As Wike, Amaechi feud, Rivers loses out in projects
After some respite, the noxious political rivalry between the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, and Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, recently reared its ugly head. The latest sequence in the almost unending drama between the duo played out after the Minister and President Muhammadu Buhari performed the groundbreaking ceremony of three projects in Port Harcourt.
There had been some semblance of ceasefire and quiet following the Supreme Court’s affirmation of Wike as the winner of the 2019 governorship election in Rivers State, against the Court of Appeal’s decision, which reinstated the petition of the candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) Biokpomabo Awara. The APC had adopted Awara as their gubernatorial candidate after the apex court disqualified it (APC) from contesting the 2019 polls.
Wike and Amaechi’s friendship began to turn sour when Amaechi, who governed the State from 2007 to 2015, appointed Tony Okocha to replace them as his Chief of Staff and influenced Wike’s appointment as a Minister of State for Education.
At the time, that move was seen by stakeholders as one meant to decapitate Wike and tame his growing political roots. Keen followers of politics in the state, however, said the action turned out to be Amaechi’s worst political plot. The duo’s political relationship finally collapsed when Wike’s allies, through controversial, judicial circumstances, usurped PDP’s state executive structure from the pro-Amaechi executive, an event that culminated in Amaechi’s defection to All Progressives Congress (APC).
With PDP’s structure firmly in his grip, Wike went on to become PDP’s flag bearer and eventually won the 2015 governorship election. This further exacerbated the Amaechi-Wike feud.
But the rivalry, which dates back to 2012, took a fresh turn after the recent groundbreaking ceremony when Governor Wike labeled the projects initiated by Amaechi as having a political undertone.
Precisely, on March 9, the groundbreaking ceremony of three projects – the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Port Harcourt-Maiduguri eastern narrow gauge rail project, Bonny deep seaport, and the rail industrial park took place in Port Harcourt, but Wike urged Rivers people not to be deceived by the antics of the APC-led government, insisting that the projects were politically motivated.
The governor said that the proposed University of Transportation in Ubima, in Ikwere Local Government, was deceitful because Amaechi lacked the capacity to complete the project, adding: “Since 2015, Amaechi just realised that he should build a University of Transportation in Ubima.”
Wike accused the Federal Government of shielding Amaechi from prosecution over misappropriation of funds in the sale of some state assets. “It is appalling that the Federal Government has continued to shield Amaechi from prosecution over his failure to account for $308m from the sale of the state-owned power plant and other critical assets when he was governor of the State.”
Speaking on Arise TV recently, after Wike’s outburst, Amaechi said he did not want to discuss Wike whom he has exceeded on all levels.
The Minister said, “I don’t think I want to address the issue of the governor; I have made my point and I have moved on. He was my staff; I can’t bring myself low. I was a governor, I was also a speaker, and I’m now a minister. I was a two-time chairman of the governors’ forum. Why should I be discussing him?”
Consequently, some Rivers citizens fear that bitter feuds could affect developments in the state. Aside from the fact that some of Amaechi’s legacy projects like the Songahi farm, Buguma Fish farm, and Model Secondary School, among others, were abandoned by Wike’s administration, the Federal Government, some observers say, also appears to be reluctant in executing projects in Rivers State.
Though Governor Wike has initiated and completed several projects, including some started by Amaechi, political analysts have expressed the view that if the two political actors were not playing politics of antagonism, their synergy would have attracted significant projects to the state.
Wike had lamented severally in the past that the APC-led Federal Government has not executed any meaningful project in the state, challenging the party to show one project it has executed since he became governor.
Speaking at the Government House when the senate minority caucus paid him a condolence visit over the passage of his uncle, Chief Charles Wike, the governor said: “It is unfortunate that one Minister from the South-South said Rivers State is being denied projects because of kidnapping; it is painful.”
He argued that there are killings all over the country, yet the Federal Government is sitting projects in other states while Rivers State is excluded.
Wike said, “Is Rivers State part of this country? We did not commit any offence to warrant the total exclusion from federal projects under this dispensation.”
He maintained that it was wrong to play politics on every issue, including the lives of the people.
Speaking on the development, a renowned political analyst and senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Port Harcourt, Prof. Sofiri Peterside said the minister and the governor were suffering from ego problems. He noted that the gladiators were quite aware that their toxic combat was affecting developments in the state, yet unwilling to sheath the swords.
According to Peterside, the unabated political division that has plagued Rivers State for over six years may get messier in 2023 if nothing is done to redress it because, according to him, the state chapter of APC is not pleased having been displaced politically for a long time.
He explained that, with the Supreme Court verdict that has returned the APC structure to Amaechi, the APC might not take the 2023 elections lightly. He, however, warned against acts of unrest, violence, and criminality in the state.
In his appraisal, a budget analyst and civil society activist, Ken Kenshaw, said Rivers State is bigger than Wike and Amaechi, noting that APC and PDP will fade away someday but Rivers people would remain.
“Unfortunately, the contest between the two men has manifested in two dimensions. The first is in terms of projects completed. Amaechi’s government started a lot of laudable projects but unfortunately, the majority of them have been abandoned. As a project monitor, I have gone to see some of these projects. I saw massive industrialisation in the fishing sector but that has been abandoned, with people carting away all the materials. What would have been massive industrialisation has come to an end. The Model Secondary School initiative has also been abandoned and is at different levels of decay,” Kenshaw noted.
He continued, “On the political turf, the contestation in Rivers State has made it such that in the last three elections in Nigeria, Rivers State has been the extremely contested State. In every election, people are killed. The fight between the two gladiators has ensured that Rivers State has had the highest level of turnover of Commissioners of Police in the last six years; they just keep changing the Police Commissioners, and that sends a very dangerous signal.
“These have further created a situation of arms proliferation, political instability, and security challenge, which sends a very bad signal to the investment community. It tells them that this is a very high-risk investment destination and whether you like it or not, it is impacting negatively on the state.”
Kenshaw, however, declined on advising the two leaders because “their feud has gone out of hands. He called on the people to step up and calm down the political situation; “they need to call the gladiators to order. The state cannot continue to be a theatre where every political fight is settled. I expect the people to wake up and stop this mess.”
On his part, a civil rights activist and Chancellor of the International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights (ISSJHR), Omenazu Jackson, urged Amaechi and Wike to moderate their conduct and outbursts in the public, stressing that their followers were watching.
He said, “It is regrettable that their fight has caused so much setback in the state. The current governor should moderate his outburst; life is not always about political power. There is a need for moral conduct.
Jackson added that Rivers State was gearing towards industrialisation that would have helped its economy but regretted that the squabbles had affected it. “By now, the Federal Government would have sited more projects here. Both Wike and Amaechi would have joined hands together with other South-South governors to attract more projects to the state as well as to the region. The delay in the completion of the East-West road shows lack of synergy between the politicians,” he noted.
He implored Governor Wike and the minister to eschew politics of acrimony and bitterness, and come together as stakeholders to chart a progressive course for the state.