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Wike’s victory and quest for different brand of politics in Rivers State

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Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike

After three weeks of difficulties encountered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and failed attempt to secure a court injunction to stop collation of results, Governor Nyesom Wike was eventually declared winner of the March 9 acrimonious polls in the oil-rich Rivers State.

Political observers had anticipated that the governorship election which would have been a walk over for Wike’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

This was due mainly to the exclusion of the main opposition in the state, All Progressives Congress (APC) from the ballot due to gross disobedience of injunctive orders of court, as well as the confusion over the valid candidate of Accord Party. It, however, turned out to be one of the fiercest political battles the PDP would encounter since 1999.  

By February 12, 2019 when the Supreme Court sealed the fate of APC concerning its participation in the general elections in the state, political analysts were convinced that PDP would have benefited with ease from an incumbency advantage. But the unanticipated alliance between APC’s leadership with a new political upstart, Mr. Biokpomabo Awara of African Action Congress almost turned out to be PDP’s worst political nightmare.

Due to the high stakes involved in the poll and the bitter political rivalry between Wike and his predecessor cum Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, both PDP and APC which was not on the ballot but was bent on undermining the incumbent, fought with everything at their disposal.

The election was characterised by violence, intimidation, snatching of electoral materials and the barefaced interference of some security agents to skew the outcome of the polls in favour of a preferred candidate. The scenario prompted INEC to suspend the election for 23 days.

Though Wike polled a total of 886,264 out of 1,123,840 valid votes cast to emerge winner and the runner up, Mr. Awara of the AAC scored 173,859, it was not a smooth cruise to an easy victory for the incumbent.

While inaugurating the PDP campaign council in December, the governor who had premonition of possible deployment of state apparatus against the party had directed all ward leaders to ensure PDP wins in all the polling units.

“Every politician must go to their respective communities and wards and work for the PDP,” he had charged party faithful. “Your work is in your respective wards. This time it is ‘Operation Deliver Your Ward.’ Once you lose your ward, you lose political relevance. Our campaign must be issue-based.”

It was obvious that Wike did not take for granted the crisis plaguing APC as he sternly cautioned his party stalwarts: “Take this election as if you have very stiff opposition.”

Adherence to this warning saved PDP in the just-concluded polls, according to an aide to the governor who pleaded anonymity.

“We carried out an independent assessment; that in a free and fair contest PDP will win the 2019 elections and it was on this basis that the governor directed us to focus on winning our respective polling units irrespective of the crisis in APC. The governor was aware of the plot to use coercive instrument of state to rig the elections. So, while our opponents were focused on writing fake results and trying to foist them on INEC’s staffers, our focus remained on winning in all the over 4,442 polling units in the state. It paid off.”

From the day of suspension of the election to when the electoral commission finally raised the lid on the winner last week, Rivers State has been beset by ethnic divisions occasioned by divisive politics.

Politicians and some critical stakeholders of the Ijaw extraction had capitalized on the hiatus caused by the suspension of polls to accuse INEC of connivance with Wike to deny the riverine section of the state where Awara hails from electoral victory.

And recogning that Rivers is still on the throes of political uncertainty, Wike has moved to  douse political tension by promising to run an inclusive government, which will accommodate all shades of interests. In his conciliatory gesture, the governor has extended a hand of fellowship to his opponents, saying that nobody won or lost, but that Rivers people won.

“We have no other state,” he said. “You may have mansions elsewhere, but there is no place like home. We must come together and build our state. We must make the state move forward. We must not continue to de-market the state. I cannot stay beyond 2023, but Rivers State will continue to be. If you believe you are from Rivers State, end this now!”

In spite of the governor’s conciliatory disposition, the refusal of his opponents to congratulate him has cast a shadow over the prospect for speedy restoration of peace in the state. Rivers State’s political horizon is still pervaded by hateful rhetoric that characterised the 2019 elections.

The Director of strategic communications for Tonye Cole campaign organisation, Tonye Princewill, was perhaps the first to release verbal salvos over Wike’s victory and things to expect in the days to come.

“I have been the victim of written results on three occasions in my political life,” he fumed. “First in 2007 when I ran for governor; second in 2015, when I ran again and the third time is now, when I didn’t even run. Compared to the others, this blatant one has simply motivated me. None of us will rest on this one not until justice is done. My message to you is ‘Fiat justitia ruat caelum,’ and I say it in Latin so the people who took their time to disenfranchise us can also take their time to remember it, especially those in INEC. You have just murdered sleep and asked us to go to hell. We have heard you. You too will hear from us soon.”

In almost the same vein, Rivers State chairman of Accord Party, Dr. Nnanna Onyekwere, said ordinarily the people-oriented ideology of Accord Party and the exemplary personality traits of its governorship candidate, Dumo Lulu-Briggs, behoove the party to accept the results and congratulate the winners once an election process is concluded. Unfortunately, in pursuance of the tenets of its ideology, he said Accord party is unable to accept the results of Rivers State 2019 election, as announced by INEC.

