Between Friday and Saturday evenings, frantic manoeuvring thwarted what could have been a historic victory for Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primaries for the 2023 General Election.
Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice President, eventually won the election with 371 votes out of 767 national delegates in attendance. Mr Wike came in second with 237 votes, followed by Bukola Saraki (70 votes), Udom Emmanuel (38 votes), Bala Mohammed (20 votes), Pius Anyim (14 votes), and Sam Ohuabunwa (one vote).
Mr Abubakar’s victory, on the other hand, was largely the result of a desperate intervention involving a former president, former military heads of state, former generals, former governors from the north, PDP chieftains from the north, and former intelligence chief to stop the Rivers State governor, who, according to intelligence reports, was the primary’s biggest spender.
Before the PDP Special National Convention began, the power brokers were worried by intelligence and incontrovertible analyses that Mr Wike may spend his way to the nomination.
On Saturday night, an inside source told PREMIUM TIMES, “They concluded that the guy had to be stopped.”
“They do not think Wike is presidential material; they think he’d go amok as president,” the insider continued.
A group of PDP power brokers met with the five northern presidential candidates to try to reach an agreement on a consensus candidate, but only Mohammed Hayatu-Deen agreed to four of them stepping aside for Mr Abubakar.
They continued to put pressure on the others until the governor of Sokoto, Aminu Tambuwal, announced his own withdrawal and instructed his delegates to vote for Mr Abubakar. According to their calculations, if northern aspirants split their votes, the Rivers governor would win.
“Oga stated he had never been under so much strain before in his life,” according to a governor’s adviser. They told him that Oga’s decision would determine the fate of the party.
“They also indicated the APC was working behind the scenes for Wike because they believe he will be easily defeated in the general election,” the governor’s assistant added.
Mr Tambuwal had not made up his mind about withdrawing from the campaign when he walked into the convention centre. Before the delegates began voting, he did so and instructed his supporters to vote for Atiku.
Mr Tambuwal’s withdrawal from the campaign, according to some political commentators, tipped the election in favour of the former vice president.
The Sokoto governor, who ran for the ticket in the 2019 election, campaigned hard and was largely regarded as one of the main contenders for the position.
Insiders in the party said he had snatched votes from the North-West geographic zone, which has the most delegates in the country, and a few other states around the country.
He would have divided northern support and probably opened the door for Mr Wike to win the ticket if he hadn’t withdrawn.
Mr Wike was portrayed as a lone ranger who relied on merciless use of financial power in his quest of the PDP ticket, according to other insiders, and his defeat delivered a breath of relief across the party.
Mr Wike left the convention grounds on Saturday night when it became evident that he had lost the election after the votes were sorted.