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Rivers 2023: The Gathering Storm

 

…Atiku’s men rise in anger against Wike

…Amaechi loses closest allies

…Defections, realignments, factionalisation rock the state

 

Rivers State, which has been under unabated political crisis since the then Minister, Nyesom Wike, swept away the ruling party structure from then governor, Chibuike Amaechi, is now witnessing what looks like the fiercest political fire in Nigeria.

Whereas some of other states may be witnessing some cross-carpeting of allies of governors in power, in Rivers State, what seems to be an earthquake is rocking the oil-rich state, threatening a political tsunami never witnessed in any part of Nigeria in recent times. The gathering storm seems to be one that may end the endless Wike-Amaechi wars that seems to have wearied the nation’s political circles as it has crippled the economy and political growth of both the state and the south-south.

Three other forces have also risen from the camps of the two warring brothers to make the Social Democratic Party now led by Amaechi’s strongest ally, Magnus Abe, as the place where most strong members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) are heading to, thereby creating a power bloc outside Amaechi, who is no longer a minister.

Power is also gathering at Accord Party (AP) where a strong man, Dumo Lulu-Briggs, who has always insisted on contesting for governorship for the Kalabari interest, has gone to pick the guber ticket, taking away a chunk of the Kalabari supporters of the APC.

The latest departure that seemed to mop up the remaining allies of Amaechi and other Kalabari political guns as well as intellectuals and bureaucrats in the state is that of George Ibietela Dawari, a former commissioner and the man who seemed to rally the Amaechi political front to remain united and loyal to Amaechi. He has picked the ticket of the African Alliance (AA).

The departure of George and formation of his front in AA seems to hit the Amaechi camp hardest going the big reputation capital that the well heeled political bureaucrat brings to Rivers political firmament.

He seemed to confirm this on Thursday, August 11, at the First Baptist Church on Aggrey Road where he dedicated his guber ticket to God. He said; “I come to the race with character, competence and commitment to work for the rapid and wholesome development of our dear State, where everyone can aspire to achieve their dreams in a serene environment with the support of a responsive and responsible government.”

He went further to reveal his dream: “Rivers State must get back to the path of planned development and peaceful coexistence. This was the course charted by His Royal Majesty, King Alfred Diette Spiff, the first governor of the old Rivers State. We intend to progress this course and build the State of our collective dream through programmes that promote inclusive governance by offering equitable and unhindered access to government services.

“Development is a function of programmes, which define the appropriateness of projects. A major deviation from global best practice, which has been the bane of effective governance in our clime, is the execution of projects as an end in itself. This focus on immediate results without a clearly articulated programme that serves the long-term benefits of our people is ultimately a disservice and a setback in the development trajectory.”

This seems to be what the Rivers people are hungry for, at the moment, after about 10 years of steady acrimony caused by the Wike-Amaechi wars where the state is always at war with the centre, denying the state its age-old benefits from the FG.

Few hours ago, the state’s political firmament witnessed a rocking event, the apparent departure of the best media manager of the APC for almost a decade, the Opobo chief, Chris Finebone. He was seen in a photograph with Wike, Sim Fubara (Wike godson for governor come 2023 who is from Opobo, too) and former APC state chairman, Ibiamu Davies, who since joined Wike’s PDP.

Responding to a rash of calls, Finebone said ‘it is what it is’. He was quoted to say the PDP guber flag-bearer is his brother, an indication that Opobo solidarity had forced him to ditch the APC and Amaechi that picked on Kalabari’s Tonye Cole.

Highly influential Kalabari son, Tonye Princewill, who vowed to remain with Amaechi, ditched the party few weeks back after Amaechi lost out at the APC presidential primaries and as a result, lost his ministerial post.

Other big departures in recent times are those of two former commissioners of Information under Amaechi, Ogbonna Nwuke from Etche and Ibim Semenitari from Opobo/Okrika axis. Being persons that spoke to build Amaechi’s image and cause, their departure created huge credibility gaps in the party they defended, just as that of Finebone seems to have sealed it.

Several persons who fought the Wike-Amaechi wars on the side of Amaechi such as Tony Okocha (his Chief of Staff), Igo Aguma (the Ogbunabali kingpin), Chioma Golden, etc, have since left, waiting for Abe to show the next move.

Yet, the APC says it is unshaken. The party said it was better to work with those it can trust than have a crowd of persons who have other plans. Other APC chieftains said most of those departing are those who benefitted the most fro Amaechi and the APC, only to quit at the slightest sight of the desert.

The mass defection and rejection of Amaechi seems to be triggered by two quick events; failure to win the APC presidential slot, and loss of post of minister. The fact that Amaechi nominated his successor in the federal executive cabinet rather seemed to work against him because of those who expected such nominations felt bitter and left. Some hint that Amaechi may no longer be in a position to do any follower any major favour: He has served as governor twice, speaker twice, minister twice. He has no hope of being president or vice in the foreseeable future, did not pick senatorial seat. Some say in politics, he has come to retirement doorstep.

Wike in firebombs

Whereas APC and Amaechi were witnessing crisis and departures, Wike and the PDP appeared calm and united, though some observers feared it could be peace of a graveyard.

Wike, as minister, had what many saw as the full support or empty cheque of the presidency especially Patience Jonathan. With this, Wike became a force that decided the fate of men. He nominated himself for governor and silenced the grumbling of a few, saying the situation required only a hire tension like him to bulldoze Amaechi and APC out of power. This worked.

