Wike, Umahi and politics of ‘injury time’ appointments
Both Governors Ezenwo Nyesom Wike and David Umahi Nweze are products of the fourth republic political apparentation, especially the garrison method. The two governors showed that they truly honed their political skills in the immediate post-military era.
Right from the time they unfurled their plans to contest the presidential tickets of their parties, the two have continued to deploy the bulldog tactics in their resolve to bequeath their imprint in the respective states. Although their backgrounds expose huge contrasts, the similarity of their leadership schemes remains evident.
Wike began his political tutelage as chairman of Obio-Akpor Local Government Council at the birth of the fourth republic in 1999. He was rewarded with a second term in 2003, up until 2007, when his kinsman, Governor Chibuike Amaechi appointed him as the Chief of Staff in the Government House, Rivers State.
While serving as Chief of Staff, fortune smiled on the Rumuepirikom-born restless young man, as he was made Minister of State (Education) by President Goodluck Jonathan. It was from that ministerial appointment that Wike blew politically to attain his current maverick status in Nigeria’s national politics.
For Umahi, his own political windfall happened in 2007, when the crisis in Ebonyi State chapter of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) paved the way for his emergence as caretaker chairman. Moving from caretaker chairman to substantive state chairman under the administration of Chief Martins Elechi, the Uburu-born civil engineering contractor became Elechi’s deputy in 2011.
After four years of understudying the warp and woofs of politics and governance, Umahi brought his skills in political pugilism to bear in the contest for the PDP governorship ticket in 2015 against his principal’s designs.
In the processes of his political progressions from party chairman through stewardship as deputy governor, Umahi helped the elder statesman governor to displace opposition politicians in PDP that could have proved a stumbling block to their total control of the party’s structure.
As state party chairman, Umahi experienced first hand, how far the combined effects of power of incumbency and cash could go in determining electoral outcomes.
Like Wike, whose two straight tenures as council boss of rich Obio-Akpor helped to strengthen his financial storehouse, Umahi’s time as PDP state chairman enabled him to cobble up a network of political contacts within the party.
The fact that both young men are Port Harcourt boys plays in the background in the rough and ready politics that has seen them make unbroken progresses on the leadership ladder in the country. Currently, they are challenged by their designs to remain relevant after their final terms as governors on May 29, 2023.
But, while one hopes to continue the journey as Senator, the other, having missed out from his ambition to progress to the Presidential villa, is devoting his full time and energy to planting his preferred successor. And, this is where both men are capturing national attention once again in their differing styles.
Recourse To ‘Election Contractors’
WIKE and Umahi are falling back on the tried and tested strategy of deploying election contractors to win elections. Wike was the first to cause a stir with his dying minute appointment of 28,000 Special Assistants for Political Units.
In a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Kelvin Ebiri, Governor Wike was said to have authorised the immediate appointment of the 28, 000 officials, just barely one day after a similar engagement of 14,000 Special Advisers for the political units and 319 ward Liaison Officers and 40 Local Government Area Liaison Officers.
Speaking during an interdenominational Church Service inside the Government House Chapel in Abakaliki, Governor Umahi had announced his intention to recruit 1,300 Local Government Liaison Officers at the rate of 100 officials per each of the 13 council areas of the state.
Although the 1, 300 comes as a far cry from Wike’s 28, 000 army of political recruits, it could be recalled that Umahi had earlier in the life of his second term, particularly after his defection from PDP to the All Progressives Congress (APC), brought in more than 1, 000 Technical Assistants and equal numbers Senior Technical Assistants, as well as Technical Officers.
Of course, while the revenue holding and funding capacities of the two states are incomparable, the purpose and appeal for hiring otherwise political hangers-on come under the same sub-head: League of political enforcers during elections.
Unlike in Rivers State, where the gargantuan appointment of political layabouts has attracted public censure, especially from the opposition parties, Ebonyi people seem to welcome the appointments as a veritable job opportunity.
However, those close to Umahi maintain that apart from the much talked about sins of PDP, which he claimed as reason for his defection to APC, the real reason to be in the governing party was to benefit from the insurance covers of the power of incumbency, otherwise known as federal might.
The Ebonyi State chief executive must have learnt one or two things from the 2014 Ekiti State governorship poll, when PDP deployed the federal might to scuttle incumbent Governor Kayode Fayemi’s second term ambition.
At any event, Governor Umahi had explained that the appointment would not only introduce fresh blood in the affairs of the state, but also act as a catalyst for further rural integration in governance. He noted that despite the skepticism of the opposition, his administration would not relent in repositioning the youth for leadership in the state through various mentorship.
It is not known how far the current designs by Wike and Umahi could help to ensure that the elections go their way, but there is no doubt that the development has made opposition candidates jittery.
