The struggle for the soul of Rivers State by Governor Chibuike Amaechi and Nyesom Wike, his former chief of staff and current supervising minister of education, is regarded as being responsible for the incessant crisis in the state
| By Olu Ojewale | Jan. 27, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
THIS, perhaps, is not one of the best times to be the governor of Rivers State. In the past one year or thereabout the state has become a battle ground for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the state governor for daring to disagree the party hierarchy. Governor Chibuike Amaechi had caused the wrath of the PDP and by extension, the Presidency, when he went against the directive not to re-contest the leadership of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF. But Amaechi defied the order and was re-elected as chairman of the NGF on May 24, last year, by 19 votes while Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau, the PDP favoured candidate, got 16 votes. Since then, it has been one crisis after the other in the state. The governor himself seemed to have widened the gulf between him and the power that be when he and four other governors from the PDP joined the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, in November last year.
The daring move seems to have aggravated the situation as the fight for the soul of Rivers State appears to have increased in intensity. Since the crisis in Rivers State started, one thing that has persistently come up is the fact that Amaechi and Nyesom Wike, supervising minister of education, are the ones heating the polity. What is also indisputable is that the two men are regarded as brothers because they belong to the same community. Hence, Wike is seen as working for President Goodluck Jonathan to destabilise the government of Amaechi in the state.
The latest in the strings of the crisis in the state seems to credence to the allegation because it happened barely one week after a bomb blast rocked a high court in the state and another high court caught fire. Both the ruling and the opposition parties have hardly stopped trading words over the incident when there was a police crackdown on members of Save Rivers Movement, a pro-Amaechi and nongovernmental group, who had tried to hold a rally in Port Harcourt, capital city, on Sunday, January 12. Armed police personnel allegedly swarmed on the venue of the rally at the Rivers State College of Arts and Science, Rumuola, firing tear gas and forcefully dispersed those who had gathered for the rally. Magnus Abe, a serving senator, was reportedly struck by a rubber bullet and was hospitalised. The Police, while denying shooting Abe, said it used a minimum force including teargas, to disperse the crowd. The senator was still receiving treatment at a hospital in the capital city at the time of this report.
As expected, the incident has generated so much heated controversy, especially among the party supporters. Lai Mohammed, interim publicity secretary of the APC, said Abe could have been deliberately targeted by the police. “We understand that the exceptional brutal clampdown on the planned rally by the police, who seem to have now surpassed even their own act of brutality against the people of the state, was aimed at impressing the First Lady, believed to be due in Port Harcourt on the same day (Sunday),” Mohammed said in a statement. The party said the only reason the impunity in Rivers could have continued unabated was because it was a rehearsal for what the ruling party had been planning for 2015 elections. Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and leader of the APC, in a statement by Sunday Dare, his media aide, said: “The people of Rivers State and of the Save Rivers Movement did nothing wrong. What the police did was criminal. The violent and direct attack on Senator Magnus Abe is a frontal assault against democracy. The Jonathan government, which is supposed to protect the public order, now constitutes threats against the very thing they have pledged to uphold.”
Even, the Senate which is controlled by the ruling party found the situation deplorable. Eyinnaya Abaribe, chairman, Senate Committee on information, media and public affairs, urged Mohammed Abubakar, inspector-general of police, to personally investigate the incident. “The Senate associates itself with the admonition of President Goodluck Jonathan on his pronouncements to mark the armed forces remembrance day, where he warned that ‘no Nigerian blood is worth spilling in the name of politics. The Senate urges the IG to investigate the latest incident and ensure that it never recurs.” Smilarly, the Senate advises politicians and their supporters to exercise greater restraint and avoid acts that will not only overheat the polity but may harm the country’s democracy.” Zakari Mohammed, Abaribe’s counterpart in the House of Representatives, demanded the prosecution of the policemen who shot the senator. Speaking to National Assembly correspondents in Abuja, Mohammed said “the attacks have shown that the Nigerian security operatives lack proper training and expertise to handle such situations.” He said that the latest development had underscored the need for state police in the country.
