At the last count, no fewer than four national dailies have named them “Governor of the Year” for both 2016 and 2017, either jointly or individually. The casual observer will likely put this down to the infrastructural spectacle they evoked in their respective states at a time the rest of the nation stewed in the worst recession in recent memory; which should not surprise considering their comparative fiscal edge.
Such perspective can hardly be faulted. But a more nuanced reading will not just be an acknowledgment of the significant factor Governors Akin Ambode of Lagos and Nyesom Wike of Rivers embody in Nigeria’s political economy in the immediate past, but the intimation of the decisive roles they are historically fated to play in the emerging 2019 permutations.
Already, Buhari’s restored buoyancy after a grave ailment and PDP’s recovery from a self-inflicted coma appear to set the stage for a titanic rematch after the 2015 electoral upset.
Nothing hints of this mounting adrenaline on both sides than the new seeming balance of barbs and insults. For the first time in recent years, spokesmen of both ruling party and the main opposition are trained journalists and former colleagues at THISDAY who could not be said to be strangers to open brinkmanship as former top-flight political appointees, with perhaps equal knowledge of the use of both traditional and new media. No one can lay claim to the monopoly of abuse and heckling language anymore.
With Buhari candidature in 2019 almost certain, strategists of a rejuvenated PDP are undoubtedly left with few maximalist options and cold calculations. The first step is to affirm a northerner as their flag-bearer in the coming slugfest.
Next, emphasis will be where the most votes are. With estimated 19m registered voters, the North-West surely holds the ace and therefore becomes the ultimate battleground. With the North-East boasting less than 10m, there is another cogent reason to deny Atiku Abubakar the ticket and anoint someone from Buhari’s North-West.
Those already being touted in this direction include Ahmed Markafi (Kaduna) and Aminu Tambuwal, the incumbent Sokoto governor wildly speculated as now merely marking time in APC, but already back in PDP in heart and soul.
APC ideologues may consider it unflattering, but the argument remains that the 2015 electoral outcome might have been different had PDP fielded a Muslim northerner instead of Christian Goodluck Jonathan in response to north’s then un-satiated sense of entitlement over Umar Yar’Adua’s truncated presidency in 2010. This, it is contended, provided enough incentives to northern PDP governors to therefore sell out in their respective jurisdictions to the enemy purely out of base ethno-religious considerations.
To this school of thought, fielding a much younger Turk in whose presence the conservative North will feel more at ease and, more crucially, be spared the sneaky fear of suspect health of a Buhari with all the ominous implications, might just be the perfect recipe needed to finally break the general’s fabled captive crowd in Arewaland, particularly the North-West.
To further rally the North, part of what PDP strategists might also sell is assurance of an extra term bonus. In a recent interview, the immediate past chair, Ahmed Markafi, hinted that the North is entitled to two terms under PDP; suggesting that the North under PDP will relinquish power in 2027 whereas APC is 2023.
With the North likely to be divided between Buhari and whoever PDP presents, attention will naturally shift to Lagos and Rivers as the centres of gravity in the South.
With colossal 6m registered voters, Lagos alone boasts almost half of the South-west vote and more than half of the electoral strength of the entire North-east. Being the bastion of Bola Tinubu’s awesome political machine and accounting for more than half the size of the nation’s economy, there is no contesting the countervailing weight the former federal capital provided the opposition against PDP throughout its sixteen-year reign, triggering the momentum that eventuated in the vanquishing of a ruling party in 2015 for the first time in the nation’s history.
In the months ahead, APC will certainly depend on Ambode’s stellar testimonial from the reengineering efforts of the last three years to woo voters not only in Lagos, but the entire South-West. The cosmopolitan character of Lagos also means that its electorate is perhaps the most enlightened and sophisticated in the country, liberated as it were from the narrow ethno-religious considerations that often inform political choices elsewhere. But then, those who despise Igbo in South-East or think they can contemn the Ijaw in South-South will soon also find they have to contend with their kith and kin who constitute significant voting blocs in Lagos.
Lately, at the national level, there is no doubt that Buhari worship has become the new obsession among APC partisans looking to profit bountifully from the coming electoral season.
