Ahead 2023: Stabilising atomistic Rivers
Professor Emmanuel Ayandele, according to Max Amuchie, defined atomistic society as one “perpetually at war with itself.” The dearth of cohesion and preponderance of fragmentation so qualify it. Its conflict is the direct product of opposing racial/group interests between the privileged majority and disenfranchised minority as evident in Segregated America and First Republic Nigeria, for instance.
Conflict could also be the order of the day where a dominant minority imposes its will on a dormant majority like in Apartheid South Africa. Those whom the status quo favours are ever suspicious of the down trodden and overreact at the least instance of protest. Crippling laws are vigorously enforced at the expense of the victimized group.
Steve Biko, in “Fear- an Important Determinant in South African Politics,” explains it better, “It is not enough to report that ‘I have been to Pondoland and the natives are behaving well and are peaceful and content.’ That is not satisfactory, for the perpetrators of evil are aware of the cruelty of their system and hence do not expect the natives to be satisfied. So the security boys are sent back to Pondoland to find out who the spokesman is who claims that the people are satisfied and to beat him until he admits that he is not satisfied. At that point he is either banned or brought forward to be tried under one of the many Acts.”
A statesman stabilises atomistic society through just laws. Lyndon Jonson stabilised America signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Frederick de Klerk and Nelson Mandela jointly installed Democratic South Africa. And General Yakubu Gowon liberated Nigerian minorities through state creation.
In the months leading to the 2022 party primaries, Rivers State was dangerously divided along ethnic lines. After twenty-four years of upland governorship, the riverine claimed it was their turn to lead as no riverine had ruled since 1999 marking the advent of the Fourth Republic.
Ever suspicious that another Ikwerre man could succeed the Ikwerre-born Governor Nyesom Wike, who succeeded two other Ikwerre-born governors in a row, the riverine were overtly hostile. Their argument made sense till the upland Ogoni-born Senator Bennett Birabi spoke up.
In his 18th January 2022 press statement, Senator Birabi based his argument on the “six (6) fundamentals of justice, equity, fairness, reason, conscience and political morality.” Appealing to Wike and Amaechi, leaders of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, he made a strong case for marginalized Ogonis to be given the chance to produce the governor in 2023.
Senator Birabi presented figures showing that since 1967 when Rivers was created, all but the Ogoni had ruled as governor, deputy governor, Speaker or Chief Judge, “The Ikwerre /Etche bloc has produced: 1. Three governors- Omehia, Amaechi and Wike. 2. Two (2) Deputy Governors- Frank Eke and Dominic Anucha. 3. One (1) Speaker of the State Assembly- Rotimi Amaechi. 4. Four (4) Chief Judges of the State- Iche Ndu, PNC Aguma, Daisy Okocha and currently S. Amadi.
“The Orashi Bloc has had: 1. One (1) Deputy Governor- Gabriel Toby. 2. One (1) Governor- Dr Peter Odili. 3. One (1) Speaker of the State Assembly- Stephen Ezekwem. 4. One (1) Chief Judge of the State- Hon. Justice Ichoku. The Kalabari bloc: 1. One (1) Deputy Governor- S. K. Dagogo Jack. 2. Three (3) Speakers of the State Assembly- R.R. Briggs, Tonye Harry and Otelemaba Amachree. 3. One (1) Chief Judge of the State- Justice Donald Graham-Douglas.
“The Igbani bloc: 1. Two (2) Deputy Governors- Sir Gabriel Toby and Dr Ipalibo Harry-Banigo. The Andoni bloc: 1. One Deputy Governor- Hon. Tele Ikuru. 2. One (1) Speaker of the State Assembly- Ikuniyi Ibani. The Okirika bloc: 1. One Governor- Chief Rufus Ada George.
“Then the Ogoni bloc (Eleme, Tai, Gokana and Khana, total voting strength 650, 000): 1. Positions- Zero (0). 2. No Governor. 3. No Deputy Governor. 4. No Speaker. 5. No Chief Judge after Fifty-Five (55) years of the state’s Existence.”
He asked the painful question, “If you were from Ogoni, would you be happy to be called ‘fellow citizen(s)’ of Rivers State? This is a matter of conscience and I would like to know who in his right mind has the moral high ground to claim that Rivers State has been fair to all concerned.”
Rivers party primaries came and went with the political geography looking like this: Tonte Ibraye, African Democratic Congress, ADC; Leesi Gborogbosi, Action Peoples Party, APP; Victor Fingesi, African Democratic Party, ADP; Tonye Cole, APC; Beatrice Itubo, Labour Party, LP; Dumo Lulu-Briggs, Accord Party, AP; Sim Fubara, PDP; Magnus Abe, Social Democratic Party, SDP; Danagogo Wenike-Briggs, Young Progressives Party, YPP, etc. In other words, Senator Birabi’s appeal was not heeded and tension began to build up.
