Nyesom Wike and Rotimi Amaechi: Cousins or strange bedfellows?
No society is devoid of conflict inasmuch as it is occupied by humans, who respond accordingly to stimuli accusations, kidnap, medications, electoral fraud, sickness, thefts, hunger, weather, threats, etc.in their environment in order to protect themselves and forge ahead with life. Thus, when two or more individuals of varied experiences live together, there will be divergent opinions as one person strives to impose their views on another. When a group decides to impose its policy on another group, frictions will arise.
Rivers State is one of the states in Nigeria that reflect the foregoing social configuration and whenever the state is mentioned anywhere today, four images: Wike, Amaechi, violence and crude oil usually crop up in the minds of those familiar with Rivers State. Not only is Rivers State popular for the plethora of crude oil extracted from its soil but the state has gained infamy for the discord and cold war existing amongst its leaders at present.
From the very heart of the Niger Delta emerge two estranged cousins, who hold conflicting views but whose qualities and remarkable achievements complement each other. Although Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike and Rtd. Hon. Chubuike Rotimi Amaechi is not of the same parents, people often ignorantly refer to them, in the Nigerian English sense of it, as ‘brothers’. This variation corroborates the frequently asked question: ‘Why are the two Ikwerre brothers fighting over politics?’ For the past five years, the cordial relationship between the two gladiators has gone wintry, worsened so much that urgent steps to reconcile both men are necessary. The chasm between them widened towards the end of President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term in office and took a dramatic twist during President Muhammadu Buhari’s first term.
It is not irrelevant to ask if Governor Wike and the present Minister of Transportation are cousins or strange bedfellows. Considering the convergence in their life, their accountability to Rivers State, and the apple of discord in their refrigerators, both men are cousins and strange bedfellows.
Both men are of Ikwerre origin in Rivers State and speak Ikwerre and English fluently. They completed their primary, secondary and post-secondary education in Rivers State. Both were born in the 1960s while their wives were born on the ‘24th’ in the ’70s. After Governor Wike got a degree in Political and Administrative Studies from the University of Port Harcourt, he later moved to Rivers State University of Science and Technology. Shortly after Mr. Amaechi set foot in Rivers State University of Science and Technology, he moved to the University of Port Harcourt in 1983 to study English, which he concluded in 1987 and later did his Master’s in the same Department. Governor Wike is a Christian, so is Mr. Amaechi. Each has three children. Both men are vocal, reliable, loyal, resourceful, and highly educated. They were once campaign Managers.
Another area of convergence in their life is in the public office holders. Governor Wike is on his second tenure as Rivers State Governor (2015-2019, re-elected April 2019) while Mr. Amaechi was a two-termed Governor of Rivers State (October 26, 2007-2011, re-elected April 2011 and ended in 2015). They served as Ministers: Mr. Amaechi is on his second tenure as Minister of Transportation (Federal) (2015-2019, re-appointed August 2019) while (Governor) Wike first served as Minister of State for Education, appointed on July 14, 2011, then as Supervising Minister of Education at the Federal level in 2012, where he replaced Professor Ruqayyah, though (he) later resigned.
In terms of infrastructural development, both men have unbroken records when compared with other public office holders in Nigeria (except Mr. Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State). The years from 2008 to 2014 saw a bold rise in schools, health centres, and ultra-modern market buildings in Rivers State. For instance, the then Governor Amaechi furnished Emuoha and Umuordu-Ubima with potable water, electricity, health care and would do more if given the opportunity. Road expansion, dualisation, and construction dominated that era, notably roads from Rumuola to Choba, Ada George to Nkpolu, Rumuodara Junction to Artillery Junction. Mr. Amaechi awarded scholarships to students, sponsored them abroad, and donated a building to the University of Port Harcourt, which was named Ken Saro-Wiwa House (also known as English Studies Department). His building demolition project, which he believed was one way of dealing with the madness he perceived in Rivers State, adequately reflects his vision of the state.
On his part, Governor Wike’s projects attract commendations from Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the social media, and newspapers. The Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, sent a congratulatory message having seen the developmental strides taken by Governor Wike. Despite the fact that his machinery is creaking under the strain of underfunding, Governor Wike’s administration is characterized by project execution. Interestingly, he declared free education in schools at primary and secondary levels and created quality education for over eight million out of school children. In September 2019, he announced the recruitment of ten thousand teachers in Rivers State. He also continues with state projects not completed before he came on board. In his capacity as the Supervising Minister of Education, he rescued ASUU and Nigerian students from the claws of the protracted ASUU strike that started from July 1, 2012, to December 17, 2012.
Considering the achievements highlighted above, one cannot dispute the fact that both men have contributed immensely not only to the social development of Rivers State but also to the spiritual uplift of its people. Take away innuendoes, take away sabotage and saber-rattling, there is nothing dysfunctional in Governor Wike’s administration.
Politics is divisive, polarising brothers and sisters, fathers and children. In the past, both men’s verbal onslaughts and inflammable remarks drew people’s ire. Obviously, Governor Wike has at present a strong political maelstrom to deal squarely with, and being a man much familiar with ‘the game’, he will overwhelm every opposing force that stands in his way. Just as there are witch-hunt and sabotage in core regions of the state, there is a renewed surge of murder and robberies in Ogoni, Bonny, Choba, Ozuoba, Alakahia, Rumuekini, Owhipa, Rumuchakara, almost everywhere. All premeditated! And it is all the more depressing to see the Federal Government prefer to sit on the fence concerning the skirmishes in Rivers State. The relative peace enjoyed by the people of Rivers State in the early 90’s contrasts markedly with the violence that started in the state from 2015 to date.
To conclude, I maintain that even though Governor Wike and Mr. Amaechi have had their own downbeat careers in politics, it is imperative that both men amicably resolve their differences rather than mortgaging the future of Rivers State and its people. With the good things done so far for Rivers State and considering the ‘black soot’ of discord suffocating Port Harcourt residents, most especially UNIPORT staff and students, the freewheeling attitude of the Federal Government is not the best. Ideally, patriotism demands that leaders rise up and proffer lasting peace, harmony and joy to their hemorrhaging societies, where the Federal Government is expected to play hardball if it values its citizens. If present trend in Rivers State continues, investors, business owners, and industrialists could be tilting at windmills.
• Sola writes from the Department of English Studies, University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State