Bedbugs sting not from spite but because they desire to live. Could it be the same with Nyesom Wike, incumbent Governor of Rivers State? Is Wike’s aggressive political onslaught against his predecessor, estranged friend and benefactor, Rotimi Amaechi, borne out of a curious desire to inflict hurt and neuter him or a towering passion to serve the state? OLATUNJI OLOLADE examines the genesis of the rift between the former friends and political allies.
NYESOM WIKE flares high and low like a wicker lamp. The incumbent governor of Rivers State flaunts a temperament that combusts like flame of the rattan work caught in a rainsquall. Critics of his government would liken his controversial victory at the recently concluded gubernatorial elections to the gale that fans the fiery embers of his temperament. And the reason is hardly farfetched: in the wake of his victory at the state’s governorship elections, an ecstatic Wike promised not to witch-hunt Rotimi Amaechi, his predecessor and former governor of the state when he assumes office on May 29. Speaking during a special victory service in Port Harcourt, the state capital, Wike stated that rather than witch-hunt his opponents in the election, he would extend hands of fellowship to them in order to move the state forward.
Few weeks after he made his pledge, Governor Wike is embroiled in a fierce plot to neuter and impugn the government and reputation of Amaechi. Recently, Wike instituted a plot to probe his predecessor just after he accused him of looting and vandalising properties in the Government House. Wike took reporters around the Government House to point out items that were allegedly looted from the edifice, including furniture, bullet proof doors, carpets, cars, curtains and windows.
In response, Amaechi laughed off the plot, claiming that the current governor is trying to intimidate officials that served with him in his administration, including civil servants, by deploying threats and blackmail to force them into making and substantiating false claims of alleged corruption and corrupt practices against him and his wife, Judith.
Between his hasty pledge not to witch-hunt his predecessor and his radical orbiting in stance and temperament, Governor Wike cuts an interesting portrait which at first glance, elicits wanton speculations and apologies about his capacity for fairness or malice. While the jury is out on his capacity for fairness, Wike’s mounting offensive against his predecessor bears the telltale of contained animosity and spite.
But how did the duo cross the threshold of unflinching loyalty and friendship to the Rubicon of spite and dishonour? Their unfolding spat has been severally attributed to a clash of wills and political interests. It would be recalled that both Governor Wike and former Governor Amaechi had been political allies since 1998. Amaechi and Wike became political allies under Dr. Peter Odili’s administration when Wike served as Chairman of Obio/Akpor LGA, while the former got elected into the state House of Assembly and eventually emerged Speaker of the House, a position he held for eight years.
Trouble loomed in 2007 when Amaechi threw his hat into the ring to contest the state’s governorship elections. He did so against former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s preferred candidate, Celestine Omehia at the Peoples Democratice Party (PDP) primaries. Amaechi defeated Omehia to clinch the party’s ticket, to the embarrassment of Obasanjo who had sought to install him (Omehia) as the state governor.
But Obasanjo tacitly went to work and by a radical twist of fate, Omehia eventually flew the party’s banner at the election. Had the former president remained in power, the travesty of justice and due process might have been upheld but he vacated office for Late President Umar Yar’Adua under whose leadership Amaechi took his case to court.
One thing led to another and the PDP machinery turned the heat on Amaechi; when the heat became too cutthroat and intense for him, he fled to Ghana for refuge. Enter Nyesom Wike. The latter, who is a lawyer by training, stepped in at this juncture and championed his friend and ally, Amaechi’s interest risking everything to ensure that the absconded gubernatorial candidate did not only return from Ghana safely but also became victorious at the court.
The legal battle raged on for months and eventually, the court pronounced Amaechi the legitimate candidate for the elections, which he won convincingly on the platform of the PDP.
For his loyalty and dogged fight in defence of Amaechi, even in the face of alleged assassination attempts, Wike and the new governor-elect allegedly struck a deal that would be validated and consummated in 2015. The deal was hardly about replacing Amaechi in the Rivers State Government House after 2015 but being backed to rub shoulders with other levels of elected officials at the Three Arms Zone in Abuja.
In the main time, the governor settled down for governance and appointed Wike Chief of Staff. Their relationship blossomed through several rifts and intrigues that involved horse trading of positions in the state, accusations of betrayal and counter-accusations. Through the storm, the duo never faltered in alliance, it seemed. In fact, when Wike emerged as the Minister of State for Education under the immediate past regime, Amaechi said he nominated him although Wike refuted the claim.
