• Monday, February 26, 2024
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Rivers’ political turmoil and the thorny path ahead

Rivers’ political turmoil and the thorny path ahead

…As APC national executive council strikes

The National Executive Council (NEC) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has dissolved the executive committee of the party in Rivers State. They have also appointed a seven-man caretaker committee mandated to conduct fresh but electronic registration of members in the state.

The action sounds routine but its implications are gargantuan. It hands the structure of the APC in the state from Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, former governor and former minister, to Nyesom Wike, another former governor and now Minister of the FCT. By this development, the same fierce struggle followed by violent crisis that took place in 2012 leading to 2015 elections has come again, according to insiders who have raised the alarm.

Read also: Rivers’ governor vows to remain firm

This is because the man, Tony Okocha, named by the NEC to midwife the process, is the Wike right hand man believed to be the anchor to bring Wike into the APC. The seven persons named to manage the process are all believed to be Wike legs in APC, none from Amaechi, none from Magnus Abe. This is seen as final victory of the Wike/Okocha team and final handover of the APC to Wike and his loyal members in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers State, to leave out Amaechi team and those that have just fallen out of favour in the ruling PDP in the state led by the governor, Sim Fubara.

The fight for structure; 2012 here again

Wike seems to understand structure, builds structure, and wins with control of structure.

In 2012, Wike was a powerful local council chairman and leader of all the local council chairmen in Nigeria, but he was seen as very competent and ruthlessly effective. He was thus, trusted to organise the PDP congress that produced the then party chairman, the late G.U. Ake. He did it effectively, though some party members were uncomfortable with the way Amaechi allowed Wike total control. Amaechi usually brushed aside complaints against any of his trusted allies.

The then governor was to regret when his hushed disputes with the then first family (Goodluck Jonathan and wife, Patience) got to a decisive level. Wike, then a minister of state, had just got the nod of the first family to unseat Amaechi, at all cost, insiders said then.

Wike considered that he had all the documents that attested to the processes that gave birth to almost all office holders in Rivers State.

Many Amaechi men claimed that the former chairman of Onelga, Felix Obuah, had travelled to London during the congress and may not have even bought the form to contest for party chairman, Wike’e men still got a court judgment in Abuja for a congress that took place in Rivers State, and upturned Ake’s position. The court ruled that the rightful winner was Obuah.

Amaechi men went to appeal and lost flatly. Thus, the PDP structure in Rivers State was swept away from Amaechi to Wike.

With this, Wike moved quickly and fixed his men into all positions. Amaechi had no option than to flee with the state executive council members (appointed) while Wike stayed to occupy the house with fresh occupants.

During reconciliation efforts by the high and lowly in Nigeria including the former head of state, a retired Army General, Yakubu Gowon, Wike was quoted to have said he would not be expected to hand back a structure he had worked so hard to capture, just for peace to reign. Amaechi was never going to accept to remain in the PDP to serve his former boy. He left.

Wike moved with the support of the then first lady of the nation to build a coalition of everybody that hated Amaechi (including several militant lords that had been run out of town) and all those who saw where power was moving to. He made former governor and Amaechi’s erstwhile master, Peter Odili and wife Mary, his idols and patrons of his new dynasty. Many said this new relationship gave him huge access or goodwill in the judiciary, but Wike vehemently denied it.

Read also: Tony Okocha: Man to watch in Rivers politics

With this setting came the historic political violent crisis in Rivers State that divided the state along the midrib. It divided the state into the PDP versus APC. Amaechi was said to have run to Muhammadu Buhari to pledge loyalty and encouraged him to fight hard in the APC to capture power. Many said this made the formerly weak Buhari camp to become powerful and capable. They moved into the APC and won the presidential primaries. This sent alarms to the founder and big bone of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

Amaechi brought in the splinter group of the PDP now called the New PDP (nPDP) with six governors. They rallied behind Buhari and he won the 20215 presidential election with Amaechi as Campaign Director-General. He was to decide to be minister due to bad turns back home (he lost at home).

Rivers bad turn:

Many felt that since PDP had just lost at the national level, the party would also lose in Rivers with Amaechi as leader and as outgoing governor and Dakuku Peterside as the governorship candidate. They did not reckon with the single Wike factor.

Many said a few calls were made to Otueke and next, all the federal agencies and powers rallied behind Wike to deliver Rivers to the PDP so the Jonathan and his family could have a safe place to retire to.

The struggle to capture Rivers State was blamed for over 100 deaths in the newly formed APC in the state, and many attacks and violent clashes. The APC continued to call for a probe and prosecution as well as compensation to this day. Wike captured the PDP in Rivers State, Amaechi fled to the federal government but not to control the APC at the national level because Tinubu ensured this did not happen.

