UNVEILING FOOPP THE NEW FACE OF POLITICAL OPPOSITION IN RIVERS STATE
The Microsoft Encarta Dictionary of 2007 defines opposition as 'hostile attitude or action: a disapproving attitude toward something and a wish to prevent it, or action taken to show disapproval of and prevent something'. It also states that opposition politics is when political groups oppose government: a political party, or political parties or groups, opposed to the government in power in a country or principal party opposing government: in a British-style parliamentary system, the political party with the largest number of seats of those not in office, are officially recognized as the government's main opponent.
In a paper titled 'Power and Credible Partisan Opposition in our Democratic Culture' presented by Barr Ledum Mittee, Guest Speaker at the June 26th, 2009 inauguration and public presentation of the Forum of Organised Opposition Political Parties in Rivers State, comprising 43 political parties uniting under one platform. The erstwhile Chairman of the defunct Presidential Technical Committee on the Niger Delta reiterated audience thus, “The very idea of opposition political party presupposes that there are political parties, one or a couple of which is/are in power whilst the others are in opposition. In my view, what should distinguish one political party from the other is not whether one is in power and the other is not, but some core principles and values. I insist that these differences in values are what should even distinguish between the policies which they parties generate and out of which the electorate are expected to make preferences”. He lamented the current trend of antagonism perpetrated by incumbent governments towards all perceived or real opposition. He prayed all present to seek for the best practice in the balance of power between the two sides to make for a sustainable democratic experiment.
THE FORMATION AND CHALLENGES OF FOOPP
The road to what most people may choose to regard as a mere coalition was most assuredly a long one and the Leader and BOT Chairman of the FORUM, Prince Tonye Princewill in his keynote address at the inauguration of the Forum threw light on the event that gave rise to the idea of formidable opposition in Rivers state thus, '…on the 27th October, 2007, when eight political parties (AC, RPN, ADC, CPP, UNDP, ARP, UNPP and ANPP) decided to withdraw their election petitions against PDP and support the Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi led administration. That decision has gradually evolved into what is hailed today as a study in political pragmatism, clearly setting Rivers State apart as a trail blazer in political innovation within this nation's polity'. Two separate but defining moments also heralded the Forum's formation. The first took place on the 8th of April 2009, when Chairmen of 18 political parties under the auspices of Forum of Opposition political Parties in Rivers State convened a press conference in Port Harcourt announcing through the Forum Leader, Chief Harry Alaye, its decision to adopt Prince Tonye Princewill as its Consensus Leader. According to him, the decision to merge with the initial seven political parties under Princewill's purview was a well thought out idea, which would hopefully form a formidable alliance capable of moving the state forward. A fortnight later on the 23rd of April 2009, the Organised Opposition Political Parties (OOPP) in Rivers State also addressed a Press Conference toeing the line of FOPP in Princewill as its Leader.
Following Princewill's acceptance of their appointment as Leader, the legality of the Forum, its practicality, and the implications for the state were placed under a number of legal, political and strategic microscopes culminating in a resounding thrust to go forward. The initial formation of a 10 man harmonisation Committee led by the DPP Chairman Garshon Benson and a 6 man constitution drafting committee led by Barr Iyke Echie from Emohua under the supervision of Hon Barr Osima Ginah though critical were only tips of the iceberg. At the last count, there have been over 62 formal meetings with respect to the formation of the Forum.
THE GAINS AND MOTTO OF THE FORUM
In his speech at the inauguration, Prince Tonye Princewill further highlighted what the people of Rivers State stand to gain from the formation of the Forum. To him the Forum marked the dawn of hope for a people whose psyche had been marred by over 8 years of misrule. He promised that with him at the helms of affairs of the Forum, a worthy partnership with Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi's PDP administration would result hopefully in a gradual recovery from the sordid legacy of the past.
The Forum's motto 'Unity in Strength' is a strong indicator of its founding objectives.
VISION OF THE FORUM
Chief (Dr) Davies Ibiamu Ikanya JP, the Chairman of the Forum in his presentation gave an insight of the vision, Mission and other issues involving the Forum. “Our vision is that Rivers State will be fully developed in infrastructure, economy and character, and that future elections will reflect the actual wishes of the electorate who when encouraged by good governance will give their support to the elected Government.
