Polscope with Eddy Odivwri
Although the hitherto managed quarrel between President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, has become such a motor-park gossip talk, the two protagonists still pretend that all is well between them. None of them or their spokespersons, has publicly admitted that there is fisty feud. Yet, beneath the denials lies a boiling cauldron of plots and counter-plots to undo each other. And the war of nerves has simply continued, worsening by the day.
For about three months now since the war chips dropped, I have followed the developments, listened to arguments and postulations from both sides of the tug-fight.
Many of those who blame Gov Amaechi, accuse him of arrogance and a pompous attitude to the President. They say the way he talks to and about the President little shows respect to the office and person of President Jonathan. This point was orchestrated by Godsday Orubebe, the Minister of the Niger Delta, an avowed loyalist of the President, when the minister launched his famous verbal attack on Amaechi over the East West road issue, some months ago. As it has shown, that attack, has become the preface to the many others that have followed. But the question is: has Amaechi indeed been rude or disrespectful to the President? I have asked many of those who accuse him of this attitude to cite just two instances. They scratch their heads and reharsh the parroted verbiages they heard from others without exactitudes.
What I take from the tenor of the explanations comes down to “Not what said, but how said”. We all know that there is both a pleasant “Yes” and an offensive “Yes”. It depends on how it is said. I concur that Gov Amaechi could be brash and lacking in diplomatese while expressing his mind, but I do not think that can be interpreted to mean being rude or pompous. But nobody has faulted the content of Amaechi’s comments. The quarrel is essentially with his style.
In my review of the labyrinth of the feud, I classified them into four broad issues:
The Okrika spat with the First Lady
Sometime in 2010, the first Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan had had a public argument with Governor Amaechi over some demolitions in Okrika, the hometown of the first lady. The duo disagreed on the scope of the demolitions and on who the real owner of land is in the state, whether it is the government or the communities. Although the issue has long been glossed over, it sure sowed seedlings of offence, which have since grown to figs of fury.
The NGF as Bad Tooth
About two years ago, Gov Amaechi became the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF).
Under his chairmanship, the forum has become as cohesive and articulate in a way that has robbed Mr President of some of his comfort. Both the governors and the President have failed to be on the same page on a number of issues. Some of such issues are: the Sovereign Wealth Fund, Excess Crude Account, and the cost of the Petroleum subsidy. Those who accuse Amaechi of being confrontational cite some of these issues as examples, forgetting that he is merely articulating the position of the governors, and not his own opinion. Not on one occasion has the governors disowned what he said on their behalf. It was even learnt that when the governors went to court over the Sovereign Wealth Fund, it was on the advice of President Jonathan himself. Indeed, at the risk of repeating the kernel of the argument, the question must be asked that if Mr A and Mr B jointly own an asset, would what is done with the asset not be a product of the agreement of both parties? Was it right for the President to unilaterally decide to save the $1billion in the SWF without carrying the governors along, whereas they both own the money? Amaechi as Chairman of NGF has insisted that the governors must have a say in their commonwealth. He insists that the subsidy figures of 2011 as supplied by the NNPC must be probed as it has affected the overall money available for sharing across the states. He insists that there should be no arbitrariness in a democracy.
When the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on political matters, Alhaji Ahmed Gulak, says that the NGF has become a trade union, it is in reference to these demands of the governors, not Amaechi.
So irked was the president against the Amaechi-run NGF that he sought to seize the platform from him. On two occasions Amaechi was to be unseated but the plot failed. The next action was the setting up of the PDP Governors’ Forum, headed by Gov Godswill Akpabio of Akwa-Ibom State, all to whittle down the powers and influence of the Chairman.
Closely related to the above is the issue of Amaechi’s “stubborn” insistence on re-contesting the chairmanship of the NGF, contrary to the wish of the presidency. Indeed, the fielding of Gov Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State in the election coming up next Wednesday is believed to be the handiwork of the Presidency. Pressures have been mounted on Amaechi to step down from the contest but he has refused to bulge. Again, that test of will, as it seems, rankles the nerves of those who think Amaechi is cocky, forgetting that this is a democracy. Again, question is does he have the right to seek re-election from his fellow governors or not? And pray, why should the presidency or any structure for that matter, seek to so overtly interfere with the election and running of a body to which they are not members?
Soku Oil Wells
Perhaps, what inflamed the feud between the two Niger Delta leaders is the issue of the Soku oil wells. Early in the year, the controversy over who owns the Soku oil wells broke. It was not a new controversy. It preceded both President Jonathan and Gov Amaechi. In fact, former River State governor, Dr Peter Odili had protested the ceding of the oil wells to Bayelsa State in a re-drawn federation map. Because the controversy had not been resolved, the proceeds from the said wells were transferred to an escrow account pending when the resolution will be reached. But early in the year, the Rivers State government raised the alarm that the money held up in the escrow account from the oil wells, have been released to the Bayelsa State government. Understandably, Gov Amaechi complained.
