It was a sad end to the most horrifying legislative rerun elections ever witnessed in this democratic dispensation. When the announcement of results was suspended by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), tens of people, including a youth corps member who was part of the INEC ad hoc staff had been killed. It was not as if the violence and harvest of deaths that marred the Rivers rerun polls on March 19 were not foretold. Not really.
In fact, for years, Rivers state has been a hotbed of election violence. To heap the blame on Governor Nyesom Wike is to miss the point. It predates his administration that is less than one year old. Indeed, before the elections, tension had reached a frightening level. The main gladiators from both the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) had fouled the atmosphere with hate speeches that set the stage for what observers fittingly called the “battle for the soul of Rivers State.”
For instance, the remarks of the immediate past governor of the State and current Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi was to say the least repugnant. It was unstatesman-like of someone who has had the fortune to be the Speaker of the State legislature for eight years and governor for another unbroken eight years. The reaction of the incumbent governor was not as combustible as the bile unleashed by his old ally on the campaign trail days before the rerun. Therefore, it wasn’t a big surprise that the election turned out the way it did. The surprise was that the spate of violence and deaths far exceeded everyone’s widest imagination.
All of this has brought public perception of politics in Nigeria into a frightening low level. But it is time to reflect on what happened and why, who triumph and why. Before INEC cancelled results in eight local government areas of the state, the commission had declared PDP winner in ten constituencies, and only one for APC. We must not forget that the rerun was ordered following the nullification by Justice Suleiman Ambrosa-led Election Petitions Tribunal of the legislative elections held last year. Before the March 19 rerun, everybody knew the stakes were high. It was more than a political contest. Though their names were not on the ballot, it was not in doubt that it was a battle of might and ego between Amaechi and Wike, two former special friends who were once in the same boat and weathered political storms together.
Sadly, they are now sworn enemies. Who says our politics is not a fun to follow. But for now, this much is clear for all to see: Gov Wike has triumphed over Amaechi, not once but twice. The more profound question is: why is Wike winning? The answer to this question is not hard to find for anyone who has closely followed Rivers politics at least in the last one-year or more. Unknown to many, in particular those outside Rivers State, there are significant trends beneath the surface that shaped the outcome of the results, regardless of the suspension of the other results, Wike’s PDP has won.
These are the facts: The outcome of the rerun was much a verdict on the past administration of Amaechi. It was also a vote of resounding confidence on Wike’s government by Rivers electorate. It was also a sort of referendum on trust on Wike’s style of government. This is what trust means: it is not about having to guess what a candidate means in the eyes of his people. It is about leveling with the people before the election. Trust is not about being the same thing to all people. This is how an average voter in Rivers has come to see Wike. Many may dislike his style, but majority of his people say he is working, he is performing.
On the other hand, majority of the people in Rivers state of today perceive Amaechi as someone who has belligerently refused to come to terms that PDP is firmly rooted in Rivers state and the fact that Wike is a grassroot politician. They see Amaechi as inordinately arrogant, combative and even egotistical, one who plays loose with the facts. And in Wike the people believe Amaechi has met his Achilles heel. “Wike knows Amaechi’s secrets”, was how a resident of Port Harcourt sums up the feud between the two. They see the trouncing of APC in the rerun elections as the removal of Amaechi as the obstacle that Wike needs to move Rivers of his vision. But beyond this, many in Rivers state have not yet “forgiven” Amaechi for his alleged role in Dr. Goodluck Jonathan not winning reelection as President. For them, Amaechi’s role was treacherous. It appears Wike exploited this disaffection and rode on it as a master tactician.
In truth, Amaechi has many headwinds to contend with in Rivers State. Many also see him as a temperamental cove who wears his heart on his sleeve. That Amaechi is prone to gaffes is too obvious, a kind of seat-of -the-pant politician with little tolerance for tedium. One man told me that working with Amaechi is like working with a “boss from hell”. He advises those who accuse Wike of “thinking about nothing else but Amaechi to closely watch his behaviour.
Such autocratic tendencies, Amaechi’s critics insist, often result in his continuing run-ins with those who have made him what he is today in politics, including Wike who put his life on the line during Amaechi’s brief sojourn in exile in Ghana when the Obasanjo government declared his gubernatorial candidature in 2007 knock-kneed. Among ordinary residents in Rivers, Wike is winning because he has learnt from Amaechi’s “mistakes and missteps”.
However, Wike is a victim of media dysfunctional reportage. He doesn’t deserve most of these attacks. It is evident that the war against Wike by APC is waged on different front. The gameplan is that if one plot fails, try another. We must not forget the statement not long ago, of the APC national chairman Chief John Oyegun that the party feels so pained by the loss of three oil rich states, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and now Rivers.
Watch this: The next gameplan is already on. It is to put pressure on President Buhari to declare Emergence Rule in Rivers, a ploy to bring APC to power in what it couldn’t get through the ballot box. It is abait the president must resist. It is for his own good. If he succumbs, he will have a lot of firestorm on his presidential plate. It has unpleasant consequences, an incalculable chaos. No President can afford two insurgency wars at the same time and fulfill the agenda that brought him into office. As Trotsky once said, “you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you”.
The President should not heed to emergence rule in Rivers, even though the prize of having Rivers among the states under APC control is attractive. I am sure Wike is committed to healing the wounds inflicted on the state by the recent violence and killings. Rivers state and the people love peace and stability.