RIGHT OF REPLY By Soala Robinson
I read Dr. Chidi Amuta’s beautiful piece titled, “Power, Politics and Peace in Rivers” published at the back page of THISDAY Newspaper of May 15, 2019, and was glad that the author, having lived and worked in Rivers State, desires the best for the state and wants the embarrassing narrative of political acrimony with its concomitant orgy of violence which has earned the state notoriety in the comity of states to stop. Dr. Chidi deserves commendation for this and I do not hesitate to shower it on him in generous dose.
My concern, however, remains that even though Dr. Chidi suggested that his piece was a call for peace and not a blame-apportioning exercise to determine who is wrong or right, he nevertheless glossed over certain obvious demeanor which is at the root of the present internecine political upheaval in Rivers State and which no genuine peace move should overlook. That is the pervasive lack of respect for one another and intolerance at the highest level of Rivers politics.
For instance, that Rt. Hon Chibuike Amaechi saw Dr. Peter Odili on a flight and on arrival, waited for his predecessor to disembark and carried Dr. Odili’s bag is more a reflection of the character of Odili than that of Amaechi, after all Amaechi started his political career as Odili’s personal assistant. If Odili had publicly abused and blackmailed Amaechi the way Amaechi has been doing to others in the state, there is no way he would have tried to carry Odili’s bag, nor would Odili have allowed him to carry his bag if he was publicly calling him a betrayer the way he has been doing to others. Truth is if Odili had not carried himself with his characteristic fatherly disposition, he would not allow Amaechi carry his bag, as they clearly have deep and bitter disagreements. If any of the people Amaechi has issues with attempts to greet him or even carry his bag, what will be his own reaction? Your guess is as good as mine.
It is on record that Senator Magnus Abe severally went on national television and referred to Amaechi as his leader, and Amaechi responded with a full blown press statement attacking the senator and others for calling him leader. And even more recently, Governor Wike’s emotional call for peace and extension of an olive branch to the opposition with a charge to the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Rivers State to commence the process that will lead to discontinuation of all ongoing criminal prosecutions arising from the 2015 elections and Amaechi’s reaction to that is still fresh in the mind of Rivers people. Amaechi appeared on Channels Television and abused the hell out of Wike, calling him “a murderer” and “a governor who pays bribe” among other regrettable insults.
Will such a man be civil enough to even let his estranged friends exchange greetings with him? Odili who exchanged pleasantries with Amaechi and allowed him to carry his bag in public was actually so embittered by Amaechi and his political interest to the point where he had been to court at least twice to defend himself from Amaechi’s rampaging interests. Once from the outcome of the Eso panel report, and another, a multi-billion naira libel suit against Amaechi’s governorship candidate, yet in all these he maintained calm, dignity, and exemplary public decorum, no matter the anger and provocation. Odili is indeed a father and a teacher.
Like Dr. Chidi Amuta, I am also an interested party. I am a son of Rivers State. I know all the political dramatis personae. I have lived and worked in Rivers State all my life and I have watched in disgust as our politics degenerated to almost sub-human levels to fuel cataclysm on a scale that is both baffling and benumbing. I have watched in dismay as businesses and opportunities took flight on all fours from our state to more saner places within the federation. And recently, my singular prayer point every time I drive out in Port Harcourt has been that God should bring me back with my limps intact. That is the sorry state of things, and any call for peace must be embraced, but in calling for any kind of rapprochement, attitudinal change is inescapable, and that is where the Minister of Transportation comes in for special mention because that is where we have real challenge today in Rivers politics.
Dr. Chidi wrote that “what is undeniable is that all the significant current contenders for political pre-eminence in the state rose to prominence mostly at Amaechi’s behest: Governor Wike was Amaechi’s Chief of Staff and Senator Magnus Abe his Secretary to Government.” While it is indeed superficially fanciful to say that, it is nevertheless unjust as it betrays the fact that without Governor Wike and Senator Magnus Abe, and others not mentioned, Amaechi might not have been Governor of Rivers State as at 2007 when he became. When the kitchen was becoming hot in 2007 and Amaechi had to run away to Ghana for fear of his safety, these courageous men were those who dared the consequences and remained on ground to marshal human and material resources for the struggle to actualise Amaechi’s mandate through a most grueling legal labyrinth that ended in the unprecedented victory at the Supreme Court on November 25, 2007.