The suspicion between Tinubu and Amaechi rather increased. Whereas Wike ensured that Amaechi loyalists were hounded at the state level, Tinubu allegedly ensured Amaechi did not get a big hold at the Federal Executive Council let alone at the APC leadership (secretariat). They had Buhari succession battle (2023) in their heads.

Instead, many say Tinubu waxed a relationship with Wike to put the screws on Amaechi. The result was that in 2019, Rivers APC was blocked from fielding any single candidate. The national leadership of the APC never saw anything wrong with that. The judiciary was severally accused in the play act. The result of all the crisis was that Amaechi lost at the presidential primaries in the APC to Tinubu. Amaechi thus walked away and faced his studies at the Nigerian Law School to this day.

Tinubu and Wike may not have been satisfied. The savour of capturing the APC from Amaechi as Wike captured the PDP from him in 2013 returned. Wike worked with Magnus Abe and Tony Okocha and some others like Igo Aguma and Wogu Boms (esq) at different stages to achieve this. First was to checkmate Amaechi in Rivers State, and then to run him out at the centre. Amaechi began to look elsewhere again, including the old house (PDP).

Wike fought hard in the PDP in 2022 to get the party’s presidential ticket. When he lost to Atiku Abubakar, he tried to be running mate, and lost too. He then created a rebellion, the type Amaechi had created against Jonathan. The G-5 was born and Wike has boasted to this day how he ensured that Atiku did not win. He also fought hard to make sure Tinubu of APC won in Rivers State, though the matter has been lambasted by the European Union observers and the Labour Party as well as the PDP. This was said to have however given him a big stake in the Tinubu camp in the APC. It landed all the appointments in the Tinubu presidency, thus robbing the mainstream APC in Rivers State of any single appointment. The owners of the house became beggars, their opponents took over and are seen to be enjoying. Amaechi became an outsider in his own party, the party Wike and Jonathan seemingly drove him to.

What seemed to confuse observers and the Amaechi political family was that during all these wars, Buhari raised no single finger to protect Amaechi whereas Tinubu and Wike raged. Many guesses exist such as that Buhari did not want to interfere in the states, did not want to interfere in the judiciary, etc. The did was done. Amaechi lost everywhere.

Read also: Ceasefire in Rivers crisis turns peace of the graveyard Observers

Here comes 2012 in 2023; Party structure again:

The latest crisis:

The crisis began when 25 members of the Rivers State House of Assembly led by the Speaker, Martins Amaewhule, concluded meetings at the weekend leading to the impeachment notice.

In the night, dynamites exploded and destroyed the Chambers of the House of Assembly.

The next day, Monday, October 30, 2023, the 25 sat within the ruins of the House and first suspended the Majority Leader, Edison Ehie, and few others that were later said to be opposed to the impeachment approach.

The 25 also deliberated upon and issued an impeachment notice. This immediately triggered off crisis. The governor moved with crowds and marched toward the nearby House of Assembly on Moscow Road.

On the way, a police squad intercepted them and the governor said they targeted him with bullets. Video clips showed busts of water and teargas at him from the police led by a deputy commissioner (operations). This raised uproar and allegations of attempted assassination.

In the midst of all this, the faction loyal to Fubara led by Ehie sat and voted Ehie the new speaker and sacked Amaewhule and suspended the 25. It now became a case of 25 versus 8, just like the case of 27 (for Amaechi) and 5 for Wike in 2014. The new ‘speaker’ and his group allegedly issued an order against the state’s chief judge and asked the governor to appoint an acting one.

The governor also responded and news of the sack of his security details, sack of all commissioners, sack of all local council chairmen, etc. resonated.

At this point, just in 24 hours, the nation shook and the president (Bola Ahmed Tinubu) who is seen to have benefitted immensely from the political structure that Wike controlled with which he willed unparalleled power, intervened.

Tinubu called for order and asked a return to status quo. The Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) were said to have met with the president and also announced the need for ceasefire.

Next, a group called ‘Rivers Elders’ moved to Abuja where they allegedly held meeting with Wike, the FCT Minister. They were not known to have also met with Fubara.

At the end of their meeting, they scolded at the governor and ordered him to take steps to douse the political atmosphere and to tone down. This raised eyebrows, according to those monitoring the crisis.

Read also: Rivers crisis: Posing for peace, warming for war

The governor seemed to obey, and began to play what many called the ‘good boy’. He authorized a statement that denied almost all the sacks.

