Port Harcourt — The falling out between Governor Nyesom Wike and the national chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus is a spectacular reminder of the slippery terrain of politics, especially Nigerian politics. What started as a rumour of a tiff between the plain-speaking Governor of Rivers State and his kinsman blew in the open at a party organised to mark the 60th birthday of Liyel Imoke, a former Governor of Cross Rivers State, in Abuja, where Wike effectively called Secondus a “liar.” I say “effectively” because while he didn’t use that word, what he said left no one in doubt as to what he had in mind. “As a leader, you must have character. Not to speak white in the morning and you speak black in the evening. Is that leadership?”
Wike and Secondus have come a long way. They have both enjoyed the season when PDP was in power and weathered the wilderness of opposition politics at the federal level. When the PDP lost to the APC in 2015, the party that had been in government since 1999, tried to recreate itself as its footsteps were frozen in an unfamiliar turf of being an opposition party. On 10 December 2017, party faithfuls assembled at Eagles square, Abuja to elect a national leadership in which Secondus became the national chairman. Secondus was eminently qualified for the office. The man who joined politics in 1978, had served in various roles in PDP, among them, Rivers State Chairman, South-South Coordinator for National campaign council, National Organising Secretary and Deputy National Chairman. Regardless though, those who know, say Secondus clinched the top post because of the unwavering support of his friend and compatriot in Government House, Port Harcourt.
Perhaps, in deference to the role Wike played or their relationship, Secondus, who wisely left the birthday party before his friend took the microphone, refused to stage a direct counterattack to the vituperation, and chose rather to speak in innuendoes. He alleged that “a strong party chieftain, bent on hijacking the party’s structure for destruction, was behind the whole thing,” and that “this character is deploying all devious means to try and diminish the person and character of the national chairman, with a view to having his way of ultimately hijacking the structure for his disproportionately large ambition.” Let’s try to unpick the characterisations to understand how things have fallen apart between the two men. First, the cap of “strong party chieftain” fits Wike well. Today, at least beyond the Niger, Wike is the last hope of the PDP, with his well-timed blunt attacks often catching the ruling party off-guard, and forcing it into a defensive corner. Then, the term “disproportionately large ambition” could well refer to the rumour that is currently making the rounds that Wike has his eyes on the vice-presidential slot in a ticket which will see the Sokoto State governor and his friend, Aminu Tambuwal run as president. According to this school of thought, Wike’s calculation is that his chances will be ruined if Secondus remained chairman, as it would be politically insensitive for two indigenes of one state to play such top roles. The police say if you want to solve a crime, identify the motivation. In this case, if the rumoured ambition of Wike is correct, and he has yet to deny it, it means it will be in his interest if Secondus were to leave office before the hustings for the 2023 polls begin.
Wike will however, have to wait for more time for Secondus to go or be pushed. The PDP Board of Trustees met in an emergency session in Abuja, and decided that the chairman should be allowed to complete his tenure. This could give him room, as his opponents fear, to install his loyalists in the processes leading to the election of a new national executive later this year. Wike left the meeting of the Board of Trustees without speaking to anyone, so we do not know his response to the decision that allows the national chairman leeway to breathe some more. Surprisingly though, the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives has called for the chairman to “resign and save the party.” We do not know who is really speaking here, so we will wait to see if it is Jacob’s voice or Esau’s hand. Indeed, the PDP is in good company on this matter of intra-party squabbles arising from personal ambitions. The APC is going through the same motions as questions on the legitimacy of the Buni-led interim management committee continue to swirl around its decisions and actions. It is not difficult to understand why. With the 2023 elections in sight, all manner of politicians – young or old, bright or thick, strong or weak are oiling their machineries to advance their interests. This is not an ideological fight; it is all about who gets what. The scheming and quarrels from the clash of ambitions in Nigerian politics look set to continue until statesmen replace strong men.