Wike, The Lion of The River-Forest

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Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike,

COUNTERPOINT

By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

It is perhaps in order to offer a simple prayer before we go further: that we may be guided, and conscious of not falling into the same cesspool of which we are berating another person over. You see, it is easy to point fingers at misdemeanors of others while the chief accuser is sitting pretty on a giant cushion of “high crimes and misdemeanors”, a deceptively non-criminal phrase re-christened and re-popularised this week by the US Senate huffing over the impeachment theatrics of President Donald John Trump. 

The object of our attention this week is less dramatic and of no serious global consequence, yet we are much troubled by the villainous, seemingly uncontrollable display of crude arrogance, blatant abuse of power and jaundiced understanding of public relations regularly provided by the incumbent governor of Rivers State, Mr. Ezenwo Nyesom Wike. 

Have you watched his latest performance in that vitriolic viral video this week? In the sad flick, the governor was caught addressing a hall-full of traditional rulers. Though the scenario, obviously edited for maximum knock-down effect, did not go beyond three minutes…the demeanor and accumulated despair of the monarchs easily suggest that the royal fathers have been steaming under some royal shellacking for all of 30 minutes, at least! 

Some excerpts of Wike’s wicked tirade would assure you that the above description is possibly more charitable than the actual drama. There he was on the dais, standing imperiously above the sedately ensconced royal-fodders, as the fierce visage of a civilian governor bellowed at them, his anger amplified by the state house microphone and coat of arms. 

In response to a request by the chairman of the Rivers State traditional council of chiefs on the disturbing issue of proliferation and nuisance of non-recognised traditional rulers, Wike thundered: “… It is not for you to take (staff of office) and go and keep it in your bedroom or put it in your shrine, for those of you who worship various shrines…. It is for when you are coming out for official function… That differentiates you from any other chief. Some people call themselves ‘Royal Highnesses’ when they are not recognised by government, but you also carry a walking stick that is meant for other people who are not recognised by government. I want to tell the Attorney General so that we propose a bill to the State House of Assembly that if you are not a government recognised traditional ruler, you don’t bear ‘Your Royal Highness”. 

The last line tickled the august audience, and they cheered…ooops, they forgot they were in the presence of an unpredictable volcano with scant regard for anyone or anything of low capital pedigree. He blindsided the cheering dignitaries viciously, without breaking speed: “Stop clapping. You are being selfish. Stop clapping. It’s the right thing to do. It’s not because of you, because you won’t be there forever. It is to protect the institution. So, don’t clap because you are there now… This year… will be a serious year… stop shaking your head because that’s sycophancy….” 

Yet, the drama had not reached the crescendo…that masterfully craft climax was reserved for a corpulent chief whose sartorial taste verged on the exuberant and colourful. He was unfortunately sitting at the front row in direct line of Wike’s wandering gaze. The chief appeared to be nodding admirably, and royally, to the unsubtle admonishment of the governor… I suspect he was admiring the brutally frank but harshly delivered truism of Wike’s argument. His sin was not that he was caught nodding in agreement with the governor. It was somehow locked in the cognitive substructure of Wike’s next vituperation. He swerved at the “lame-duck”, grim-faced example of equanimity under undue vehement duress: 

“You…(points at him) stop shaking your head. You are one of those causing problems. They gave you chieftaincy… you are a young boy… you don’t even know what to do with it. And then when I’m speaking you are shaking your head like this… All fake! Fake!!. You just go and wear something that is bigger than you… You would think he is an elderly person (addressing all)… Very small young man, this boy. I know when I was in school, he was running around us, going on errands. Now he is wearing… Usman Dan Fodio…emm this thing… Then he begins to breach protocol. He thinks when he is shaking his head like this, I’d be happy. That’s fake…that’s fake ….” 

The cameraman, a Nollywood wannabee, intermittently zoomed to the scandalized face of the pulverized patriarch. His dark inscrutable face instantly compels empathy and outrage at a scenario where the defenceless is not only the victim, but manacled by protocol and officialdom to absolute silence, even when every vein in his generous frame was throwing darts and arrows at the almighty governor, the lion of the riverine forest!

Many Nigerians have lambasted the manners and vileness of Wike versus the royal fathers. This may not be the last time the governor will perform such dark art of public ‘indecorum’, he has been a podium bully from his days as Rotimi Amaechi’s chief of staff, a nice sobriquet for attack-dog. One is not pretending to be clairvoyant when we suggest that Wike will charge and berate another unfortunate victim soon, it is clearly written in his official statement controverting the criticism of his 2015 gubernatorial opponent who is now the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dakuku Peterside. Hear him: “Wike’s penchant for embarrassing our traditional rulers is becoming irresponsible and shameful… Not too long ago, the governor threatened to depose the Amayanabo of Kalabari, King Theophilus Princewill, just as he has severally lampooned others as if they are his servants…”

Rather predictably, Wike wasted no time responding to Peterside. A statement issued by Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Paulinus Nsirim, insists that Wike merely “went ahead to urge the monarchs to always attend government functions with their official staff of office, following a formal request by the monarchs… For Peterside to attempt to use a frank discussion between the governor and the monarchs to seek relevance is a confirmation of the total rejection that he suffers with members of his party….”

This is a puerile attempt at obfuscation, in a case that is as clear and vicious as the Australian wildfires. Of course, with such rebuttals, it is unarguable that the man is either completely unaware of the gravity of his gaffe, and therefore did not understand all the hoopla over a “frank” dialogue with his royal friends, or he is immune to valued application of dignity, decency and mutual respect in the interplay of human conditions and emotions – no one rules forever, and nothing, no stature, no office, no circumstance last for ever. 

Interestingly, the last time we had such outrageous display of official high-handedness in inverted public relations was in the same Rivers State. The old state (Rivers and Bayelsa) was barely five years old when the administration decided to make a crude public spectacle of what to do to those who chose a wrong day to offend the imperial military governor. The good book is eternally true when it proclaims woe on a land under the rulership of self-serving youth. 

Lieutenant Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff was just few weeks away from his 25th birthday when he was appointed as state governor, and a member of the Supreme Military Council, the highest ruling organ in the country. On his 31st birthday, the spoilsport folks at the Nigerian Observer newspaper decided to carry a story of striking teachers, and thus ruined the salivating palates of the young emperor. A governor’s aide, one Ralph Iwowari, ordered the hair of the “senseless” reporter, Minere Amakiri, be shaved, allegedly with a broken bottle, in public! Of course, the irresponsible and malicious outrage didn’t cost him his job, nor his boss’ who served until the 1975 coup that swept away Yakubu Gowon and his youthful gang.

 Today, Diete-Spiff is the Amayanabo of Twon-Brass…a kingdom that falls in the Bayelsa part of old Rivers State. What a classic irony, a vicious freak of karmic orchestration would it have been if Diete-Spiff were of same stock as those who sat that hot January day under the venomous umbrage of Warrior Wike. That would have been some glorious comeuppance. 

Final word: let those who wield power today, under whatever flag or pomp, be assured that their actions, words and relationships will characterise their images and legacies in the womb of history. Villainy, of acts or thoughts, has never been a badge of honour anywhere outside the camps of outlaws. Guide your words, they have consequences…be conscious of what you leave the world with. No statesman is fondly remembered for atrocious, bull-headed misconducts. I rise.