Any narrative, no matter how well intended, that doesn’t take into account the roles that others played during the struggle to realise Amaechi’s mandate and also the roles that they played in the period preceding Amaechi’s nomination as the PDP guber candidate for the 2007 election is most likely to induce a skewed understanding of the relationship that existed between these political players and ultimately subdue the fundamental fact that whatever any of them got at the end of a successful struggle was not a favour dispensed by a benevolent being but something done in recognition of the efforts of friends who were playing politics for mutual benefit. It was Wike and Abe and others who first added value to Amaechi’s politics for him to become governor at a time when almost all hopes have been lost.
Unfortunately, Amaechi’s failure to recognise that fact and the efforts that others have made to contribute to the political height that he has attained is at the root of the current political crisis in Rivers State. And that is why the Minister should borrow a cue from what Odili did with him at the airport and also treat other people as human beings deserving of respect, whether they disagree with him or not. That people worked under you before does not mean that they are inferior to you and therefore not deserving of respect.
The issues in Rivers politics today are not only inter-party crisis for political relevance, it is also intra-party. The minister’s party, the APC, specifically, was not on the ballot for the last elections. While great efforts have been dispensed and propaganda deployed to blur and obscure the real reason why this happened, the truth remains that the crisis arose out of Amaechi’s inability to obey the law, respect others and tolerate divergent views. Those who do not agree with the minister must be crushed and disgraced. How do you demonstrate that kind of attitude and not cause commotion in your group and in the society? It is that kind of attitude that is fueling political crisis in Rivers State.
Chidi said that Amaechi having held positions as Speaker and as Governor and now as Minister from Rivers “may be entitled to certain messianic swagger”, but watching events from close range as I am doing, that is exactly the problem in Rivers State. Amaechi carries that messianic swagger which the larger population of Rivers people obviously do not agree with. The majority of Rivers people believe that it is a historic privilege for Odili, Amaechi, Wike or anyone else to lead in a state where several others are clearly better qualified, and those who have been so privileged should be humble and treat the state and its citizens with respect. None of them including Amaechi is entitled to any “messianic swagger”. Indeed it is that sense of entitlement to messianic status by Amaechi that is at the root of the unending political crisis in Rivers State. It is because of that unmerited messianic swagger that Amaechi publicly declared that even if he brings a goat to be governor, the goat will be governor. It is because of that messianic swagger that Amaechi was reported to have said that even if he has only 300 persons with him, that he can use that number to make a governor in Rivers State, a state of over three million voters. It is because of that complex that in the last election, there was harvest of blood, agony and despair in Rivers State.
I do not think that any leader is entitled to have a messianic swagger, because it will certainly blind his eyes to reality and give him a false sense of superiority over others. It will make such leader have a false sense of self sufficiency and be deluded into the thinking that whatever he says or thinks is right no matter what the people say. If someone has done well, it is far better for the masses of the people to ascribe messianic attributes to that person rather than the person consciously cultivating same for himself. It could be very dangerous and that is why Amaechi has created so much mess in Rivers State.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Over the last few weeks, I have read a glut of image laundering Op-Eds in papers and have watched same on TV. There is no doubt in my mind that all that is a pre-planned and well coordinated onslaught from the Minister of Transportation to achieve certain objectives. But if Amaechi really wants to launder his image, the proper thing for him to do at this point is to admit his mistakes and go back to Rivers State to do the right thing. No amount of pontifications in the papers will change the reality of what he has done in Rivers State. He needs to go and clean up his mess. Those of us from Rivers State have seen his 16 years in public service in the state and four years as minister, so no one can rewrite a character that he doesn’t have for us in the papers because we know and can tell what is happening from what has happened.
We also know the lip service Amaechi has been paying to power rotation in the state. For a multi-ethnic state like ours, by 2023, only his own ethic group would have produced governor for unbroken 16 years and minister for 12 years to the exclusion of others if Amaechi succeeds in his latest unrelenting campaign to be reappointed as minister even as Rivers people cannot point to any project he has brought to the state as a federal minister in the last four years.
Yes, we need peace in Rivers State, but only respect for others can bring that. And respect for others means that the major players must change their attitude.
• Samuel writes from Port Harcourt