• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Has thanksgiving service become a political tool in Rivers?

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…Tension in the air: The spikes, the retorts, the red eyes

…Last warning from speaker: You will run, if…

On January 14, 2024, Governor Sim Fubara of Rivers State seemed to stun his godfather, Nyesom Wike, when he told the congregation that it was God that crowned him governor. This was at the thanksgiving church service at the Saint Paul’s Anglican Church, Opobo Town in Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area of the state.

The statement appeared innocuous especially at other times and to non-initiates but those who know the toxicity of the war that was just starting between godson and godfather would know the gravity of that statement.

Fubara was an unassuming accountant who was made Accountant-General of Rivers State by then Governor Wike. Soon after, Fubara became the closest confidant of the boss, Wike. When it was time for primaries, Wike single-handedly bought all forms gave a form to each of the persons he wanted in any position, thus making each position unopposed in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state. Wike went to any length to crush every single opposition to the strategy and forced consensus on the undemocratic method, thus securing legitimacy to it because consensus is democratic.

It was with fear and trepidation that everybody steered clear of Wike’s project or choice, and only called Wike names, some saying Fubara was Wike’s third term agenda.

Fubara won both the primaries and the main election and was sworn in on May 29, 2023 as governor of Rivers State and chief executive of the state administration.

Fubara also said the battles against his tenure as governor had been fierce but that God, who rules in the affairs of men, has saddled him with the responsibility of steering the affairs of the state as its governor.

“But one thing we can’t take away is that God does not make any mistake. Whatever happens, and when it happens, it is for a purpose,” he said.

Governor Fubara said the battles against his administration may not be entirely over but the distractions are being set aside because he is more focused on delivering good governance to the people of Rivers State.

“We came in; we were selected because they believed we have something that we will do for our state. We have not been given the opportunity to do those things that we ought to do for our state.

“We have had a lot of distractions but I strongly believe that while we navigate the path of peace, prayer is also needed for us to pass over this phase. Continue to put us in your prayers. There is nothing that God cannot do.”

After God, Fubara chose some important persons to thank but Wike was not one of them. Instead, he expressed appreciation to President Bola Tinubu for his role in the victory being celebrated, and to the leaders of the state and numerous supporters who were either provoked or persecuted for standing by the truth.

Admitted, crisis erupted between them, but the statement on January 14, 2024, seemed to dawn on Wike that he had lost any hold on Fubara since credit had been removed from him or any man. From that time onward, any time thanksgiving was announced for Governor Fubara, anxiety developed in the Wike camp; what next would he say. If Wike was no longer the ‘Mr Fix It’ of the victory, then, it would mean a lot, according to political pundits.

To add to the anxiety, in his sermon, Emmanuel Oko-Jaja, the Bishop of the Diocese of Niger Delta of the Anglican Communion, who noted that the victory celebrated by Governor Fubara was for the entire state, said no one man can hold the state to ransom because God is in charge. The Wike camp seemed to take more note.

Soon, the thanksgiving moved from local council to local council, and then to all the 319 wards in the state. Some opposition leaders claimed it was costing the state over N5Bn at the rate of N150m per event. The administration has since denied it was being sponsored by the state government.

The next significant statement made by the governor at the thanksgiving services that seemed to annoy the Wike camp is that the crowds trailing the rallies showed that the SIMplified Movement (the new support group being built for Fubara) was organic. This was understood in the All Progressives Congress (APC) which now seems to be the Wike camp, to mean that Wike’s rallies and supporters were bought, while Fubara’s were spontaneous or organic.

The statements seemed to encourage the Simplified Movement followers anywhere the thanksgiving services were to be held to air their grievances against Wike and his administration. Inuendoes became the new art in Rivers State.

To show that these remarks and direct attacks were hitting hard at Wike, the new arrowhead of his support base, Tony Okocha, who is the caretaker committee chairman of the state’s APC and is also the Rivers State Representative in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), addressed a press conference where he attacked Fubara.

