Can you imagine if the Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, is still a member of Peoples Democratic Party? Imagine that he and his colleagues are supporting President Goodluck Jonathan in the forthcoming election? Imagine that the political disagreements between the wife of the President and later the President with Amaechi did not happen. Can you imagine that the failed attempt to forcefully overthrow the governor by five House of Assembly members did not happen? Can you imagine if the oil wells in Soku were not ceded in an artificial boundary dispute? Can you imagine that the election of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum was upheld and the factionalisation avoided? Can you imagine that the suspension of the five PDP governors was reversed after a while and the genuine reconciliation process initiated? Can you imagine that the spilt in the PDP was avoided through a more inclusive leadership? Can you imagine that a then serving minister, Chief Nyesom Wike, was cautioned when he started hauling insults at Amaechi as if he was the only one who knew how to defend the President? Imagine if the President prevented these matters from worsening?
These questions were going on like a whirlwind in my mind as I watched President Jonathan’s rally in Port Harcourt the other day. It was a well-attended one. Many of the President’s supporters from Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom were mobilised because many political leaders in Rivers State were attending another political rally in Khana, the headquarters of Ogoniland. I listened to the President’s speech. He was not himself. He was struggling, almost gasping for air. He first wiped his face then removed his spectacles as if he was preparing for a tough fight. Yet, he could not say much. He attempted to respond to the questions raised by Governor Amaechi about the lack of federal projects in the state throughout the six years of Jonathan’s Presidency. Instead of providing answers on what he has done for the people of Rivers and Bayelsa states, the President went ahead to admit that he did not do much in the region because he is a transparent man who considers other people first. He later promised to develop the South-South zone if re-elected. Really? Does that mean he had no answer to the questions continuously raised by the governor over the years? Has Amaechi then been vindicated?
In my amazement, I momentarily took myself on a mental excursion down memory lane of how all this started. There was an indescribable feeling inside of me. One part of pity and the other side of it-serves-you right. As you keep following the campaigns of President Jonathan and his dwindling popularity nationwide, evident from the several opinion polls including the ones organised by his supporters, you will only have to shrug helplessly. How come he did not see all these coming? Do not get me wrong, the President still has supporters in both Rivers and Bayelsa states. The son-of-the-soil syndrome is still alive. However, one can say without doubt that he will not score anywhere near the 1,817, 762 votes that he scored in 2011. Out of the 1,253,603 eligible voters who have collected their permanent voter cards in Rivers State, the President will be very lucky to get 800,000 which will, in any case, be below half of what he scored in 2011. A chunk of his votes in 2011 will go to his rival Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress. The same thing could happen in Edo, Imo and his home Bayelsa which were his strongest support bases in the last election.
When you look at the political climate prevailing in this country today, you will notice that many of the events above are related. It was a sort of a chain reaction that led from one level to the other. The trigger at least in the eye of the public being the confrontation between the wife of the President, Dame Patience Jonathan with the Rivers State governor during her visit to Okrika. When that incident took place, many sections of the media widely condemned the action of the First Lady.
However, many politicians did not, including the President – at least officially. The First Lady continued to meddle in the affairs of the state until matters got to a point of no return. The unpleasant exchanges continued until things degenerated to a level that it became difficult to control. It is not my intention to interrogate many things that happened in- between especially some that remain beneath public glare. My concern is that if political leaders from the zone including the President were courageous enough to caution the First Lady, some of the other issues might have been avoided. The First Lady might have been stopped in her tracks. Now, what can she do to save her husband from the political storm that is clearly lying ahead?
I will not comment on the failed attempt to forcefully overthrow the governor using the minority of the state House of Assembly members. For me, it was the highest attempt to caricature our democracy. Neither will I bother to say a word about the orchestrated crisis in the NGF. Some people will say that some behind-the-scene efforts were made at reconciliation but these glaring examples portrayed the President as lacking in tact.
Today, what many associates of the President believe to be a simple matter has now become a hydra-headed political monster. I remember how attempts were made to brand Amaechi a betrayer and summarily take care of him. The NGF matter later spiralled out of proportion and resulted into the loss of two very important states, Rivers and Kano by the PDP. What was supposed to be a plan to deal with Amaechi at all costs splashed on four other governors who had to quit the party.
Since their departure, despite all the pretences, the PDP has never remained the same. If you look at the main opposition party, the APC, you will see that the momentum it got started from when these governors joined them. No one can play down on the role of state governors in contemporary Nigerian politics. In 2003, the governors were with Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and President Olusegun Obasanjo allegedly had to beseech him for support. After Obasanjo’s victory, who prevailed?
Some people argue that Amaechi himself should have managed to desist from making public statements on the matter so that internal resolution mechanisms could be explored. However many politicians from the northern part of Nigeria have shown the President that they may not support him in the forthcoming election. His best bet, if any, will be to sweep his home base as he did in 2011. If the presidential election takes place today, that will hardly be the case and one of the reasons will be the avoidable political conflict between the President and his “younger brother”, Amaechi. Things have really got out of hand. Maybe, irredeemably, according to some analysts. The battle line might have been drawn. A majority of voters have made up their minds. I keep imagining the kind of difference it would have made politically if Amaechi and President Jonathan were on the same side at this time.