• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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BusinessDay

Rivers deteriorating crisis: The ‘ides of June’ and what to expect in the injurious endgame

Wike vs Fubara: a prophecy foretold

…Brief understanding of the crisis and an update

…The centres of conflict at the moment

…Where Wike has upper hand

…Where the odds favour Fubara

…Two critical areas that may decide the winner

It is true but sad that no political dispute in Rivers State since 1999 has ever been resolved. Each grows to tire out or would flush into new crisis. The high point is that no man who helped anybody to the Brick House has ever remained an ally to end of the tenure.

The Alabo, Tonye Graham-Douglas (now late), who was widely believed to have singlehandedly made Peter Odili governor with support from the likes of Marshall Harry and A.K. Dikibo (all killed) ended up bitter enemy to the man he made governor. Till his death, Graham-Douglas kept lamenting and cursing, saying he ensured that power rotated from riverine to upland section, just to bring equity and love in the state.

Harry, who was the face of the changeover and who was made chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to midwife the process, was killed in circumstances that produced only suspicion. Dikibo was also shot dead while Graham-Douglas narrated in his book how he was tipped off for assassination and how twice the assassins tried to get him, both in Lagos and in Port Harcourt.

Odili completed his term and handed over to his political son, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, but their relationship had gone very sour by that time, only to hand over to Amaechi’s kinsman, Celestine Omehia, who was soon dethroned by the Supreme Court after five mere months. Amaechi then take over. This produced hostile serums between Odili and Amaechi. Little wonder Amaechi kept saying he was independent and had no godfather any longer.

Amaechi made Nyesom Wike his backbone in wresting power at the apex court and later built him up into his Brick House force commander (Chief of Staff) and later minister in the Goodluck Jonathan administration only to turn round to find that Wike became his albatross. Wike deconstructed Amaechi with presidential support and for his crown fought hard to become governor and rival to Amaechi’s political interest.

Wike, when time came to go, handpicked Sim Fubara to be his successor. Fubara was his custodian of funds in government (as Accountant-General of Rivers State). Many said making the calm and unassuming Fubara governor was nothing short of Wike’s third term arrangement. But before people could look back, a huge smoke was smoldering in their relationship. Rumours said Fubara could no longer survive in the demands placed on him, though nobody had the exact conditionalities placed on him. Some said it was about demand for 25% of FAAC (federal allocation), chains around his legs and hands; others said it was because of halving of internally generated revenue (IGR). It was said Fubara offered to resign instead of being squeezed beyond recognition, but PDP elders in the state allegedly prevented him from such line of action. He thus hardened up and braced up for war.

The quarrel between Wike and Fubara became so toxic that 27 of the 32 Rivers State House of Assembly lawmakers decided to push their master’s enemy out of the Brick House through attempted impeachment. This was resisted and the resistance kicked off a long political crisis that is now threatening to swallow the state. First, the 27 lawmakers defected to the APC where Wike is believed to be a shadow member even as he is in the PDP in body. Next, the cabinet members (commissioners) loyal to Wike resigned en-masse.

The Presidency intervened and an 8-point agreement was signed by all parties. The APC says Fubara was not implementing all, but the governor said he had done enough to show his commitment to peace and full respect to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

State of affairs now:

The latest update is that Gov Sim resumed funding the 27 defected lawmakers but latest cries say he has stopped again. He also received back the Wike-backed commissioners who resigned, but he seems to have issues with them again, leading to reassigning two of them to lesser ministries. The two promptly decided to resign again.

Fubara did not dissolve the local councils as he had intended to but he has not initiated elections as their tenure ends on June 17, 2024. Gov Fubara has not re-presented the N800Bn 2024 budget to the 27 defected lawmakers as he was directed to do by Mr. President. This may be because many cases are in court on that matter. Part of the agreements was for all parties to withdraw cases in court. Some were withdrawn.

