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Stormy Rivers: Wike’s political dynasty crumbles

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By OBINNA EZUGWU

An interaction with Rivers residents in the streets of Port Harcourt, the state capital, reveals a radical shift. Once hailed by many as the true lion of Obio-Akpor, who stood up to oppressive forces, Nyesom Wike, the immediate past governor of the state, now minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), is now mostly scorned as a meddlesome interloper with intent to destabilise the state, with ongoing political crisis, which has pitted him against his successor, turned adversary, Gov. Siminalayi Fubara.

Following initial attempts to impeach Fubara by members of the state assembly loyal to the FCT Minister, which led to the factionalisation of the assembly, with the Martins Chike Amaewhule and Edison Ehie emerging as speakers of the Wike and Fubara factions, respectively, 27 of the 32-member house on Monday last week, dumped the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state for the All Progressives Congress (APC), the country’s ruling party under which Wike serves as minister despite remaining in PDP.

With the defection, it had seemed to be only a matter of days before the new majority party in the house booted out the governor, but things haven’t gone as anticipated. Fubara has since fought back. On Wednesday, bulldozers began pulling down the state assembly complex, a move, which the government said was for renovation. The Rivers State High Court also last week declared Ehie, as the authentic speaker. Ehie has since declared the seats of the defecting members vacant.

But the Amaewhule faction, relying on an initial Federal High Court judgment, which called for the status quo to be maintained, has continued to sit and make pronouncements.

It emerged on at the weekend that the Wike camp had allegedly arranged for orders (ex parte), which was to be officially granted today, Monday, to enable them sit in Abuja in order to begin to consider impeachment. It is yet another twist in the plot.

It is hard to predict how the ongoing war between the former governor – who is intent on maintaining control of the state as his ‘political structure’ – and Fubara, who is fighting to take charge of his government, will end, but what is already clear is that the FCT minister has lost the battle, even if he eventually wins the war.

“Everywhere you go now, people are talking about the crisis, and there is a consensus that Wike is a trouble maker, who doesn’t mean well for the state,” said Oluchi Eze, a school teacher, who regularly shuttles from Port Harcourt to the Obigbo suburb.

“Nobody is supporting Wike now. The prevailing sentiment is that Fubara should be allowed to govern, even if the process that brought him is questionable.”

Before now, Wike had tremendous amount of goodwill, which played a huge part in his success in containing the onslaught against him by his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi, who fought him from 2015 until recently, using federal power. However, his shenanigan in the last presidential election, coupled with his latest attempt to remove Fubara has served to turn the populace against him, such that it’s difficult to see a victory for him even if he succeeds in removing the incumbent governor.

Perhaps with intent to replicate the feat of President Bola Tinubu, who since 1999, has called the shots in Lagos, and by extension, much of the South West geopolitical zone, Wike installed Fubara hoping to play the role of Rivers godfather.

Like Tinubu, who, according to sources within Lagos political circles, decided who became what, from councilor to the governor and everything in-between, in Lagos, Wike apparently took it upon himself to not only appoint commissioners, special advisers and other key aides for Fubara, but also assign them portfolios, making the governor a lame duck figure head.

Sources close to Fubara have said he practically had no say in the appointments into his cabinet, as Wike was solely responsible for their selection and appointment. And to add insult to injury, the appointees only took others from the former governor.

“Governor will ask a commissioner to do something and the commissioner’s response will be “Is oga aware?” Commissioner will receive a call from Abuja and instruct the Governor, “Oga said you should….” If he has to bring down heaven to stop it, so be it,” noted a commentator from the state, Amachree XIV @AmachreeXIV on X

The former governor, according to a lawyer and activist from the state, Chetam Thierry Nwala, had also demanded 25 percent of the state’s total allocation, as well as N2 billion from the N5 billion disbursed by the Federal Government to the states as part of palliatives to cushion the effect of the fuel subsidy removal.

Responding to the allegation when he hosted a delegation of Rivers Caucus in the 10th National Assembly last month, however, Wike said those accusing him of demanding 25 percent were ignorant, but said he was interested in maintaining his structure in the state, while noting that he bought ticket for all contestants in the state in the last election.

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“I was governor for eight years. I am now FCT Minister, and some will say that I am asking for 25 percent. That is madness,” he had said.

