December 09, (THEWILL) – Barrister Nyesom Wike has the singular honour of being the only minister to have demonstrated his culinary skills on prime time, prime time being a private recording of the former governor in his kitchen, pans and china plates a-jingling with condiments ready to be dumped in a sizzling pot with special cuts of beef, fish and veggies. Like a Michelin-rated chef enjoying what he does for a living with his ladle, Wike got the recipes one by one, poured them in a pot, stirred the steaming broth severally and then sampled it grandma style.
It is hard to imagine any proud Ikwerre man indulging his passion so like a chief cook in a five-star hotel. For one, Wike had been chairman of Obio Akpor local government area in Rivers state, two-term governor from 2015, Minister of State before then and now minister. For much of his time in government since 1999, therefore, a retinue of domestic servants would have taken care of such kitchen necessities.
But guess who was coming to lunch or dinner that day at Wike’s residence in Abuja? Almighty Chief of Staff Femi Gbajabiamila to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. So, the minister had to take charge of things himself instead of leaving the preparations to a careless kitchen staff that might unwittingly over-salt a dish. Whether it was Wike who asked the CoS over or the other way, Nigerians saw both of them, along with others smiling indulgently, in the minister’s kitchen with Gbajabiamila cautiously peeking over Wike’s shoulder to ensure he won’t dish them a peppery gumbo soup.
Wike and his dinner guests were probably still in the kitchen when clips of the video leaked. It went viral immediately, eliciting responses from Nigerians, some sharply critical of the minister’s smarmy attitude to a key member of a party he swore never to have anything to do with let alone take up any appointment from them. But there he was playing the gracious host to someone who, three years before, was a political opponent.
Some put it down as politics, making a case that in politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies only permanent interests.
What many of them missed is Wike never shying away from doing things his own way. For eight years as governor of one of the richest states in the Niger Delta, Wike ruled with an imperious hand. Those who dared him found out the hard way. Ask Celestine Omehia who had a brief spell as governor of Rivers state. His run-in with Wike ended badly for the former: As a serving governor, Wike personally removed Omehia’s official portraits from the row of former state chief executives hanging on a wall in the State House.
“A junior staff of Government House in Port Harcourt could have quietly removed Omehia’s portrait out of public view,” suggested a Port Harcourt resident then, “instead of Wike himself doing it with all the histrionics involved.” However, the same man conceded that following Wike’s antecedents, it was his own way of doing things.
Doing things his way may have prompted a senior journalist last August to wager soon after Wike’s confirmation by the Senate as minister he would be the most talked about and talkative cabinet member in Tinubu’s government. In other words, he was unlikely to change from his old ways, the brash, assertive and imperious ruler he once was. But a younger colleague countered him, arguing that the newly appointed minister may be denied the privileges he enjoyed as governor. So, he may become tamer.
The senior journalist didn’t have to wait for long to claim his money. Hours after swearing in by PBAT, the newly minted minister unfolded his plans for the FCT: undeveloped plots would be seized; illegal structures would be demolished; some plot owners have to reacquire Certificate of Occupancy and the like. The message was clear and frightening: a bulldozer come to town pulling down illegal structures and thus rendering peoples’ lives asunder.
Wike’s proposed reforms got residents of the FCT and its environs up in arms – the minister was insensitive to the plight of the poor, they charged, especially with the removal of fuel subsidy by Tinubu’s administration. But the man had his way to the consternation of people like Sheik Dr. Ahmad Gumi who thought Wike shouldn’t even be Minister of FCT in the first place.
For once, Wike had a phalanx of Nigerians behind him defending his position against the Islamic cleric with a God-given right to rule, with a right to produce only people of a certain religious persuasion ordained to be Minister of FCT.
The dust had yet to settle when Wike again did things his own way. Following a supplementary budget of N61.5bn transmitted by PBAT to the National Assembly for approval, Wike told the House Committee on FCT he had earmarked N15bn of that sum to build a “befitting residence” for Vice President Kashim Shettima.
Already, the same supplementary budget made allocation of N2.5bn to renovate the current residence of the VP in Abuja and another N3bn for the one in Lagos. So, what’s the need for a new building proposed by Wike in Abuja?
How could Wike be so insensitive, critics charged again, considering the crippling economic conditions Nigerians are faced with? And yet, here was another example of the minister doing things his own way and damning the consequences.