National party primaries also came and went in Abuja with Wike and Amaechi not securing the presidential tickets of their parties. Wike claimed he lost out on account of impropriety on the part of Iyochia Ayu, National Chairman of PDP. Alleging Ayu took a N1 billion bribe to sway voting delegates for Atiku Abubakar, who emerged the party flag bearer, Wike returned home to plot his cold revenge against the two.
Rivers Fear and Wike’s vengeance
Strangely enough, the crisis rocking Rivers has nothing to do with the motley opposition parties. It is traceable to the internal contradictions within Wike’s own PDP as Chinyere Igwe, serving House of Reps member; Austin Okpara, former Deputy Speaker of House of Reps; Senator Lee Maeba, Omehia, Jones Ogbonda, Ikechi Chinda, etc, abandoned him for Atiku. Their ‘betrayal’ was the last straw.
On 18th August, Wike declared Igwe wanted before sealing the latter’s Mega Tools Petrol Station for allegedly dealing in illegal petroleum products and oil bunkering. He also confiscated Preray Hotel owned by Chinda and Priscy’s Lounge belonging to Ogbonda. Kelvin Ebiri, Wike’s media aide, said that Chinda and Ogbonda had the intention of using their hotels as hideouts for cultists, prompting the intervention.
However, Wike was blunt as to his true mission, “If anybody fights our system, we will fight the person back. The moment you claim to be working with us and tomorrow, you shift to our enemy, we will take every might we have, we will even leave our enemies and finish you first.”
On 6th October, Omehia was derecognised as governor by the Rivers Assembly. He was asked to refund the N96 million he received as pension and N600 million as benefits. Within the same period, Senator Maeba’s certificate to a prime property given to him by Wike was revoked.
On 7th November, Nnamdi Nwogu, coordinator of Atiku’s PDP Presidential Campaign Council in Omuma, cried out that thugs descended on three of his boys pasting Atiku’s campaign posters in Eberi. The victims sustained machete cuts with one of them barely hanging on to life after being shot. But Ogbonna Nwuke, Director of Media and Communication, Rivers State PDP, denied the state destroyed Atiku’s campaign materials as alleged by Dr Leloonu Nwibubasa, Atiku’s Campaign Spokesman in the state.
Not yet done, Wike signed two controversial Executive Orders effective from 11th November. Executive Order 21 prohibits political parties from organising events in public schools without government approval and a deposit of N5 million in case of damages. Executive Order 22 bans the use of premises, buildings and sundry structures in residential areas as campaign offices by political parties without government approval.
On 24th November, Wike threatened to seal off the AP secretariat in Port Harcourt because the party illegally changed the use of the property from residential to semi-public. Austin Ben-Chioma, his Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, declared the unilateral change violated Article 45 of the Land Use Regulation 2010 of the Rivers State Official Gazette No. 1 Volume 48 of 25th January 2012 and Executive Order 22 of 2022. The AP leadership must revert to the initial use of the property within seven days or blame itself.
Emeka Jonathan, President-General of Sim’s Peoples Movement, SPN, completely exonerated Wike and Rivers PDP of any wrong-doing. He explained: “The other parties are not on ground and prefer to blame others for their poor performance. Rivers people are happy with Governor Wike for taking proactive measures to ensure that peace reigns throughout this election period. Executive Orders 21 and 22 made Rivers very uncomfortable for thugs and cultists.”
It could be that Ebiri, Ben-Chioma, Nwuke and Jonathan are telling the truth but it is also true that cold fear grips the heart of everyone in Wike’s Rivers. Some praise Wike in the open not knowing if any of his recently appointed 200,000 Personal Assistants is listening, like in Biko’s Pondoland. But asked privately if they really loved their governor then you see them express their bitterness. Considering the general feeling of uncertainty among the elite, I have no doubt that “our system” Wike talked about is no other than the dreadful Legalist Theory reputed to be more Machiavellian than Machiavelli.
Wike comes across as an exceptional genius managing the mechanics of power in a diverse state. He convinced the Ikwerre leadership to willfully hand over power to another ethnic group after sixteen years of Ikwerre governorship, 2007-2023. Equity, fairness and justice not seen in the Ayu-led national PDP are latent in the Rivers PDP he leads.
But now he must urgently stabilize atomistic Rivers. Johnson, de Klerk, Mandela and Gowon made history abrogating anti-people laws for pro-populi ones. Wike can also write his name in gold rescinding the crippling Executive Orders 21 and 22 that effectively ran opposition parties underground. World over, underground is the abode of resistance movements. Wike must act fast to calm restive Rivers.
Finally, the fear factor synonymous with today’s Rivers politics is antithetical to participatory democracy. We need a robust debate on every item. All voices must be heard, as the PDP does not have answers to all the questions; at least, the nagging Ogoni question as canvassed by Senator Birabi.