“I am not interested in the governance of Rivers; I am not interested. I am here as a governor in FCT, but I am interested in the political structure of Rivers, which we have built over the years.

“If anybody dares to bring it down, the person will face the crisis he wants in his life. Perform or don’t perform, but don’t touch our political structure. Anybody, who puts his hand in our structure, anything you see, take it.”

Unending war

Wike, who evidently has eyes on Aso Rock, having unsuccessfully contested for the presidential ticket of the PDP in 2022, before ultimately opting to support Tinubu, then candidate of the APC in the presidential election, against Atiku Abubakar, his party’s flag bearer, who had failed to choose him as his running mate, will be keen on keeping his hold on his oil rich state for possible future presidential contest.

But like many, who had tried to lord over their states through their chosen successors; from Jim Nwobodo in Enugu State, who was run out of town by his anointed governor in 1999, Chimaroke Nnamani; Orji Uzo Kalu in Abia, whose wings were clipped by his handpicked successor, T.A. Orji after he attempted to stop his second term bid; Rabiu Kwankwaso in Kano, who was run out of town by Abdullahi Ganduje, his former deputy governor, and later governor; Adams Oshiomhole who got his hands burnt while attempting to stop his successor, Godwin Obaseki, to James Ibori, the Delta political godfather who was ultimately demystified by Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, Wike may learn the hard way that Tinubu in Lagos is a peculiar scenario.

Indeed, beyond Rivers, other would-be godfathers are already learning hard lessons. In Benue, Governor Hyacinth Alia is already at war with the Secretary to the government of the federation, George Akume, the state’s political deal maker, who was instrumental to his emergence as governor, while in Delta, there’s already rumours of emerging rift between Okowa and his chosen successor, Sheriff Oborevwori.

With a culture that lays much emphasis on respect for elders and authority, the South West is more susceptible to the emergence of political godfathers, hence Tinubu. But even there many, who tried had failed.

Tinubu, however, has largely taken advantage of the cosmopolitan make-up of Lagos by presenting himself as the upholder of Yoruba interest in the state, while portraying any credible opposition, both from within and outside, from Musiliu Obanikoro to Jimi Agbaje and more recently, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivor, as ‘Igbo’ attempt to take over the state. While the portrayal flies in the face of reason, it has nonetheless, proved to be very potent as a rallying factor for Tinubu and the APC in Lagos.

Elsewhere, it is a different kettle of fish, and particularly in Rivers, a multi ethnic state with complexities, Wike may be learning why it was difficult for his predecessor, Amaechi to defeat him in the quest to control the state, despite having full compliment of federal power.

Last week, eight commissioners quit Fubara’s cabinet, and more are expected to do so. Among them are the commissioners for Transport, Dr. Jacobson Nbina; Housing, Dr. Gift Worlu; and Environment, Austen Ben-Chioma; Prof Zacchaeus Adangor, SAN (Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice); Dr. Des George-Kelly ((Works); Emeka Woke (Special Duties); Mrs. Inime Aguma (Social Welfare and Rehabilitation); Isaac Kamalu (Finance); and Prof. Chinedu Mmom (Education).

But beyond the government officials and lawmakers loyal to Wike, the overwhelming majority of Rivers people, including activists and traditional leaders, are backing Fubara, in what already appears like the Amaechi scenario all over again.

On Friday, the PDP ward leaders in Obio-Akpor, Wike’s home local government, pledged allegiance to the governor, while indicating that they would start the recall process of the pro-Wike lawmakers from the local government.

“We’re calling on Wike to allow peace to reign in Rivers State,” said Chijioke Ihunwo, chairman, Youth Council of Nigeria, Rivers State chapter, who spoke during the solidarity visit to Fubara. “Rivers people, especially Obio-Akpor people are not in support of what Wike is doing. He has disappointed the people of Obio-Akpor local government and we are not going to follow him. We’re ready to support the governor of Rivers State because the governor has not committed any crime.”

Ijaw connection

For the FCT minister, it is even a more complex scenario than what obtained during his battles with Amaechi. Both being of Ikwere origin, there was no question of one ethnic group trying to lord over the other, but with Fubara, the Ijaws have begun to sing war songs.

