• Sunday, June 23, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Wike-Fubara high-stakes feud: Blame Tinubu if Rivers implodes

Wike, Fubara’s clash triggers APC call for state of emergency

The Most Rev. Matthew Kukah, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, is uncharacteristically insouciant and complacent. Recently, he upbraided Nigerians for fretting about the crisis in Rivers State, triggered by the festering conflict between the current governor, Siminalayi Fubara, and his immediate predecessor, Nyesom Wike. “We ordinary people cry more than the bereaved,” Rev. Kukah said, adding, “When politicians fight, don’t get carried away because they will fix their quarrel.”

Really? How many ordinary people must die before the politicians do so? How many properties must be destroyed before they fix their quarrel? Indeed, how many of the “peace agreements” that the National Peace Committee, of which Rev. Kukah is a member, got politicians to sign before elections stopped political violence and killings? The highly respected and cerebral bishop was trivialising a serious issue. The simple truth is that the stakes are high. This is about political survival—about who controls the political levers in Rivers State. And ahead of 2027, the situation will become more febrile, a do-or-die affair that could morph into a political inferno, a conflagration.

Read also: Fubara may have made economic summit key statement ahead of event

But if that happens, the blame won’t go unpunished. It would rest squarely with Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s self-serving president. I say self-serving because, for Tinubu, the end always justifies the means, however damaging to the national interest the means might be. For him, personal interests and political goals are prized over character, integrity, public good, and national harmony.

Lest we forget, the crisis in Rivers State owes its proximate cause to Tinubu’s decision to reward Wike for the disingenuous role he played in his controversial election last year and to prop him up for a similar role in 2027. By making Wike the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, enabling him to grandstand as “Nigeria’s 37th governor,” Tinubu allows him to use Abuja as a political platform, with accompanying resources and patronage powers, not only to destroy his supposed party, the PDP, but also to disrupt Rivers State ahead of 2027. Wike is a political brigand and was heading for political irrelevance until Tinubu threw him a ministerial lifeline. We will return to the Tinubu-Wike nexus shortly, but, first, we must dwell a bit more on Tinubu’s politics.

 “The highly respected and cerebral bishop was trivialising a serious issue. The simple truth is that the stakes are high.”

For truth be told, no one who loves Nigeria would be enamoured of Tinubu’s politics. The way he gained power and the way he is now using it stem entirely from self-centeredness. Tinubu epitomises the worst of Nigeria’s rotten politics: ruthless godfatherism, unbridled state capture and use of state resources to advance political ends, opportunistic religious politics, and a ferocious sense of entitlement that produces power without responsibility, transparency, or accountability, but rather an arrogant and aloof approach to governance. But if Nigerian politics were defined by such self-interested calculations and personal rule, it would be eternally damaged.

Take religious politics. Of course, Nigerians have moved on from the Muslim-Muslim ticket, but none should forget that, purely as a political calculation, Tinubu deliberately upended the long-cherished convention to treat Islam and Christianity equally. Nasir El-Rufai said Tinubu “had no option” but to go for a Muslim-Muslim ticket if he was to stand a chance of winning the election. Tinubu said he picked Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim, as his running mate because he was the best person for the job.

Yet, Shettima has turned out to be probably the most mediocre and lacklustre vice president in Nigerian history. The Vanguard columnist Ugoji Egbujo made this point brilliantly in a recent column titled “Kashim Shettima and Ice Cream Duties” (Vanguard, May 4, 2024). He said Shettima “has become an itinerant motivational speaker, hawking half-baked jokes at birthday ceremonies, mouthing platitudes…” Surely, Shettima was not chosen on merit but because he is a Muslim with a long-standing relationship with Tinubu. The Muslim-Muslim ticket was a means to get northern Muslim votes. So, for self-serving political calculations, Tinubu rode roughshod over religious equality in Nigeria.

Yet, now in power, Tinubu is still playing religious politics. The same Tinubu who is offering peanuts as a minimum wage for workers—the same Tinubu who won’t give grants and bursaries to indigent students except to burden them with loans, which come with stringent pre-conditions—recently shovelled N90 billion into subsidising Hajj. Why? Well, it’s a political bribe, with an eye on the Muslim votes in 2027. Workers and students are not his electoral bases, so he is targeting Muslim votes again. As I said before in this column, Tinubu would exploit his incumbency ruthlessly ahead of 2027, using state resources to co-opt, settle, and bribe voters along religious and ethnic lines.

Read also: Fubara sends list of commissioner nominees to Rivers assembly for screening, approval

Which brings us back to the Rivers State crisis. At its heart is godfatherism. But who is Nigeria’s quintessential political godfather? Of course, it’s Tinubu. He left office as governor of Lagos State in 2007, yet, for nearly 20 years later, he handpicked his successors. He had so captured the state and its resources that no one else mattered. In 2018, I wrote a piece titled “Tinubu’s feudalisation of Lagos State politics” (BusinessDay, October 15, 2018). I said, “In Lagos state politics, Tinubu gives, and Tinubu takes away. He is the god of Lagos state politics, the lord of the Lagos Manor.”

Well, Wike is cut from the same cloth as Tinubu. He, too, wants to be the god of Rivers state politics, the lord of the Rivers manor. He picked Fubara as his successor but wants him to be a governor-in-name-only, answerable to him in Abuja, and do his bidding. But he is overreaching himself. I did my national youth service in Rivers State, and I know that Rivers people are not as docile and subservient politically as Lagos people, most of whom hero-worship Tinubu even if they sleep under the bridge or in motor parks. The Rivers people will, as Fubara is doing, defend and protect their own dignity from abuse.

Wike says he is fighting for his “political structure.” But what political structure did he have before he became governor in 2015? Many people helped him politically. In one statement, former Senator Dino Melaye said: “Patience Jonathan (former first lady) spent her money and connections to make Wike the governor of Rivers State.” So, why does Wike want to rule Rivers State in perpetuity, even remotely from Abuja?

Recently, the Presidency said Tinubu would not take sides in the conflict. But he already did when he brokered a “peace deal” that humiliated Fubara, in addition to being unconstitutional. The deal asked Fubara to welcome back all the Wike loyalists who voluntarily resigned from his cabinet, even though it was clear that they would never be loyal to him. How could any governor or president have a cabinet that is not loyal to him? Would Tinubu accept that? Secondly, the deal said Fubara must recognise the 27 Wike allies who defected from PDP to APC in the state House of Assembly, effectively making him a hostage to them.

Yet, the Constitution is unambiguous on defections. Section 109(1)(g) states explicitly that a member of a House of Assembly cannot defect from his party and still keep his or her seat unless the party is split or merges with another. But the PDP is not split. Indeed, recently, Wike attended a meeting of the PDP’s National Working Committee and reportedly influenced the decision not to remove the acting national chairman, Umar Damagum. So, how could his loyalists then say the PDP is split enough to warrant their defections?

Of course, this is all about 2027. Tinubu is propping up Wike to do the dirty work for him in 2027. But he must call him to order or take the blame if Rivers implodes!