In an apparent move to avert more trouble in the state, the Senate committee on police affairs was in the state on Tuesday, January 14, to investigate the incident. Led by Igwe Paulinus Wagwu, the committee promised not to witch-hunt anybody. The committee spoke with Amaechi and Mbu Joseph Mbu, commissioner of police in Rivers State. During the meeting with Mbu, the police boss insisted that the policemen did not expend any ammunition at the rally, let alone shooting rubber bullets. He said he ordered his men to disperse the members of the SRM with teargas because they did not get permission for the planned inauguration rally.
Tony Okocha, chief of staff to Governor Amaechi, on his part accused Wike and his allies as being behind the police’s action. Speaking to the Senate committee, Okocha alleged that Wike was the unseen hand behind the disruption of the rally. But the minister has since denied it. The chief of staff, who narrated how he escaped the police assault on the rally, insisted: “At about few minutes past 12, I received a call from somebody; highly placed, informing me that the commissioner of police had been reached by the supervising minister for education to dislodge our people today and I couldn’t place it. About 4:30am, our men on ground, who were left there to secure the gadgets and facilities, called me to say that the police had taken over the place. For God’s sake, we are defenceless free citizens of Nigeria, we don’t carry arms. Save Rivers Movement is an organisation that insists that Rivers State must be saved, out to salvage the state from political buccaneers who want to put Rivers State into their pockets. We are in the business of sensitising our people from LGA to LGA. You are aware of a group called GDI (Grassroots Development Initiative), they go through all the LGAs with convoys of police, giving them all kinds of protection, including the commissioner of police, he’s always in their convoys, providing security for them and ensuring that what they do in the LGAs are trouble-free.
“When they called me I couldn’t place it immediately so I had to go there myself to see things. I was smoked as if I was a rabbit. I ran into someone’s house and unfortunately the man has children, they were all suffocating, they were all dying. So, we had to improvise, they said we should use coke, some said kerosene would work. We had to use all of that to ensure that the man’s children live. That was what I saw; I was quarantined in somebody’s house. I was wondering whether it is the CP that is the chief security officer of Rivers State or the governor. They said the CP ordered that we should not gather and I said our rights to gather and associate is inalienable, you can’t take that away from us.”
The Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, in its reaction, said it was dismayed by the highhandedness and excessive use of force by the police. It, however, sued for calm among Ogoni youths as it called for a thorough investigation into the incident. Legborsi Pyagbara, president of MOSOP, said: “We had hoped that politics in this dispensation will be played with civility, decency and devoid of political violence. The current level of political intolerance in the country and in Rivers State in particular, is deeply troubling and condemnable. Recognising that the Ogoni had made so much sacrifice for democracy, which is being enjoyed in the country today and for which we have not benefited commensurably, we deplore the situation where any Ogoni man would be sacrificed on the altar of political acrimony or political violence in Rivers State.” Abe is an Ogoni man from Nchia, Eleme, representing Rivers South East constituency. Pyagbara said: “No matter what may have happened, the group or Senator Abe did not merit such a level of cruelty. As MOSOP had warned recently on Ogoni Day, never again shall we allow the blood of any Ogoni irrespective of political persuasions, political parties or affiliations to be spilled needlessly in the name of politics.”
To demonstrate police’s neutrality in the matter, Mohammed Abubakar, inspector-general of police, on Wednesday, January 15, ordered a full-scale investigation into the alleged shooting.
Nevertheless, Realnews learnt that the Grassroots Development Initiative, GDI, which has Wike as the grand patron, has been behaving like an alternative government in the state since its establishment last year. The GDI is reputed to have been moving round the state to mobilise support for both the PDP and President Jonathan in the state. Briefing the press on Tuesday, January 14, the group raised the alarm over what it called a plan by Amaechi’s supporters to set ablaze the Obio/Akpor Local Government council secretariat. Collins Onunwo, coordinator of GDI in local government, declared that members of the group would resist any attempt by enemies of President Jonathan and Wike, an indigene of Rumueprikom in Obio/Akpor Local Government, to cause the breakdown of law and order in Rivers State. Okocha has denied the claim as baseless.
