Rivers 2015: Who decides the next governor? by Daniel Abia

15 Min Read

Political dynasties across the world have now become grossly unfashionable. Democratic principles and modernization have combined effectively to make such political practice a near aberration and out-rightly unthinkable. Most often, particularly in the continent of Africa, where democratic processes are not strictly followed, there are still some elements of political dynasty being upheld in some parts of the continent. This practice has often made it impossible for an incumbent leader to summon that political will to bring his predecessor under any form of probe, no matter how glaring a case of corrupt practices maybe in his administration.

Professor Kimse Okoko, a retired Professor of Political Science, from the University of Port Harcourt, UNIPORT, in an interview, recently, lambasted leaders, particularly a sitting President, for always shying away from investigating the bad governance of his predecessor.

“This is a bad precedence,” he said. In Nigeria, for instance, the country is corrupt because leadership is by the choice of the incumbent. It is a common experience that as a given leader is leaving his position after serving his tenure, he nurtures and grooms whoever he wishes to take over from him.

In 2006, the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, attempted it with all the tricks off his sleeves. He wanted a third term by all means possible. The likes of the then Deputy Senate President, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, was recruited to hatch the plan. But he failed because Nigeria is bigger than one person.

Nevertheless, this may not be the scenario in Rivers state. From the dawn of civilian rule, no governor has ever had it smooth in choosing who succeeds him. What has been playing out in the state is that no transition has ever occurred on a peaceful note.

Going back the memory lane, late Chief Melford Okilo was the pioneer civilian governor of the old Rivers state between 1979 and 1983. Four years after, the Army struck and Okilo could not have the opportunity of grooming who takes over from him. Though he had an intelligent deputy in the mould of Dr. Frank Eze, providence could not dictate the path of reasoning that Army may soon capture power.

Barely nine years interval and after about four military administrators have had their shots, Chief Rufus Ada-George from the Okrika axis of the state emerged as the second civilian governor since the creation of the old Rivers state in the military regime Decree 19 of 1967.

Ada-George was a governor for only one year with Dr Peter Odili from the upland area of Ndoni as his deputy when they were sacked by the dictatorial military junta led by the late dark-goggled General Sani Abacha.

It was indeed a short spell for Ada-George. He hardly settled down for business when they were shown the exit door and that was enough to deny any chance of creating his own political dynasty that would have seen his predecessor continuing with his vision for the state, if any.

Six years later, Odili only needed to play himself back to the big stage as far as the state politics was concerned. He was elected governor in 1999 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic party, PDP, under a new democratic dispensation that just berth on the political shores of the country after a many years of drab military despotism.

For eight years down the lane, Odili and his deputy, Sir Gabriel Toby from Opobo area of the state, enjoyed the best of governance. But even at that, Odili never thought it politically wise to graduate Toby, though a bit elderly, to the governorship position. Again, a great chance of creating a political dynasty was lost.

The thinking of political observers in the state was that Odili was grooming Amaechi who was then the Speaker of the state House of Assembly for eight years, as his successor. It almost worked out just as planned until the former President, Olusegun Obsanjo, introduced his K-Leg philosophy.

At the moment, there are several permutations already as to who will choose the next governor of the state. Many believe that with the PDP executive council in the state in the hands of anti-Amaechi chairman, it will be difficult for him to call the shots in who replaces in 2015.

Few months ago, Chief Godspower Abe-led EXCO of the party was sacked by the Abuja court and replaced with that of Hon Felix Obuah. Obuah is a strong ally of the Minister of state for Education, Barr Nyesom Wike, who in turn is a political arch rival of Governor Rotimi Amaechi.

Everything is being done now to make sure that Amaechi does not have any hand in choosing the next governor of the state. If the opposition to his government has its way, Amaechi should have been impeached by now. This would have paved the way for a more compromising candidate to the Brick House.

The machinery has been set in motion already to see to it that Amaechi does not have it easy. First, the suspension of the twenty seven (27) out of the 32-man House including the Speaker, his deputy and the Leader of the state Assembly is a clear indication that there is a dangerous plan to undo the governor.

Only recently, the Rivers State Chapter of the Action Congress of Nigeria said it was going to resist plans by the state government to clampdown on opposition political parties and politicians in the state in a build up to the 2015 election.

The party made the declaration in a press statement which was signed by the then publicity secretary, Jerry Needam.

The ACN was reacting to an alleged meeting in Government House, Port Harcourt on January 9, 2013 where PDP local government chairmen and their deputies were ordered to arrest anybody holding any kind of political meeting in their respective local government areas and charge such persons to court as “Cultists”.

