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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Rivers of Crises: Chronicling political battles in oil-rich Rivers – By Precious Ahiakwo-Ovie 

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The  Political squabbles and scheming in the oil-rich Rivers State dates beyond the current shadow-boxing by Governor Siminalayi Fubara and his political tin god and predecessor, Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike.
   As in every Nigerian region that is rich in natural resources, the lure of lucre and desire for privilege which, social prominence confers, define the socio-economic life of the people. It is therefore hard to divorce the appetite for primitive accumulation from the violent contestations during leadership recruitment in the state.
Rivers of Crises: Chronicling political battles in oil-rich Rivers - By Precious Ahiakwo-Ovie 
Rivers of Crises: Chronicling political battles in oil-rich Rivers – By Precious Ahiakwo-Ovie
   For instance, in 1999 when Nigeria resumed democratic governance under the presidential system, Rivers State became both the melting pot and the flash point of political stone-throwing. Backed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which boasted of men of means, Dr. Peter Odili, mounted the saddle as the chief executive of the state.
    With the garrison political style of his party, Governor Odili worked hard to institutionalise PDP’s desire to be the dominant political grouping in the country. Part of the strategic offering of Odili and PDP was the enthronement of money and muscle. In the process of oiling PDP’s machinery of domination, the party recruited men of bulging biceps and menacing physiognomy to intimidate and frighten away persons with dissenting political ideas in the opposition.
   In March 2003, the assassination of Harry Marshal, a chieftain of the major opposition All Peoples Party (APP), came as the highpoint of the combative political behaviour taking roots in Rivers State. That calamity merely brought the menace to national attention .
Structural crisis
Odili  was said to have clinched to power on the structures of the late Marshal Harry, who was his godfather, but when he became governor, Odili dismantled Harry’s structures in an epic political battle, and this led to their parting ways. Odili later established his own structures.
When Amaechi became governor on October 25, 2007, by the order of the Supreme Court, he also dismantled Odili’s political structure, perhaps due to challenges that surrounded  his emergence as the flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2006 and the role Odili played by supporting Abuja big wigs to substitute his name with his cousin, Celestine Omehia.
The sequencing of the  events culminated into hostility from Amaechi’s camp against Omehia and Odili supporters and led to a crisis that finally shattered the Odili-Amaechi political father-son relationship.
Amaechi Vs Wike
While the in fighting between Amaechi  and Odili lingered, Amaechi later produced  Wike by first ensuring he returned for a second term as Chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government, then appointed him Chief of Staff when he (Amaechi)  and then nominated him as junior minister of Education.
With Amaechi  fallout with former  President Goodluck Jonathan, Wike availed  himself and was  used as henchman to capture power in Rivers State for Jonathan.
The battle ranged  till Wike took over as Governor of the state after upturrning  the PDP’s  State structure through a controversial court judgment that brought in Felix Obuah as Chairman, forcing Amaechi and his supporters to defect to the All Progressives Congress(APC).
Meanwhile,  Political observers have termed the political fights  in Rivers State to be a boxing  between Minister and Governor.
It means at any point in time one is minister and the other governor, there is always a political crisis in Rivers State as to who controls the oil rich state.  This is because one politicians will claim that he midwifed the political ascendancy of the other. So, the contention has been  “I made you a governor,  i should be in control,  don’t destabilise the structure that brought you in”
Wike – Fubara
According to the  law of Karma, after Wike installed  Fubara as governor, as close as they were, they fell out in less than five months.
With the current crisis now, it has led the state to gear three of the Governor versus Minister crisis. One wonders why the political crisis in Rivers State always drags to its elastic limits.  On Monday, October 30, 2023, the governor was almost impeached by lawmakers loyal to the minister, but the attempt was sternly resisted. The state Assembly was set on fire and later razed down to be rebuilt.
Embattled Lawmakers Vs Fubara
As the political festering crisis between the immediate past governor  Wike and his political godson, Fubara continues, Rivers people woke up to the news of the estranged Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Martin Amaewhule, demanding the submission of the state’s audited accounts by the Public Accounts Committee. This is coming after the Governor has presented and passed into law the state’s budget, in the heat of the political crisis with his godfather.
The State House of Assembly led by the embattled speaker, Martins Amaewhule, who alongside 26 of his colleagues decamped to the All Progressives Congress, and whose ouster has been endorsed by a High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, also called on Governor Sim Fubara to expedite the submission of the state’s medium-term expenditure framework and the 2024 Appropriation bill.
Reacting to this development, a Port Harcourt based political analyst, Olalekan Ige said whether the state governor will re-present the budget or not, will be a whole new scenario. He explained that “the unfolding scenario will be influenced by the passage of time. The Assembly asking for the budget to be re-presented will be dependent on a lot of factors”.