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Ijaw stakeholders, from Chief Edwin Clark to the Ijaw National Congress (INC), have rallied behind one of their own in Fubara, who identifies as Ijaw, and the first Ijaw to emerge governor since 1999. Both Clark and the INC have called on Tinubu to call Wike to order. And on Friday as two members of the National Assembly from the state and the National President of the Ijaw National Congress led separate groups to Port Harcourt to protest against the happenings in the state and registered their solidarity with the governor.

The two National Assembly members are Awaji-Inombek Abiante, who represents the Andoni/Opopo/Nkoro Federal Constituency, and Boma Goodhead, the representative of the Asari-Toru/Akuku-Toru Federal Constituency, both in the House of Representatives.

In a solidarity rally, the lawmakers led hundreds of youths, who sang and marched from the popular UTC junction through Azikiwe Road, passed in front of the Government House and terminated at the entrance to the Rivers State House of Assembly complex.

Addressing the crowd, Abiante said the Rivers people were not slaves and the state was not a conquered territory.

In a veiled reference to the FCT minister, he said his local government area of Andoni did not witness any development while Wike held sway in the state despite his claims of touching every council area, and slammed him for orchestrating the planned impeachment of Fubara.

He also urged President Bola Tinubu to practice what he preaches by ensuring that good governance prevailed in Rivers State, pointing out that good governance was synonymous with respect for the rule of law.

“We are not slaves. We are not part of those slaves, who are happy in their chains. I want to appreciate President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for telling the entire world and affirming that indeed one ingredient that can stop a violent takeover of government and that can stop the violence of humans is good governance…

“They should also stop being in contempt of court as the court has declared. And on their own volition, they have abandoned the responsibility given to them.

On his part, the INC President, Prof. Benjamin Okaba, led many Ijaw youths to the Government House in solidarity with Fubara, whom he described as a true Ijaw son.

Some of the inscriptions read, ‘Rivers must be from impunity and tyranny’, ‘Rivers and Ijaw people are in support of Governor Fubara’, ‘The governor must be allowed to govern’, and ‘Let’s end godfatherism’ among others.

Addressing journalists on the sidelines, Okaba stated, “These are Ijaw people gathered here on this fateful day. We are from seven states of the South-South. As we speak, over two million Ijaw youths are in Port Harcourt.

“We have decided to embark on this symbolic solidarity march to the Government House, Port Harcourt. Ijaw men and women are coming from Bayelsa, Edo State, Ondo State, from Lagos and Akwa Ibom states. If need be, we shall bring Ijaw people from all the coastal regions to show our solidarity for our son, the legitimately elected governor of Rivers State.

“The purpose of this rally is to call on President Tinubu to advise his minister to take his knees off the neck of the governor of Rivers State.”

He expressed dismay that even after the intervention of the President, the PDP governors, Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers, elders and many democrats across the country, “Wike is still hell bent on cutting short the tenure of Fubara. We are here to resist any attempt to scuttle the process.

“Wike has dared the Ijaw people. Wike has declared war against the Ijaw people and we are ready for him.”

The INC boss emphasized that Tinubu’s refusal to call caution the minister showed that he was supporting him to cause a crisis in Rivers State.

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He added, “We are already angered that the government of President Bola Tinubu has marginalised the Ijaw people. In Delta State, where three persons were picked for federal appointments, none of them is from the Ijaw nation.

“Since 1958, the Nigerian nation has been surviving on the oil that comes from Ijaw land. Till today, we are crying about marginalisation and we are crying over environmental degradation.

“When you talk of climate change and all that, the Ijaw nation is most affected. But daily, we are treated as if we are not humans. This must stop.”

APC’s final quest

There have been rumours that the ultimate plot is to use the Supreme Court to sack Fubara, and pave the way for APC takeover of the state. This, some say, is part of the overall objective of the ruling party to dominate the polity, and follows from similar plots in Kano and Plateau, where sitting governors of the NNPP and PDP, Abba Kabir Yusuf and Caleb Mutfwang, have been sacked by the Appeal Court and APC candidates declared winners. Both cases, as well as the Rivers case, will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, which has also come under intense criticism over questionable judgements in recent months.

But regardless of what happens in Rivers, and who becomes governor of the state, it is difficult to see Wike calling the shots in the state, again!

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