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APC’s wrongheaded strategy towards Niger Delta

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
01 February 2019   |   2:04 am
With barely two weeks to the much-anticipated 2019 general election cycle, it could be said that all cards are literally on the table and the ball is now on the court of the electorate and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi

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With barely two weeks to the much-anticipated 2019 general election cycle, it could be said that all cards are literally on the table and the ball is now on the court of the electorate and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

On the score of the presidential poll, it has become clear that the contest is stiff between the two main political platforms, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the former heavy weight champion, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which, though displaced in 2015, sees 2019 as a rematch to turn the table in its favour.

In the build up to the decisive electoral contest, it could be seen that APC is struggling with its strategy of meeting PDP challenge in the South-south geopolitical zone, particularly the decisive Niger Delta.

In the beginning
PRIOR to the 2015 election, APC received great impetus from the then governor of Rivers State, Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, in many ways. First, being the chairman of the contentious Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Amaechi helped to take the political battle to the backdoor of then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.

Secondly, against the background of negative religious profiling of APC as a Muslim fundamentalist political party, Amaechi’s prominence brought about a contrast that helped in no small measure to douse the toxic imputation. More importantly, being the governor of oil-rich Rivers State meant that funding was not so much a challenge to the Buhari Presidential Campaign Council he led as Director General.Despite Amaechi’s yeoman’s job in turning the opposition APC into the ruling party by virtue of the electoral success in 2015 poll, it is debatable that the fortunes of that victory reflect on the Niger Delta region.

Dubious decoy
AT the onset of APC federal administration, a very reliable source disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari hinted during conversations leading to his inauguration that he would not want anybody from the Niger Delta region, particularly Bayelsa and Rivers States, within the precincts of the Presidential Villa.

The source explained that it was based on that body language of Buhari that APC insisted on fielding former governor Timipre Sylva as the party’s candidate for the Bayelsa gubernatorial election in December 2015. Based on his closeness to General Buhari and the fact that he narrowly lost the opportunity to serve as national chairman of APC, it was believed that Sylva would be compensated with a key appointment in the villa similar to the position occupied by former Edo State deputy governor in Jonathan’s administration.

But owing to the referenced position of President Buhari that persons from Niger Delta would not be seen near the presidency, the emergent cabal insisted on Sylva flying the party’s flag in the Bayelsa gubernatorial poll instead of Timi Alaibe, who was perceived to possess the clout and capability of defeating the incumbent PDP governor, Henry Seriake Dickson.

Feeling that non-appointment of Timipre could leave a moral burden on the administration, the cabal over-ruled former Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, who was the chairman Bayelsa governorship primary election committee, while party chieftains in the state believed that Timi Alaibe was better placed to defeat incumbent governor Henry Seriake Dickson. But before Bayelsa State primary, which was rescheduled on account of violence could hold it became obvious that the powers that-be had settled for Sylva, baggage and all.
Recall that even before Buhari nominated his running mate, based on the contributions of Amaechi, it was speculated that the former Rivers’ governor was to be rewarded as either Buhari’s running mate or at worst be made Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).However, after it took Buhari six months to name his cabinet, Amaechi’s name reluctantly surfaced in the final batch amid controversies bordering on his alleged sale of state assets.

Reluctant encore
PERHAPS APC and Buhari did not reckon that there would be another need for Amaechi and the Niger Delta. But, as his interest in a second term loomed, Buhari must have been forced to come face to face with the failures of his administration and APC in the Niger Delta region.The presidential campaign, which kicked off in Uyo, Aka Ibom State, to signify the premium APC places on South/south, has toured Cross River, Delta and Edo. Having covered 80 per cent of what constitutes the Niger Delta region, it is obvious that the party would struggle to earn more than 30 per cent of votes cast in the region in the presidential election.

In the area of appointments, APC does not seem to have reflected its electoral interest in such a way to engender public goodwill. With Oshiomhole as APC national chairman, Amaechi as Transportation minister, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, as junior minister of Petroleum, Dakuku Peterside as DG, NIMASA and Udoma Udoma as Director of Budget, the region could not be said to enjoy adventitious advantages beyond statutory appointments.

While the former MD of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Nsima Ekere, has quit his position in search for the governorship seat of Akwa Ibom, Rivers State members of the commission’s board are being quietly shown the door for being loyal to Senator Magnus Abe. Instead of deploying that statutory position to deepen development in the region, Ekere and Amaechi remain distracted by native politics in mindless games with their home state governors and political rivals.

Against the backcloth of the subsisting native schism among the APC playmakers from the zone, the travails of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, have meant very little. It happens that while the APC leaders from Niger Delta fight for their individual political survival or ascendancy, they lose sight and compromise the collective interest of their region.

Before Justice Onnoghen, for instance, a former Director General of Department of State Services (DSS), Matthew Seiyefa, was unceremoniously replaced with Yusuf Magaji Bichi. The fact that Seiyefa was only in office for a few months tends to paint a disdainful outlook on how the Buhari Presidency actually views the Niger Delta people.

That fact came to light when, during the APC presidential campaign flag off in Uyo, the president could not point to specific projects delivered in Niger Delta, the same way the people of Akwa Ibom have been tasking Ekere on his achievements for the people apart from political irredentism.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) mandated clean up of Ogoni, which was presented as a low hanging fruit for APC to announce its presence and win hearts in the region, rolled into political doublespeak and red-tapism. A similarly missed opportunity is on the vexed issue of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which has been subjected to unnecessary recriminations at the expense of the host communities of the main stay of Nigeria’s economy.

Inspite of the environmental degradation of the Niger Delta, where the greatest per cent of Nigeria’s fossil fuel are buried with oil production taking place, the lackadaisical manner APC and President Buhari handled the PIB and Ogoni clean-up put a lie to their interest to harvest winning votes from the region.

Divided house
ONE poignant question about APC’s clout in the Niger Delta is whether the party’s interest is best served with the divided political situation. While Amaechi, Transportation Minister was named DG of APC Presidential campaign, the party through former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, headhunted former PDP Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, to shore up the party’s support in the region.

It was said that Tinubu dismissed Amaechi as being inconsequential on account of his (Amaechi’s) lack of control of Rivers State, with the decision to bring in Akpabio being ostensibly to further diminish Amaechi and make him irrelevant towards the 2023 calculations.With Oshiomhole and Akpabio on his side, Tinubu seems to have succeeded in pushing Amaechi to a corner from where he now sees the domestic rivalry with Senator Abe as the only way of establishing relevance.

Frustrated that President Buhari does not seem inclined to avail him of coercive powers of state to confront and possibly vanquish Governor Nyesom Wike, Amaechi is left in suspended animation to dance at rallies without any form of meaningful achievement in the region.

And in a bid to sustain the friendship of the north, the Transport Minister has been forced to trade away little benefits that should ordinarily accrue to his region from his office. A case in point is the prevailing wrangling in Onitsha Inland Waterways where attempts are being made to cede the management rights to a northern businessman at the expense of Chief Emmanuel Nweke, whose company won the bid.

From the invasion of Akwa Ibom State Government early in the life of its administration to the recent controversial suspension of Justice Onnonghen as CJN, APC seems to have provided more pain than gains to the Niger Delta people and the party may pay dearly for it in the coming polls.