JONATHAN, WIKE AND THE BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF RIVERS STATE
It is no longer news that President Goodluck Jonathan and his People's Democratic Party (PDP) is leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to recapture Rivers State. The President himself said so publicly during his party's South-South rally in Benin a few weeks ago. There are many reasons why the President seems to have special interest and commitment to dislodging the Rivers State Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and his All Progressives Congress (APC). Rivers State gave the President the highest number of votes in the region in 2011 and he will need those votes again in 2015- that is if he declares to contest. It is also the home state of the First Lady and I understand that she considers it (rightly or wrongly) a natural extension of her political fiefdom. Thirdly the President is committed to 'teach Gov. Amaechi a lesson' by ensuring that he does not produce his successor. Many observers believe that the President is poised to deploy the full weight of his office including using the military and the police in the Rivers elections. In the coming weeks, the gubernatorial candidate for PDP will be named. The general belief among observers is that the PDP will be fielding the Junior Minister of State for Education, Chief Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike. The Junior Minister is expected to announce his resignation from the federal cabinet any moment from now.
Although the Junior Minister's candidature is facing stiff opposition from prominent politicians from the riverine Ijaw areas like Kalabari, Okrika, Bonny and Opobo) of the state, the President and his wife are allegedly insisting on him. Many of those who are resisting Wike's candidature believe that it is improper and unjust for an Ikwerre man to succeed another Ikwerre man in a state with more than twenty ethnic groups, as the incumbent governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi is from Ikwerre stock. It is assumed that the support of President and his wife will be able to neutralize every opposing force against the Junior Minister. What is now seen as a plot to impose Wike as the governor on Rivers people started about a year ago with a judicial imposition of his followers on the state branch of the PDP through a pronouncement of an Abuja High court. With his disciples holding sway as Chairman and Secretary of the state PDP respectively, the stage was set for any party contest to favour Wike. Since then the Junior Minister systematically took over the party structure at all levels and positioned his supported through his organisation known as the Grassroots Development Initiative (GDI). The possibility of Wike's emergence is still contentious and said to be the reason for the crisis currently engulfing the party. On two occasions a Reconciliation Committee mandated by the party at the national level to look at the grievances of the warring members, have been disrupted by elements said to loyal to Chief Nyesom Wike.
Nyesom Wike expanded his political network under the guise of supporting President Jonathan to fight Amaechi. I have written elsewhere about the Junior Minister's 'unholy' role as a conflict entrepreneur and political opportunist in the Jonathan-Amaechi saga. However it will be safe to say that the role was one of the things that shot him to political prominence. But you must give it to Wike, he is good in his game. He volunteered himself early at a time when the Presidency was searching for ways to prosecute a proxy war against his former boss, the Rivers State Governor. For many people, the Governor should be blamed for enthroning and empowering Wike. As a politician he knows what it means for one person to wield the kind of power he gave to his former Chief of Staff. During his days at the Brick House, Wike paraded himself unashamedly as an alternate governor and Mr. Amaechi allowed it. He handed over the political side of things to Chief Wike while him and his then Secretary to Government, Magnus Abe concentrated on governance and policy making. But that decision might have turned out to be one of the biggest blunders of his political life.
Wike allegedly accumulated so much resources under Mr. Amaechi's nose. He converted Amaechi's political structure to his own and planted a lot of disaffection amongst the governor's followers. Now that is how the governor operates - he is too trusting and often when he decides to reconsider his position, it would have become too late. That was how he believed and trusted President Jonathan till lately. Many people warned him about Wike but he had a way of forgiving him even when the signs were clear. Even before Amaechi nominated Wike as a Minister, the former Chief of Staff reportedly brought many of his friends and Ikwerre kinsman to swear and even sign an undertaking before Amaechi that he will not betray the cause. For the Minister, an undertaking is another piece of political paper. As an insider, Wike saw the budding differences between the President and the Governor and that it would not take too long to manifest. He figured out that President Jonathan was bitter and was willing to be his battle-axe.
Although the Rivers Ijaws in PDP who are trying to wrestle the ticket with Wike may have a valid case, some say that they are simply blowing hot air. Is it not too late in the day? They question why these politicians watched helplessly while Nyesom was busy taking over the soul of the party in the state. None of the candidates of Kalabari extraction has shown that they are psychologically or even financially prepared to fold their trousers and hit the road against Wike. Most of them are marking time, waiting to be anointed by the President. Furthermore no one among the aspirants fits into the thuggish mould of PDP candidates flowing from the precedence set in Osun and Ekiti states recently. The plans allegedly put together for Rivers election by the PDP does not need gentlemen. Amaechi is popular and has a sizeable war chest. Furthermore the only qualification President Jonathan is likely to seek in the PDP gubernatorial candidate will be someone who can constantly insult Governor Amaechi. Nyesom Wike has repeatedly proven that he is the right guy.
Observers of politics in Rivers State insist that Wike's candidature will trigger massive protest voting from other majority ethnic groups including a section of his own Ikwerre ethnic group. However in addition to his home base, the Minister is said to be relying heavily on other LGAs like Etche, Omuma and Oyigbo. Although a gubernatorial candidate is yet to emerge for APC in Rivers State, it is likely that the governor and his strategists will deploy a political permutation that will expectedly neutralize the influence of the President through Wike and retain the state for APC. Fair minded people suggest that it is the turn of Rivers South-East senatorial zone to produce a governor as they are yet to do so since the state was created. The dominant view among the vigilant public is that ethnic sentiments will play a major role in the forthcoming elections in the State. With this in mind, pundits maintain that due to the current political turbulence in the state, going outside the majority ethnic groups for an APC gubernatorial candidate will be too risky to manage especially against the weight of the Presidency and the known political rascality of PDP. Wherever the pendulum swings, the unfolding political events in the coming days and weeks in Rivers State will be fascinating. As the battle for the soul of the state rages on, mine is to watch from the side-lines.
Written by Uche Igwe.