Okocha declared Fubara a total failure in office in nine months (when it was not yet first one year in office), and accused the governor of allowing his supporters to use the thanksgiving services to insult Wike. They usually add Tinubu, though nowhere had Fubara or his supporters made any insulting statement against Tinubu. If any, such a statement is not yet in the public domain.

What was however, significant was that the thanksgiving services became rallies, political rallies. The organisers of the services seemed to make adjustments by making them look real and by separating political remarks from sermons. At the end of each service, then, political talks were allowed, mostly on support for Fubara.

There is no doubt that the thanksgiving church services began to make impact and began to mobilise huge crowds and support for Fubara who had no structure before then.

Observers such as Eze Chukwuemeka Eze said the things being said at Fubara rallies or by Fubara supporters were responses to things said by Wike and his supporters. They had accused Fubara of lack of structure. This may have led to the building of the SIMplified Movement through thanksgiving events.

Wike was attending birthday parties and other events in Rivers State where he used such opportunities to attack Fubara, to threaten him, and to vilify him. It was at one of such events that he said he could not wait till 2027 to teach them a lesson. Many understood this to mean “dethronement” of Fubara.

The opposition also did some thanksgiving where they also did what they accused Fubara of. The APC led by Okocha hosted a thanksgiving service at the Polo Field in GRA where Martins Amaewhule (controversial speaker), said a lot of things against the governor. Okocha has also just held a thanksgiving service in Rumuigbo where he said the world should come and see what organic support was, and not by paying people.

What seemed to play out was that while Wike and his supporters used parties to attack Fubara, the governor’s supporters used thanksgiving services to respond.

Now, the governor seemed to have found other avenues to ventilate his emotions and to make revelations. He used the auspices of the visit of the National Assembly Committee on Refineries to announce that he is now seeing N27bn in internal revenue (IGR), a bombshell that seemed to hit hard. The citizens are asking where N14bn was going every month. The APC in the state also summoned a press conference to react and to say the figures could not have been true.

Now, the thanksgiving services seem to get to tensions. The Wike camp seems to no longer be ready to accommodate constant revelations and taunting.

The Fubara camp has used the thanksgiving services to lament failures in the last administration; failure to employ, failure to promote workers, failure to pay pensions, failure to promote SMEs, industries, etc. Those who faced clampdowns or court cases seem to find voice now. They freely speak at thanksgiving services, and the Wike camp certainly don’t look happy.

Warning:

Now, Amaewhule, the speaker whose position and those of his defected colleagues are under threat, has reacted. The fierce Wike loyalist has warned Fubara to call his supporters to order.

Amaewhule, who spoke on behalf of the Grassroots Development Initiative (GDI), a group formed by Wike’s loyalists, at the inauguration of the Nyesom Wike International Market, Omagwa, Rivers State, on Friday, April 26, 2024, accused Governor Fubara and his supporters of insulting Wike on various occasions, including during thanksgiving celebrations for Fubara’s Supreme Court victory.

The peace pact reached between Fubara and his predecessor, the estranged political godfather, Wike, when President Bola Tinubu intervened in October 2023, collapsed due to the growing political unrest in the wealthy gas and crude oil state.

During a media chat in Abuja on April 2, 2014, Wike ruled out any reconciliation in the foreseeable future with Fubara.

Fubara, on his part, broke his silence on April 3, 2024, as he promised to surprise his detractors if they dared him, referring to those stampeding him to implement all the items in the eight-point presidential proclamation.

However, Amaewhule, said: “You have been insulting your boss, the immediate past governor of the Rivers State. You have given him names and allowed riff-raffs to insult him on different occasions in your so-called thanksgiving for your Supreme Court victory.”

He further emphasised that the Supreme Court victory belonged not only to Fubara but to all Rivers people, including those who worked to secure his position as governor.

“That Supreme Court victory is not only for you. The Supreme Court victory is for Rivers’ people. We all worked for you, and the PDP, for you to be where you are today,” he stated.

Amaewhule warned that if the insults towards Wike and President Bola Tinubu continued, the Wike’s loyalist group would retaliate.