· Foster unity and progress amongst member political parties in order to work diligently with all partners in Rivers State, irrespective of their political divide.
· Restore the glory and integrity of the State and its people, by encouraging true participatory democracy which guarantees equal opportunities for all Rivers people, abhorring the “winner takes all” syndrome.
· Provide virile and constructive criticism when necessary, and commend giant strides of government.
· To support democratic principles and encourage electoral bodies to organize true and proper elections that will reflect the true wishes of the electorate.
· To protect member political parties before, during and after elections.
· To support Government to encourage active participation of Rivers State indigenes in strategic sectors of the State Economy”.
THE ISSUES IN COALITIONS SUCH AS THIS:
It is a widely held belief, that Coalitions and co operations amongst political parties are usually motivated by electoral loss, dwindling electoral fortunes, increased unpopularity and major changes in the political landscape that must have increased the stakes, but ours was driven by Patriotism and Zeal to answer the clarion call for all hands to be on deck to make Rivers State a better developed and peaceful state.
All parties in the Forum have surmounted party differences, embracing adaptation to negotiated and harmonized programs of the Forum that will to a large extent satisfy diverse values whilst creating an enabling environment for all.
As a stabilizing force in the State's polity, the Forum will serve to galvanize resources and ensure that Rivers people participate in the electoral process freely with ensuing results that reflect the decision of the electorate.
FIRST FOOPP MEETING WITH GOV. AMAECHI ON 11TH JULY, 2009
A Delegation from the Forum of organized opposition political parties in Rivers state, led by its leader and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Prince Tonye Princewill paid a courtesy call on Rt Hon.Rotimi Amaechi at the Government House in Port Harcourt on 11th July, 2009 at the State Exco Chambers. This visit marked the first formal meeting of the Governor with the Exco Members of the Forum since its inauguration on the 25th of June 2009. The Forum of the Organised Opposition Political Parties (FOOPP) comprising of 43 political parties in Rivers State, resolved to join Amaechi's Unity Government in order to foster peace among the political class in Rivers State in the hope of enshrining a vibrant, egalitarian and progressive Political culture in the State.
Prince Tonye Princewill who was accompanied by the Chairman of the Forum, Chief Dr. Davies Ibiamu Ikanya, Barr Osima Ginah the Urban Development Commissioner, Chief Williams Igweh the SA to the Governor on inter-party Affairs, Chief Eric Aso the ANPP Guber Candidate, Rev. Odota Ndubisi the Guber Candidate of ARP in the 2007 general election, Chief Tamuno Roberts the Chairman of RS CNPP and Secretary of BOT, Chief Harry Alaye the Vice Chairman, Comrade Garshon Benson of DPP, Secretary; the 43 Chairmen of participating political parties and Officials of the Forum commended the Governor for his giant strides in governance since assuming office on the 26th October, 2007. The Forum reassured the Governor of its commitment to providing sound, objective and result-oriented political opposition in the state. They informed the governor that the formation of the Forum had become expedient in the light of the Governor's passionate commitment in tackling the difficulties of the Rivers people whilst contending with the challenges bedevilling development in the state and oppositions acknowledgement in this regard. They also asserted that the government would stand to benefit from most of the Forum's activities which will revolve majorly around goal-driven collaboration between the government and the organized opposition.
Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi was further commended for instituting a truly unity government which in itself has created an enabling environment for Opposition to thrive. He appreciated Amaechi's purposeful commitment to the unity government evident in the appointments of Chief (Dr.)Davies Ibiamu Ikanya, ersthwhile commissioner for Special Duties , Barrister Osima Ginah, commissioner for Urban Development, Chief Williams Igweh, Special Adviser on Inter Party Matters and Mr Suage Badey, Member Governing Council, Rivers State University of Science and Technology respectively.
