Sekibo’s Governorship Ambition Pushes Rivers To The Brink of Ethnic War

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Mr. Abiye Sekibo
Rivers State, Nigeria's second richest state, is set to become a battleground between the Ikwerre and Okrika ethnic groups, no thanks to the ethnic dimension which the bid by a former minister of Transport Dr. Abiye Sekibo to wrest the governorship of the state from Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi in next year's election has assumed.

A medical doctor by training, Sekibo is Okrika and served as Secretary to the Rivers State government under former Governor Peter Odili at about the same time Amaechi, whose Ikwerre make up over 60 percent of the population of the state, was Speaker of the State Assembly.

The confirmation that the struggle for political control of the state has assumed an ethnic dimension reared its head last Tuesday during the visit of Nigeria's First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan to Rivers State. Mrs. Jonathan, a native of Okrika, had during the visit publicly rebuked Governor Amaechi for what she said was the governor's insensitivity to the peculiar problems in her native Okrika which has locked legal horns with the governor over plans to demolish the waterfronts, a haven for criminals.

“I want you to get me clear,” barked Mrs. Jonathan to the governor. ”I am from here and I know the problem of my people. I know what I am talking about. I don't want us to go into crisis. We are preaching peace. So we must maintain peace at all levels,” she belched to a deafening applause by her kinsmen who had assembled in their thousands to receive their “daughter, the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Seemingly to rub it in on Amaechi, Dame Jonathan thereafter, in clear breach of protocol, headed to a reception organized by her cousin and chairman of Okrika Local Government Area, Tamunokuro George Oba. It is strongly believed that Mrs. Jonathan nee Oba is scheming to have an Okrika son, most likely Sekibo, displace Amaechi next year. Oba has since resigned in very controversial circumstances, and his deputy sworn-in.

Sources close to Sekibo disclosed that since that open reprimand by Mrs. Jonathan, there has been prolonged jubilation in the camp of the former minister over what is considered “a sufficient dose of humiliation for Amaechi after a crushing defeat last month.”

Sekibo's camp which had been comatose for over two years seemed to find its voice last month and attempted to set up a parallel, but illegal Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) executive in Rivers State. The police responded by arresting the organizers, while Amaechi followed up by revoking the certificate of occupancy of the building used for the clandestine event.

Sekibo had made several unsuccessful attempts to get the new PDP national chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo tamper with the composition of the Rivers PDP executive to accommodate the interests of his camp. The patron of Sekibo's camp, Dr. Odili was a former classmate of the PDP national chairman.

“With his bag of tricks empty, Sekibo resorted to his sister, Dame Jonathan, who in turn tried to bulldoze her way through the same way her predecessor Turai Yar'Adua bulldozed Prof. Chukwuma Soludo through the PDP governorship ticket in Anambra State when it was clear Soludo came a distant fifth in the primary election,” a PDP trustee told, adding, “The botched PDP meeting was a clear attempt by Sekibo to poke his finger in the eye of Amaechi using his sister, First Lady Dame Jonathan, and Amaechi did not disappoint when he responded.”

A mutual friend of Odili and Amaechi told that Mrs. Jonathan's faux pas during her recent visit would, in his words, “have dire and lasting implications for the political future of Rivers State.”

He said: “True, we have had these sentiments for some time now. However, this is the first time a high ranking public official would make such a reckless and inflammatory declaration. I am Kalabari, but that would not make me support a Kalabari or Okrika candidate just for the sake of it. We have gone past that.

“Amaechi is one of the very few detrabilised politicians around. Look at his transformation of Rivers State. He could have conveniently chosen the Ikwerre areas. Even his opponents would attest to the fact that he has been as fair to all the ethnic groups as humanly possible. The only thing these people who are now ethnic champions bequeathed to Rivers state, nay the world was militancy. You won't blame Sekibo for constantly attacking Amaechi. He is yet to come to terms that Amaechi and not him the then heir apparent that bulldozed so many out of Odili's way, is governor and a very popular one at that.

“It was the desperation to displace Chief Rufus Ada-George and the then APP in the 2002 council elections that led my friend Odili to commission Sekibo to arm hundreds of Okrika youths. It was after the elections that the Ateke Toms were unleashed on the world. Honestly, but for the amnesty programme, people like Sekibo would have been rounded up for sponsoring terrorism,” the PDP chieftain added.

A PDP national officer from the north decried what he said was the increasing meddlesomeness of First Lady Patience Jonathan and warned of its implications for Goodluck Jonathan.

“If Turai was accused of over-protecting her husband, I wonder if the same can be said of Patience Jonathan. Since her husband took over by an act of God, it has been one scandal to the other. The Presidency has had cause to issue rejoinders over her controversial trips abroad, and now, I wonder what they would say about the Rivers' trip.

“If President Goodluck Jonathan is to be taken seriously, particularly in the face of the forthcoming elections, he had best call his wife to order. For crying out loud, what business does the wife of a president have barking orders at the chief executive of a state? Turai Yar'Adua had her excesses, but let Nigerians begin to pray hard now that Patience doesn't become another Imelda Marcos,” he cautioned.

Meanwhile it has emerged that top officials of the Rivers State government are mounting pressure on Amaechi to review the recent support for Jonathan he pulled through his South-south colleague-governors urging President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2011 presidential elections, and to curtail what they consider Mrs. Jonathan's excesses in Rivers State.

“There is no need playing the ostrich anymore. There is no where the constitution says you must receive the President's wife whenever she is visiting. It is matter of protocol, and this has been grossly abused by Mrs. Jonathan who is led into believing she can impose a governor here, when her husband couldn't save his protégé, the impeached deputy governor of Bayelsa. It is such a shame that the First Lady of Nigeria, a lady who should epitomize virtue, would so easily nestle with known terrorists and militants masquerading as governorship aspirants.

“This is a federation, for God's sake. His Excellency (Amaechi) is being blackmailed everyday in Abuja. We hear about security reports flying around that he is not loyal to President Jonathan as if that was what he was elected to do,” said a top adviser.

He continued: “Yes, nobody is indispensable. We need the president, but he probably needs us more. We have been telling oga (Amaechi) to remove the gloves and fight back, but he keeps telling us it is not necessary the reason Dame Patience came to insult all of us. But for Amaechi's maturity, Patience Jonathan would have learned a lesson of her life that in Africa, no woman, no matter how old or powerful, barks orders at a married man,” adding, “the time has come to know if Rivers State has two governors.”