Amaechi, Wike And Pattern Of History
A vicious struggle took place in Rivers State. The two protagonists were Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and his former lieutenant Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike. At stake was the crown in Rivers 2015 gubernatorial election. The strategic and economic importance of the state can never be gainsaid. Rivers can be used to encroach and conquer other Niger Delta states all the way to Igboland. Whoever rules it rules the entire Niger Delta as Rivers has the biggest population, market, elites and skilled labour in the region. As the oil and gas capital of Nigeria, Abuja will always listen to its governor.
The struggle mirrored the mega one between President Goodluck Jonathan and President-elect Muhammadu Buhari. Wike backed Jonathan and lost, but Amaechi supported Buhari and won. Why would Amaechi unseat Jonathan only to be unseated by Wike in turn? “Goodluck Jonathan’s defeat was the handiwork of the North that used its numeric advantage to rig him out,” explains Dr. Felix Tuodolo, the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Culture and Ijaw National Affairs. “There’s nothing a sitting president interested in re-election is supposed to do that Jonathan did not do. The only thing that worked against him was his minority background. It is highly improbable that an Amaechi, too weak to deliver Rivers for Buhari could deliver the larger Nigeria in the March 28th fraud.”
One is interested in knowing the conditions that made it possible for Wike who strolled in from the cold to defeat incumbent Amaechi. What did he do right that Amaechi did wrong? In short, why did Rivers 2015 favour Wike and not Amaechi?
In response one must accept that many indices worked together in favor of the victor. The first is his background. Wike rose from the ranks as a grassroots man, an image he cleverly converted into political currency. In 1999 he served as elected chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, LGA. Then he moved up the ladder in 2007 as Amaechi’s Chief of Staff, next as federal minister and ultimately an elected governor. Politics is all about grassroots and given the various roles he played, it was inevitable he inherited the formidable political machinery put in place by the great governor Peter Odili.
But the above cannot be said of Amaechi who entered politics much earlier than Wike. Odili picked him in 1992 as an aide. Amaechi won his first election 1999 as an Assembly man, rising to the exalted chair of Speaker under Odili’s patronage. He was out of touch with the masses as his call of duty limited contacts with elected representatives. He was not grounded as Wike who touched lives as council boss. “When push came to shove those whose lives Wike touched stood under the rain and sun to support him,” surmises the Port Harcourt based Barrister Chidi Okechukwu.
Secondly, Wike had a good understanding of the power of money. In his capacity as chairman he controlled a staggering budget. Obio/Akpor is the second richest local government in Nigeria and Wike generated revenue in billions. The point is that Wike knew how to apply big money to big political advantage. Bola Tinubu used big money in conquering other Yoruba states, emerging the undisputed leader in Yorubaland. Wike appeared ready to replicate the Tinubu experiment. When therefore, Amaechi’s mandate in 2007 was snatched by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in favour of Governor Celestine Omehia, none other than Wike stepped forward and financed Amaechi’s war with Omehia. In six months Amaechi reclaimed his mandate and Wike became the undisputed champion. What followed was typical of the love-hate relationship between Saul and his deliverer David, “Saul has killed his thousands and David his tens of thousands.” For the duo nothing remained the same again.
To tame Wike’s soaring popularity Amaechi contrived to purge him from the state. That was how Wike got sent to Abuja as minister. But he defied all predictions becoming more popular even in Siberia in his ability to work with reasonable and unreasonable people, holy men and outlaws alike. Seen on television, Wike listened to the derelict with the same rapt attention he gave to the heavyweight. He never condemned, he sympathized, preached forgiveness and gave money even to those that worked for his opponents. He made people feel important. Through good deeds and traditional wisdom he completely stole the hearts of ordinary people he knew would do the voting.
Amaechi’s inability to understand that no David fights a Goliath for free greatly aided Wike’s victory. He was thinking one thing while Wike was doing another. He thought Wike would be contented as minister. But being made a minister only whetted Wike’s appetite for power. A practical thinker, he wasted no time in Abuja realigning forces with elements more powerful than Amaechi. Odili and Senator George Sekibo became his allies placing at his disposal their invaluable experience. Up to this point Amaechi failed to see the handwriting though the plot was fully developed. Having cemented his relationship with First Lady Patience Jonathan, Wike was confident enough to corner the structure of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), back home. With everyone eating out of his generous hands he completely isolated Amaechi who then fled to outsiders in Buhari’s All Progressives Congress, APC.
The negation of Amaechi strongly suggests that the contest, viewed from their common Ikwerre background, was a clash of ego. Wike rightly believed that without him Amaechi would never have become governor. Yes, Odili made it possible for an Ikwerre man to rule Rivers, but it was him, Wike, who made it possible for Amaechi to be that Ikwerre man. What was Amaechi without him? In turn Amaechi believed he could not be perpetually obligated to Wike as making the latter Chief of Staff was more than enough compensation. Who should be beholding to whom created the ego factor. That makes easy to understand why the struggle had nothing to do with gentleman Dakuku Peterside, who was Amaechi’s candidate in the election. Amaechi felt vindicated having paid his debt; but also did Wike, who felt as a free agent he was at liberty to aspire to any political office. The above constitute the remote conditions that worked in Wike’s favour.
As long as the immediate factors are concerned Amaechi’s problem with Jonathan played to Wike’s advantage. His serious row with Omehia was bad enough; he made the greatest mistake humiliating his own godfather Odili using the Justice Kayode Eso Truth and Reconciliation Panel. By the time he opened his salvo on Jonathan, not a few felt he lacked decorum. Each time Amaechi raised his voice in condemnation of Jonathan, Wike inched ever closer to the crown. An average Niger Delta man is an Ijaw man at heart, be he Edo, Itsekhiri, Efik, Urhobo or Ikwerre. Amaechi’s role in the defeat of the Ijaw-born Jonathan won Wike sympathy votes as those previously on the fence jumped down on his side.
Secondly, Amaechi’s mishandling of the judiciary in an election year was ill advised. It seriously damaged his credentials as a democrat, in addition to earning him voters’ contempt. Lawyers, judges and court administrators wallowed in poverty while the courts were closed. The boomerang effects on the dependents and families of these court workers are better imagined. The sight of Amaechi standing side by side with Buhari while the courts remained shut and civil servants unpaid was cleverly exploited by Wike who pointed out all Amaechi’s faults in controlled understatement more powerful than outright outburst: ‘Amaechi took your salaries and gave them to Buhari to fight our own son Jonathan’, Wike smiled sadly, leaving his listeners’ primordial hatred for anything majority to do the rest.
Challenge and response are the immutable law of history. The Pharaohs built a mighty civilization responding positively to the challenge of annual flooding by the Nile. But Nero destroyed Rome when he turned his back on those things that made Rome great. Conclusively, therefore, in appreciating Rivers 2015 we must ask the question: Between Amaechi and Wike who responded more positively to the challenge of the day?
Wike entered politics realizing he had neither the money nor experience. He responded to these problems by generating billions in addition to realigning with competent veterans. He was awake to his responsibilities and so triumphed. But Amaechi exacerbated his own similar problems. When big money started rolling in he alienated the Who-is-Who of Rivers politics. His delayed response to challenge was antithetic to progress and so atrophied.