How Long Can Amaechi, Sylva Tag Along?

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The truce, brokered last week, between the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and his counterpart in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva remains an effort, whose fate is still in the belly of time. Onungwe Obe writes

Politics is an interesting vocation. It is only in politics that there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies – where promises are held out to be broken.
A few days ago, Governor Mala Buni, the Chairman of the National Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC) brokered a truce between the Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and the Minister of State for Petroleum, Hon. Timipre Sylva, two leaders of the party, who had been in a no-love-lost situation over the leadership of the party in the South-south geopolitical zone.

The interest of the national chairman of the party is apparent. The party cannot afford to lose election again in the zone, because of infractions among its leaders. So, contending party leaders and their supporters must close ranks and sink their differences in the overall interest of the party. Or don’t they have a local saying in the Niger Delta that you first drive away the vulture from the load before you find out who owns the load?

While many party faithful commend the supposed restoration of peace between Amaechi and Sylva, there are still many, who only hope that the truce will endure. This is because despite the clout that APC leaders parade in the South-south zone, the party had failed to make electoral successes, because at critical times, the leaders had allowed their differences spill over to jeopardise the electoral fortunes of the party.

There are reasons to think the Buni peace accord between Amaechi and Sylva is suspicious. The contentious issues and the details of the resolution were not made open. The response from Amaechi and Sylva were not also detailed enough. And their bland facial comportment did not betray their feelings about the truce.

However, their words could be taken for granted. “We have agreed to work together,” Amaechi told journalists after the meeting. But not a few believed that the peace process was initiated by Amaechi, who has a presidential ambition, and would need Sylva, who now presides over the nation’s cash cow: the oil ministry.

APC is fielding candidates in the Edo and Ondo States governorship elections taking place in September and October respectively. It will field candidates in three senatorial by-elections in Bayelsa and Cross River State on October 31st.
In the four states, the party has been rocked by serious conflicts that could affect its chances. But then politics is also said to be the art of the possible. Anything can happen before the elections. The major question, however, is how come the APC has not been able to resolve its leadership crises in the South-south zone?

It is not clear when the bad blood came between Amaechi and Sylva. But those close to them have noticed it for a very long. The culmination of it was a few months back when Sylva, who is the leader of the party in Bayelsa State was said to have crossed into Rivers, where Amaechi is the leader to get a known opponent of Amaechi, Senator Magnus Ngei Abe, appointed into the board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which Sylva oversees.

That is considered poaching, an unwritten offence, in politics because any appointment coming from the area where there is a recognised party leader ought to be routed through that leader or at least have his consent.
Before 2018, Amaechi was clearly the undisputable leader of the APC in the South-south zone. Combined with his closeness to President Muhammadu Buhari, Amaechi dictated virtually every term and determined every appointment from the federal government that came to the zone.

He almost got whatever he wanted from the President. All the catchment Niger Delta portfolios like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), NIMASA, NPA and even South-South slots in NNPC were under his firm control. It was his nominees that got appointed to those agencies.

Some close observers say the beef between Sylva and Amaechi started in 2015/6 when Amaechi failed to deploy his control of the federal might in support of Sylva’s governorship election.
They believe that had Amaechi mobilised for Sylva in that election, he would have won. It was a similar story with Senator Godswill Akpabio, who lost his senatorial election in Akwa Ibom, when many thought the federal government would have used the ‘federal might’ to back him up.

After Adams Oshiomhole emerged the National Chairman of the APC in 2018, the process to cut Amaechi to size began. The party was broken in Rivers State, where Senator Magnus Abe was propped up to challenge the dominance of Amaechi.
The emergence of Ovie Omo-Agege as the Deputy Senate President provided another flank of the gang-up. As the highest ranking elected officer of state from the zone it seemed natural that the zonal leadership of the party should fall to Omo-Agege. But Amaechi was not prepared to lose his position, given what awaited him in Port Harcourt if he lost it.

But he continued to lose his wings. When Akpabio became Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, the anti-Amaechi-group lobbied and took NDDC out of his control and handed it over to Akpabio. So, Amaechi lost his privilege to nominate appointees to the Board of NDDC.
Amaechi further lost space, when they refused to renew his men’s appointments into NIMASA and NPA. With Sylva in charge of the nation’s cash cow, the NNPC, it became clear Amaechi was up against powerful forces.

Somehow, providence crept in to Amaechi’s favour. He has managed to get part of NIMASA back with one of his loyalists, Hon. Asata Asata getting appointed Chairman of the agency. The controversy with NDDC weakened the strength of Akpabio, especially, with the talk of returning NDDC to the Presidency. Oshiomhole’s loss of his national chairmanship of the APC put him out of contention for the zonal leadership of the party, except anything changes in the foreseeable future. And Omo-Agege has not really demanded to be given his due as the leader of the party in the zone.

It could be understandable if it is Amaechi that now needs Sylva, as much as others. With his presidential aspiration gathering steam, Amaechi needs as many friends as he can muster. He also needs peace in his zone and home state. If he gets Sylva on his side, it is likely that Abe could follow. A man cannot be running after a rat, when his house is on fire.
Sylva did not speak when journalists interviewed him and Amaechi when they met in Buni’s office in Abuja. Could they have reached a rapprochement? Or he is still taking his time.

Sylva and Amaechi have come a long way together. Age mates, they both attended the University of Port Harcourt, with Sylva studying linguistics and Amaechi graduating in English studies. At the time, Sylva was a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly in 1992 and Amaechi, a Special Assistant to the Governor of Rivers State.

When the Fourth Republic came, Amaechi was in the House of Assembly while Sylva was Special Assistant to the Minister of State for Petroleum. Both of them became governors of their respective states in 2007. And today they are both ministers, holding very vital portfolios in the Buhari government. Will their past cement their relationship? Or would the Monday truce just be some public relations photo ops? The jury is still out.
Pix: Amaechi, Buni and Sylva after the reconciliation meeting.jpg