On the other hand, the Wike camp has continued to lambaste him and use abusive language such as calling him ‘Sin’ instead of Sim, calling him mumu, clueless, etc. Just last week, the speaker of the defected lawmakers, Martins Amaewhule, called the governor out with strong words and threatened to come after him (impeachment) if his supporters continued to insult Wike. In this case, both camps have accused each other of insulting their principals.

The governor countered by declaring the defectors as non-existent lawmakers in the eyes of the law. He said they did not deserve his recognition.

Next, the APC caretaker boss, Okocha, issued directive to the 27 lawmakers (who are now his members) to begin impeachment immediately, else, they would face disciplinary actions from their new party (APC).

The Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) Rivers State where the 23 local council chairmen belong issued solidarity statement signed by 21 of the 23 for impeachment.

The governor seemed to react by causing the emergence of a new factional speaker (Victor Oko-Jumbo) to replace the one that resigned (Edison Ehie) to become his chief of staff. By that development on Wednesday, May 8, 2024, a new ‘House of Assembly’ loyal to the governor emerged.

The first thing the new factional speaker did was to declare that all laws and actions taken by the defectors (though in majority of 27-4) were null and void and of no effect on the state and the governor. This has set the stage for trouble.

What to expect in the coming days and weeks:

(The “ides of June”)

Most of the actions that the supporters of both camps have been baying for may begin to happen quickly, for good or for bad. First, many have been urging Gov Fubara to charge at the opposition and take advantage. He may just start it.

Many expect the new speaker and his team to sit and screen more cabinet members to rejuvenate the State Executive Council. Two commissioners who were reassigned rather resigned. There is vacancy everywhere.

Next is that the new speaker and his team may be made to screen appointees as LGA caretaker committee members who would take over power in 23 local council areas. Screening of other top appointees may begin in earnest too.

The governor may dissolve both his cabinet and restructure it and also dissolve the local councils and reconstitute, actions that the APC has been warning him against.

Money may flow:

Funds have been trapped for long in government. Some of the ministries and agencies have not been getting their allocations to function because of fear they may divert it to fight their principal (Fubara). Some ministries have no chief executives. Now, the lawmakers loyal to Fubara may begin to receive allocations due the House and spend. Should new LGA bosses emerge, their allocations said to be held for some time may flow in and spending at that tier would be big. Cashflow in the rural economy would be boosted, and there could be osmotic pressure toward where the money would be coming from.

Centres of the conflict at the moment:

The hotspots of the conflict for now are the cabinet, the Rivers State House of Assembly, the local councils, and in the PDP and APC executives in the state.

Fubara’s cabinet was constituted for him by his godfather, Nysom Wike. Now, loyalty crisis is racking and rocking the cabinet. They resign and return according to the times and tide that now rule the state. Some of them now call the governor names. Many expect a cabinet dissolution and reconstitution so only his trusted persons can man the various fronts.

The House of Assembly is already facing the hit and heat. A new speaker has emerged to relate with the Executive wing. This means that the allocations held back may be released to Oko-Jumbo and company to spend. The defected lawmakers are expected to fight back with backing from the APC loyal to Wike.

The next hot spot will be the local councils where new persons may emerge to take control. That seems to be the most crucial segment. They control the foot soldiers that win elections, the enforcers, the mobilisers.

The executives of both the APC and the PDP may become another hot spot. The Wike group with backing from the President and national chairman of the APC have captured the Rivers State APC executive committee by pushing away the Beke-led executives loyal to Amaechi. Now, some Fubara loyalists are reminding Okocha (the APC caretaker committee chairman) that he was not actually a member of the party. The issue was contentious at a point in the party when they did fresh registration of members where the likes of Okocha and Magnus Abe refused or failed to submit themselves to the re-registration exercise. Many court cases flew around it. Now, some have started referring to it, meaning that fresh cases may emerge. In the PDP, Wike is still staying back as a top force though most of his men are now in the APC. He is ensuring that the state PDP power structure remained in his pocket so Fubara would not find where to get rest or get nomination for 2027. Fubara is pushing back. There would definitely be some tension there.