“If you don’t stop, if you don’t stop, we will come after you. We are not afraid. We are not afraid. That Government House does not only belong to you, it belongs to Rivers’ people,” he said.

The GDI spokesperson also reminded Fubara of Wike’s role in his ascension to power, saying, “All of us fought for you to be there, and Wike fought for you to be there. So, if you want to continue to insult Wike, be prepared, you will run. You will run.”

Amaewhule further criticised Fubara’s background, claiming he was merely a civil servant without the political experience and sacrifices made by others.

“You’re just a civil servant, you’re not a politician. You have not paid any price that we have paid in the past,” he stated.

Amaewhule further stated, “From tomorrow, we will be observing your supporters, we will be observing your followers. Any further attempts to insult the president of Nigeria, to insult our grand patron, Chief Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, then be ready for war, and you will pay the price.”

Eze fires back:

A Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi loyalist and prolific writer, Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, has however, fired back, calling in security agencies to look into the threat. He described the statement as unruly, wayward, insensitive and sheer madness.

Eze, the erstwhile National Publicity Secretary of the defunct New People’s Democratic Party (nPDP) and chieftain of the Amaechi camp of the APC, cautioned Amaewhule and others to; “Relieve themselves of every burden of depraved inclinations propelling them to vulgarly abuse the exalted office of the Governor of Rivers State and accord some respect to the holder of the office, Fubara.”

He said Fubara’s peaceful disposition all along appears to be mistaken for ignorance.

Reacting to the comment credited to Amaewhule wherein he was quoted as saying Rivers’ people should prepare for war, Eze said such cascade of uncanny vitriol qualifies the maker for an invitation from relevant security agencies for questioning. He called on the Police to quickly wade-in to deter other merchants of crime, adding that no one should be allowed the monopoly of threats and political violence in Rivers State or anywhere else.

Quoting some of the passages from Amaewhule, Eze said it beats one’s imagination that minions operating in the guise of politics would gather the guts to dish out threats to a sitting Governor in a public forum without recourse to the legal implication of their careless misadventure and its effects on their rights as citizens in a bid simply to impress one overzealous political boss.

Eze recalled Wike’s statement on Fubara thus “Fear those who don’t talk too much and try to undermine Governor Fubara because of his stature and background because if he decides to come after you, your name is sorry” and said he totally agreed with Wike on this. He warned those threatening Fubara to take it easy and don’t provoke him to remember them because they may not find out easy.

On the continuous labelling of Gov Fubara as an ingrate for not submitting himself to be ruled from outside the state, Eze noted that the governor was on a just cause and owed loyalty to God, the people of the state, and the Nigerian Constitution; and not to any individual anywhere.

Eze contended that nobody was insulting Wike but that people were merely reproducing or restating what Wike says about himself and undemocratic actions.

Eze further stated that it was not in doubt the role Wike and his loyalists played in getting Fubara elected as the governor of Rivers State but to coerce the governor to govern the State according to their biddings is the most wicked act against Rivers State and her people and this remains unacceptable.

“People should not misunderstand Governor Fubara on the role he has chosen on how to govern the state because God in his love towards Rivers State and her people resolved to adopt Fubara as a tool to rescue the state from the hands of those who have kept the state in perpetual darkness for the past eight years or so.

“You can imagine the difference between the present IGR of N27billion to what was obtainable this past eight years. That is sheer wickedness.”

Eze, again, called on President Tinubu not only to call Wike and his boys to order, but to order the IGP and other Security Agencies to ensure the arrest of anybody trying to foment trouble in Rivers State.

Conclusion:

Both camps have used thanksgiving church services and other events to throw stones at each other, whether it is thanksgiving or ‘tauntsgiving’. They have also used press briefing to cast aspersions. There is no sign that this would come to an end soon as long as both Wike and Fubara have many favours to dish out to loyal followers. They will continue to dish out both thanks and taunts against each other because some Wike followers deliberately call the governor Sin instead of Sim.