But what is incontrovertible is that both Governor Amaeachi and Wike, with the backing of the Presidency are up in arms for the soul of Rivers State. The current incident, analysts have said, is a way by which both parties would want to express their authority over the state. The fear in the political circles is that the situation in the state has become very worrisome, especially now that election time is barely one year away. Just a week earlier, On Sunday, January 5, an explosion rocked the high court on Omoku Road in Ahoada, headquarters of Ahoada East Local Government Area, damaging the premises and caused anxiety in the state. Shortly after, another high court in Okehi, headquarters of Etche Local Government Area, was razed by suspected arsonists on Monday, January 6. Mercifully, there was no casualty recorded during the incidents, but court documents and properties were severely burnt. However, Reginald Okwuoma, council chairman, described both incidents as a deliberate act by the opposition to ensure the declaration of a state of emergency in the state. The APC, Rivers State chapter, accused the PDP of being behind the violence in the state. But in a swift reaction, Felix Obuah, PDP chairman in the state, blamed the incidents on those he called government agents for the bomb blasts.
What, perhaps, makes the Ahaoda court incident instructive is that it is there the suit on the controversy over the issue of speakership of the state assembly is being heard by Justice Charles Wali. The tussle is between Otelemaba Dan Amachree, who represents Asari-Toru Constituency, and Evans Bipi, a former domestic aide to Patient Jonathan, who is representing Ogu/Bolo. The court could not sit because of the incident as the judicial workers, litigants and lawyers were asked to vacate the premises.
Last December 16, Wali, acting on interlocutory injunction by Amachree had restrained Bipi from parading himself as speaker of the House. Two days later, Wali’s office and car park were hit by explosion at 3:00am. A guard on duty was missing. The motion on notice for interlocutory injunction was billed for hearing on Monday when the office was engulfed in fire hence, the court could not sit.
Andy Nweye, interim publicity secretary of the APC, Rivers chapter, in a statement, described as barbaric, the bombing of the Ahoada court, while also blaming the PDP for it. Nweye’s statement said: “We totally condemn the present resort to physical violence against the judiciary and officials of court in Rivers State by members of the PDP. The extension of violence to the judiciary in Rivers State by the PDP and their agents started to assume a dangerous dimension, after Justice Wali of the Ahoada High Court granted an injunction on December 16, restraining the member representing Ogu/Bolo in the Rivers State House of Assembly, Evans Bipi, from parading himself as the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly.”
About a week before the bombing, the APC spokesman alleged that Felix Obuah, chairman of the PDP in the state, issued a statement in which he alleged that Amaechi was trying to use the same Ahoada High Court to protect Chidi Lloyd, leader of the state House of Assembly, and said that the claim was “vexatious, malicious and patent falsehood.” Nweye further alleged the PDP agents had planted bombs in the Ahoada high court complex to prevent the court from sitting to hear arguments on the interlocutory injunction barring Bipi from perpetually parading himself as speaker of the state Assembly.
The spokesman for the party further alleged that: “Just yesterday, six individuals reportedly linked to Hon. Evans Bipi and Senator George Sekibo (the representative of Rivers East Senatorial District, an ally of the wife of President Goodluck Jonathan, Dame Patience, who wants to be Rivers Governor in 2015) were arrested on their way to Ogu/Bolo with seven AK-47 assault weapons, among others, by men of the JTF.” He said the arrest of the six associates of Sekibo and Bipi had confirmed the APC’s worst fears that the PDP had resorted to using terrorism as official party policy. Nweye insisted the arrested, well-armed six men were part of the ruthless snipers PDP trained for use against political opponents.
The APC, thus, pleaded with the authorities to compel security agencies to act quickly to avert a situation whereby individuals and groups would resort to violence to protect themselves. But Obuah in a statement blamed the APC for what he called the senseless and barbaric destruction of the court. “The PDP makes bold to suspect that the reported bombing was carried out by the agents of the Rivers State Government to prevent the court from sitting, so that the court would not be able to vacate the interim order made by the Ahoada High Court Judge, Hon Justice Charles Wali. Their aim also of bombing the Ahoada High Court is to further create a state of insecurity in Rivers State, to justify their continuous call for the removal of the State Commissioner of Police, Mbu Joseph Mbu.
