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Search for Wike’s successor roils Rivers as Ogoni eyes 2023

By Ann Godwin, Port Harcourt
31 May 2021   |   3:09 am
Will the riverine part of Rivers State produce Governor Nyesom Wike’s successor in 2023? How far would the two major political parties, the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) go in accommodating the agitation by the Ogoni’s to produce the governor of Rivers State in 2023? Those are some of…


Will the riverine part of Rivers State produce Governor Nyesom Wike’s successor in 2023? How far would the two major political parties, the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) go in accommodating the agitation by the Ogoni’s to produce the governor of Rivers State in 2023?

Those are some of the issues defining Rivers politics as the next election cycle draws nearer. In the past, the zoning of governorship position played a crucial role in the state. However, it appears the zoning formula is losing its appeal as a factor to determine the 2023 poll.

Investigation by The Guardian shows that the zoning arrangement, which the founding forefathers initiated is not being adhered to. After former Governor Peter Odili, who hails from Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area, took his turn as governor from 1999 to 2007, the Ikweres  (upland) have continued to occupy the Brick House till date.

Rivers State is known as a politically dynamic state, where elections are keenly contested, sometimes plagued with violence and interference by external forces, especially security agencies.

Zoning to unzone
But, as the clock ticks, the two main political actors and leaders of the major political parties, the incumbent Governor Wike (PDP) and the Minister of Transportation  (APC) have revealed how and possibly, where the pendulum will swing to in 2023.

Amaechi had indicated that the APC gubernatorial ticket for the 2023 election would be zoned to the riverine area. However, that position, which he declared during a rally at Ogu-bolo in Ogu-bolo Local Government Area of the state, has been widely criticized by some of his party chieftains, including the likes of Senator Magnus Abe, among others.

While disagreeing with Amaechi, Abe, during a meeting with his supporters in Port Harcourt, said the party is yet to take any concrete decision on the zoning issue. Abe stated: “When you want to zone, there must be a process, there must be consultations. The people that are being zoned in must understand why they are being zoned in, and the people who are being zoned out must understand why they are being zoned out.

“If you just stand, carry a microphone and begin to zone to “unzone”, and “unzone” to zone, everybody knows what you are doing, and I want to stand here and say that it will not work.”

In an apparent move to buttress his position, on Sunday, May 16, while receiving some PDP decampees to APC, Amaechi insisted that he, (Amaechi) as an individual would go for a riverine governor, but stressed that anyone else could vote for candidates of their choice.  

Meanwhile, at the grand finale of the PDP Local Government campaign rally in Bori, Wike argued that the state does not belong to Amaechi’s father, adding that no one, not even the incumbent governor has the power to determine, who becomes governor in Rivers State.

Also, on Saturday, May 15, 2021, during a grand reception for the governor by the Ogonis, Wike said, all the PDP stakeholders would sit down together and discuss from where the next governor would emerge and the candidature as well, assuring the crowd that no single man can dictate for the state.

Ogonis’ plea
THE Ogoni people are one of the major ethnic nationalities in Rivers State. The area is made up of four local government areas including, Eleme, Khana, Gokana and Tai. During the reception they organised for Governor wike, which according to them, was aimed at appreciating the governor for the numerous projects he has done in Ogoniland, their body language manifested their strong craving for the top political seat in the state.

At the reception, which witnessed a tumultuous crowd including, elderly people, traditional rulers, clergy, women, youths and children, The Guardian observed that they all spoke with one voice, ensured peace, unity and progress, saying that the Ogonis are more united to attract something better things in the area.

However, insecurity and disunity, perceived to be major obstacles in the area appear to be receiving priority attention. Findings by The Guardian revealed that since the creation of Rivers State, the Ogonis have never produced a governor, deputy governor, speaker, or Chief Judge, though the chief judge is not a political position as it is determined by a person’s professional qualifications

Sequel to the above, there has been agitation by the Ogoni people to be given a chance in 2023. The apex Socio-Cultural Organization in Ogoni, KAGOTE, had on April 4, 2021, urged the two major political parties to give chance to qualified Ogoni sons and daughters to contest for the governorship position.

