By CHIDI OBINECHE
In the beginning
IT was a fortuitous meeting of two of a kind. A striking roll of disparate soul mates yoked together by an unseen hand. Their paths never crossed at the University of Port Harcourt where both earned degrees with just two years separating them. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi graduating in 1987, and Ezenwo Nyesom Wike two years after. No sooner they left the four walls of the ivory tower, embracing the topsy-turvy world of politics than they struck a chord in a lasting friendship that has endured in both sweetness and distrust. With very scant experience of a post graduate life outside the intriguing canvas of politics, both have scoured its entrails; hugging the limelight of success and the dim stench of brine. Since 1998, when fate brought them together during the embryonic stage of this political dispensation, they have never looked back. Their story is an index of complexities that can make a millipede shudder. From a mixed grill of friendship, it dovetailed to a dizzying patch of estrangement, like cat upon cat, rolling in dust with their backs dirtied.
The years in one love
Both Wike and Amaechi served under the Dr Peter Odili’s administration in Rivers State between 1999 and 2007. Wike was the Chairman of Obio/ Akpor Local Government Area, LGA while Amaechi was the Speaker of the State House of Assembly. He was also the Chairman of Asociation of Local Governments of Nigeria, (ALGON). As political godsons of Odili, their interests were unified; and bonding concreted. Their portrait of a quick brain, nimble feet, stoic convictions, and a brim philosophy of warfare bound them together the more.
Then came 2007. Odili’s succession plan was in tatters. Amaechi’s ambition to step into the shoes of his boss had a “k leg”. Their godfather’s grandiose plot for a shot at the presidency ran into a hitch. Dredging from the deep, then President Olusegun Obasanjo struck, the “shepherd,” and the “sheep” scattered. Amaechi and Wike found themselves in the same “den”, and teamed together to battle the stirrer, the arrogant underling, Obasanjo who had proceeded to foist Amaechi’s cousin Celestine Omehia on the state as governor. The labyrinthine path to shove off Omehia and put Amaechi in his stead brought out the best elements of friendship in them. Had Obasanjo stayed on in power, perhaps the sweet scent of victory would have been far- fetched. The late Umaru Yar’Adua was the new helmsman and showed a cold indifference to the debacle. Amaechi took the case to lady Justice. But the distraught fighting “army” had to contend with the well heeled machinery of Obasanjo which was left intact. The heat was turned on Amaechi, who fearing for his life, fled to Ghana on exile.
The struggle in between
As the battle to vanquish Omehia and replace him with Amaechi raged on all fronts, Wike was in the theatre as a commander, poisoner of goodwill, standing on the burning coal with bare feet. He deployed an overdose of mental self- insulation which assurance and independence of perception and loyalty give. His was a revolt of colours, a disdain for injustice stewed in emotional intelligence, and pure clinical self dissection. A lawyer by training, his gamely fight was like a piper into the crystal ball. And they won. After six gruelling months, the Supreme Court pronounced Amaechi the legitimate candidate for the elections which the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP had won. Omehia took the lonely path of defeat, and in came Amaechi and the surf surds of the festering growth. For his yeoman’s role in the war trenches, Amaechi made Wike his Chief of Staff, a position that rankled with their closeness and unity of purpose. Wike was alleged to have escaped several assassination attempts during the let up. Apparently in recognition of his commitment, the duo struck a deal that was to be validated in 2015. The deal was not about Wike succeeding Amaechi as governor. His eyes were primed on a Senate seat in the Three Arms zone in Abuja.
