Nigeria’s Top 10 Most Influential Political Actors-Nyesom Wike

At the peak of the open political battle between Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a number of the party chieftains in the state got caught up in the crossfire. Celestine Omehia, a former Governor of the state; Austin Okpara, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives; and Senator Lee Meaba; all loyalists of Atiku, were stripped of their various leadership positions in the party and state government agencies by Governor Wike.

Reacting to the Governor’s action, Senator Meaba told Daily Trust on Sunday: “Wike is not hiding the fact that he is fighting Atiku. And he said he was ready to fight to the finish.

“We don’t know what he is planning to do because when campaigns start, we are qualified to campaign too. We are waiting to see how he would stop us from campaigning. This is a joke taken too far.”

Senator Meaba has learnt the hard way that Wike was not joking, for his principal, Atiku, lost the election in the state and overall while Wike became triumphant on most fronts: Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) whom Wike aligned with won the presidential election in Rivers state and is now President-elect. Wike’s Governorship candidate, Nimi Fubara, along with other National and state Assembly candidates in the state were victorious. Dr. Iorchia Ayu, the National Chairman of PDP and loyalist of Atiku whom Wike had wanted removed as precondition for reconciliation failed to deliver his Council and state and was sacked from office.

Wike’s triumph on all fronts in the 2023 general election is the highpoint of his rising political profile and influence in the last eight years. Apart from the President and President-elect, he is, today, perhaps, the most influential public office holder in Nigeria.

In the build-up to the 2023 general election, Wike’s political influence, made him one of the most sought-after political figures in Nigeria. He played host to the Who-is-Who in Nigerian politics, including APC’s presidential candidate, Ahmed Bola Tinubu; Labour Party’s (LP) presidential candidate, Peter Obi and Atiku.  Former President Olusegun Obasanjo with Obi also reportedly attended a meeting with Wike in London.

The Rivers state Governor also received in audience some prominent chieftains of APC, such as Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos, Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo and David Umahi of Ebonyi State.

Other top chieftains of the party that visited the Governor’s Port Harcourt residence are former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.

These visits by the presidential candidates and their loyalists were meant to woo Wike to support their ambitions.

Wike started to build his influence in PDP in 2015 when the party lost the presidential election to APC after 16 unbroken years in power at the National level. With prominent chieftains either defecting to the APC or retiring to their shells after the defeat, Wike provided the resources to keep the party afloat. He, alongside a former Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, were the most vocal among opposition figures criticising the Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government.

Since 2015, he and his camp have been instrumental to the election of the National Chairmen and majority of the members of the National Working Committee of the party. These included Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, Ahmed Makarfi, Uche Secondus and the immediate past National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu. Wike’s camp has also been largely responsible for their time and mode of exit from the exalted office.

Channeling financial resources to most state chapters of the party, Wike was able to influence the constitution of many state executives and earning their loyalty. Wike’s generosity to state chapters, NWC, as well as his aggressive challenge to the APC-led federal government endeared him to many stakeholders of the party.

He also used his well-oiled presidential campaign tours to gain more friends and loyalists in the party. He visited the 36 states of the country, including the Federal Capital Territory, where he canvassed for votes and made lots of friends.  Media reports said that the Governor gave out huge sums of money to party leaders in each state he visited during the campaign.

Over time, Governor Wike’s influence covered the state structures of the party across the country. A number of his fellow state Governors also defer to him courtesy of his generousity.

He is also loved by the people of Rivers State because of the developmental projects he embarked on as Governor. Even his greatest critics would admit that although his politics is combative, it is also progressive and developmental; the reason he is dubbed Mr Project.

Governor Wike deployed the goodwill he earned from his outstanding performance to sustain the state as one of PDP’s strongholds, the result of which always showed during presidential elections. For example, former President Goodluck Jonathan got 1,487,075 votes against Buhari’s 69,238 in 2015 in spite of the fact that the then Governor Rotimi Amaechi defected to the APC. Also, in 2019, Atiku scored 473,971 votes in Rivers state to defeat President Buhari who had 150,710.

