For both Wike and Amaechi, it is a battle for suzerainty, a battle to prove whether a former governor has more grassroots support than a sitting governor
By the time you get to read this piece the National and State House of Assembly elections in Rivers State would have been lost and won. However, whoever wins will realise that this is merely a pyrrhic victory because of the blood that had been spilled before the elections in several parts of the State. On the eve of the elections two soldiers, one of them a major, were killed by some unknown gunmen. The military authorities are investigating the matter. Many more people may have been killed in the backwaters that we do not know about because of the treacherous terrain of the state.
Many years ago, the Rivers State capital, Port Harcourt, used to be a place where people loved to go for relaxation because it had everything you needed including peace. That is the reason people nicknamed the city, Garden City, or Pitakwa or Port Highlife. The city was busy, beautiful and appeared like a city built to last.
Then the militants started their agitation for a fairer deal on the issue of resource control. They would take oil company workers away and not ask for ransom. All they wanted was resource control. As the agitation gathered momentum, criminals jumped in with their own agenda and abducted people for ransom. However, when the Federal Government put together the Amnesty programme that enabled the militants to drop their guns and pick up learning kits, the agitation and the criminality went away.
And Port Harcourt witnessed an outbreak of peace.
However, when partisan politics came the politicians stoked the fire, brought out the guns and the militants and this time, people were not even kidnapped, they were simply killed. During the elections of last year, many people lost their lives in a mindless and grotesque display of gun power.
In the recent rerun elections into the National Assembly, two men stand out as the ferocious combatants. Many voters may not even have known the names of the contestants. They knew two names: Nyesom Wike and Rotimi Amaechi because the two of them are like two peas in the same pod. Wike was the Minister of State for Education in the Goodluck Jonathan government. Now he is the Governor of Rivers State. Amaechi is the immediate past Governor of Rivers State. Now he is the Minister of Transportation in the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Each of them has held two high offices: Governor and Minister of the Federal Republic. Each of them seems to be afflicted with a common disease; lack of verbal restraint. They both have the unenviable quality of being able to say anything, anyhow. This may thrill their supporters but that quality stokes the fire of discontent.
In the last three years or so, the two men had been at each other’s throat, trying to shred each other’s reputation. Their disagreement seems to have nothing to do with policy or ideology except the ideology of mutual antagonism. I can’t say what brought this about but I know that if they are not stopped in their tracks their exertions can lead to mutual self-destruction.
Both of them have done well for themselves and do not need this trade in insults.
Some people have said that this is an extension of the Amaechi – Jonathan fight. That fight was about several things: oil wells, chairmanship of the Governors’ Forum, Amaechi’s ambition to be Vice President, his exit from the PDP into APC and Patience Jonathan’s alleged intrusion into the affairs of Rivers State. For many Niger Deltans, the last governorship election in Rivers State was not really between Nyesom Wike of the PDP and Dakuku Peterside of the APC. It was a proxy war between Jonathan and Amaechi, between the Niger Delta and the North. So, Wike and Peterside seemed on deeper reflection to be simply pawns on the political chessboard of Rivers State.
Minoritarian politics in Nigeria has always been based on the assumption that he who wears the crown can protect the congregation. That is why over the years the South South states have always gone with the power wielder, NPN and then PDP because they want and need protection from the crushing weight of majoritarian politics.
There are three reasons why all the South South states except Edo voted for Jonathan. One, they felt elated that for the first time a South-South son was ascending the throne in more than 50 years of the country’s existence. It is the philosophy of existentialism. Two, they assumed that with Jonathan at the helm no one could unjustly take their oil away. Three, they knew that the Presidency is a big umbrella and if you come under it, you will be protected from rain and sun, thunder and lightning, witches and wizards. Your enemies will never find you and if they find you, they can do nothing to you. Those were the principal reasons why Jonathan got such a coaster-roller support in the South South. Therefore, when Amaechi positioned himself against Jonathan it was clear that he was merely tilting at windmills. The Niger Delta spirit was likely to triumph.
The National Assembly elections just concluded in the State has two dimensions. All the three Senatorial seats annulled by the Appeal Court were won by the PDP. The results of the elections will prove whether Rivers is largely a PDP state or an APC state. For Amaechi who was not supported by the three senators during his confirmation hearings, this is payback time. For the senators, it is time to prove that their victory was real. For Wike, the success of the three PDP senators will strengthen his position. For Amaechi, it is the battle to show that he has political support back home which could strengthen his position in the politics of APC. For both Wike and Amaechi, it is a battle for suzerainty, a battle to prove whether a former governor has more grassroots support than a sitting governor.
The battle between the two men may have something to do with what can be called “withdrawal syndrome.” This means that if a man ceases to hold an important office he was holding he feels left in the lurch, in the cold weather of executive idleness. It doesn’t really matter whether they are in the same party or not. Even within the same party we have historical examples such as Orji Kalu vs Theodore Orji, Victor Attah vs Godswill Akpabio, Dr Sam Egwu vs Anyim Pius Anyim and even now there is a huge row between Governor Ganduje of Kano and ex-Governor Kwankwaso and between Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna and Senator Shehu Sani. The above examples are within the same party which defines party politics as conflict-ridden and as a perpetual struggle for the spoils of office which may include stomach infrastructure and the higher throne of godfatherism.
Wike and Amaechi are in different parties and Amaechi is not idle. He occupies an important ministry with wide-ranging functions. The conflict here seems to originate from three roots (a) personal animosity between them which amounts to an effort to settle old scores (b) to establish who truly has grassroots support in Rivers State and (c) who should dictate what happens in that oil-rich state, the man who is a governor from an opposition party or the one who is a minister from the governing party. The conflict is heightened by the fact that the Supreme Court has settled the governorship contest in favour of Wike and the PDP whereas Amaechi, who was Director General of the APC campaign organisation, was expected to deliver the state to APC. Failure to do so becomes, for Amaechi, a burden he cannot live with. Since both men are warriors of the same kind, the war goes on.
This is a war in which words are not enough. Weapons are also involved. That is why the state has recorded many deaths so far. When the two men roar, their followers riot. But be it noted that the two men owe the Rivers State something since they occupy the positions they occupy by the grace of Rivers State. They must step back now from the brink and save their state from anarchy. If they cannot do so because of self-pride then the elders of Rivers State must not stand and stare. They must act now by mediating in this unholy war between two men who were once close friends. By the offices they hold they are big men, but Rivers State is bigger than them.
If there is no truce in this war there will be a collateral damage to the offices they hold apart from the damage it has already done to the peace and prosperity of the state. They would have succeeded in lowering in the public eye the prestige of the offices they currently hold. Is that what they want?