Danger signals seem to appear ahead on the peace and reconciliation project launched in Rivers State on April 17, 2019, by the re-elected governor of the state, Nyesom Wike.
Doubt seems to be the biggest danger ahead as many persons on both sides of the divide in the state seem to adopt wait-and-see attitude or waiting on the other side to breach it first. The business community however, seems to be the keenest group for the reconciliation to get on fast lane due to huge losses and economic setbacks starring the economy in the face.
Most business leaders contacted in the state so far have demanded that the peace and reconciliation project be actualised, and be taken seriously by both political camps in the state to save the state from total collapse.
How the reconciliation process was born
On April 17, 2019, the day the Supreme Court delivered the last verdicts concerning anybody in the APC primaries and other incidental cases pertaining to the 2019 elections in the state, Governor Wike, who had just won a protracted battle to retain his seat without conceding any seat to the APC, happily made a radio broadcast.
In it, probably seeing how bruised, bitter and aggressive the APC has been turned into by the total blockage of all chances to a political party that controls the FG with all its powers, the governor offered an olive branch, saying all aggrieved parties should be ready to forgive one another.
How much is an olive branch, especially one offered by Wike to Amaechi, worth? Collins (online) dictionary describes it as offer for reconciliation backed by evidence of something that would convince the opponent that you meant it.
Deeper meaning however, comes from the Greek mythology made widespread in some parts of the Mediterranean zone and the Arab region. Two great warriors (Athena and Posedion) made wars over a claim to a water source called the Acropolis that was governed by a goddess or what we call Mermaid or Mamaiwater. Rivers State is a riverine region probably full of water goddesses, too. Posedion thrust his great sword into the Acropolis as claim; his challenger, the female warrior, Athena, laid an olive branch. Each camp waited to see whose gift the goddess approved of. Athena won because the goddess said she was more comfortable with the olive branch. This is how the olive branch gained mythological supremacy over all other offers. That is what Wike said he laid at the feet of the Brick House.
Amaechi, a student of Literature student, just as Wike is student of Law, all arts scholars with the possibility of knowing much about the mythological significance of the olive branch, did not want to offend the gods of the land and the masses of the state should he spurn at the olive branch. He responded a week later at Easter, calling for peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. The masses jumped for joy, thinking he meant that he would embrace Wike’s peace and reconciliation. Some of his aides whispered it was not what their mentor meant, but the masses, so weary from crisis and so hungry for peace, ignored the subtle objections and praised both men.
Apparently reading the mood of the masses, Amaechi looked the other way as his closest ally after Magnus Abe rebelled, the senator, Andrew Uchendu, addressed a historic press conference in Port Harcourt accepting the olive branch on behalf of the Amaechi APC. And shock everywhere!
The acceptance tone was however, very strong, full of admonitions, pointing of fingers, and a list of APC projects and programmes that must be looked into.
Why Wike initiated reconciliation
BDSUNDAY also surprised about the olive branch offer in a state where leaders hardly cared about outcome of violent crisis on the economy of the state, began digging into why Wike made the offer. Is Wike also among the apostles of peace? The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the state once crowned him so, but many insinuated it was induced by huge sums.
Explaining why Governor Wike threw the olive branch at a time he had the four proverbial aces (all the advantages), the most vibrant voice of the ruling PDP in the state, Jerry Needam, the special assistant to Felix Obuah, the party chairman, said the fact that the olive branch was first made at a church, Salvation Ministries, so well respected in Port Harcourt and beyond, shows he meant it to his bones.
Needam, also a senior journalist and publisher, said: “The olive branch by Governor Nyesom Wike was made in a church, Salvation Ministries, which means it is made before the altar of God. He regards it as a duty to God to make peace and reunite the state. He wants to leave a legacy of peace and prosperity. Governor Wike is not seeking personal gains from the peace initiative because he has won. He is two-term governor. He only wants the best for Rivers State and a legacy of prosperity in the land.”
Wike may have realised that Rivers without federal might will remain a struggle. With his arch-rival in the womb of the FG, there can be no collaboration between the state and federal government. The FG executes meaningful projects through collaborations with friendly states. The FG also holds the power to sign off or endorse international funds before they get to any state. So, eight years of fighting with the APC-led FG would mean eight years of relying only on local resources and pretending to be doing well. It would mean eight years plus three previous years when Amaechi and Goodluck Jonathan sparred, of doing it alone.
How the reconciliation may progress: unity cabinet likely
Collins Dictionary mentioned actions by the one offering an olive branch that may suggest he meant it. An expert, Chika Onuegbu, who has worked on reconciliation panels and conflict negotiations over the years as a Labour leader (two time TUC boss in Rivers and permanent PIB panel member for PENGASSAN national) says there must be obligations and benefits assigned to each party as pillar of any reconciliation.
Needam says these ingredients are present. He points to the toning down in rhetoric on the part of the PDP and state government, inclusion of all parties to the inauguration committee and withdrawing two murder cases hanging on the head of an APC stalwart.
He does not rule out inclusion of other parties in a ‘Unity Cabinet’ but assured that PDP members would not be angry to concede seats and positions to other parties, saying the larger picture (peace) is more important.
