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Williams: Rivers Overtakes Wild Wild West


LAST week, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State put figures to its human casualty in the ongoing politically instigated violence across the country. Chairman of the party, chief Davies Ibiamu Ikanya, disclosed that over 30 of its supporters had been killed in the state in the past few months. His media aide, Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, made the revelation, on his behalf. The police are yet to confirm the figures, but nonetheless, the state chairman must have done his homework properly before going to press. 

  Since no political party in Rivers or anywhere has the monopoly to deploy violence, it leaves one with the imagination that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in Rivers, will also avail the public their own figures of human causality. By the time we add those of other smaller parties, and also hear from the Police, there should be a good estimation of why Rivers State deserves a medal for being the most violent state on election related matters. 

  On that count, the state is playing to us, particularly younger Nigerians, the historical tapes of the wild wild west, one of the harbingers of the death of the First Republic. If care is not taken, this same Rivers could endanger this democracy and provide material for those who can nail the coffin on this Republic, I really don’t know if it is the fourth. 

  Just a little reminder, so that those who have not read that part of our history books will know what we are talking. Nigeria, at the onset, was more at home with regional politics. The early parties were formed around regional bases, before they projected to the centre, where the parliament was located in Lagos. The Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) had its strong base in the North. The Action Group (AG) had its strength located in the Southwest, while the National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) was to later have its strong base in the Southeast. 

  As it was then, each political party guarded its territory very jealously, because that was its base and it needed to be consolidated. Politics then, in Nigeria, perhaps, as it was elsewhere, was first local before it was taken abroad and we do not blame those leaders for that. The most realisable strategy for grooming a political party was to begin at home. It was after you had secured the home front that you could then seek alliances with other parties, which were equally regional, towards forming stronger national parties. 

  The situation in the Western Region, where the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo, presided as premier and party leader was such that bad blood had set in, between him and his deputy leader and Action Group Parliamentary Leader/Leader of opposition in the House of Representatives of Nigeria, Samuel Ladoke Akintola. There was then a breakaway, and alliances were formed between Akintola’s faction of the AG with the NCNC and the NPC. The new coalition was bent on overrunning the Western Region, which Awolowo and majority of the people resisted. That led to the chaos and anarchy on the streets of Ibadan and other Western cities, which was dubbed ‘wild wild west.’ 

  It was wild enough to encourage some young men in the military to stage the first military coup of January 15, 1966, which ended the First Republic.  And after that, Nigeria witnessed several other coups, all of which have contributed to undermine the stability that was envisioned at Independence in 1960. 

  Today, Rivers is boiling because politicians are at work again, just as they did in the First Republic. There is a desperate attempt to foist a new democratic map on the polity, which is meeting with resistance and causing people to seek self-help. In the process, they kill and maim. Our politicians are not allowing the democratic process to grow itself and for alignments to occur naturally. Their drive is to create political contraptions and use whatever platform to access government. On that note, the entry of the All Progressives Congress (APC) into Rivers at the behest of Governor Rotimi Amaechi, from day one, was bound to draw blood. It is also akin to the invasion of the Western Region by the coalition of other parties as aforementioned.

   In the 1998/98 political transition programme, the military, then under General Abdulsalami Abubakar, did not create political parties, like was done in the previous attempt by General Ibrahim Babangida in the failed Third Republic. Politicians were given a free hand to mingle and form political associations, given some minimum requirements. At the end of the search, three parties were formed and licensed to participate in the 1999 elections. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had its areas of strength, just as the Alliance for Democracy (AD) was restricted to the Southwest and the All Peoples Party (APP), as it then was had its fairly good areas of strength.  Each party then was consigned to its areas of natural strength. 

  It was the PDP’s brazen incursion into others’ areas that altered the initial template.  This was most advertised in the 2003 forceful take over by the PDP of five Southwest states of Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti and Ogun from the AD in stage-managed elections. For a number of reasons, the Southwest did not quake. Perhaps, because the man who presided over the invasion, former president Obasanjo, is Yoruba, therefore, it was a brotherly anger that was not felt in the bone. Or was it the presence of leaders (Afenifere) who were on hand to calm frayed nerves. It could even be because the people of the zone have seen enough blood and have matured to let such matters go without raising a finger.

  But the truth is that regional leaders have not stopped guarding their regions jealously. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu spent a fortune in strategy and material to recover the Southwest from the PDP. He did all he could to entrench regional cohesiveness, except that Gov. Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State is a hard nut. In far North, regional leaders have not shied from announcing their preferences for their own. The Southeast would wish for that day when political oneness could be achieved. There is a mercantile spirit that imperils every such effort.

  The South-south couldn’t have been the exception in regional oneness. Rivers appears to be spoiling the rhythm and that could be why there are more politically motivated killings here than in other places, unfortunately. In the First and Second Republics, the Niger Delta people reasoned en bloc.  Since 1999, this region has given the PDP its best results. In Rivers particularly, the PDP has been very lucky. The results since 1999 have been magical. But now there is a crack in the wall and APC is peeping through. There is bound to be resistance.

  This is compounded by the fact that President Jonathan is a Niger Delta man. His supporters here are working to assure him that there would be no such thing as defeat. Rotimi Amaechi, leader of the APC in Rivers, knows that he would go on a forced retirement from politics if he fails to win the state for his new party.

  We also have the volatile nature of the zone to contend with. Until amnesty was pronounced for former militants of the Niger Delta, by late president Yar’Adua in 2009, Rivers was the hotbed and headquarters of militancy. In those days, Port Harcourt was a ghost town. Those former militants, though repentant, are still around and they have political affiliations. But after militancy had been arrested and substantially reduced, the politicians are now hell bent on fanning old embers. 

  The PDP used to be the major party in town. It was the PDP that introduced Gov. Amaechi into mainstream politics, where he served as Speaker of the Rivers House of Assembly and has almost done eight years as governor. The PDP has been good to him, and in the spirit of give and take, he owes the party some measure of gratitude. But that is not what we see and hear. The man prays and works hard to see the PDP humbled.

  On the other side, are PDP stalwarts in the state who think Amaechi’s style is not the way to treat the party that offered a man great opportunities. But instead of allowing the ballot decide the game, they too are resorting to self-help. Everyone wants to gain undue advantage and unfortunately, some precious lives are gone. And they are still issuing threats.

  The larger picture for people of Rivers and Niger Deltans should be one where the common interests of the people are protected. The interests are partly embedded in the report of the National Confab of 2014. The ultimate goal is to liberate the federating units of Nigeria from a rent-seeking Federal Government, irrespective of the party in power. The interests of Niger Delta people and that of Rivers people do not reside in the political fortune of one man, but in the aggregate wealth that is better harnessed through regional bargaining. A wild wild Rivers is not the platform for such venture.

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