Hear Wike’s defence before the House Committee on FCT: Construction of a new residence for the vice president was approved in 2010 by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) at the cost of N7 billion but the project was abandoned but the current administration has decided to commence the project and the contractor has reviewed the project up to N15 billion.
Wike went on to say that “the VP residence that was awarded in 2010 at the cost of N7 billion was abandoned. It is embarrassing that a country of this nature cannot, in 13 years, complete the VP’s residence. N7 billion, now the contractor is saying well, we cannot continue to do it without review. Now they are saying N15 billion. We have taken it upon ourselves to say that we will complete it and Mr. President will commission it by May.”
Individuals and civil society organisations immediately panned Wike’s proposed N15bn VP’s residence, calling it a needless waste of resources.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has taken on the minister head-on, asking the Senate president Godswill Akpabio “to promptly reject the plan by the Minister of the FCT, Nyesom Wike, to spend N15 billion for the construction of a ‘befitting residence’ for the Vice President, Mr Kashim Shettima.”
In a scathing letter signed by Kolawole Oluwadare SERAP’s deputy director, Akpabio should “assert Senate’s authority and constitutional oversight roles to reject the N2.8 billion on publicity for the FCTA and other proposed wasteful and unnecessary spending that may be contained in the 2023 supplementary budget and the 2024 budget proposed by President Bola Tinubu.”
Continuing, SERAP said “the Senate has the constitutional duties to ensure that Mr. Wike’s proposed spending is entirely consistent and compatible with constitutional provisions including his oath of office. All public officials remain subject to the rule of law,” insisting that NASS “has a constitutional responsibility to address the country’s debt crisis, including by rejecting wasteful and unnecessary spending to satisfy the personal comfort and lifestyles of public officials.”
What’s more, according to SERAP, the ‘construction’ of the VP’s residence in 2010 was “abandoned but the whereabouts of the N7bn budgeted for it remains unknown.”
Presidential candidate of the Labour Party Mr. Peter Obi has similarly criticised Wike’s proposed N15bn splurge on the VP’s residence as wasteful. Describing Wike’s proposal as “shocking and disheartening,” the former governor of Anambra state said it was in total disregard of the “many challenges facing our nation.”
He also queried the need for another building even though plans are already on to renovate two of the VP’s residence. “Just recently in the Supplementary Budget,” Obi said, “the sum of N2.5 billion was included for the renovation of the Vice President’s residence in Abuja, which means that he already has a residence. Again, during the budget presentation, I heard the sum of N3 billion was allocated for the renovation of the Vice President’s residence in Lagos.
“If we total all these sums, we would have budgeted the sum of N20.5 billion for the housing of the Vice President at this critical time when we are not just the world’s poverty capital, but more people are falling into poverty, with so many Nigerians not knowing where their next meal will come from. Our health facilities have collapsed, and unemployment is skyrocketing.”
And just last week, protesters marched to the National Assembly Abuja with placards demanding the resignation of Wike as Minister of FCT. Organised by the Network of Civil Societies for Economic Sustainability, the demonstrators said the minister’s action so far in office have been inimical to the “progress and growth needed in the FCT and the nation in general.”
The minister, NCSEC charged, is too “controversial,” which is also part of the reason for the protest. But Wike seemed unmindful of their protest, dismissing them with a casual wave of the hand.
“Yesterday, someone told me there were some people carrying placards,” the minister said in response to news of the marchers. “Frankly speaking, I don’t have the time to see that. I was busy and I don’t want to be distracted.
“I want to be focused and deliver on the mandate Mr. President has given us. But one thing you must understand is that this is a democracy, so many people are entitled to their opinions. But what is important is your opinion must be in line with what is good for the people of the FCT. We can’t do the same thing the same way and expect to achieve different results.”
“One of the big things about leadership is that you must be firm, you must be bold. You must be courageous to take decisions. And we have taken decisions to make sure our people are happy with this administration. We have taken a decision to do the best for people as mandated by Mr. President.”
“Policies you make may not favour so many people but what is important is the generality of the people, not a few people who benefit at the (sic) detriment of others. When you bring a policy that will bring change, so many people will kick against it. Those who benefit will kick against it.
“But when you are focused and firm, they have no choice than to come back and align themselves with the policies of the government.”
Call that Wike’s way and you’re absolutely spot on. But the protesters at NASS last week don’t feel that way. Count SERAP and Obi in among them.