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For Amaechi, Abe, the battle line is drawn


Senator Magnus Abe

The Minister of transportation, Chibuike Amaechi and Senator Magnus Abe have finally drawn the battle line that will define the fate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State, ahead of the 2019 polls.

The latest skirmish in the duo’s never-ending battle for political supremacy has exposed the once latent tension in the party occasioned by the scramble for the 2019 governorship ticket, between Amaechi and Abe, who represents Rivers South East in the Senate.

Penultimate Saturday, while Abe and other APC lawmakers gathered in Port Harcourt to celebrate their electoral victory in the December 2016 rerun legislative polls, the minister and his core loyalists, under the aegis of Free Rivers Movement Initiative, also held a rally in Bori in what is generally perceived as a move to counter whatever political mileage Abe and his supporters intended to achieve.

Prior to the Bori rally, Amaechi had held a meeting with his kinsmen under the aegis of Ikwerre Chiefs and Elders’ Forum (IACEF) headed by Sunny Dikeh, where he declared that he would use his Ikwerre ethnic nationality’s voting strength to thwart Abe’s governorship ambition.

The minister said he would only throw his political weight behind an APC governorship candidate from the coastal area of the state. This assertion has further fuelled speculation that his preferred candidate remains his political protégé, the incumbent Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, who is expected to resign soon from office to enable him contest for the APC ticket later this year.

Amaechi said: “There is no fight in the APC. I am not in any way stopping Abe from running for the governorship position, but what I know is that I will not support him. Abe is daring me, an Ikwerre son. He is abusing me every day. I will ensure I use Ikwerre vote on him.”

Having already drawn the battle line, the minister, during the rally in Ogoni, which Abe’s supporters perceived to have been politically motivated, while alluding to Abe, said he had brought some national APC officers to the event to dispel insinuation that the senator had already been given the party’s governorship ticket.

Abe, who comes across to many before now as a fairly cautious politician, sensing that Amaechi in whose regime he served as secretary to the state government, remains disposed to backing Dakuku Peterside, has decided to take his political destiny in his hands. A source in the party said both Amaechi and Abe have both crossed the con, thus, foreclosing any possible reconciliation.

The thanksgiving/reception by federal and state lawmakers last Saturday availed Abe the opportunity to defiantly make a bold political statement that he was determined to pursue his governorship ambition with or without Amaechi’s endorsement.

In attendance at the event were the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, as well as members of the National Assembly, Governor Wike and his counterparts from Imo and Sokoto, Rochas Okorocha and Rt. Hon. Aminu Bello Tambuwal, former Bayelsa State governor, Timipre Sylvia, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri, members of APC National Executive Committee (NEC) and the party’s state chairman, Dr. Davies Ibiamu Ikanya, as well as representatives of the First Lady, Hajia Aisha Buhari and Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

Already, Abe’s decision to run for governor’s office has, no doubt, generated some excitement within and outside the state.

In recognition of the fact that trenches have been dug in the APC, former Governor Sylvia demanded that for the sake of equity, Abe, whose Ogoni ethnic nationality dominates four out the 23 local government areas of the state and has never produced a governor, should be given a chance.

“As a member of the state Assembly in the old Rivers State, I know the real political strategists and as a former governor, I also know the national political strategists. With what I see here, Magnus is unstoppable. Thirdly, as an Ijaw man, I am saying, today, that Magnus deserves to be given a chance because the Ogonis are very prominent in the fight for the emancipation of the minorities and deserve a chance,” Slyvia said.

Similarly, Senator Lokpobiri told the teeming crowd at Port Harcourt
Polo Club that any discerning mind should grasp that Abe was going somewhere politically, and if supported by the people of the state, he will unite people across the various political divide.

On his part, Saraki urged all aggrieved APC members in Rivers State to work towards total reconciliation. To this end, he tasked the state chairman, Davies Ikanya to commence the party’s unification process.

