those who consider themselves the party’s true custodians can endure his arrogance today any more than they could last year. The point is, everything must be done to delay the inevitable death of the PDP in its present form for as long as possible.
It’s not Wike’s fury that will kill the PDP. It’s the bad habits that it acquired for nearly 20 years when it was the ruling party and its inability to adapt. The party is used to free money and made a point to gorge itself on it remorselessly while in power.
It was either grabbing money from the centre or from the bottomless pockets of a few of its influential governors. Or from a few private businessmen for whose pleasure government captured the state. Those who wrote the cheques controlled the party, spreading their corrupting influence until the party collapsed under the weight of its own arrogance and impunity.
The party is in its fifth year out of power and most of its money taps are running dry. Two of its major sources of supply – Abuja and rogue businessmen – have dwindled, leaving only the third: one or two desultory governors in the South South.
But the custodians of the party (and Atiku remains one of them) will do everything to extend the life of the party. Whatever its predicament, PDP would be the platform on which Atiku would run for presidency again, betting that the APC will implode after Buhari. Atiku is not done yet.
Wike is signaling because he knows that his days in the PDP are numbered. When his tenure as two-term governor ends, he will neither take a back seat nor let the new self-styled PDP custodians decide his fate.
By declaring war on the party early on, he is sending a message to his supporters that he might be heading in a new direction, whether or not Chinda gets his seat as minority leader. APC may be a no-go area; but who says this fight to the finish will not produce its own political hybrid?
Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network