All through the eight years, Wike as governor dispensed favours and power with which he kept Amaechi and APC in check in the state, winning members from Amaechi camp and making kings out of mere men. The APC was fought to a standstill to the point of not fielding a single candidate in the 2019 general elections. Amaechi as a mere minister in a kind of government Muhammadu Buhari ran could not match Wike money for money or power for power.

This power on Wike seemed to get obvious such that when it was time to get his successor, none of those who angled to be noticed got it. Wike openly picked the accountant-general who and allegedly dared any PDP member who did not like his choice to dare him.

Dagogo Fubara, a federal lawmaker, dared him and found himself in jail for months and never saw where the primaries was won and lost.

After that the PDP delegates were allegedly forbidden to meet other presidential aspirants at a time dollars were said to fly about in tens of thousands. Wike lost.

Before that, Wike had ensured that another Rivers man, Uche Secondus, was removed as national chairman of the PDP. Anger seemed to welling up in the hearts of Rivers PDP lords.

Now, the PDP henchmen found that all the power was with Wike, probably all the financial muscle too; the governorship tick was in his chosen pocket, access to the presidential flag-bearer was blocked, etc, they seemed to be choked.

The peace has shattered. Wike has boasted openly that he controls the massive votes of Rivers people and would deliver it where he wants and use it to punish those that he said hurt him during the primaries.

His allies understood this to mean that they have no powers anymore. Meanwhile, they watched him drift to the rival APC, inviting their henchmen to commission projects in the state.

Their plea for reconciliation so they could together work for Abubakar Atitu to reap from the Muslim-Muslim ticket crisis of the APC seems to fall on deaf ear. Instead, they find their leader taking Atiku and the PDP to court. The likes of Celestine Omehia are said to have been stripped of state recognition as former governors. Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives has also been kicked out.

Apparently knowing Wike’s high success rate in courts, they seemed alarmed that PDP may be destroyed through the court. They seem unhappy that Atiku may be hurt or may be made to lose Rivers. They have reacted.

The first to speak out is Lee Maeba, former senator from Ogoni axis. Something provoked the outburst. Gov Wike sacked the boards where the suspected Atiku loyalists serve.

Maeba, speaking like a confident man that has the mandate of a group and top persons outside the state, said what no man would have said before now about Wike. “We have a candidate of the party who has the capacity to lead Nigeria out of the crisis. So nothing can deter us from supporting Atiku to save Nigeria.

“Wike is not hiding that he is fighting Atiku. Yes, he said so. He called a meeting of Ogoni people who are with him and told them to tell me that he will see how I will campaign for Atiku in this state and he is ready to fight to the finish. This is a joke taken too far.”

Maeba also revealed that Wike removed Omehia and Opara as leaders of their party in Ikwerre and Port Harcourt City LGAs respectively.

He accused the Rivers State governor of humiliating the duo before their people because they went to pay a solidarity visit to Atiku.

“All of us knew Atiku before him. Austin Opara has been in the House of Representatives since 1999. He was the deputy speaker when Atiku was Vice-President. At that time Wike was struggling to be local government chairman. So, if Austin Opara has to take permission from him today to go and see Atiku, then something is wrong,” he stated to a national newspaper.

On Wike’s vow to deliver all Rivers votes against his detractors, Meaba said: “Why are you in charge of votes? Everybody has individual votes to cast. If Adegboyega Oyetola was in charge of votes in Osun, he wouldn’t have lost the election.

“So, for somebody to be boasting he is in charge of votes, people should ask him where do you want to get the votes? How many voters cards does he have?”

According to Maeba, Austin Opara, Omehia, and himself do not need the permission of Gov Wike to visit the former Vice President.

“Let me tell you something. When you apportion so much right to yourself, then you are superhuman. Austin Opara was the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives when Atiku Abubakar was the Vice President. They attended caucus meetings together and National Economic Council Meeting.

“So, does it mean that Austin Opara who has been friends with Atiku for over 20 years ago will now start to beg Wike to go and see Atiku? “So, he (Wike) is the one who doesn’t have respect for citizens.

“So if you don’t have respect for the rights of senior citizens of the state, you don’t have respect for their right to survive and self-sustenance, then something is wrong with your own system.”

Despite all these words, Maeba told newsmen he has yet to speak. He said Rivers State will shake when he speaks. Wike and most of his allies are believed to share deep confidentialities. They alone know how the late Ake was removed as state PDP chairman to hand it to Felix Obuah; they alone know court stops other parties and clears the way for a particular party to win elections; they alone know how political leaders end in crisis and ruin; they alone know how contracts are awarded to lone bidders and how the budgets of the state are put together and justified. Observers think they are the last persons to begin a firefight from within.

Conclusion:

Wike, like Amaechi, may be a sitting duck. He is concluding his last term as governor, he is not presidential candidate or vice (except the courts say otherwise), his attempt to be senator has been blocked by the new Electoral Act, etc. If hands over power, many of his aides say, he may not be the power merchant of the state anymore. They say that is why he wants a particular candidate to succeed him. He could wield power indirectly. He could also be made minister by a candidate he wants to support, possibly Bola Tinubu of APC.

A deep source revealed that should both Wike and Amaechi crash out in the firebombs raging in the Rivers political firmament, that it could create the peace that has eluded the state for 10 years. The source said the emerging power blocs emerging in the state around Abe, Dawari George, and Lulu-Briggs may have to create a new political atmosphere devoid of acrimony and usher in some stable development by working with the centre and allowing all Rivers intellectuals to work together like in the days of old.

Then would Rivers State have taken back its place as a state that leads and others follow a state that cannot be left behind when major decisions are taken, as the likes of Peter Odili and the late Alfred Dikibo use to say.

 

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Tags : AmaechiGov. WikeMagnus AbeRivers State
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