Things fall apart
Few years on as governor, the burgeoning romance began to flicker. Amaechi had embarked on ways to blend contending forces and camps through horse trading of positions. The ultimate game plan was to consolidate on his hold on the levers of power and make pragmatic inroad in his re- election bid in 2011. The process badly hurt Wike’s interest and pride. Amaechi was however relentless in forging ahead with his plans, which in body language, and subsequent actions showed a desperation to wriggle out of certain political agreements he entered into on assumption of office. Wike was perpetually holding the wrong end of the stick. He bit the dust during the nomination and confirmation of commissioners. Operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC were let loose on him over certain funds transfer, and again there were alleged assassination attempts on his life. As the blitz expanded, the blames twigged in different directions in cautious muffled tones. Nevertheless, the increasingly souring romance lingered, leaving an aftertaste. Matters came to a head when the Uche Secondus camp stood firmly against Amaechi’s plans to harmonize appointments zoned to the state. Sensing trouble, Amaechi feigned to have acceded to those opposed to his stand. He did not. His position came to the fore when the position of Deputy National Chairman of the PDP was zoned to the South – south, and particularly Rivers State. It was generally believed that Secondus, then the National Organizing Secretary would be lent a hand to step up the ladder. Amaechi, had other plans and resisted it on the suspicion that Secondus would use the position to feather his nest and impose Wike for the 2015 governorship race. This decision widened the gyre in his relationship with Wike, whose feeling of betrayal at this time was almost combustible. A huge clash of interest crept in stealthily when Amaechi began to nurse the idea of going to the Senate after the expiration of his tenure limits. Both men are from Rivers East Senatorial District. Indeed, it was to nudge him off the senatorial ambition which agreement was sealed in 2007 that he sent Wike off to Abuja as a minister. Wike admitted that much in the heat of their bitter exchanges last year. “He did not send my name as a ministerial nominee with good intentions. He wanted to get me out of the state,” he said.
The final parting of ways was hard in coming. When it did, it was swift, ferocious and throbbing with pain, and perhaps regrets. The mugs of draughts frothed on all vistas. It quaked and rocked the political space and time. It vibrated in the innards of the nation’s consciousness, emitting froths of nausea into the nostrils. The descent from the sublime precincts of friendship was total. In the typical manner of a love gone sour, they stood in each other’s way, hurling insults, mouthing obscenities, cursing, issuing threats, and engaging in reckless grandstanding. On a few occasions, they went past the mark. A lot of variables surged to the foreground as being responsible for the ugly turn of events. The turning point came when Amaechi fell out with the then first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, who at the time had become Wike’s main political staying power. The rift led to the forced exit of Amaechi from the PDP, and the emergence of Wike as the party’s leader in Rivers State. Wike was stupendously empowered by the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, and a dicey confrontation and public recriminations ensued between the belligerent duo. It became the theatre of the absurd when they began to lay bare their innermost secrets ahead of the 2015 elections. They accused each other of involvement in cultism, killings and fetish practices. Amaechi had made a public case that the ambition of Wike to become governor was not fair on other parts of the state who have been crying of marginalization. In the reinvigorated fight, they spared nothing. They broke the law, spent outrageously to outdo each other, told cozy lies and engaged in blackmail. Despite all hurdles, Wike trounced Amaechi’s candidate, Dr Dakuku Peterside to become the governor. But rather than put an end to the hostilities, it accentuated it. Rivers State became a hotbed of mutual mistrust, killings and insecurity. The verdicts of the courts from the Election Tribunal, the Appeal Court and the Supreme court have become a watershed in the nation’s jurisprudence. In one fell swoop, the Tribunal sent governor Wike and all the elected lawmakers at the state and national levels packing. The Appeal court upheld the ruling. Wike managed to snatch victory from the jaws of the lion at the Supreme Court. The Appeal Court ordered re-run for the legislators has opened fresh wounds, and another platform for intense engagement. Tempers are flaring, tension is deepening, Adrenalin is running, and people are dying. While the orgy of violence and bloodletting reigns, the two estranged friends are lapping it up with indiscretions of conduct. In the heat of the melee a forth night ago, Amaechi publicly called his former friend, a sitting governor, “a bush man, who lacks the capacity to govern.”
Speaking on the no love lost between them and the allegations of which hunt against Amaechi recently, Wike said: “witch hunt for what? Is this the first time that an official panel of inquiry has been set up in Rivers State?”.
The comprehensive test of strength came with the re-run elections last week. Although the results of 8 LGA’s are still being held, and there is a likelihood of yet another re- run in the affected areas , the ones so far declared indicate that Wike is having a good laugh over his whining ‘friend’. For now, either as friend or foe, a folklore is buried in their politics for the future.