Contending issues and dangers ahead of tomorrow’s repeat elections
Rivers State has returned the state of war that characterised it at the build up to the 2015 general election. On the surface, what are in contention are the 21 legislative seats and federal constituencies of the state. But deep down are the acute political supremacy contests between two former allies, incumbent Governor Nyesom Wike and his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi.
The current scenario in Rivers State presents a role reversal for the two big men, who in 2015 represented different interests: Wike was being propelled by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-controlled Federal Government led by then President Goodluck Jonathan, while Amaechi was at the centre of the insurgent opposition politics of the newly fangled All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the December 10, 2016 re-run election both men will play from flanks for their divergent interests. Amaechi who was rewarded with a ministerial appointment for his ‘yeoman’s’ job of destabilising what was Jonathan’s secure electoral outpost wants to prove that he remains a political force to reckon with in the state he served as governor for eight years.
The Minister for Transportation seems also to think ahead to the future in the belief that unless he has some electoral laurels from his home state, his bargaining power in the APC equations would be whittled down, thereby endangering his political progression.
On the other hand, Governor Wike, who as Minister of State in the Jonathan’s administration became a major irritant on Amaechi skin as he nursed the ambition to become governor and boost support for his principal, wants to maintain somewhat control of the political treasure trove of the state to enjoy an undistracted tenure.
Amid these contending interests, the following have become pawns in the power game: 10 state Constituencies, eight Federal Constituencies and three Senate Constituencies – Rivers West, Rivers East and Rivers Southeast.
Of the 32-member House of Assembly, APC has two lawmakers while PDP has 20 already and looks forward to possessing the remaining 10, so that knowledge of the legislative activities, which produce the raw materials Wike needs to govern the state, do not become available to Amaechi and APC.
It is perhaps at the level of membership of the federal legislature that the wider interests of APC and PDP come into play. At the onset of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in 2015, the geographical distribution of spheres of influence of the two parties showed a markedly South East/South South dominance of PDP.
In spite of the fact that APC controls one state apiece in the two geopolitical zones, it is interested in encroaching on PDP’s dominance in those areas to shore up its support and gain similar majority PDP enjoyed during its days as ruling party.
Furthermore, given the signs of imminent rupture in the patch up amalgamation of different political parties that gave birth to APC, the new haymakers in the party want to raise a broad bulwark of loyal foot soldiers that could guarantee it a commanding spread in the 2019 general election.
Consequently, just as Amaechi would not like to join any talks about 2019 as a lone political journey man, Wike wants to keep his power house intact so as to continue to play the role of powerful insider in the PDP.
Not only APC and PDP, but Amaechi and Wike also have a lot of unfinished matters from the 2015 election. Although Wike became governor by denying Amaechi the luxury of producing his preferred candidate as his successor like other state governors, Amaechi holds on to the belief that Wike’s election was the product of a counterfeit electoral outcome.
However, Wike’s inclusion in the federal cabinet opened up a crack in their once buxom relations. And they went to daggers drawn posture shortly after Amaechi began to eye another term as Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and plot against Jonathan’s second term ambition.
Founding the Grass Roots Initiative, Wike developed a platform to take the political battle to Amaechi and announced his intention to contest the 2015 governorship in the state. As the then incumbent governor, Amaechi started building bridges across the Niger and Benue to ensure that he was not consumed or uprooted by the then federal might. He was later to join the APC alongside four other of his colleagues from the PDP.
And in the 2015 governorship election, Amaechi ensured that one of his old buddies, Dakuku Peterside, emerged as the APC governorship candidate to square it out with Wike. When the battle was called, Wike gained the upper hand while Amaechi’s political allies routed PDP at the national level.
Wike, who had become governor and Amaechi, who had become Minister, found the occasion as a continuation of the 2015 hostilities.
Fears of arm-twisting
It took the threat by the Nigeria Senate to stop holding plenary for INEC to fix December 10, 2016 for the delayed re-run poll.
Although INEC had tied the holding of the re-run elections to the guarantee of peace and absence of violence, the strong arms tactics being employed in the Rivers election flows from the loss of amity of the political leaders, particularly Wike and Amaechi that have become the chief combatants.
But the attempt by APC to throw the full weight of the federal might into the Rivers re-run poll to reward Amaechi or create the enabling environment for the declaration of state of emergency may endanger the nation’s democracy.
The withdrawal of Governor Wike’s Chief Security Office (CSO) raises concerns. Fear of INEC declaring the poll inconclusive is still there. The net effect of the gathering clouds in Rivers may be increase in voter apathy or reward for electoral scare mongering.