“The PDP wishes to remind Rotimi Amaechi and his agents of darkness that the interim order issued by Justice Charles Wali of the Ahoada High Court lasted for only seven days, and it has since expired. Therefore, bombing the court to prevent it from sitting is a wasted, wicked, callous and shameful exercise by agents of Governor Rotimi Amaechi,” the PDP chairman said. Obuah said what had happened in Rivers State tantamount to the governor’s desperation for power and assured that Amaechi would be held responsible for any breakdown of law and order in the state.
Since the crisis in the state started last year, it had become apparent that Governor Amaechi and Mbu could no longer work together to ensure sanity and security in the state. This, probably, prompted the governor to accuse the police chief as a card carrying member of the PDP. Amaechi who made the remark shortly after signing the state 2014 Appropriation Bill into law, on Wednesday, January 8, also accused Mbu of attending PDP meetings and carrying out illegal actions on behalf of the ruling party.
The governor insisted that a group of persons, led by some politicians in Abuja and the state police commissioner had planned to stop the state legislature and judiciary from functioning in the state. “I hear that one of them is telling people that he has been able to stop the House from sitting, he has been able to stop the judiciary from functioning. The truth of the matter is that none of such things could happen other than the fact that they are using the state apparatus which is the police. The commissioner of police is completely not a policeman. He (Mbu) is a known PDP politician who attends meetings with them and carries out illegal actions,” Amaechi said.
Whatever the veracity of the matter, it has become obvious that as long as Amaechi and Wike remain diametrically opposed to each other it would be very difficult to restore peace in the state. Recently, the governor painted Wike, who once served as his chief of staff, as an ingrate. “When you see Nyesom Wike, tell him I nominated him to be minister. And I have one witness sitting here today. Chief Sampson Agbaru is my witness. He led other prominent sons and daughters of Ikwerre to see President Jonathan and the president told them that he had not known Nyesom Wike from Adam, that when Amaechi brought Wike’s name, he (Jonathan) opposed it. The president opposed the appointment of my former chief of staff as minister. He (Jonathan) opposed him (Wike) and I begged President Jonathan severally and consistently because I wanted Wike to be minister. But today, Nyesom Wike has betrayed me for selfish reasons. Also, by the grace of God, I made Chief Austin Opara, deputy speaker of House of Representatives. God used me.
“Prominent politicians met me and told me that there cannot be two captains in a boat, if I make Austin Opara, deputy speaker, I might not be the political leader in Ikwerre. But I said, I want my people to benefit and I picked Austin’s name and we battled to make him deputy speaker of House of Representatives in 2003,” he said.
The governor also lamented that Opara allegedly masterminded his arrest and detention in 2006. “In 2006, I was arrested through the machinery of Austin Opara and was detained for one day; meanwhile, he was supposedly one of my supporters to be governor. Among those, I have also helped who are now fighting me is also Prof. Achinewhu. As vice-chancellor of Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Achinewhu was sick and at the point of death, and I flew him out of the country for medical treatment. But he is now one of those accusing me and writing against me in the papers,” Amaechi said, adding that some other persons he gave contracts also betrayed him because of politics.
In an apparent move to get his people’s sympathy the governor has repeatedly accused the Jonathan government of taking Soku oil wells which belonged to Rivers State and appropriating them to Bayelsa State, his home state. This prompted Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State to react about two weeks ago. After several months of silence, the Bayelsa State government issued a press statement claiming that the disputed Soku oil wells belonged to the state, based on the map produced by the National Boundaries Commission in year 2000. The governor, who had held several meetings with the Kalabari people in the state, in the press statement, accused Amaechi of blackmailing President Jonathan and leading a smear campaign against him and of using Soku to incite the Kalabaris in Rivers State against their Nembe kinsmen in Bayelsa State.
Reacting to Dickson’s allegations Amaeachi said that: “The facts on the Rivers State ownership of the Soku oil wells are immutable, no matter how the Bayelsa State Governor tries to stretch, twist or spin them. Even in his statement, he conveniently left out the fact that from colonial times up till the 10th edition of the Administrative map of Nigeria, the boundaries between the Kalabari communities in Rivers State and the neighbouring Nembe communities of Bayelsa State have been clearly delineated, with the boundary clearly marked as the Santa Barbara River. The 11th edition of the Administrative map, prepared by the National Boundaries Commission and the Federal Surveyor General’s Office in 1999, but published in 2000, strangely shifted the boundaries between Rivers and Bayelsa states from the initial boundary between Kalabari and Nembe, west of the Santa Barbara River, to San Bartholomew River, contrary to the delineation by all preceding administrative maps of Nigeria and all historical records.”
