An uncomfortable truth which the opposition in Rivers State refuses to admit is that the prequel to Nyesom Wike’s election as governor in 2015 was his predecessor’s extraordinary apostasy in the fall of 2013. It was an astonishing act of betrayal of his own people and heritage which filled Rivers people with anger and resentment. That feeling subsists till this day. Rotimi Amaechi may be a star anywhere else in Nigeria, but at home where it really matters, he is pretty much damaged goods. Besides a myriad of other reasons to disassociate themselves from his party (as are now being presented to Nigerians everyday), that representation of Amaechi as a Judas continues to rub off very badly on the APC in the eyes of Rivers men and women.
So, in 2013, as horrified Rivers people watched in disbelief the strange phenomenon of the unfurling of the APC flag in the precincts of Brick House (the seat of government), an overwhelming consensus was reached within the massed ranks of the PDP to jettison any pre-existing zoning arrangement with respect to the governorship and present the strongest possible candidate in the 2015 polls in order to prevent the unthinkable proposition of an APC government in Rivers State post 2015. No one was under any illusion that defeating a sitting government, even a notoriously frivolous one such as the administration in place at the time, would be a tea party. In Nigeria’s peculiar political matrix, it is foolish to understate the powers of a sitting governor.
As expected, Nyesom Wike delivered big by leading the PDP to a pride-restoring shellacking of the APC in 2015 and encores in subsequent national and state house of assembly re-run elections in 2016.
That momentous decision to go for substance rather than smoke saved Rivers State from what seemed like an endless morass of deviant and reprobate leadership the likes of which the people had never seen. It also resolved one fundamental puzzle: when faced with a choice between competence and geography, go for the former. Rivers people could have lost this gem to the short sweep of self-annihilating zoning formula. For dyed-in-the-wool sticklers for zoning of political offices everywhere including Rivers State, Nyesom Wike’s inspiring performance is your answer.
It has to be said, however, that as hard as the task of defeating a sitting government with vast resources might have been, it would appear as the easy part in comparison with the actual job of delivering on the promise of good governance. Well, this is not meant literally in the sense of gradation of easy versus hard as both require no less levels of commitment. Rather, the suggestion is one of varying the approach to different tasks demanding similar levels of effort. To borrow from Alex Ferguson in his famous autobiography, “You’re not the same on the battlefield as you are in church.”
And away from the sweat of election battlefield, even before the last drop had dried up, Governor Wike immersed himself in the job with unexampled devotion. A redoubtable strategist, he knew every nook and cranny in the entire state and understood what every creek, street or village needed. Even to the cursory observer, it was clear that he came prepared, in fact, more prepared than any in the chequered history of leadership in Rivers. And just as important, he had the energy to match his vision which threatened, even from day one, to cast a shadow over the precipitate brigandage and utter irresponsibility of the preceding administration.
Governor Wike’s remarkable accomplishments in three short years have earned him the go-to reference with respect to the infinite possibilities that abound where vision and diligent application cohere. His achievements in massive urban renewal programs and a staggering state-wide development in infrastructure within such a short time are incomparable and continue to confound his critics. But the oft-unstated substratum of this remarkable feat is his exemplary prudence in management of limited resources. That is why a state that is presently receiving about a third of the revenue it was getting previously is building more roads, schools, hospitals and markets at a dizzying pace and scope. It is also awarding scholarships and providing loans to civil servants, medical practitioners, traders and artisans.
As the governor’s achievements elicit plaudits from across the length and breadth of the country and beyond, the understandable irony is found in an implacable home opposition which is riled by them. His achievements continue to be a major source of opposition worry in a state which has gained notoriety for malevolent politicking thanks to the most desperate opposition anywhere on the planet.
The governor’s unwavering commitment to better the lots of his people and address historical deprivation encapsulate the dreams of the founding fathers. A robust and courageous leader blessed with extraordinary insight and uncanny cognition, he matches demonstrable action with commendable rhetoric: Rivers money for Rivers people. This is a potted jibe at recent history when Rivers money was inexplicably expropriated and made to find use elsewhere across the state’s borders – from payment of other states’ workers’ salaries to sponsorship of governorship and presidential candidates for election. This was at a time when basic infrastructure in Rivers State was either non-existent or crying for a revamp and Port Harcourt was the picture of an egregious dump. Today, the city is unrecognizable from its squalid past.
But the opposition in Rivers State opts for optical illusion as its article of faith. Their wont is to deny the evidence of their own eyes. Nor does it matter, seeing that the people are with the governor and have taken to his rousing message to defend their heritage from those among them who subscribe to serfdom and second-class citizenship in their own country and who, given the opportunity, would plunder their resources all over again.
There’s nothing more depressing or, indeed, shameful, than the spectre of a Rivers governorship aspirant do- ing nothing but wait in the hope that the diktat of a stranger from another state would override Rivers people’s will to install him in office. Governor Wike has shown the way, only Rivers people will decide who leads them. Anyone throwing his hat into the ring must roll up his sleeves and do the hard graft of engaging with the people. Pretenders hoping to be taken under the wings of a stranger, no matter how powerful, and flown to power in Rivers State will wait in vain.
This point speaks to the total absence of a sense of ideology, a sense of history and self-awareness among Rivers opposition politicians in the context of Nigeria’s vicious and un- forgiving prebendalism. Politics affects our lives in very profound ways; its bread-and-butter hue as practiced by the opposition in Rivers State poses even more existential challenge than the dreaded devastation and pollution of the environment by unconscionable oil and gas exploration.
This is why Governor Wike’s mes- sage continues to resonate with the people. He has taught them to stand up and defend their state, their history and their heritage from imperial interests and their local collaborators – a malcontent gaggle that hibernates in Abuja having sold Rivers people short.
The governor’s ‘Rivers First’ mantra is no empty zinger or fancy political turn of phrase; it is the summation of deeper reflections on where the state and its people are and where they ought to be. If the expression bears significant resonance with Donald Trump’s ‘America First’, there is more than a passing parallel to the US president. Like Trump, Wike is pragmatic, unscripted and disruptive of the standard concept of politics. Recently, no less a personality than the Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III added his own adoring moniker to the governor’s several such by nicknaming him ‘’the opener’’ in recognition of his unparalleled achievements which have opened the eyes of the people all over the country to what is achievable for them by those to whom they have entrusted their mandate. He couldn’t have said it better and Rivers people know they are lucky to have Nyesom Wike as governor.
Bob is a lawyer and Special Adviser on Regional Integration and Cooperation to the Rivers State governor.