Supporters of Nigeria’s two bitterest political rivals, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi (minister of Transportation) and Nyesom Wike (governor of Rivers State), seem to take their rivalry to a new level as 2023 comes hurtling down. Now, each camp is parading what their mentor achieved as minister.
Amaechi was governor of Rivers State for eight years before Wike took over from him and has pocketed six years already. Both men are Ikwerre, both men were deep allies for years, both men worked hard for each other especially to win the Supreme Court miracle victory that made a man that did not contest an election to be declared winner.
Now, as political enemies of the worst and most lingering order, both men seemed to have sworn against each other, shunning various entreaties from as revered as catholic bishops and as big as former military president, Yakubu Gowon, both camps have fought from battle to battle, leaving behind casualties made up of supporters, economic progress of the state, job losses, revenue crash, and exodus of investors.
The division of the entire state into the Amaechi-Wike camps has brought bitterness, killings, destructions, and electoral impasse. Men and women who ate on same political tables for years from the Peter Odili era have today become sworn enemies who seem ready to do anything to the other. It has brought decamping, recamping and re-decamping.
Both men have served out their two terms in one position or the other, but their rivalry seems to have only increased. Amaechi served out two terms as speaker, two terms as governor, and is doing two terms as minister (under Muhammadu Buhari). He served all the previous terms as a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as a founding official. Wike has served two terms (with Amaechi’s strong support) as local council boss, one term under Amaechi as chief of staff, one term with Amaechi’s nomination as minister of education, and is now doing second term as governor of Rivers State.
If anyone expects any of them to tire out and go home to rest, such a fellow seems mistaken. Rather, each stirs rumours of ambition to higher executive positions at the national level. Amaechi is rumoured to want to contest for president while Wike is rumoured to want to be vice president to a northern governor, or better, flag the flag of his party, should the totem return to the south-south. Many say Wike may only want to be a king maker in his party.
Deep sources in the region say fear is rather the strongest factor in the unending rivalry and determination of each matador to want to win or at least be in a wining party. Amaechi was part of the PDP until the 2012 crisis in the state which saw to his exit to the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC) which desperately wanted strong members to help wrest power from the PDP.
Amaechi accepted their offer after all efforts to resolve the Rivers PDP crisis failed; Wike had already captured the structure of the ruling PDP in the state and was never ready to let it slip out, while Amaechi wanted it back or a big share of it as the only condition for remaining. When the likes of Gowon tried but could not get this resolved, Amaechi took the government structure away to the APC while Wike took the party structure to Aba Road to rebuild and charge for the Brick House.
Both men seemed to succeed as Wike captured the Brick House back to the PDP while Amaechi captured the federal power into the APC, and became minister. Inside sources hinted that when the PDP lost the federal election in 2015, Wike rallied round to capture Rivers so as to have a safe haven because his camp which included the then outgoing president and his wife (Patience) reasoned that life would be brutal if they lost Aso Rock and also lost Brick House fortress.
So, for purposes of physical and fiscal protection, they insisted on capturing one fortress being Port Harcourt. On the other hand, Amaechi, who was said to have planned to face academics (probably doctorate in law) and business as maybe a contractor and power broker, had to abruptly change his mind for sake of protection. He is said to have reasoned that if his camp did not take a plot in the emerging presidency having already lost the Brick House, his enemies would seek nothing but total annihilation of his camp.
As if to confirm such fears, Wike had threatened severally during the campaigns how the FG would block everywhere so Amaechi would not escape.
Having each captured a fortress, they began to rule but each had an eye on the other, seeking any loophole to undress the other and nail him, probably with death or imprisonment. It has been a bull fight, but each matador has applied much dexterity in sidestepping the other and the sword.
This seemed to be the scenario when the 2019 elections came again. The Amaechi camp saw it as a do-or-die opportunity to collect the Brick House back from Wike who however seems to be a master at such games. Wike having played at the centre seemed to know what federal might meant and how to thwart it. He used the masses to build a wall and shield and seemed to plant muscles in their midst, backed by enormous funds. This worked for him and again, he won.
Now, as 2023 approaches, Amaechi and his APC camp seem determined not to lose a third time in Rivers while Wike seems not ready to lose the third time at the centre. So, each seems to eye what the other has. Many fear that there could be reversal of roles again as happened in 2015.
This time, each man seems to want a key role at the centre. Whereas in 2015 each won half of the yellow moon, in 2023, it may not be possible because they both can only win at the centre. However, each wants to control the home front.
What does it mean to control Rivers State? Each knows that the person would control over 8m people with PH alone being over 5m. The person would control an annual budget of between N300Bn and N500Bn totaling between N1.2 trillion and N2 trillion in four years. Amaechi controlled N3.643 trillion in his eight years. The fellow would appoint or influence appointment of almost 1000 persons plus control of over 50,000 public servants. There are 23 local councils with over 319 wards or councilors to nominate. There are several ministries and government agencies to appoint, and many institutions of higher and lower leaning.
There are top traditional stools to control or contend with, and many oil companies to oversee, not to talk of many federal agencies seeking support and many foreign groups seeking alliance.
The battle now is who can be trusted more by the people to control the state. Each camp thus wants to parade what it has brought so far to the state so as to be trusted to bring more. In all, the pull-him-down syndrome seems to be the colour of the game.