The Senate President said the presence of nearly all the senators and other personalities at the event was a clear testimony of Abe’s humility and his endearment to people across the country.

He, however, caused a stir by saying, “The presence of Senators from across the country as well as other dignitaries at the reception shows that Abe is a very humble person. Abe worked very hard for the party. If not for Magnus Abe somebody will not be in the cabinet today. You are a very loyal and courageous person.”

Governor Okorocha said Abe is a man with a large heart capable of achieving great things for his people and called on Rivers people to unite.

Governor Tambuwal, who led members of the National Executive Committee of the APC to the event, described Abe as one who has committed himself to the advancement of the party from inception.

With the euphoria of the thanksgiving over, Abe’s faction is not unmindful of the fact that the battles ahead will not require a business-as-usual approach. The Guardian gathered that the faction’s new strategy is to push for a level playing field, since all the state party executive members are Amaechi’s core loyalists. According to a source, this remains his biggest obstacle for now.

The minister’s seeming unwillingness to embrace Abe, some political observers have noted, is going to have a ripple effect, as the senator’s faction will pose a serious challenge in his bid to galvanise the party to contend with and wrest power from Governor Wike, who has a formidable political structure in the state.

The party has been so engrossed by Amaechi’s intention to frustrate
Abe’s governorship ambition that it has almost completely ignored the broader political struggle to wrest power from Governor Wike.

Sources in the party said except the APC national leadership intervenes and stems the tide of conflict and douse the tension between Amaechi and Abe, the party will be left out in the cold in 2019.

Some political observers also presume that if the national leadership fails to confront the fear of possible imposition of candidate, as was the case in 2014, aggrieved party members might drift to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The pro-Amaechi rally in Ogoni and Abe’s thanksgiving have indisputably depicted the APC as a polarised and divided platform.

In his speech at the thanksgiving, Governor Wike, who is hoping to reap from the crisis plaguing the APC struck a rare optimistic tone, when he urged all people across the political divide to work together for the interest of Rivers people.

“The state should be considered first at all times. When we come together, all we should preach is how Rivers State should be the number one in the country,” he said.

Perhaps it is difficult to determine at this point which side of the contending APC factions will prevail or be subjugated. But one thing is very certain, a resounding defeat hangs menacingly over the APC, if its national leaders fail to sanitise the decision-making process that has been lacking in the party, and which is now threatening to tear it into shreds ahead of the 2019 polls.

Recently, Rivers State APC and PDP Federal Lawmakers visited the Government House, Port Harcourt, when they paid a congratulatory visit to Governor Wike, on his “Global Human Settlements Outstanding Contribution Award” by Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements Awards (SCAHSA) at the United Nations headquarters and his presentation at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in Chatham House. Shortly after, the governor doled out 16 Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) to lawmakers.

The state APC chairman, Davis Ikanya, who attended the lawmakers’ thanksgiving, said time has come for all warring factions to forgive one another and make peace, as the party was going to provide a level playing ground for all.

A day after the event, he issued a statement declaring that the Amaechi and Abe events should not be misconstrued as a pointer to a crack in the party, as the APC remains united, cohesive and ever ready to play its expected pivotal role in reshaping Nigeria politics come 2019, regardless of some obstacles being orchestrated by some detractors.

He reiterated that the party delegates would elect a creditable and capable candidate that will fly the party flag in the 2019 gubernatorial election.

He said: “People are allowed to aspire to any leadership position in APC without any fear or inhibition. At the appropriate time, when the party’s national leadership clears the processes for primaries, we will organise a very free and fair primaries, thereby making the innuendo aimed at blackmailing the state party leadership unnecessary, as we are capable and ready to do the needful at the appropriate time.”

Despite the chairman’s call for compromise, time will tell if he intends to do so. The next few weeks call for intense soul-searching and reflection on the part of contending forces in the party. The stakeholders should face the reality that they are not going into elections unopposed.

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