“Your Excellency, beyond the walls of excellent inter-party relations under your amiable leadership, Rivers State has recorded great strides of progress with landmarks in urban development and renewal, infrastructural development, health, education, peace and security, human capital development, and the conscious effort to enlarge the political space and citizen participation through elimination of the so-called upland/riverine dichotomy in Rivers politics. We salute your courage and conviction and hope that posterity will number your term in office with an unambiguous verdict of success.”
SUGGESTIONS ON THE WAY TO MOVE RIVERS STATE FORWARD
1. Government should support independent project monitoring teams drawn from the opposition. The team(s), we believe, will promptly deliver to the governor's table at mutually agreed times, the true and exact position of activities on project sites. We have a moral responsibility and the personnel in place to provide an objective assessment.
2. Government policy and programme for urban development and renewal, including the demolition of inner city illegal structures and the waterfronts, though commendable, should of necessity, include wider consultations with Rivers people
3. Government should liaise with the Federal Government to site key industries in Rivers state and as a matter of urgency re-vitalize economic activities at the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) PH and the Federal Ocean Terminal, Onne to create jobs for our teeming youths.
4. Government should reactivate the moribund state owned companies such as the Delta Rubber Company Ltd at Etche, RisonPalm Ltd. etc. Agriculture should be placed on the front burner as a means of providing food and jobs for our people. Particularly, RISONPALM which should as a matter of urgency be turned around and returned to its glorious past when the State earned income from its produce.
5. Government should consider it expedient to tackle the issues of Public amenities such as Power, Portable Water and Traffic congestion in Port Harcourt metropolis and its environs. On traffic congestion, Government should engage additional traffic marshals, equip them with communication gadgets, special motorcycles and vehicles; open link roads between Silver Valley Estate ,Trans Amadi and Aba Road, Bori
Camp and Rumuigbo by MCC, after due consultation with the Nigerian Army. Same should also apply for Oginigba-Elekahia-Waja (beside the Rail line); expansion of the Waja bridge/Trans Amadi-Elikahia Road. We also suggest that Government should commence a modern intra city water transport scheme with terminals at Abonenema Wharf axis, Iwofe and Choba bridge (Emohua end). A modern motor park at the Emohua end of the bridge will cater for travelers to Emohua, Kalabari , Ahoada, Bayelsa and beyond. For most commuters, the long hours wasted between Isaac Boro Park and Choba Bridge will be saved and on the other hand, the number of commercial vehicles presently plying the Ikwerre- Mgbuoba and Rumuokoro-Choba Roads and beyond will reduce drastically.
6. Government should, as a matter of urgency, commence the implementation of the White Paper on the ESO TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION REPORT
REQUESTS BY THE FORUM AND RESPONSE BY THE GOVERNOR
In addition to the suggestions made to the Governor, the Forum solicited for the re-appointment of Chief (Dr.) Davies Ibiamu Ikanya, its amiable chairman into the Rivers State Exco and in the same vein appealed for at least, three (3) more slots in the Exco to be filled by members from the Opposition.
In his response, the Governor Conveyed his sincere appreciation for the hand of support and Partnership extended to him by Prince Tonye Princewill since assuming office in 2007. He commended Prince Tonye for this initiative that will hopefully promote a formidable political partnership and joint collaboration between the government and the organized opposition in Rivers State. The governor expressed satisfaction for the valuable assistance by way of the suggestions extended to his government by the FOOPP. Regarding most of the issues raised, he reaffirmed government's continued commitment to resolving every conceivable challenge in all areas listed.
Governor Amaechi reiterated governments zero tolerance for all forms of criminality and his administration's commitment to reinstating sanity. Promising to work with the opposition, he rounded up his response thus, “I will give the opposition every support to monitor the Government's projects as it is truly tiring for me to monitor most of the projects in the State. On Funding of opposition parties, I will in the next stakeholders meeting of PDP move the motion for adequate funding of the opposition if we are to move forward democratically, socially and developmentally.” The icing on the cake followed shortly “Finally, if your request is for me to reappoint Dr. Davies Ibiamu Ikanya, your wish is my command” at which point the hall erupted with the sound of thunderous applause. The meeting ended on this great note of the recalling of Dr. Ikanya back to the State Exco.
Eze Chukwuemeka Eze is a Media Consultant based in Port Harcourt