Wike’s 200,000 special assistants: Abuse of power that debases governance

State governors have an outsized presence in Nigerian politics. Indeed, Nigerian state governors are probably the most imperious yet ineffectual sub-national politicians in the world. They treat their states as personal fiefdoms and behave like tin gods. Delusions of grandeur and a ferocious sense of entitlement blind them to the transiency of power. Above all, they are utterly inept, unable to improve people’s lives, which is the real purpose of governance. One must, then, ask: why are Nigerian state governors so full of themselves? Why do they indulge in such self-importance, such conceit?

By international standards, based on their states’ wherewithal and impact, state governors in Nigeria are, at best, the equivalents of large-city mayors like the Mayor of London or the Mayor of New York. In fact, given that most states in Nigeria are technically bankrupt, unable to provide basic public services, most governors are lower in status than local government leaders in the UK or the US, who control large resources and provide vital services for people and businesses in their areas. Yet, there is no air of grandiose or pompousness around them; rather, they see themselves as servant, not master, of the people!

But, despite being merely glorified city mayors or even local government leaders in other climes, judged by their weak governance capacity and abysmal impact on people’s lives, state governors in Nigeria behave like potentates. They hijack the politics of their states, commandeer state resources, deploying them as they without accountability, and exercise peremptory powers over people and issues in their state, acting with utter impunity.

Well, the archetypal state governor in Nigeria is Nyesom Wike, of Rivers State, whose narcissism, self-aggrandisement and abuse of power know no bounds. Of course, his antics are self-indulgent and intended for attention, which he craves insatiably. But, more worryingly, those antics demean public life, debase politics and diminish governance.

Rather, Nigeria needs a reflective, visionary and competent leader, who can get the best out of a diverse and complex country with great potential without being imperious, autocratic or overbearing

Since Wike lost the presidential primary of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in May and subsequently lost out in the selection of running mate for the winner, Atiku Abubakar, he has been behaving like a bull in a china shop, undermining his party’s chances in next year’s presidential election. As the saying goes, hell hath no fury like a woman – well, a man in this case – scorned!

But however aggrieved Wike feels, if he has self-awareness, a critical quality, he will know that, with his aggressive and bombastic style of politics, he lacks the temperament for national leadership; that he’s unsuited to the office of vice-president, let alone president.

During his campaign for his party’s presidential primary, Wike said: Nigeria “needs a mad man like me” to turn it around. But, no, Nigeria doesn’t need a “mad man”; it doesn’t need a brash and eccentric leader, who makes everything about himself! Rather, Nigeria needs a reflective, visionary and competent leader, who can get the best out of a diverse and complex country with great potentials without being imperious, autocratic or overbearing.

Wike’s existential battle with his party is interesting because it shows that history repeats itself and that people rarely learn from history. In 2015, five dissident PDP governors, called the G5, helped the patently clueless Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, become president. Today, five renegade PDP governors, also called the G5, are working directly or indirectly to help Bola Tinubu, the APC’s deeply flawed presidential candidate, become president, at the risk of inflicting a monumental tragedy on Nigeria.

Read also: Wike’s parting gift

But where are the PDP’s G5 of 2015 today? They are all absolutely disenchanted, regretting their role in the emergence of Buhari’s disastrous presidency. The same fate awaits Wike’s G5 if they, in any way, facilitate Tinubu’s emergence as president next year.

Well, that’s not the main focus of this intervention, although it’s worth making those points. My main concern here is the collateral damage of Wike’s politics of revenge. First, there’s the infantile vindictiveness, with reports that he is witch-hunting and victimising PDP members in Rivers State who are allies of Atiku, sealing up their businesses, revoking the certificates of occupancy for their lands and, generally, creating a climate of fear.

Wike vowed to “crush” his opponents, and that’s exactly what he’s been doing. Recently, he revoked the certificate of occupancy for a plot of land belonging to former Senator Lee Maeba, chairman of Atiku’s presidential campaign council in Rivers State. A few months ago, he ‘derecognised’ Celestine Omehia, an Atiku ally, as a former Governor of the state, not minding that it was him who got the state’s House of Assembly to recognise Omehia as a former governor in the first place in 2015, when the going was good between them. But now that Omehia belongs to another camp, even within the same party, Wike is vengeful.

Tell me, what would Wike do if he ever became president: unleash state security agents on his opponents, ruining their businesses and lives? Turn Nigeria into a fascist state?

Public life must not be the property of narcissists and bullies, who inject toxicity into politics. But such people thrive on applause and adulation, which Wike is suffused with, thanks to the obsequiousness of his fellow G5 members and other praise singers in his echo chamber.

Recently, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State named a road in Makurdi, the state capital, after Wike. What for, you might ask? Well, political point scoring, of course. What’s more, Wike has long been known for his ‘Father Christmas’ role, using Rivers State resources to fund party affairs across Nigeria, something – diverting government funds into party covers – that would count as corruption elsewhere.

Which brings us to the apogee, for now perhaps, of Wike’s megalomaniacal politics. Recently, he appointed 200,000 so-called Special Assistants on Political Unit Affairs, in addition to 350 Constituency and Local Government Area Liaison Officers, both estimated to cost N42 billion between now and May next year when he leaves office. He said he was implementing a “stomach infrastructure” policy. But who are the beneficiaries? Are the 200,000 plus appointees not PDP foot soldiers? Surely, they are his party supporters who might double as facilitators of political thuggery in a state notorious for its proneness to crisis during governorship elections.

In any case, how is that the right way to spend public funds? Here’s a governor whose administration owes public sector workers several years of unpaid salaries and owe pensioners nearly seven years of unpaid gratuities, according to the state’s branch of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC. Here’s a governor whose state has the highest number of unemployed people in Nigeria, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Of course, Wike is known for commissioning “projects”, an exercise he regularly brings vain and attention-seeking politicians from across Nigeria to perform. Recently, President Buhari gave Wike the ‘Distinguished Award in Infrastructure Delivery’, which is not surprising given Buhari’s fetishization of physical infrastructure even when poverty, hunger and insecurity are ravaging Nigerians. Well, narcissistic leaders love physical projects, which they can be identified with, rather than investing in human development and improving people’s lives.

The NLC branch in Rivers State accused Wike of “inhuman disposition to the plight of workers and pensioners.” Yet, he prides himself on commissioning projects and creating jobs for political hangers-on, while giving Rivers money to political allies across Nigeria.

This is barefaced abuse of power. Wike is an example of what can go wrong when state governors are too powerful and state legislatures are supine and too weak to provide effective checks and balances. Nigeria must remove the constitutional immunity for state governors and subject them to a robust accountability system. That’s an antidote to the impunity of future Wikes!

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