Nonetheless, former Akwa Ibom State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mike Igini, in what appeared as a major consolation to the opposition, declared that it would be hard to programme the 2023 poll.
Appearing on a Channels Television breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, Igini disclosed that there was no way the 2023 elections would be business as usual, stressing that reforms in the system coupled with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 are fool proof safeguards.
Commending the provisions of the new electoral law, Igini contended that with what INEC had put in place and empowered by the new Electoral Act, politicians who might be thinking of manipulating the process are in for a shock.
“How many people know that INEC does tracking during elections? And, as I speak to you, following the signing of the Act on February 25, this year, on the 26th, INEC went to office reversing and changing things to reflect the current Electoral Act. Many politicians are going to have what we call a dinosaur experience in 2023.
“Section 47 of the Act empowers INEC to use a smart card reader or any other technological device that may be prescribed by the Commission, for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of the intending voter in the manner prescribed by the Commission which was not the case before.
“Today, people must take note of the following, when you get to the polling unit, no more incident form, you can no longer talk about manual accreditation, but what we have now is what we call the bimodal process.”
Wike Pepper Them/Umahi Harass Them
EVER since he fell out with the powers that be in PDP, after losing out in the presidential nomination process, Governor Wike has been acting like a cross between John Wayne and Charlie Chaplain. His supporters have been urging on him to ‘pepper them’ as a way of requiting the perceived injustice meted out to him in PDP.
On the other hand, Umahi seems to gloat at his detractors by celebrating the fact that the coercive institutions of state are in favour. Opposition elements in the state have continued to cry out against the establishment of the Ebubeagu Security outfit, which they believe that the governor would put into good use during the election.
Two recent events in Ebonyi State showed that all actions and reactions in the state are geared towards the forthcoming general elections in which the governor is not only an active participant, but also an interested party to the gubernatorial contest.
Ensuring that he returns a pliant and preferred succession is seen by watchers of Ebonyi politics as the final denouement of the governor’s political designs since 2007. Like King David of the bible, the Ebonyi State governor is fighting battles on both domestic and foreign turfs.
His battle to appear on the Senatorial ballot after a disappointing presidential run did not come easy. Not that alone, the possibility of confronting his former political ally and underling, Hon Linus Okorie, came as a bad dream.
Then, coming to the governorship poll, the governor’s decision to prop up the Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Hon. Francis Ogbonnaya Nwifuru, put the governor at cross fire with the stakeholders of Izzi clan.
The people of Izzi, who supported Umahi during his spat with Elechi, expected that the governor would have sought their input in throwing up a candidate to support in line with the zoning arrangement in the state. But, preferring loyalty to consensus, the governor stuck to Nwifuru, who proved to him a reliable acolyte when they both served in the State Working Committee of PDP, which he led.
Yet, in the estimation of Izzi clan, Nwifuru is the least of persons to be considered as possible successor to Umahi, especially given that there were other eminently qualified candidates from the clan. While the misunderstanding within Izzi clan rages, the former Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Bernard Odoh, from the equally populous and strategic Ezza clan continued his aspiration to succeed the governor.
Not that alone, PDP ended up nominating a philanthropist from the governor’s Ohaozara Local Government Area, in the person of Ifeanyi Chuks Odii. It is popularly believed that the emergence of Odii and Okorie as governorship and Senatorial candidates of opposition PDP and Labour Party respectively, would roil the governor’s schemes to return a double electoral triumph in the governorship and Senatorial polls.
It was against that curious political background that when the recent attacks on Okorie and Odoh happened, their supporters pointed in the direction of Ebubeagu, which was believed to be acting the governor’s scripts for electoral concerns.
For instance, the leadership of APGA in the state called for the disbandment of the security outfit, even as it condemned the attack on Odoh, its gubernatorial standard bearer. In the statement signed by Nwanchor Chibuike Nwanchor, the party’s publicity secretary, APGA cautioned the youths “against allowing themselves to be used as thugs and touts by politicians.”
The party recalled how the Inspector general of Police, IGP Usman Harba “had earlier directed that the security group should not participate or play a part in any form in the build up to the election process.”
The Save Democracy Group also urged President Muhammadu Buhari to call the state government to order, stressing that the Federal High Court Abuja should accelerate hearing on the suite seeking to disband Ebubeagu.
In Rivers State, both the Labour Party and African Action Congress (AAC) have criticised Wike’s recruitment, remarking that the governor was trying to plant boys and “use them to build political strength for his governorship candidate, Sim Fubara, knowing full well that the man is not popular.”
LP’s National Vice Chairman, (South-South), Favour Reuben, dismissed the appointments as cheap politics. What the appointees and appointers seem to gloss over is that the temporary engagement would give rise to future recriminations or aide in the looting of government properties when the elections are won and lost.