Among the growing choristers would be found failed first-term governors opportunistically seeking Buhari’s anointing to survive the approaching electoral judgment day and some second-term governors who, after a mediocre occupation of their respective provinces, now simply covet the opportunity to name their successors in a last-ditch orgy of self-aggrandizement.
However, Lagos is different due in part to its undiminished capacity to continually generate fresh ideas to solve socio-economic challenges even when Abuja seems incapable of clarity of thought and direction.
For instance, we saw that in its foresight to partner with Kebbi State early in the day to deliver rice on fairly large scale. The success story of Lake rice within two planting seasons has since inspired many other states to join the bandwagon of big-time rice-farming, with resultant increase in the nation’s self-sufficiency in the production of the popular food staple.
By and large, with innovative solutions, Ambode is sustaining the tradition of excellence for which Lagos is reputed, offering accommodation and opportunities for all, irrespective of ethnicity and religion. What makes it even more striking is the quiet manner Ambode does it.
The scale of the ongoing physical transformation is perhaps best measured in the hitherto forsaken rural Lagos where massive investment in social infrastructure has significantly altered the landscape.
At the other end of the political spectrum, the dynamics shaping Rivers’ own exceptionalism are however dissimilar. With a record 1,487,075 votes out of accredited 1,643,409 of a total of 2,324,300 registered, the oil-rich state delivered the highest number to PDP nationwide in 2015, to emerge the new bastion of opposition to the ruling party in Abuja.
In a classic role reversal, Rivers is now to PDP what Lagos was to APC on the road to 2015.
Conscripted by circumstances into leading the opposition, gutsy Wike has undoubtedly risen to the challenge by deftly working the optics and amplifying the sonics. First the optics: against perceived inability of APC to list a single project completed in Rivers, Wike’s own bragging rights today are fueled by an array of significant infrastructural footprints across the state.
So impressed during an official visit, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo could not resist the temptation to join the public chorus in Port Harcourt by addressing Wike as “Mr. Project”.
The sonics: whereas most of his contemporaries across the two zones have conveniently resorted to political silence out of sheer survivalist instincts, Wike is the new voice of Niger Delta agitating for fairer deal for the proverbial goose laying the golden eggs feeding the nation.
In the wider national politics, the feelings of marginalization are real in South-South and the South-East. In Igboland, the river of bitterness arising from feeling of political estrangement surely still runs deep, even if the APC’s spin doctors still choose to live in denial.
After two harrowing years of cold shoulders during which a concatenation of terrible misspeaks and mishandling of the IPOB issue drew him farther from the Igbo, Buhari suddenly began to reach out to the South-East lately. A rare two-day presidential visit to the zone was rounded off with Buhari’s appearance at APC’s grand rally in Awka ahead of Anambra’s November 2017 governorship elections.
But concerted as the charm offensive was and massive as the deployment of the fabled “Federal might” was, APGA still managed to reassert its supremacy within that territory with an emphatic margin. And if the outcome of that polls is any guide, then a lot surely still needed to be done to market APC to Igbo voters generally.
Of course, for APC obviously desirous of wangling even a toehold – if not foothold – in Igboland, there are multiple lessons to be learnt from that misadventure. Chief among them is the peril of building your battle plan around political charlatans or yesterday’s men brandishing expired talisman. They failed woefully on the appointed day.
Real men are known in the hour of adversity. At PDP’s own moment of tribulation, Wike showed faith. To foreclose the chance of escape from the battlefield and make defeat or surrender the only option left, the general elected to destroy the ready source of temptation – he bombed the bridge after his troops crossed.
Raymond Dopkesi and other folks of little faith chose to float a new party as “Plan B”. A few others waited for nightfall to sneak into Judas Modu-Sheriff’s lair to cut a deal of convenience.
But resolute Wike openly declared he would rather swim or sink with PDP. So, when the legal lifeline came from the Supreme Court, he easily claimed the moral victory as well.
The emergence of his nominee, Uche Secondus, as the new chair at the party’s recent national convention would seem to have further confirmed Wike’s preeminence as key player in a revamped PDP and a major influencer of things to emerge. If nothing at all, Secondus’ rise certainly barricades Rivers as a PDP fortress. Surely, the times ahead will be interesting indeed.