Where Wike has upper hand:

At the moment, Wike seems to control part of the cabinet and almost all of the lawmakers (Assembly). He is also in full control of at least 21 of the 23 local councils. He also controls two political parties (APC and PDP). He is seen to rule the centre and has sympathy of the National Assembly and the presidency. This seems to give him full control of the security agencies especially the Police. That could explain why the APC offices and leadership seem to have presence of more police squads and armoured vehicles than the state government; the same thing that happened during the Wike-Amaechi saga of 2013 to 2015.

Where the odds may favour Fubara

On the other hand, Fubara seems to have some upper hand in the cabinet by sidelining the Wike men. He now seems to use permanent secretaries in some ministries to carry out actions.

He has developed strong roots in the masses. Supporters organize thanksgiving church services for him where he or his representatives reach out to the masses and he uses it to mobilise for his emerging group, SIMplified Movement to topple Wike’s Grassroots Democratic Initiative (GDI). He has the full support of the civil service and market women. He gave out N100,000 flat as Christmas bonus in December 2023 and it shook the state. He promoted almost all those who had stagnated for over 10 years and this shot the monthly wage bill from about N5Bn to over N8Bn, according to him. He carried out pension payments and it seemed to touch the aging populace. He has released N4bn to SMEs. He is allocating stalls in markets that were locked up for years; he has done the spare parts market flag off from Ikokwu to Iriebe; he has done the electronic market scheme, etc. Everywhere seems to be rooting for Fubara.

Little wonder the APC boss reacted initially saying masses flocking around someone does not determine the success of any leader but the heavyweights and power brokers and stakeholders who e said control the masses. Later, he said the support was not organic but procured. Fubara henchmen say maybe Okocha is realising that the support of the masses he wrote off may have begun to look threatening.

Two critical areas that may decide the higher upper hand:

There are however two critical institutions that may determine a lot. The local councils are the bedrock of election victory or failure. Wike controls it for now, but the tenure of the present council leaderships would end on June 17, 2024. It means all the battles going on now may be to position for June. Fubara is however, seen to be striving to take them over. If this is done, there would likely be balance of power if the battle going on in the House of Assembly adds up. With his own speaker and with caretaker teams in all the LGAs, Fubara could face any war and could be the one beckoning on 2027 to come faster.

The more urgent problem however seems to be the impeachment battle that is fast approaching. The 27 lawmakers loyal to Wike can sit anywhere and pass a vote of no confidence and an impeachment and thus send it to the Judiciary (Chief Judge of the State). It is what happens at the Judiciary that determines the fate of the impeachment journey. If the Chief Judge sets up a panel and the panel is sympathetic to the 27 (Wike) lawmakers, the panel will return a verdict of ‘guilty’ and the 27 lawmakers would endorse it and the governor would stand impeached. The security agencies would have no option than to do their duty by escorting the governor out of office and welcoming the new acting governor. If they add the deputy governor in the sack, then the speaker, Amaewhule, would mount the governorship throne and probably cause maximum damage to the Fubara structure (followership) and ensure that a new Wike loyalist is new governor. Many top Rivers elders starting from Peter Odili would face trouble.

All this would depend on the sitting Chief Judge. He was however appointed by Wike then as governor, but there has been very big loyalty shift in many areas in the state. It is not compulsory, according to sources BusinessDay contacted, that the Chief Judge and the Judiciary are in Wike’s firm pocket to do impeachment without looking at the merits of the charges. That seems to be another very sensitive point that may determine the outcome of the Wike-Fubara wars.

Conclusion:

Whoever would capture the local councils from June 18, 2024, as well as controls the Judiciary may get the final upper hand. The presidency has remained like a snake in the dark whose head location is unknown. Many say the president has chosen to stay away and wait for who would defeat the other. The real interest of the presidency could be who would seem most likely to deliver Rivers State in 2027. Both camps are promising so, and they are doing everything to control the sources of votes (LGAs). Tinubu may not interfere or intervene till a winner emerged. The rest would be history.