Onyekwere pointed out that the results declared by INEC in Rivers State are the product of militarized election processes, armed thuggery, compromised election umpire and a massively disenfranchised electorate.

“Nyesom Wike was declared elected with figures that were contrived from very faulty processes and warehoused in suspicious locations, where they have been vulnerable to manipulations, tampering and other forms of indiscretions which have rendered them untenable as a true reflection of the mandate of Rivers people,” he said.

He went further to hint that the party has therefore instructed her legal team to explore legitimate grounds on which their grievances could be redressed with the intent to restore sanity in Rivers State’s polity. According to him, Rivers people deserve the right to elect their political leaders and Accord Party is determined to ensure that only the right thing is done in the interest of the people.

ON his part, David Okumgba, Zonal Secretary, South-South APC, said it was appalling that the cries of some persons who embarked on a series of protests to alert relevant authorities of the violation of their civic rights not only fell on deaf ears but have been trampled upon by the eventual collation of results of an election that was abruptly suspended and electoral materials and processes shrouded in secrecy and bias.

“Never in the history of our dear state, right from the inception of the political era in 1999, has democracy been raped with the umpire at all levels, playing major roles in the desecration process,” said Okumgba.

However, for the business community and political observers, it is expected that the outcome of the election should signal a new dawn for the state’s socio-economic development.

President of Rivers Eentrepreneur and Investors Forum, Mr. Ibuforu Bob-Manuel, has advised the governor to hit the ground running by visiting countries such as China to attract businesses and trade. To realise this, he urged the governor to come up with basis incentives for investors as soon as possible so that the administration could build on the massive potential and strategic importance of Rivers State.

 
“We expect that he will hit the ground running, exactly the way he did it the first term. In the first tenure we have been able to achieve major landmarks, but we could achieve a lot more. So we expect that he should consolidate on those achievements. First and foremost, we need to quickly build unity in the state and most importantly we should try the front of diversification; we should diversify the state’s economy. We should do that in a hurry, because in the first tenure he was able to achieve some degree of harmonization in the taxes.

” What needs to be done now is to begin to attract businesses back to the state. And in attracting those businesses into the state, who said we can’t circumvent the seaports and the challenges we have? We can. It is possible. As we speak, in a state like Anambra State, they now have a dry seaport which they did in collaboration with Clarion Terminal. If that could work in Onitsha, I think we could use that same platform to replicate that same feat because immediately we do that, we will see that the potential of the state will actually crystalize for actual investment.”

A public affairs analyst, Robinson Tombari Sibe, observed that since May 29, 2015, minutes after Wike was sworn in, he has been involved in a series of political battles. According to him, the governor had to fight to stay in office and survive with an uncommon stamina.
 
“Now he’s gotten the next four,” he said. “We are tired of these fights. We are fatigued. Rivers State is worn out, battered and bruised. Can we now have some peace? Can they allow him, even for two years, to settle in and work? Can they please allow Rivers State some peace, so we can hold our governor accountable? May the next four years not be like the last four! We need peace; we need unity; we need stability; we need prosperity. Rivers State, Peace, be still!”

A project manager and consultant with the World Bank, Ross Alabo George, regretted that what should have been ordinarily a walk over for Wike and the PDP ended up being a hard fought political contest with unnecessary casualties.

George, who likened the just-concluded governorship election to the story of King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans at the Battle of Heraclea and other wars, said Governor Wike’s weeping during the thanksgiving service to dedicate his victory to God and those who died makes it imperative for a different kind of politics in the state.
 
“We cannot continue with this kind of politics,” he said. “It is too bloody and uncivil. The role of the military and FSARS is condemnable and evil. Those who allowed themselves to be used were desperate and wanted to reap from a tall tree they didn’t plant and couldn’t climb. But in the end, we are brothers, and we will dwell in this same land. We must agree to higher standards in politics. With security agencies becoming thugs-of-war on election days against the will of the people, the rope that we pull is our own progress.

“There is too much desperation, blackmail and hate. It is time to heal. This is Governor Wike’s second mandate. He inherited a very polarized state. It has even become worse in 2019. The governor has a duty to immediately start building the peace. As tough as it might be, there is no better time to leapfrog over the divisions and set a new agenda that will engender long term prosperity for the state. With an overwhelming youth support, the governor must start his second term thinking about creating jobs. I encourage the governor to look towards agriculture. His first term had no marked delivery in agriculture. The state needs potable water. Waste management and air pollution have become a major challenge in the state.

“Governor Wike has been the most resident governor since 1999. He has no real business in Abuja and will only take an annual vacation out of the country. He is very much in touch with masses. Though too much of a micro-manager, I can’t but agree with BudgIT that he has managed the state’s resources well. All the projects he awarded are either completed or on-going. Rivers State has been jinxed with governors who abandon the state in their second terms for Abuja. There is nothing wrong in higher political pursuits, but it should never be at the cost of good governance and responsible leadership.”


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