In recent time, Rivers State’s politics has been riven by bitterness and vindictiveness, which many inside and outside the state now find disquieting. The prevailing political conflict that reached its crescendo at the recent general elections stemmed from the ambition to succeed the immediate past governor of Rivers State and Minister of transportation, Chibuike Amaechi by his three political associates namely: the incumbent Governor Nyesom Wike, Senator Magnus Abe and Dakuku Peterside.
In 2006 Amaechi, then Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly was nominated as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate to the chagrin of some within the party. In the intrigues that ensued afterwards, PDP decided to substitute his name with that of his cousin, Celestine Omehia, a close political ally of former Governor Peter Odili, Amaechi’s political godfather.
In the midst of a protracted legal battle between Amaechi and PDP, Omehia contested the governorship election, was elected and sworn in as governor on May 29, 2007. But his regime was short lived as the Supreme Court on October 25, 2007 sacked him. In a consequential judgment, the court ordered that Amaechi, who was on self-imposed exile due to threat to his life, be sworn into office as the duly elected governor of the state.Prior to the apex court’s resounding verdict, Amaechi’s ambition to succeed Odili had helped a beautiful friendship to blossom and flourish between him, Wike, Abe and Dakuku.
Their shared ambition and dreams to grab political power from the old brigade and foist a new order in Rivers State politics drew them together as friends. This was lucidly demonstrated a day after the Supreme Court verdict. Immediately Amaechi was sworn into office, he announced Abe as Secretary to the State Government, Wike as Chief of Staff and Dakuku as Commissioner for Works.
While politics may have brought Amaechi, Abe and Wike together, the former governor and Dakuku had long held strong ties before the return to civil rule in 1999. Even though they have all had a seemingly deep history of mutual friendship, political success also brought along with it massive ego trip, and the inevitable fallout has left their friendship broken and the state mired in political conflict.
One of Amaechi’s allies had told The Guardian that it had been obvious to him since 2008 who will most likely succeed Amaechi in office. The quest by Amaechi to eventually foist Dakuku as his preferred choice created deep-rooted fissures and scars, contributing to eventual political separation with Wike and Abe. Wike, who many had accused of nursing governorship ambition even as chief of staff, was perhaps the first to realise that he would never get the backing of Amaechi to actualise his aspiration. The decision of Amaechi to nominate him as minister, which Wike deemed was a deliberate ploy to dislodge him from the state and neutralise his political ascendancy, turned out to be his (Amaechi’s) worst political calculation.
According to Amaechi, “Nyesom Wike was appointed Chief of Staff by me. Nyesom Wike as a Minister of State; I nominated him. I was under pressure by the president to drop him; I refused. The president persuaded me to drop him and bring a woman, but I refused. I hear he is going all over town saying I did not appoint him. That I did not appoint him, the president appointed him. I nominated him to be a minister, as the Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum. I did, but you know, character does not come easily. Character is a very difficult thing and I am a man of character.”
By 2012, Amaechi and Wike’s friendship buckled when the former governor appointed Tony Okocha as Wike’s replacement. Their political relationship finally shattered when Wike’s allies, through controversial, judicial circumstances, usurped PDP’s state executive structure from pro-Amaechi executive. This event culminated in Amaechi’s defection to All Progressives Congress (APC). With PDP’s structure firmly under his grip, Wike then became PDP flag bearer and eventually won the 2015 guber polls. Reflecting on the incidences that led to their parting ways politically, Wike accused his predecessor of deliberately attempting to undermine him politically.
According to him, “When I was made a minister in 2011, it was in December at the Governor’s Lodge in Abuja, he (Amaechi) called a meeting. I sat in that meeting; I didn’t talk. He tried to cause crisis in my local government. When he finished, Magnus drove me to my house that evening. I told Senator Magnus Abe that I would no longer come to Government House. But let me tell you, you will be the victim at the end of the day. Magnus pleaded with me, saying, ‘no, this man is our man and we can trust him.’ I said, Magnus, ‘you can go ahead; I know this man.’ And God has saved me. I said, ‘Magnus, bet me, you will be the one that will pay for it. The man does not like you’.”
Today, Amaechi and Wike are politically estranged and their toxic rivalry has continued to increasingly portray political contestation in Rivers State as a savage battle. It will be recalled that one of the major steps taken by the Wike administration was to probe the sale of Rivers State’s assets by his predecessor.
The governor had set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry, headed by Justice George Omereji to unravel the reason for the non-execution of the construction of Justice Adolphus Karibi Whyte Specialist Hospital after the payment of USD$3,92,000.00 to the supposed contractor. The commission is also to probe the sale of the state’s independent power project in Omoku (150 Megawatts gas turbine), Afam (360 megawatts gas turbine), Trans Amadi (136 megawatts gas turbine), and Eleme (75 megawatts gas turbine) by the Amaechi administration. These are in addition to the sale of Olympia Hotel, Port Harcourt, among others.
