The surprise spat between Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike and Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki typifies a fight between two elephants that makes the grass to suffer unduly.
Both governors, who’ve similar character traits, and boast of conquering and slaying political heavyweights and “godfathers” in their respective states, can fight, and are really fighting dirty.
For the record, Wike, as Minister of State for Education, used his relationship with then President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Dame Patient Jonathan, to disrupt the flow of the administration of Governor Rotimi Amaechi in Rivers, simply for two reasons.
One, to “fight the Jonathans’ fight” with Amaechi, and to destroy Amaechi’s political standing in Rivers, and nationally, for the benefit of his (Wike’s) ambition to be governor of the state in 2015.
Indeed, Wike and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) succeeded in defeating the All Progressive Congress (APC) and its candidate, backed by Governor Amaechi, in the 2015 general election.
The humiliation Wike visited on the APC and Amaechi in the 2019 polls was unprecedented. It looked like “APC was fighting APC” during the electoral processes, but Wike was the behind-the-scenes drummer for APC’s moles to sink their own platform.
Law suits instituted by “aggrieved members” precluded the APC from fielding candidates for the governorship and national and state legislative positions. So, Wike and PDP coasted home to victory, including the presidential poll, although the APC won nationwide.
Amaechi was the Director-General of the Buhari-Osinbajo Campaign Organisation for the election of retired Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo in 2015, and for their re-election as President and Vice President in 2019.
The message, and lesson. Amaechi, as governor, appointed Wike as his Chief of Staff, and also nominated him as a Minister in the Jonathan administration. Yet, Wike betrayed Amaechi, and repaid him with ingratitude and near destruction of his political career.
Obaseki came into the government of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as a “trusted ally” of the governor, and earned the post of Chairman of the Economic Strategy Team (EST) that drove the economic blueprint of the Oshiomhole administration.
Based on their camaraderie, Oshiomhole staked his all, alienating his political associates that brought the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and APC to Edo, and promoting Obaseki as the “right man for the job” in the 2016 governorship election in the state.
Oshiomhole’s strategy and campaign to elect Obaseki as governor resembles former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s yeoman’s job for the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in the 2007 elections.
Obasanjo single-handedly picked Yar’Adua to succeed him, and campaigned for him, even in the few occasions that Yar’Adua was present due to his ailment, as if Obasanjo was on the ballot.
Oshiomhole did likewise for Obaseki to succeed him. He solely chose him against protestations by foundation members of the APC, and vigorously campaigned for him in “Alluta continua” fashion, with Obaseki often flanking him as an onlooker.
Election Day came, and Obaseki won. But the “soulmateship” between them soon evaporated, as Obaseki accused Oshiomhole of dictating to him as a “political godfather.” He swore to fight him.
True to his avowal, Obaseki, pre and post-defection to the PDP after the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) denied him the return ticket of the APC, spearheaded the campaign to sack Oshiomhole as the National Chairman of the APC.
While Oshiomhole lost the chairmanship seat in June 2020, the APC candidate that he backed also failed the September 2020 poll that’s won by Obaseki for his second term in office.
The message, and lesson: Obaseki betrayed Oshiomhole, repaying his benefaction with ingratitude, and trying to destroy his political career from the ward level where the stings to oust him began.
Wike and Obaseki bid to dominate the political firmament of their states, as they’d accused their predecessors, Amaechi and Oshiomhole, of promoting. So, it’s the pot calling the kettle black!
The difference is in their playing turfs in PDP’s affairs. With 20 years and barely one year and nine months, respectively, Wike is a senior and a grandmaster in PDP’s political game than Obaseki.
While Obaseki plays at the local scene of Edo State, the entire Nigeria is Wike’s arena, where, as a “meddlesome interloper,” he badgers into states without the least of courtesy accorded the governors, and dabbles in varying matters, and acts as “PDP’s ATM” and a “Father Christmas” donating millions to other state governments, which critics label as buying political influence.
Obaseki swiped at Wike, as “free to use his resources… in pursuit of his ambition,” but “he should not attempt to cow, intimidate, cajole and threaten others into doing his bidding. Edo State cannot and will not be procured for anyone’s personal ambition.”
Make no mistake! Given the opportunity, Obaseki would surpass Wike’s shenanigans. Wike mostly grandstands, but Obaseki, not given to rhetorics, can exert maximum pain and punishment.
Nonetheless, Wike puts financial and/or political weight behind any or would-be PDP chieftains or elections against the APC, as he had intervened in the Obaseki case after the APC refused to give him a return ticket for the September 2020 off-season election in Edo.
Recall Wike’s viral declaration, as Obaseki angled to decamp to the PDP, that, “PDP leaders are bribe takers,” referring to allegations of demand for millions from Obaseki to admit him into the PDP.
At that point, Wike recused himself from further negations, which he later rescinded, and stormed Benin City, in solidarity with the Obaseki/Shaibu re-election bid, which they won in a landslide.
Regarding the genesis of the crossfire between Wike and Obaseki, the Rivers governor was miffed by threats of Edo Deputy Governor Shaibu, that Obaseki and other defectors from the APC were regarded as outcasts, and would thus decamp from the PDP.
Shaibu stated this at a parley with the PDP National Chairman, Senator Iyorcha Ayu, who’s in Benin City to mediate the crisis in the state chapter over improper harmonisation of party positions.
The old members, headed by former Edo chairman and national vice chairman (South-South) of the PDP, Chief Dan Orbih, have alleged that Obaseki has allocated “99 per cent” of the party positions to members that accompanied him to the PDP.
This is the cause of the friction in the state chapter, with Obaseki lately telling members not satisfied with his leadership of the PDP in Edo to take a walk, and Hon. Shaibu warning that the joiners would pull out of the PDP if they’re integrated in the party.
Shaibu’s statement infuriated Wike, who noted how Obaseki and Shaibu were on their knees, begging to be accepted in the PDP, for their re-election in the September 2020 polls.
In response to Obaseki’s rejoinder to his criticism of Shaibu, Wike talked about Obaseki’s ungratefulness to and betrayal of the PDP, and apologised to Comrade Oshiomhole for PDP’s failure to heed his counsel that Obaseki would betray the party.
“If you ask anybody or check the DNA of Obaseki, you will discover that he is a serial betrayer and an ungrateful person. I apologize to Oshiomole, who told us about Obaseki. You (Oshiomhole) have been vindicated,” Wike said.
But in a riposte, Obaseki described as a “delusion of grandeur, for any one man to nurse the idea that he owns or has more stake in the PDP and everyone should pander to him,” warning Wike to beware of his taming of tougher political gladiators in Edo State.
In closing, the case between Wike and Obaseki, is captured in an Esan proverb, which says: “If you don’t remember where the rain beat you, you should remember where the sun dried you.”
The rain, as the APC, beat Obaseki mercilessly, but he’s rescued by the PDP, symbolising the sun. It didn’t only dry Obaseki, but also covered him with its wide umbrella, and rehabilitated him.
Obaseki ought to be grateful, and show sufficient appreciation to his benefactors that rescued him from the political wilderness. Not doing so is repaying the PDP with betrayal and ingratitude, as Wike, who’s also as guilty of the same proclivity, has espoused.
In the interim, the verbal war between Governor Wike and Governor Obaseki promises to be a slugfest, with the PDP suffering the consequences, even as polity watchers wait to see who will receive the most bruises, and be forced to call for armistice.
* Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.