The organization lamented that no person from Ogoni has governed the State since inception, adding that for the sake of political equity and justice, the Ogonis should be considered in 2023.
Political realities
RECENT events in the political landscape indicate that the Ogonis are not ready to leave anything to chance this time. They seem to be pitching their tents on credible platforms that could assure accommodation as well as engage in discussions on who will occupy the number one seat rather than the person, who declared where the position would be zoned.

The most noteworthy event was the plethora of platform crossing, especially between the big two, PDP and APC. Before now, PDP has a stronghold in Ogoniland. Aside from Senator Magnus Abe, who was the factional leader of APC in the state until the Supreme Court collapsed his structure on March 5, 2021, other top party chieftains are members of PDP. They include Senator Barinada Mpigi, who left Amaechi in 2015 and joined PDP among many others.

The urge to occupy the top seat of governance in the state has also culminated in the defection of many APC members to the ruling PDP. Also, following the Supreme Court ruling on March 5, which dismantled Abe’s faction, some of the Pro-Abe group last week traced their ways back to PDP, stating that the PDP is their political root.

However, while political uncertainty still hovers,  even in the face of the common norm of godfathering, the Ogonis are obviously on high political alert at the moment.

There are signs of intense political participation by sons and daughters of Ogoni. In fact, at Wike’s grand reception, a clergy, Pastor Kingsley Kpari, told The Guardian that he abandoned his church service to participate in the event, because of the Ogoni dream to lead the state.

2023 front row contenders
ON a general note, ever since the Rivers APC leader, Amaechi, announced his intention to support a riverine governor, political observers have been hinting that Prince Tonye Princewill may be his best bet.

Princewill is not just from the Riverine community but has also been a very brilliant and vibrant politician, a former governorship candidate. He is loved for his philanthropic activities, and his current body language shows that he is willing and ready to fly the APC flag if given the opportunity.
In PDP, residents have also alluded that the former PDP Chairman, Felix Obuah, may be considered following his role in dismantling the Amaechi -led G.U. Ake PDP structure, which favoured the incumbent Governor Wike.  

However, if the pendulum finally swings to Ogoni, the frontline politicians to look out for are, Abe, Senator Lee Maeba, Bari Mpigi, Hon Dunamene   Dekor, Senator Olaka Nwogu, Kenneth Kobani among others.

Perceptibly, Abe has become a household name in Rivers politics, though not everyone may like him, he has gained massive support and fan bases. Abe has served as former Commissioner for Information, Secretary to the State Government, a Senator and he is seen as a first-class politician in Ogoni.
For Senator Lee Maeba, who has also served as Vice Chairman of PDP and a Senator, the cap can also fit him as well.  Bari Mpigi is seen as the People’s Senator, he has been a member of the House of Representative, a Commissioner, and Chairman of his Local Government Area and also has huge followership.
Senator Olaka Nworgu served as Chairman of his Council, Member of House of Representative, while Hon Dekor, after serving as a member of the State Assembly became a Commissioner and currently a member of House of Representatives.  

Finally, Kenneth Kobani, a former Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Finance, Minister of Trade and Investment and immediate past Secretary to the State Government, is among those the Ogonis claim can make a good leader.

Speaking with The Guardian on the Ogoni political prospects, President of KAGOTE, Emmanuel Deeya, urged the rest of Rivers residents to look towards the direction of Ogoni people come 2023 for the sake of equity.

He said: “We are asking the rest of Rivers State to look towards our direction and see how they can support us to execute the project and it is going to be good for all.”

Similarly, an Ogoni son and Associate Professor at the University of Port Harcourt, Franklin Tanen, said, it is due time for the Ogonis, adding, “We are happy that we are back together and I hope the people should also give us what is due to us. Right from the creation of Rivers State, Ogoni man has never been a governor or deputy governor of the state and looking at the majority tribe of Rivers State, Ogoni is the largest, yet no recognition.

“I think it is time to give us a chance to contribute to what we think can develop the State and nation at large, we have capable men and women.”

On the various challenges that could dog their aspiration, Tanen stated: “There is no development without challenges, we have security challenges, the major challenges facing Ogoni people is security but we are happy that it is being addressed and that the Ogoni people are coming together to speak in one voice.”

Also, the Vice Principal of Birabi Memorial Grammar School in Bori, Bie Lekwa Prince, said the Ogonis deserves more. “We pray and expect Governor Wike to support us come 2023. The Ogonis have not been governor, the way we supported the Ikweres, he should also support us that way,” he surmised.


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