“Remember the truce before President Tinubu, this was listed among the agreement. So, the basis on which the Assembly is asking, whether the governor will represent is another scenario completely”.
Olalekan Ige said the body language of Rivers people on the matter is tilting towards the Governor Sim Fubara against re-presenting the budget, having signed it into law.
“There are diverse opinion among Rivers people which is glaring. The people are more aligned to the governor and for him to carry on from where he stopped so that there can be some semblance of peace and progress in the state and her economy”.
Dr Obinna Nwodim, a Lecturer of Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Port Harcourt, Choba, described the issue of re-presenting the state budget as a dicey one: more of a constitutional crisis than a political issue. He said the name of the Rivers State Governor Sim Fubara will be recorded in the Guinness World Records for signing an appropriation law twice, if he does.
“The defected lawmakers are asking the governor to present a budget he has already signed and presented to a legally approved Assembly with a Speaker that the court has already pronounced. If he goes back to re-present the same bill that is already working, to another Assembly, he will end up entering the Guinness Book of Records.”
“This move when made, will make nonsense of his administration, and Civil Society Organizations are threatening legal actions against it”, he said.
CSO and the Law
Chairman of the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations in Rivers State, Enefaa Georgewill, said “our arguments as civil society organization in the state is this: the governor cannot present the appropriation bill that is now a document, to former lawmakers, as far as the law is concerned because the office of the governor is a product of law; as such, all his actions must be in accordance with the position of the law”.
“Secondly, we are saying the governor cannot present one appropriation bill twice in a single year. If this happens, there will be one of the most legal fireworks that will be experienced. Our lawyers have been mobilized and they are already gathering documents, waiting for the governor’s move”.
Enefaa Georgewill also explained that “in the eyes of the law, Rivers State House of Assembly does not have a speaker, until the court decides otherwise. We are calling on INEC to come up with dates for a fresh election in the Assembly”.
Cross Carpeting
So far, the pomposity of major characters in the political crisis in the state has largely swayed the attitude and actions of their teeming supporters who are slowly backing down despite the savage quick-tempered exchanges that have serenaded the social media space.
A public commentator and veteran journalist, Ignatius Chukwu said, “each time a political family breaks into two bitter camps, members would decide where to follow according to each person’s interests and where he came into the family in the first place. There is no rule to this”.
Despite all the political hullabaloo, the deputy governor’s silence could be heard, and one wonders where her loyalty sticks.
Some commissioners under the Sim administration who came in through the immediate past governor, like the commissioners for health, urban development and youth development, literally declared their loyalty to Governor Sim, by not resigning their appointments.
Ignatius Chukwu explained that “experience from 1999 has shown that it will continue to be so. Carpet crossing will also continue to occur between the two camps.
Economic Effects
He further explained that “political crisis from 1999 till date has had deep injuries on the socio-economic development of Rivers state. The state has suffered divestment and lack of economic progress. Investors have refused to come over since 2012 till now because outsiders are scared of coming in, why? The governments are always fighting. The damage is like a thousand army destroying the people”.
Presidential Peace Accord
As the Political crisis between the minister and his governor-godson lingers, President Bola Tinubu intervened with a ‘Peace Accord’ that has since been described by political analysts as “selfish”, that seems to benefit the godfather minister. Some items in this accord has, however, been implemented by Governor Fubara.
The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike, on Saturday, January 12, said that his camp had fulfilled its part of the peace accord initiated by President Bola Tinubu.
He said this when he visited the Oba of Ogbaland in the Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State, His Royal Highness Eze Nnam Obi III.
He said: “We accepted whatever decision Mr. President has taken and we have on our own part fulfilled every condition given by Mr. President because I told you I will not let you down.
Wike praised Tinubu for intervening in the crisis and demonstrating his interest in peace.
The former governor said: “He is not from this state. So many people have piloted the affairs of this country, the crisis has engulfed other states and you hardly would see somebody to come out and say irrespective of the political party, I need peace in the state.
But public Commentator and political analyst, Ignatius Chukwu explained that the move of the President is for his political interest come 2027.
“Talking about the President’s intervention, first thing the President will consider is his political interest. He will support the side he has interest. Presidents in Nigeria are not statesmen. Statesmen look at tomorrow, the next generation. Presidents look at the next election. His question will be how do I benefit in 2027?”
“If you think regional leaders will come and settle you, that’s a lie! So the more you quarrel, the more you hand down advantage to the states who want to take over relevance from Port Harcourt. The only hope we have for such reconciliation and peace accords are the monarchs, but it’s sad that most of them are attached to one political gladiator or the other. I don’t know where a force or authority will come and resolve this Rivers political crisis. Therefore, the political future of the state is bleak,” he said.
Will there be an end to Rivers Minister-Governor political crisis?

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