Critics however, told this writer that Wike knows that Amaechi and his camp would not accept offers of slots but that Abe and his camp are waiting for such. Probably to cover the strategy, he offers olive branch as a cover to help Abe’s men accept the appointments in the name of all-inclusive peace and reconciliation when such slots were the real reason for working for helping to kick APC out of all elective positions. No aide or ally of Abe was ready to react on their behalf during investigations. What however, is true is that names of Abe men are found in the inauguration committee that may produce the next cabinet. Many also say the suspension of local council and local party chairmen may be to pave way for Abe men to share half of the ruling party. No evidence has so far been adduced on this.
Amaechi has broken his silence but on a negative side. His interview on a national television network where he accused Gov Wike of always bribing people and judges has not gone down well with those welcoming the peace deal. Wike immediately fired back, saying it must be by such bribes that he (Amaechi) must have been bribed into office while he was on self-exile in Ghana.
Many saw it as a warning to Amaechi that Wike is prepared to fight dirty and fight back on such grounds. It has been a street secret that Wike handled a lot of things at home while Amaechi was away in Ghana during the crisis that stopped Amaechi from contesting the 2007 election into the Brick House. Many said it was Wike that handled matters in court for success. Amounts involved are usually being bandied about and secret pacts of how Wike should be compensated also make street talks. Nobody has come forward to table these as facts with evidence.
Another source of anxiety is the statement issued by the publicity secretary of the Rivers APC, Chris Finebone, a fine gentleman that commands moderation and respect. He reacted to the withdrawal of murder charges against the strong man of the party who was made party chairman but was dethroned by Abe’s court orders, Flagg Amachree Ojukaye. Finebone said Ojukaye was a victim of frame up and that dropping the charges was no favour whatsoever.
The statement has angered some hawks in the Wike camp who may be telling the governor that the olive branch was no good idea because it may not mean much to the Amaechi APC. Some persons in the PDP are said to have made calls to Finebone asking them to tone down to allow the reconciliation take off.
Just Friday afternoon, news came that Amaechi PH home has been invaded or attacked.
A chieftain of the APC, Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, who broke the news, wondered that if the life of Amaechi who governed Rivers State to golden age is not safe in Port Harcourt then who is safe in Rivers State. “This issue must be investigated thoroughly and the culprits arrested accordingly as we can no longer continue to live in fear in a state that we call ours.
“I have tried to keep mute on some untoward activities happening in Rivers State to avoid being seen as a clog in the wheel of progress on the current peace moves, aimed at arresting the insecurity currently pervading our dear state, but must we continue to keep quiet in a situation that we need to call the governor to order for the greater future of Rivers State.”
What Rivers has lost so far
Experts always point at many areas of losses to the state since the political crisis exploded in 2012/13. From the smooth old days of solidarity around any governor and the attraction of national and international favours, federal appointments, projects, opportunities, etc Rivers State has gone down low. The state was closing to sign-off and drawing down on a N250billion bond that took over 30 months to pursue. This alone destroyed many capital projects. There was loss of the World Bank, AfDB missed water project loan; crash of federal allocation to as low as N6billion per month; ceding of Rivers oil wells to Bayelsa and other friendly states; drying up of federal projects; non-refund of spends on federal projects; relegation of Rivers State at national level; grounding of Rivers jet; stalling of security chopper that was to fight kidnappers in the bush day and night; violent elections and high electoral spending; return of abductions, robbery, insecurity and tension; receding businesses; financial hardship; general uncertainty that is anathema to investment; instability; low rating environment, etc.
Apart from the remote losses, the crisis and hostility seems to lead to jettisoning of some programmes and projects believed to be at the heart of the Amaechi administration such as the N150billion monorail project, the N4billion RSSDA, the cassava project, the Allanblackia farm project to produce highly sought-after pure non-cholesterol oil for margarines, the abandoning of thousands of Rivers scholars abroad, the banana farm in Ogoni, the fish farms in Buguma, the LR farm complex in Etche, the N800billion Mega City project, the N17billion modern secondary school project, the computer library scheme in primary schools, etc.
What may be salvaged
The Uchendu declaration made veiled demands thus: revitalisation of the C4i Security architecture of the previous administration; rehabilitation of sons and daughters that are roaming the streets of foreign lands because of the cancellation or stoppage of their scholarship awards; re-activation of the Greater Port Harcourt Project and, completion of some of the laudable pro-people projects embarked upon by the administration of the Amaechi administration. These done, we can expect to begin to see some changes.
Some of the inner Amaechi APC stalwarts told this reporter that they did not believe much in the ability of Governor Wike to push far in the reconciliation scheme but Needam counters, saying the governor is fully committed to it.
Appointments apart, some projects that may benefit from a reconciliation could be RSSDA, Greater PH City, foreign scholarships (those stranded there) and the monorail. Wike once told BusinessDay that if the people ask for revisiting the monorail, he would. The owner of Showers, one of the best schools in the state, Ekama Emilia Akpan, also pointed to the foreign scholars and other education programmes of the past administration as worthy of revisit.
Some business owners have cautioned both Gov Wike and Amaechi not turn this initiave to a game. They do not want a situation where Wike and Amaechi may want to test who would first breach the peace initiative and push the one to the masses as hater of peace and gain political mileage. There is huge hunger for true reconciliation and peace in Rivers State. The business people do not seem to care about winner or loser, about who was wrong or right in the past. It is whoever blocks the peace about to return to the state that be the real enemy of the people.