Friday, May 30, 2014 5:12 pm
By Kanayo Esinulo
The battle for Government House, Port-Harcourt, better known as Brick House, is going to be tough, and perhaps rough. Our constitution says the vacancy must be filled because the incumbent would have spent eight years at the place, and therefore needs to step aside. As 2015 elections approach, there would be re-alignment of political forces and construction of new political alliances in Rivers State. What is not known to many is that Rivers state is peculiar and distinct in its politics and power sharing arrangement. It was in the early 80s that the agitation for the creation of a Port-Harcourt State became a little louder than before. Why? There was this belief and concealed anger in the Ikwere/Ogoni/Andoni axis that people from the riverine area were monopolising political power, and occupying strategic positions in the state’s economy. This threatened to tear the new state apart. But just before this misunderstanding went out of hand, respected elders of the state intervened, and a formula was worked out for fair and just distribution of offices and resources of the state in a way that ensured equity. That formula, famous then and now, was called Upland/Riverine political order.
The arrangement was simple: power was to rotate between Upland and Riverine sections of the state. The political arrangement made room for justice and fairness. The serial military interventions in our country made this formula to be kept in the cooler, as all manner of non-indigenes were posted to Brick House as Military Administrators/Military Governors. But since May 1999 that Nigeria went back to civil rule, three governors have so far emerged in the state: Dr. Peter Odili, Celestine Omehia and the incumbent, Chibuike Amaechi. The three are from Ndoni, Ikwere and Ikwere. The discussions now going on in Rivers state are summarised by these questions: Are these three governors not from the same upland section? Are they not from the same geo-ethnic zone of our state? What has happened to the rotation of power between riverine/upland areas as perfectly arranged and negotiated by our elders – the Wenike Briggs, Agumas, Birabis, Feberesimas, Nwonodis, etc. Are there no governorship materials found in Brass,Opobo, Abonnema, Degema, Buguma, Ogoni, Okrika and other riverine areas of the state? Is this not monopoly of power? What is this story that the supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, is angling to succeed governor Amaechi? And is it fair and just that an Ikwere governor should be succeeded by another Ikwere in a state that is multi-cultural and multi-ethnic? Has equity gone to exile in our state?
Why do Rivers people who indulge in this type of discussion constantly drop Wike’s name and steadily point their fingers at the Supervising Minister of Education? But I realised that in recent times, the fight to take control of the soul of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state saw Nyesom Wike inside the ring. The reason is simple: among the federal ministers and top political appointees from Rivers state in Abuja, Wike knows governor Amaechi far more. He was the governor’s chief ally in the fight to restore his mandate after the 2007 gubernatorial election. Wike later became his Chief of Staff after the ‘battle’ was won. Again, he was the governor’s choice for a ministerial position in Abuja. So, the truth is that if Amaechi was to be given a political fight or placated, Wike was better positioned to execute either of the options. Their camp within Rivers PDP chose to enter the ring with Amaechi, and Wike was ready and willing to put on the gloves, as it were. And he led the mass movement, I am told, that gave Amaechi a run for his money. Wike’s visibility began to grow. And his assumed interest to occupy the Brick House in May 2015 has provoked many specific moral questions, some of which I have tried to share, as I recorded during my recent trip to Port-Harcourt, Ogoni and elsewhere in the state.
No one I spoke to during this trip questioned or doubted the credentials of the Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, to participate in the coming PDP primaries and possibly win the ticket to contest, but they complained that Wike “surreptitiously hijacked the products of a mass movement which successfully checkmated the excesses of our governor in his open rebellion against our party and against the President that comes from this part of our country”. They question the morality of Wike, an Ikwere, to occupy Brick House in May 2015, from the incumbent Ikwere governor who also inherited power from another Ikwere, Celestine Omehia. They talked too much about morality, as if politics and morality can ever be neighbours. To the two university teachers I met and discussed with at Choba, the University town, governor Amaechi’s recent statement that it would amount to Ikwere bad politics and greed if he (Amaechi) is succeeded by an Ikwere in May 2015 as standing on a high moral ground, defensible and justifiable. When the governor publicly urged Ikwere sons and daughters not to encourage nor vote for any Ikwere candidate in next year’s governorship election, many saw him as being fair and just in his judgement and assessment than the ground on which his former Chief of Staff, Nyesom Wike, appears to be standing. On this issue, if on nothing else, Amaechi’s position is considered popular, wise, well calculated and well thought-out. And it is shared within the two leading political parties in Rivers state.
This shared feeling in the two major political parties in the state is anchored on the power-sharing formula between the Upland and Riverine sections of the state. And since 1999, this formula has helped keep the peace, promote brotherliness and greater understanding and generally guarantee harmony in a state that is interestingly complex and singularly peculiar. I was told in Port-Harcourt that it was this upland/riverine formula that encouraged ‘riverine political leaders’ led by Alagbo Graham Douglas to give full backing to the ambition of Dr. Peter Odili of the PDP against their own son, Ebenezar Isokarari, the candidate of the then All Peoples Party (APP) in 1999. It should be mentioned that the last democratically elected governor of Rivers State in 1992, before the 1999 democratic exercise, Chief Ada George, was from the Riverine section of the state. It was therefore morally easy and justifiable, in the spirit of the formula, for Alagbo Douglas and co to discourage their own son and route for Odili, who was an upland candidate.
Yet, another critical factor in this matter is President Goodluck Jonathan’s votes in Rivers state, should he decide to run for a second term in 2015. Undoubtedly, governor Amaechi may likely use the 2015 presidential election to ‘show pepper’ to Mr. President at the poll, if only to establish a point. This can happen, if PDP plays into Amaechi’s hand and if, I am told at Uniport, the president’s party ignores the existing Upland/Riverine political sharing formula that has held this unique state politically together. The PDP leadership in the state should share the deep sense of equity which the Amaechi fully represents: that to hand over power to another Ikwere is morally and politically unjustifiable. Some say the president needs to intervene in the matter now, before it becomes too late. After all, he was first ‘a Rivers man before he became a Beyalsan’ some argue in Port-harcourt. What happens in Rivers state and who flies his party’s flag there should, in my view, be of strategic interest to President Jonathan. He should speak up or act fast before this delicate political discussion gets out of hand.
—Kanayo Esinulo, email@example.com, www.kanayoesinulo.com