The announcement that former governor Nyesom Wike has been appointed the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was met with excitement and trepidation by those living inside and outside the capital city. For one, Wike came with what many have described as an excellent record in the delivery of infrastructure in Rivers State where he was governor between 2015 and 2023.
Indeed, the All Progressives Congress, APC-led Federal Government had months before the 2023 general election conferred an award on Wike for his strides in the development of infrastructure in Rivers State, though he is a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
“It is with great joy and enthusiasm that I extend our heartfelt congratulations to Wike, for his recent appointment as the minister of FCT, Abuja.
“We recognise his strong track record as a visionary leader, and we firmly believe that his appointment as the minister of FCT will pave the way for significant advancements and positive changes within the capital territory,” the Hotel Owners Forum Abuja (HOFA) has said in expression of such sentiments in congratulatory message to the former governor.
But despite such a feat, Wike was also renowned for his penchant for taking on those he disagreed with brutally without regard to the law.
In the run-up to the 2023 elections, for instance, the former governor had embarked on sealing of business premises and property associated with loyalists of the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar who he refused to support in the election in Port Harcourt.
Hotels and fuel stations belonging to the PDP chieftains were sealed by Wike because they declared their support for the PDP presidential candidate.
Indeed, social media was flooded with suggestions that Wike may demolish structures linked with the PDP, including the expansive Wadata House National Secretariat of the party on the assumption of office as the FCT minister.
This was even though many of the PDP chieftains were also his former allies.
The apprehension of many who harboured such fears was confirmed when the former Rivers State governor assumed office on Monday after he was sworn in as minister.
In the guise of his determination to restore Abuja’s master plan, Wike had threatened to embark on wide-scale demolition of structures within the capital city just like one of his predecessors and ex-former governor, Nasir El-Rufai.
“All those people who are distorting the master plan of Abuja, too bad. If you know you have built where you’re not supposed to build, it will go down,” Wike said with a promise to stop encroachment on “the green areas” of the city.
“If you hate green, you must hate yourself. So, if you know you have anybody involved that has taken over the green areas or has taken over the parks to where you now do restaurants. No, we will not accept that. Sorry,” he said.
He added that the PDP secretariat or property belonging to any other person or group will not be spared, just as he will not shy away from taking over unutilised lands and buildings.
“Is there anybody I want to fight that I’ll not tell you I want to fight? You heard that I went to PDP to check if they don’t have a C-of-O. If they don’t have C-of-O, then they don’t have it. I mean, what kind of politics is that? If you don’t have it, you don’t have it. So, if we’re doing something to find out those who don’t have C-of-O or those who have it or have not complied, and maybe PDP is one of them, we’ll not do our work?” Wike rhetorically asked inquisitive journalists.
But it was not only the PDP that Wike directed his threats at. He also warned herdsmen that cows would no longer be allowed inside the city: “They can be outside the city because the grasses are outside the city. The grasses in the city were planted to beautify the city. It is not that one that they would eat. So, we will discuss. It is important. Let us say it, you are driving inside the [Presidential] Villa, for example, and you see about 20,000 to 40,000 goats, if foreigners see that, how would they feel?” he said.
The former governor also said he would deal with street trading as part of his plans to curb insecurity. “We are not going to tolerate the issue of everywhere is market. Yes, I know that things are difficult, but that doesn’t mean you should cause crises for other people. You are looking for what to put in your stomach; it must be done within the framework of the law.“ In a city, people are selling with umbrellas under the trees. These things cause insecurity. We cannot allow it.”
While some who are disenchanted with the turn the capital city has taken in the eight years Wike’s predecessor was in office hailed the tough talk by the Abuja helmsman, others expressed concern that he failed to consider the current hardship being faced by the people of the country in rolling out his threats, no matter how well-intentioned.
However, the people were thrown into bigger fears about 24 hours later when a list of areas already purportedly marked for demolition by Wike began to make rounds. Some publications had indicated that the minister approved the demolition of Garki, Jabi and other 28 slums with 6,000 buildings marked for destruction.
As it turned out, the claim was false as the FCTA Administration said in a statement on Thursday. It also denied claims that Wike had made up his mind to destroy the PDP Secretariat.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the minister did not in any of his pronouncements list the areas or the number of illegal houses to be removed. Rather his emphasis has always been that illegal settlements and structures would be removed for the greater good of the public.
“The Honourable Minister has consistently demonstrated a commitment to responsible urban development and the welfare of the people even while he was the governor of Rivers State, a commitment he has assured residents within the FCT since he assumed office as minister.
“The claim that he is orchestrating large-scale demolitions is not only inaccurate but also lacks credibility,” Anthony Ogunleye, Director of Press in the Office of the Minister said in the statement.
Not Alpha and Omega Of Abuja
However, despite such pushback, analysts say Wike’s attempt to transfer his behaviour and penchant for impunity in Rivers State wholesale to Abuja can only land him and his boss, the President in trouble.
Unlike in Rivers, Wike is not the alpha and omega in Abuja where the National Assembly is constitutionally recognized as the legislative chamber. “He had to tread carefully, otherwise, it is the lawmakers at the National Assembly that will cut him to size,” said an analyst.
Sources who spoke to The Nigerian Xpress also said Wike should be mindful of the fact that he is the first Southerner appointed as the substantive FCT Minister in 47 years.
“This singular move shows that anyone can become a minister regardless of their birthplace, tongue and dialect. For me, one of the ground-breaking decisions President Tinubu has taken is to give every part of Nigeria a hope that regardless of your birthplace, tongue or dialect, you can be the Minister of the FCT,” former Edo governor, Adams Oshiomhole underscored the significance of the appointment of the former Rivers governor as minister of FCT by Tinubu.
But instead of unnecessary grandstanding, residents of the city advised Wike to make his appointment worthwhile by embarking on the development of the satellite towns of the territory by constructing roads and general urban renewal to undo the disaster that his predecessor was in the past eight years.
They advised him to leave vices like impunity and disrespect for court orders, political vendetta and brash talk in Rivers.
Tinubu May Sacrifice You
Failure to heed such advice, according to Shehu Sani, an activist and former Senator, may land Wike into “serious political trouble” with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
The activist said the capacity of Wike to deliver on his job is not in doubt, but his utterances or actions will be his greatest undoing.
“The capacity and competence of the new FCT minister to deliver is without doubt. The possibility of getting himself and the President into serious political trouble by his utterances or actions is also without doubt. He will have to learn to walk in a minefield or be blown by it,” the activist said.
Speaking in the same vein, a lawyer and aide to the PDP presidential candidate, Daniel Bwala, advised Wike to tread with caution as he begins the job of changing the fortunes of Abuja, otherwise, he may be consumed by it. He added that Tinubu may be forced to sacrifice Wike if the push comes to shove.
According to him, rather than issue threats, the former Rivers governor should concentrate on delivering affordable healthcare facilities; access to good education facilities; clean sports and recreational centres; an affordable transport services system; efficient and workable street lighting in the city centre and the suburbs; and security for the people of the capital city.
“You came with a bullish and vendetta spirit, venting fire and brimstone about demolition and revocation of titles. Abuja is not Port Harcourt. If you create chaos in the city, you will jeopardise your principal’s interests, and he will be forced to sacrifice your job. You will learn humility on the job,” Bwala warned Wike.