For almost three weeks, many have waited for the real peace agenda to emerge, to no avail. What was on show was the governor going about ‘undoing’ what he did by preaching peace and commending his predecessor. On the other hand, quotes clips emerging from his godfather have been about threats and fuming statements with promise for hell and warning that nobody dare touch his structure. The ‘Elders’ have not shown any peace process and activities to achieve peace and reconciliation.

The two ‘Houses’ stayed out of the way, but have started sitting separately, thus showing that the patchwork is getting lose.

The governor too has started making assertive statements while still pandering to his godfather’s will in terms of project execution and commissioning. Many however wonder how long the peace of the graveyard would hold on in the absence of real pillars.

Instead, the state seems to get more polarized into two camps. Observers say if ceasefire is not properly managed and utilized, it often leads to restocking and mobilizing for bigger trouble.

That seems to begin to happen.

As the two ‘Houses’ begin to sit and the police cordoning off the area, the governor has made a significant move. Thursday, November 23, 2023, the Head of Rivers State Civil Service, George Nwaeke, in a circular dated 20th November, 2023, effected some sensitive postings in the state’s civil service.

To analyse the emerging scenario, observers must look at the new characters or dramatis personae: Wike remains the central and permanent figure in both the 2012 and 2023 fights. In fact, he is Minister again, the seat that usually gave him direct access to the most powerful man in Nigeria (the president) and route to the security agencies and the nation’s most powerful cabals. Gov Fubara has replaced Amaechi in Government House, but Wike and Governor are about to separate in the party the way Wike and Amaechi separated in 2014. The Speaker today is Martins Amaewhule instead of Daniel Otelemaba Amachree , and Chidi Llyod has been replaced by Edison Ehie in minority leadership against the majority. The police force still under the centre where Wike plays. The battlefield is now in APC as it was in PDP in 2012.

In the Rivers political warfare, it is usually two to beat one: Police, Thugs, and State Government forces. Each time the police work with thugs, they easily beat the state government forces. The settings thus favour Wike to control the police (and other security forces) and the boys through the local council chairmen.

Observers agree that the two controlling points of force and strength in Rivers State are the LGA bosses and state lawmakers. That may be why, it is said, for anyone to be picked as one of the above, he must have proven ability in being a man of strength and force, whatever it means.

Read also: Rivers political crisis: Pro-Fubara lawmaker raises assassination scare

Wike makes his biggest move:

The first move was to swiftly remove Fubara like a fly, but it failed. Ceasefire was called. He seems to have used the opportunity to rework his strategies, but it is not clear if Fubara also used the period to rearm.

Now, Wike seems to launch his most famous left hook, which is to capture structure with which to capture all other things.

His men in the APC had boasted since Tinubu won that they were the new leaders of the party in the state. They claimed that the Amaechi camp did not work for Tinubu and must not reap from it. They openly said Abe, who was playing the role Okocha now play, had abandoned the job and allegedly pursued his guber ambition in the SPD. They even showed evidence that Abe’s area of influence voted for SDP, never for Tinubu. Despite Abe’s U-Turn to Tinubu after the results were announced, the Wike men insisted that Abe cannot become the new APC leader or reap from where he did not sow. This view seemed to triumph when appointments were released and Wike picked the heart of the meat (minister) and Okocha picked the next (NDDC Rivers Rep). Abe walked away.

Now, the NEC of APC has dissolved the Rivers State Executive Committee that was loyal to Amaechi and appointed Okocha with six others to repopulate the party. After this, the new caretaker will organize congresses into the LGAs and State, during which Wike/Tinubu men are expected to take over. Amaechi and Abe have been run out. Amaechi men are said to consider legal action, but they are said to be advised to pursue more of political action than legal, except to use some lightweights for legal and heavyweights for political action.

Meanwhile, the APC exco has rejected the dissolution, and before close of work on Friday, November 24, 2023, took out a court action at the FCT asking to stop the inauguration of the caretaker committee.

Realigning of forces:

Many may wonder who would populate the new APC. The first plan may be to isolate Fubara in the PDP. This would be done by moving all the PDP members into the new APC. They could also use the 25 loyal lawmakers and the 23 LGA bosses to move grassroots membership from PDP to the new APC. If it is true that almost all the commissioners are Wike nominees, it would also mean that they may resign and move en mass. Fubara may become lonely.

Then, the Amaechi APC and the Atiku PDP may be courted into the empty PDP shell. It is clear if this would create a balance of power.