Again, his style came to question. In a retreat held for top civil servants in Calabar, Gov Amamechi had reviewed the Soku oil wells issue and promised to “:fight” the president over it, giving the impression that because President Jonathan is from Bayelsa State, he surreptitiously authorized the release of the proceeds to Bayelsa State, contrary to the understanding both parties had. As government things do happen, the video tape where Amaechi threatened to “fight” the President over the wells got to Mr President. And the latter had played it back to several stake holders plus governors, to drive home the “ïnsolence and disloyalty” of Gov Amaechi. Many of those who watched the video clips (remember the Abacha’s coup videos?) came out believing that Amaechi was indeed disloyal.
I am not aware that the National Boundary Commission has released the latest federation map. But the basic question to ask is: the Kalabari people who own the Soku oil wells in question, are they from Bayelsa or Rivers State? By his own admission in an interview about a month ago to this newspaper, Gov Seriake Dickson had admitted that some money was released to his state from the monies held in the escrow account as accruals from the Soku oil wells. So was it out of place for Gov Amaechi to complain if he felt that the commonwealth of his state was being circumscribed by a now more powerful Bayelsa State? By storming out of the “peace talks” the President must have felt slighted. And it was counted for a sin. A mortal sin.
Rumoured Presidential Ambition
Even more troubling in all the “sins” of Gov Amaechi is the rumour, yes, rumour that he has concluded plans to contest the presidency come 2015, with the governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido as the presidential aspirant and Amaechi as his running mate. Although the duo have steadily denied the rumour and innuendoes, the story continues to resurge. Matters were not helped by the fact that in Kaduna State some “campaign vehicles” emblazoned with the portraits of Lamido and Amaechi drove through the state , just as posters to the same effect were posted in several strategic places in the city. Lamido and Amaechi have dissociated themselves from the political stunts, but it has actually not cleared the fog. With a seeming affinity with the opposition, the fear that Amaechi is on his way to the presidential contest continues to be reinforced in some quarters. Although he has continued to deny it, many have reasoned that an Amaechi’s presidential contest, legitimate as it might be, will be a gross demonstration of political bad fate, the duo having come from the same Niger Delta region. To that extent, many have thus seen the onslaught against Amaechi as a political strategy to crush him or leave him sufficiently disabled and bruised such that the thoughts of nursing his wounds, and not presidential aspiration whould preoccupy him.
The string of affronts against the Amaechi government are thus to be seen in the light of a plan to inflict maximal cut; that which will either paralyse or distract him. The issue of the grounding of his plane had actually been preceded by the refusal of the National Security Adviser to clear the two new helicopters procured by the Rivers State government for security surveillance in the state. The copters fitted with security apparatus were meant to aid the C4i security mechanism in the state. Following the grounding of the Bombardier plane, the Ministry of Aviation and its subsidiaries, the NCAA and FAAN have been shopping for reasons to justify the action. They claim that the documentations were faulty, even forged. They say the registration process was not right. They say the insurance was not in place. All kinds of stories. The public hearing of last Wednesday did not support the claims. The questions that pop up are : where was the NCAA since October last year when the plane started flying? Why were all these lapses not detected? Why now are they suddenly noticing all these clerical and procedural defects? Is it not an indictment on their efficiency that a plane would have flown for about seven months in this country before they suddenly realized that it ought not to be in the Nigerian airspace? And pray, how many of the private jets flying unhindered in Nigeria today, including that of the Akwa-Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio, has complied with the sudden new rules of NCAA?
The Abuja court order that sacked the Godspower Ake-led PDP executive in Rivers State is considered as one of the actions that was meant to deal a deadly blow on the Amaechi government in the state. Not unexpectedly, the Felix-Obuah-led new team kicked off its rule by suspending 32 members of the State House of Assembly, believed to be loyal to Gov Amaechi, whilst also preaching desire to reconcile all aggrieved members of the party in the state..
.It is remarkable that all of these actions were preceded by the visits, sequentially, of even Godsday Orubebe and Tony Anenih to the Government House, Port Harcourt, seeking reconciliation.
The crisis that has rocked the Obi-Akpor Local Government area of the state is another pointer that the state has lost its sleep. First the governor sacked the elected chairman of the council. I do not know if he has that power. And he appointed a caretaker committee. Three weeks ago, the police chased out the caretaker committee, sealed the council claiming to be acting on orders from above. Where is the above, if not Aso Rock? Even when the court asked the police to vacate the premises, they soon came back, a day after, claiming the interest in protecting the council against destruction because of a said explosion that occurred at the generator house of the council. The partisan undertones of the police are so loud that they cannot be mistaken.
But the murder of an aide to Ake, Mr Eric Ezenekwe at his home town, Erema, has shown that not even palm oil will suffice for a deity determined to draw blood.
My father says a wise elder would not be home and a goat will deliver in tethers. Where are the Niger Delta’s religious and traditional elders? When would this needless war end? Are the people not suffering? Is governance not suffering? Is this what the people voted for? Let there be peace!