It was with the ernomous influence which Wike had amassed over the years that he approached the Presidential primaries of PDP in May last year. He became the first runner-up, losing to Atiku with 371 votes to 237. Some analysts say Wike would have won if not for the last-minute setback he suffered when Aminu Tambuwal, Governor of Sokoto state, Presidential aspirant and a longstanding supporter of the Rivers State Governor, along with his delegates, switched loyalty to Atiku just before voting.

Shortly after Wike lost the PDP presidential primary in Abuja and was snubbed for the vice-presidential slot of the party, he became incenced. He and his loyalists mobilized against the National leadership of the party, insisting on the resignation of Dr. Iorchia Ayu, the National Chairman, to compensate Southern Nigeria for the loss of the party’s presidential ticket. This demand was the major precondition given by the Wike camp to support Atiku’s presidential campaign. It was turned down and the group consequently pulled out of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council. The anti-Atiku/Ayu fight crystalized into a group of five aggrieved PDP Governors (G-5) led by Governor Wike. Others include Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom; Governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; Governor of Abia State, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu; Governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde

 They became a nightmare to PDP and Atiku, its presidential candidate, ahead of the elections.

The last time that PDP state Governors revolted against their party this way was before the 2015 general election, when five PDP Governors refused to support the second term bid of then President Goodluck Jonathan. Their walkout was reportedly incidentally instigated and supported by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Jonathan lost that election, despite the fact that he was a powerful incumbent president. As if caught by the law of Karma, Atiku lost the 2023 election. Significantly, he lost in all the states of these aggrieved Governors, even where PDP won the Governorship and/or other elections (Rivers, Oyo, Enugu). The worst loss occurred in Governor Ortom’s Benue state, the home of Dr. Ayu, the National Chairman. There, PDP did not lose just the presidential election, but also the Governorship, two senate seats, eight out of nine House of Representatives seats and its majority in the state House of Assembly.

The political influence of Governor Wike, through the G-5 Governors, cannot be discounted in these electoral losses by PDP in its traditional strongholds.

But, even as Wike serves out his second and final term as Governor on May 29, 2023, the prospects are high and speculations are rife that the incoming President would acknowledge his contribution to his electoral victory by accommodating him in his cabinet. This means Wike is set to gain even more political power and influence in the forthcoming political dispensation.

Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike was born on December 13, 1963, at Rumuepirikom, Obio-Akpor, Rivers State. He attended Government Secondary School Eneka in Obiakpor, Rivers State, where he sat for his O’level exams. From there, he proceeded to the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUT), where he obtained adegree in Law. He attended Nigeria Law School and completed his studies in 1997.

Governor Wike also holds a Masters degree in Political and Administrative Studies from the same university.

Wike is a wealthy man. He reportedly has an estimated net worth of a staggering $550 million and is believed to be the second richest Governor in Nigeria. He is married to a beautiful wife, Eberechi, a high Court Judge, and the marriage is blessed with three children: Jordan, Joaquin, and Jazmyne.

After graduation, Wike briefly went into private legal practice before venturing into politics. He was elected as the Executive Chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area for two terms, from 1999 to 2007. He distinguished himself as one of the best performing chairpersons of the council. While serving as Local Government Chairman, Wike was elected Deputy President, Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) in 2004 and was later elected the President of ALGON. He was also an African representative in the Commonwealth Local Governments Forum.

At the end of his tenure as Local Government Chairman, he got appointed as the Chief of staff to Governor Chibuike Amaechi. He was also appointed General Manager of the campaign team during Governor Amaechi’s re-election campaign. On July 14, 2011, he was appointed Minister of State for Education, and later as Acting Minister of Education. However, he resigned voluntarily to vie for Governorship of Rivers State on the PDP ticket. On December 8, 2014, he won the Rivers State PDP Governorship primaries and subsequently won the general elections on April 3, the following year. He was re-elected as the Governor of Rivers State in the 2019 general elections.