It is now history that the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar had picked the serving governor of Delta State Ifeanyi Okowa, as his running mate instead of Nyesom Ezebunwo Wike (NEW) the governor of the Rivers State.
Atiku had announced the choice of Okowa after several days of waiting by the country for the announcement. Wike had placed second to Atiku in the party’s presidential primary election on May 28th -29th 2022, at the Moshood Abiola Stadium Abuja while Okowa did not contest for the office.
Hence by the logic of many observers, Wike should have been favoured for the choice of Atiku’s running mate instead of Okowa to enable the party put its strongest points forward. Even from the feelers then swirling in the grapevine, a committee set up by the PDP leadership to fish for a running mate for Atiku had favoured Wike by a wide margin of votes. Yet Atiku chose Okowa out of the blues, and the party had to settle for him, as the choice of a running mate to the presidential candidate is his ultimately.
The situation expectedly created a stir in not a few political circles across the country, especially among Wike’s admirers and supporters – many of whom cite several grounds for their support. Firstly is the story of how the Rivers State governor had played a critical role in restoring the PDP from its hara-kiri, during its days of crisis between 2015 and 2017 when its leadership structure was compromised and former Borno State governor Ali Modu Sheriff along with others, had tried to hijack the structure. Wike along with Uche Secondus were among those that stood their ground to bring the party back from the brink. Ever since the man had played several other significant roles to ensure the party did not suffer loss. A case in point was the role he played in the political fortunes of the Edo State governor Godwin Obaseki then with the APC, during the man’s bid for a second term in office and his predecessor Adams Oshiomhole stood against him. Wike was credited with engineering Obaseki’s escape from the claws of both Oshiomole and Ahmed Tinubu to secure the second term in office even under a different party —the PDP.
Yet another ground for the support for Wike was the electrifying campaign he mounted for the PDP presidential ticket which many thought should have earned him the prize, but for the surprising late swing at the election ground by Aminu Tambuwal a fellow contestant and governor of Sokoto State who not only withdrew from the race late in the day, but also asked his supporters to turn in their votes to Atiku. Even with that twist, Wike emerged second in the polls exercise, thereby stamping his presence once again as a strong party factor.
Meanwhile just as there are always at least two sides to any story, Atiku’s choice also remains tenable given the antecedents of Okowa, especially the advantage of being a former Senator, which Atiku cited as one of the criteria for his choice. The two-time governor had also served as a two-time Senator of the Federal Republic before becoming the two-time governor of Delta State as a contemporary of Wike. There is also the running grapevine story that one of the negatives that killed Wike’s chance of becoming the running mate to Atiku was the case of Farah Dagogo, a member of the House of Representatives who was accused by Wike of criminal activities, and has since been in detention facing one trial or the other. It is recalled that Dagogo’s court appearances were preceded by several entreaties to Wike to see how the case would be resolved amicably but which ended in futility.
With the foregoing now belonging to the ages, the issues now before the PDP are at least twofold. Firstly is what to make of the Wike factor in order to sustain the momentum it needs to maximize its chances in the coming presidential elections slated for March next year. It needs to be appreciated that for coming tops in the primaries, Wike needs to be credited with mobilizing a considerable arsenal for the enterprise—not just for the primaries but also for the journey to Aso Rock—just in case he wins the presidential polls. It, therefore, remains beneficial for the PDP to court him and benefit from whatever arsenal he has at his disposal. They will need such.
In the other vein, it is also important that Wike remains resolute in his avowed position that he will support whoever wins the party’s ticket in this case Atiku, his erstwhile rival. He, therefore, needs to show and reinforce his loyalty as well as the commitment to the party which he had sacrificed so much to redeem in the past. He needs to do so in order to shore up the support of his teeming followers – some of who may be flagging in their commitment to the party over what they saw rightly or otherwise, as a betrayal of him. He also will need the full embrace of the party structure for his political future.