Based on the White Paper produced by the Justice Omereji’s Commission, the Wike administration had in December terminated the contract for the sale of its 70 per cent equity of stakes in its power generation assets sold by the previous administration to NG Power-HPS Limited, co-founded by Tonye Cole. Amaechi’s government had sold 70 per cent of the state’s stake in First Independent Power Limited which was in charge of the state’s four gas turbines power stations in Omoku, Afam, Trans-Amadi and Eleme, with installed capacity of 541 megawatts, to NG Power-HPS Limited for USD$302,960,000.00.
Wike also revoked the concession of the Rivers and Bayelsa State-owned Olympia Hotel to Cenpropsaroten Hotel Management Limited.
ON Abe’s friendship with Amaechi, their relationship stemmed from their heydays in Rivers State House of Assembly where Abe was Minority Leader. However, Abe’s ambition to govern Rivers State has led to both friends drifting apart in spite of remaining in the same political party where they have formed opposition to checkmate each other.
As the Amaechi administration neared its last days, Abe had decided to take advantage of the political opportunity that opened up to him as he began broad based consultations with various stakeholders concerning his quest to be governor. Despite Abe being widely acknowledged as intelligent, impressive, and charismatic, he has never been Amaechi’s preferred choice for inexplicable reasons.
The now frosty political relationship between Abe and Amaechi dates back to 2014 when the latter decided to throw his political weight behind his protégée, Dakuku. The development had left an indelible mark depicted today by the bad blood between the two leaders. Abe felt and still strongly feels that his friendship as well as the support the Ogoni people gave to the Amaechi administration was never appreciated much less reciprocated.
According to him, “My people, the Ogoni people have a dream; they, too, like other people in the country, would like to one day produce a governor for Rivers State. That dream is real; that dream is alive and that dream will not die. It is not a dream about Magnus Abe. It is not a dream about any individual. It is the hope, aspiration and expectation of a people. And I felt that if it was not meant for political exigency, it was not just a feeling of the Ogoni people; there were people all across Rivers State who felt sympathetic with that aspiration. And in a political setting where there are always much pains, some of those feelings would have been better respected and that is one of the things I did not like.”
On the choice of Dakuku, Amaechi had claimed that though Abe and his then deputy governor, Tele Ikuru were eminently qualified to be governor, the APC caucus in the Rivers South-East Senatorial District of the state had decided otherwise. He had also expressed optimism that Dakuku would sustain the legacies of his administration.
“That does not mean that my bosom friend, Senator Magnus Ngei Abe, was not qualified,” he’d clarified. “I respect his intellect. In short there are two Nigerians I respect their intellect. They are Senator Magnus Abe and Odein Ajumogobia.”However, Dakuku’s ambition to retain APC’s guber ticket in 2019 was thwarted by Amaechi, who decided to look beyond Abe once again. This time, he backed business mogul, Cole.
Even though his ambition to wrest power from Governor Wike did not bear fruit, Dakuku, who was pained by his rejection, opted to work closely with Cole who was eventually barred from contesting the 2019 election by Rivers State High Court following APC’s disobedience of two court orders.
“Our leader, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, whom we all subscribe to his leadership, made a decision who we should back for the office of the Governor of Rivers State in 2019, “Dakuku had explained away his rejection. “The lot fell on my friend and brother in Christ, Tonye Dele Cole. I made a commitment to the group earlier to stand by whatever decision the leader makes in the overall interest of the party and Rivers State. I reiterated my position yesterday in the leadership meeting. I thus stand by the decision on Cole”.
AT a time when Rivers politics is riven by bitterness, the restoration of the political affinity that once existed between Amaechi, Wike and Abe would seem like a miracle if it ever happened. The hostility among them has reached a point where anyone on one side of the divide fraternising with persons from the other side is deemed a taboo. However, there is a growing consensus that unless these political actors bridge their political differences and forge a new path forward, it will be impossible for Rivers State to enjoy the much desired political stability and peace which everyone craves for.
Worried by the violence that characterised the 2019 elections and the growing political division that has plagued Rivers State in almost six years, former Chief Justice of the State, Justice Iche Ndu, has implored Governor Wike to invite elders, statesmen, church leaders and mediators to take over the peace building process which the state desperately needs.
But it’s not all bad news as Wike has urged Amaechi and others to join him in the task of building the state when he was given his certificate of return by INEC. He noted that although the present politics of acrimony and bitterness may have strayed from the noble path of the past, he still believes that the state will be better off if all the stakeholders can work together to forge a common destiny for the state.
“I therefore appeal to APC and the Minister of Transportation to join hands with us to move our dear state forward,” he said. “We cannot as leaders continue to remain divided and expect government to deliver on its responsibilities to our people. Let us from henceforth seek the common ground instead of allowing our differences to be exploited to retard our march to progress. I appeal to our people to eschew all acts of acrimony, criminality, unrest, and violence throughout the state. I wish to recommit myself to continue to do all that is humanly possible to ensure the unity and peaceful co-existence of all our people irrespective of political affiliation.
Kelvin Ebiri (South-South Bureau Chief)