He, however, took an exception to the allegation that he was blackmailing the president. “This assertion is dangerous, unfounded and in bad faith. Rather, it is the Bayelsa State governor who has been blackmailing Kalabari people of Rivers State, cajoling them to relinquish the Soku oil wells to Bayelsa State, using the puerile argument that President Jonathan is Ijaw; Kalabari people are Ijaw; so Kalabari people should support their Ijaw brother, who is the president, to take away Kalabari oil wells and should not join Governor Amaechi, who is not Ijaw, in the fight to return Soku oil wells to Kalabari people of Rivers State,” Amaeachi said.
But his fight with Wike is more of a brother fighting another brother. In his reply to Amaechi’s claim that he made him a minister, Wike asked the governor to stop playing God. “Change has come to Rivers State. I will plead with you to join me and say this: ‘Amaechi, you are not God and you cannot be God,’ because you are a tenant. Your house rent has expired and you cannot pay. Pack and go. Tenant, pack and go,” the minister said during the inauguration of the ward and chapter executives of the GDI in Abonnema, Rivers State.
He used the occasion to galvanise support for President Jonathan in Rivers State for the 2015 elections. “Help me thank Mr. President, for the confidence he has in me, to keep me back, as a minister in the Federal Executive Council. Continue to support our brother, continue to support our son. Preach the message that come 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan will come back. Continue to support Dr. Goodluck Jonathan,” Wike said. Reacting to a statement made by Amaechi to a delegation of Niger Delta Bishops in his office that Wike became minister by “the grace of God” and his effort, the minister said: “We will make sure they will not sleep again, as they are sleeping now. They will not sleep with their two eyes closed. One eye will be open because they know there is danger.”
Augustine Ahiazu, a university don and president-general of the Ogbakor Ikwerre Convention, described the current wave of politicking in the state as alarming, saying it could cause permanent injury to individuals and communities. “Bitterness in politics can result in undue hatred among friends and relations. It can breed division and polarisation. It can also bring conflict and destruction. Ikwerre sons and daughters should come together to fight any plans for violence in Port Harcourt because any violence in Port Harcourt is violence in Ikwerre land,” Ahiazu said.
A journalist who does not want his name in the story told Realnews that Amaechi and Wike had turned Rivers State to a battle field. “Wike is using federal might to harass the opposition but the governor doesn’t want to give in to intimidation,” he said.
But why is Rivers State is so important to both the PDP and APC? For a start the state was said to have consistently delivered about two million votes to the PDP since 1999, no matter the low turnout of voters. Besides, about 98 percent of the registered voters have been voting for the ruling party and Jonathan would not want such a support base to go without a fight. Now that Amaechi has joined the opposition APC, the PDP has decided to do its best to either get him out of office before the end of his tenure or destroy him politically before the defection upsets the power base of the party.
Realnews learnt that part of the game plan is to use the instrumentality of the court to throw him out office early this year. There are already two cases challenging his tenure in court. Efforts were also made to impeach him with five, out of 32 members of the House of Assembly. The court-installed Rivers State PDP executive, which is loyal to the presidency, had suspended 27 members of the assembly loyal to Amaechi, to pave way for the impeachment. But the effort failed, before the National Assembly took over the functions of the state assembly to avert further legislative impasse. In November, a Port Harcourt high court overturned the suspension of the chairman and 17 councillors of Obio Akpor Local Government who were suspended by the House pending the completion of fraud investigation against them. The chairman of the council is alleged to be working with Wike, who is largely seen as the arrowhead of the Abuja plot against Amaechi.
So, with the incessant crisis in the state, political analysts say it is going to be an uphill task for Amaechi to deliver the state to the APC. But will that end the state of insecurity in Rivers State? That is one question which the parties in the crisis may not want hazard a guess either.