One other strategy the Wike team may spring as surprise to Fubara is to obtain a court order any moment soon to stop sack of the LGA bosses, the fighting force of anybody who controls them. The order may also block the governor from freezing their accounts based on a motion the 25 lawmakers loyal to Wike may issue. With this, Wike would control half of the state while Fubara would control half, but the Wike half with federal might may be very powerful with LGA cash and security agencies on their side. Most of the new friends Fubara would attract would be spent forces that do may not control funds or forces but strong voices that have more value in the media than elsewhere.

Read also: Fubara says Rivers development remains his greatest focus

Wike is believed to have bigger financial fortress than Fubara and has bigger spending appetite for whatever he wants, far more than Fubara, who may be husbanding state financial resources like most accountants would do. Warfare may not be Fubara’s area of advantage. In this scenario, it is a matter of where the ‘boys’ would want to align. Who would Tinubu support? Who would Abdulahi Umar Ganduge support? Who would the police obey? Who would the jungle boys support? Answers to these questions would determine how the war would be prosecuted. Wike defeated Amaechi in this jungle political war, and Fubara watched it live, Now, Wike may be up against Fubara. Would he (Fubara0 also sit and watch?

Sources including Chris Finebone advise Fubara to strike first. “If there’s one thing you must give to the Minister, it is the fact that he can hardly conceal his feelings. His bitterness over the matter is palpable. I believe that Gov. Fubara, by his body language and almost zero utterance on the matter, has substantially reined in most hawks in his support urging him to declare an open war once and for all. Yours truly is one of those. We don’t betray people but that doesn’t mean that we suffer fools gladly. I hope you know the history of King Jaja; we harbour a bit of Jaja in each of us. We don’t dread outcomes, we confront them.” For the Minister, he said, the dice has only been cast.

The Opobo-born chief said there is no question that this matter isn’t ending soon, and that what is seen is hardening of positions by lawmakers camps.

“For me, the earlier the decisive battle is fought, won or lost, the better for my mental health. Something must give. Quite frankly, if I were Gov. Fubara, I’ll go for it. I’ll take out all those positioned by the former governor to sabotage my government both in the judiciary, cabinet, security, etc.”

They believe that if Fubara continues to play the ‘good boy’ he may be captured in the fast-approaching storm. They advise him to move faster and capture the instruments of government beginning with his cabinet, LGAs, and the lawmakers that may pass adverse motions. Then, the rest would be ding dong affair. The presidency and the ‘elders’ that called for truce may not help him if Wike’s strikes the next time, the analysts said.

Where will the Odili camp play?

One major factor in the aligning of forcers may be the camp of the first democratic governor in the new Republic, Odili. At one thanksgiving church service after his Supreme Court victory in the 2015 election, Wike gave perhaps more than due credit to Odili whose wife was a justice of the Supreme Court.

Wike said Odili steadily advised him and if he said go here, I went, do this, I did. Opposition people roared in protest, saying they understood it that the judgment was influenced. Wike came out to debunk the notion, saying what Odili offered was mere wisdom of the elders.

Since then, Wike has won several other court victories but many have watched as the governor pumped hundreds of millions of naira into whatever project the Odili family floated, N500m every year as donation to the PAMO Medical College owned by the Odilis, and N500m to a law centre opened by Mary Odili few months ago. There is 100 scholarships given to Rivers students studying Medicine at Pamo University.

When it was time to produce the present administration, Odili was believed to have provided the deputy governor, a professor from PAMo University, who served hos administration as permanent secretary and later commissioner. His daughter is serving as commissioner for health under Fubara.

The Odili camp is formidable, many say, with fear that they have deep contacts in the judiciary all through. The wife served through the structure of the Rivers State judiciary until she proceeded to the Supreme Court and recently retired. Her daughter is a judge. Many fear that the contacts are vast and deep. Wike is a family friend and kind of son. If the Wike camp breaks into two, where would the Odili camp fall into?

When cases begin to fly about in courts, where would the knife cut.

Read also: Rivers indigenes in diaspora decry politics of intimidation in state

Ahead!

Just as it happened in 2012 to 2014, all the papers that led to the emergence of Fubara are in Wike’s hands, including results of primaries and main election. The case is still in court. If Fubara is dethroned, would the deputy go or has she been guaranteed?

If Wike strikes after castrating Fubara in the PDP, would the governor survive or has he figured out his own survival strategies?

Conclusion:

Apart from what happens to Wike and Fubara, many worry about what happens to the state and its people. The likes of Ibim Semenitari have pleaded for calm, saying the state does not this fight. She was a veteran of the Wike vs Amaechi prolonged fight and she knows about the hundreds of billions of naira investments that crashed and the trillions of naira opportunities that fled.

Can Rivers State economy survive another 2012?