Saturday, March 19, 2016 6:10 am
Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcourt
The rerun election in Nigeria’s Rivers state is a few hours away. On the surface, it is just a contest between candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party,PDP, and the All Progressives Congress,APC.
It is however beyond this. It is more of a titanic battle between Governor Nyesom Wike and his former boss and predecessor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, now Minister of Transport. It is a battle of egos, as well.
How did Rivers State get to this boiling point? Amaechi was elected as Governor under the platform of PDP but due to some irreconcilable differences, he dumped the party and joined the APC. As governor, he went through political persecutions engineered by the last occupier of the presidency in Abuja, Goodluck Jonathan. A failed attempt was even made by only five lawmakers to impeach him in the 32-member House of Assembly.
With an imperious police commissioner, Mbu Joseph Mbu in the state, Amaechi’s rights and powers as Governor suffered terribly. Amaechi claimed Mbu was principally deployed to the state to give cover to rebellious lawmakers to impeach him. He accused Jonathan of being the mastermind of all his woes.
Nyesom Wike had served as Amaechi’s chief of staff. He was actually nominated by Amaechi to Jonathan before the relationship between Amaechi and Jonathan went sour over Amaechi’s criticisms of Jonathan endorsing the appropriation by Bayelsa state of the oil fields owned by Rivers and Amaechi’s critical role as chairman of the Governors Forum.
Sensing an opportunity, Wike became the arrowhead of the Abuja-driven political onslaught against his former boss. He became the chief spokesman, the financier of all anti Amaechi political actions. As minister of state in the education ministry in Abuja, and with the support of Patience Jonathan, an indigene of the state from Okrika, Wike successfully took away the structures of PDP from Amaechi’s reach. Then came the expulsion of Amaechi from the PDP by the National Working Committee of PDP.
It was the last straw. Amaechi jumped ship to APC’s waiting hands.
He was not only accepted with open hands in APC, he also became the Director General of candidate Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential campaign. Buhari won,while Goodluck Jonathan lost.
But in Amaechi’s backyard, the PDP swept everything away. The party won all the three senate seats and the 13 House of Representatives seats, amidst complaints of intimidation, violence and disenfranchisement of the APC supporters.
With Buhari having been declared the president, Amaechi had the hope that the militarised ambience that pervaded during the presidential and National Assembly elections would be relaxed for the governorship and assembly elections. But he was dead wrong. It was same of the same. Even foreign observers dismissed the 11 April governorship election as a parody of what an election should be.
Wike became the Governor elect and his party ‘swept’ 31 legislative seats in the state Assembly leaving just one for APC.
After over eight months of legal battle at election tribunals, Appeal Courts and Supreme Court,PDP retained the Governorship seat with Wike at the helm of affairs. The Appeal Court sacked 22 members out of 32 , 12 House of Representative,while all the three Senatorial seats were ordered for a rerun Saturday March 19.
Governor Wike and PDP know that for them to have full grip of power, the party must maintain a considerable majority in the House of Assembly. At present it has nine members,while APC has one.
Twenty two seats are up for grabs.This is where the real battle is. Both Wike and Amaechi as irrepressible gladiators know this. And both know that to settle their political scores squarely, there is need for a free,fair and peaceful election.
But Rivers in the run up to today’s poll has been mired in violence, with mindless killings of opposition APC members rampantly reported. The speeches from Governor Wike had only stoked tension, with calls for the killing of people who attempted to rig the polls.
Between Thursday and Friday, two Military personnel were killed in the high seas of Akuku,-Toru and Omoku headquarters of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area.
The Federal Government wants to ensure that the election is conducted without rancour and violence that characterised the March/April 2015 elections. Over 6,000 policemen, including 14 Mopol formations are in the state. Soldiers are on standby. Three police commissioners are manning three senatorial districts.
For the main political gladiators, they await the decision of the voters at polling booths.
It is after today’s rerun election that Governor Wike or Amaechi, will know who has the political bragging rights in Rivers state power game.
Both of them had charged the political atmosphere of the state to its elastic limits with their speeches.
Rivers needs more than deployment of security. The state needs prayers to avoid more blood letting. Who wins?In less than 48 hours, a clearer picture will emerge.
Okafor Ofiebor,the author could be reached at: [email protected]