The party protested that “the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria as amended guarantees freedom of speech, expression, meeting, gathering and/or assemblage.

The ACN vows to resist any attempt by the Rivers State government to put fear into opposition parties and politicians who have refused to join the ruling party, PDP.

“No amount of intimidation, harassment and threats shall hinder opposition political  parties, politicians and well-meaning people of Rivers State from exposing massive corruption that has become the tradition in all local government councils, ministries and agencies of the Amaechi administration”. ACN vowed.

It described as anti-people, undemocratic, provocative and attempt to stir crisis in the state by the Rivers State government to ban political meetings and gatherings in the state.

The party urges Governor Amaechi to have a rethink over what it called unpopular policy, declaring “We shall resist the attempt to gag us with the last drop of our blood. We cannot be fooled again. If you like build more prison yards, we don’t bother” ACN said.

Similarly, the opposition party lamented the denial by the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC) that its commissioners were card carrying members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

It went on to challenged the RSIEC management to come out publicly to deny this ‘fact’, saying the ACN is well equipped with evidence to prove their point.

As the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC) advances to the final stages of preparations to conduct the long awaited bye-elections in designated wards in the State and general elections in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Rivers State Chapter says it’s doubtful the exercise will be free and fair.

Faulting the new State electoral body as presently constituted, the ACN, in a press statement, said all the RSIEC members are card carrying members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The ACN likened the present electoral body to appointing a man to be a judge in his own case which ruling is predictable. According to the party, the only way to win the confidence of other participating parties in the election and guarantee a free and fair exercise is to appoint respectable Rivers People who are not partisan for the job.

“But rather than do that, the State government carefully chose those whose loyalty to them is not in question, the ACN alleged.

The ACN Publicity Secretary, Jerry said evidence abound that those given the charge to conduct the bye and general elections have political affiliations with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

It described the ongoing preparations as a charade to deceive the unsuspecting Rivers people and eligible voters.

“Even in their routine and official assignment and recruitment of ad-hoc staff for the elections, the RSIEC is acting on party lines as though it’s a political party, regarding certain persons and applicants as opposition persons and candidates or related to non-PDP members. This is uncivilized, undemocratic and regrettable”. The ACN declared.

The ACN is therefore calling on the Rivers State government to dissolve the reconstituted Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission, alleging that they are all members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

But all these may be in the past now. The state electoral body had conducted an election and those who won are already serving at the moment. More so, ACN in Rivers state is badly depleted following the resignations of its key officers from the party recently.

After the dramatic sack of its acting chairman, Esuku M. Esuku and the resignation of its 2011 governorship candidate, Dr. Abiye Sekibo followed by that of Jerry Needam, one wonders who else is left to take the political fight of an opposition.

The fight for the control of the state as it relates to the 2015 governorship is now becoming quite interesting. It is interesting in the sense that even the First Lady and wife of the President, Dame Patience Jonathan, has shown a monumental interest in the race.

The President’s wife is not contesting the election herself. But she has a deeply rooted interest in the race as a principal stakeholder in the state politics. Patience is from Okrika local government area of the state. Many have insinuated that she may likely front his kinsman, Senator George Sekibo for the position.

Last week, the First Lady spent one full week in Rivers state strategizing. Observers said she was busy holding one political meeting and another wooing other frontline politicians in the state to herself.

Patience was in the state to attend the wedding ceremony of one of the five lawmakers in the state House of Assembly, Hon. Evans Bapakaye Bipialaka who represents Ogu./Bolo state CONSTITUENCY, on Saturday, June 15, 2013.

The wedding was a convergence of top flight politicians in the state who have constituted themselves to the anti-Amaechi camp. The likes of former Governors, Chief Rufus Ada-George, Dr Peter Odili and his wife Justice Mary Odili, Celestine Omehia, Austin Opara and Abiye Sekibo were all there.

Patience turned the wedding to veritable political arena when she eulogized Wike to high heavens above everyone else. She sees Wike as political pivot in the state and described him as the best “brother and a good friend”.

She went further to say that as a citizen of the state, both Ada-George and Odili’s tenures were about the best in the state. She added that may that period of peace return to the state again. The hall was silent at this point. Even Odili himself, as a true Christian, would know that the First Lady lied.

Visitors who came with her for the function knew also that their madam lied. In Odili’s time as governor, peace was literary sacked in the state. In broad daylight, innocent persons were sent to their untimely graves for offences they did not commit. Cultists and militants took over the streets and were killing people with reckless abandon.

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