Amaechi, in a meeting with visiting clergy men of the Niger Delta Bishops’ Forum at the Government House in Port Harcourt said: “Nyesom Wike, his second tenure as Obio Akpor Council Chairman, was by the grace of God but I was the architect of that second term.
Nyesom Wike was appointed Chief of Staff by me. Nyesom Wike as a Minister of State, I nominated him. I was under pressure by the President to drop him, I refused. The President persuaded me to drop him and bring a woman but I refused. I hear he is going all over town saying I didn’t appoint him. I didn’t appoint him, the President appointed him but I nominated him to be a minister as the Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum. I did but you know, character doesn’t come easily, character is a very difficult thing and I am a man of character.”
Things got to a head when Amaechi got re-elected the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) against former President Goodluck Jonathan’s preferred candidate, former Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State. This set him at war with the president and generated animosity against him back home in Rivers State where several natives and political power blocs loyal to the president, considered his actions in conflict with ethnic and regional interests.
The situation got uglier as Amaechi’s trusted ally, Wike, got swept into the vortex of political intrigues and presidential plots against him; Wike waded in, this time, on the part of the presidency. Severely flustered, Amaechi, wielding his characteristic bluntness and audacity like shears, trimmed and marshalled the machinery of state in self-defence even as he enlisted in the ‘opposition camp’ against President Jonathan, hoping to curry the favour and support of the citizenry.
Add the fracas in the state House of Assembly, where five members mocked the statutory two third majority and sought to impeach the Speaker. There are 24 members, 16 of whom opted to throw in their dice with and pitch their tents with Amaechi irrespective of imminent witch-hunt by the presidency and the ruling party. In the intrigues that followed, the nation watched in awe as the State Security Service (SSS) personnel and police orderlies that were erstwhile loyal to Amaechi, turned and worked assiduously against him on the alleged orders of the state’s Commissioner of Police and the presidency.
Add his fraternisation with current ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC) to the melee and you have a perfect recipe for full blown conflict. Amaechi attained pariah status to Wike and his newfound benefactor in the presidency, Patience Jonathan, whom he described as his ‘Jesus’ in the wake of her unflinching support for him in his row with Amaechi. Amaechi was considered a traitor both by his former ally and the presidency over his romance with the APC; the rumour was that he was positioning himself for the vice presidential slot and thus truncate Jonathan’s 2015 reelection ambition.
But at a point, the speculation that Amaechi might consider going to the Senate after his tenure as governor. And that was where the conflict between him and Wike snowballed into an inferno. Amid frayed loyalties and perceived betrayals, the 2007 agreement allegedly reached between Wike and Amaechi could no longer stand. Wike had apparently betrayed Amaechi’s trust by pitching his tent with the presidency and taking the former First Lady as his lord and saviour ‘Jesus’. Wike had wanted the Rivers South East senatorial seat in 2015 and Amaechi had apparently compensated him with a ministerial nomination, it would seem.
It was even more troubling that Wike couldn’t be supported for the gubernatorial seat as their senatorial district had just served for eight years by virtue of Amaechi’s regime. Hence it would amount to breach of federal character and the zoning principle should the same zone produce another governor when the rotation had not been completed.
Enter Dame Patience Jonathan; the former First Lady characteristically sought to play deity and impose Wike as the party’s choice for the governorship seat. The subterranean machinations of the warring camps led to a frosty relationship between Amaechi and the presidency. The First Lady, apparently peeved by the governor’s erstwhile daring manoeuvres against her husband’s political interests sought every opportunity to flay his hide. Her chance came during her visit to Rivers State. Dame Patience had made a request outside official protocol to visit her people in Okrika. But Amaechi unknowingly played into her hands by stating that the surroundings of a primary school in Okrika would be demolished to make way for necessary facilities like a playground. Dame Patience had flared up unnecessarily, according to Amaechi. The former First Lady grabbed the microphone from Amaechi and launched into what the latter described as some sort of grandstand antic. The chasm widened between the presidency and Amaechi following the Okrika scene and former President Jonathan was only too eager to crucify him having had his share of confrontations with him.
With the NGF crisis still festering and rising sentiments within the state’s PDP chapter over Amaechi’s perceived insubordination to ethnic and regional interests, Wike, of course, was only too eager to serve as muscle to the presidency’s subsequent plots against his former political ally, friend and benefactor.
By OLATUNJI OLOLADE