Rivers Crisis: Between Wike and Fubara

Rivers Crisis: Between Wike and Fubara

Chekwube  Nzomiwu

I took  away two things from the speech made by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu at the public presentation of two books written on the administration of his predecessor, former President Muhammadu Buhari, which held in Abuja recently. First, is that Buhari has not intruded in his government since he left office and retired to his hometown, Daura, Katsina State. Secondly, the former president has not nominated anybody for appointment into his government.

President Tinubu’s revelation coincided with the reconfirmation by the Rivers State House of Assembly of nine commissioners who resigned from the state cabinet at the heat of the power tussle between Governor Siminalayi Fubara and his predecessor, Nyesom Wike, the incumbent Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The reconfirmed commissioners voluntarily tendered their resignation letters to demonstrate their allegiance to Wike. Although he was instrumental to Fubara’s election, both men had since parted ways. The arrangement to return the former commissioners was part of the controversial peace deal brokered between them by President Tinubu.

Sequel to the resolutions contained in the agreement, Governor Fubara recognised the Wike controlled House of Assembly, as led by the Speaker, Hon. Martins Amaewhule. On the other hand, the House dropped the impeachment proceedings it earlier initiated against the governor.    

Equally part of the resolutions is that the House shall choose where they want to sit and conduct legislative business without interference and/or hindrance from the executive arm of government. Recall that the Rivers State Government had demolished the House of Assembly Complex in December last year as a result of structural defect arising from explosion and fire outbreak.

However, the Wike camp accused the governor of demolishing the assembly complex to stop his impeachment. They also forgot that Wike sometime in July 2021 had said the complex is not befitting and due for rebuilding to a global standard that befits Rivers State. For now, the 25 lawmakers of the House who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) now holds plenary at the Conference Room of the House of Assembly Quarters.

A few days ago, Wike said that his group had fulfilled their own part of Tinubu’s conditions for peace to return to Rivers State. Although Fubara is not a talkative like the minister, there is ample evidence that he has shown enormous goodwill towards the implementation of the agreement. Fubara’s commitment has even been acknowledged by the chief conciliator, President Tinubu.

Despite the prevailing circumstances, I feel strongly that all lovers of democracy should be concerned about the situation in Rivers State. If not properly handled, it will definitely have catastrophic consequences for our democracy. Why did I say so? First, I heard very senior lawyers argue that the president has no constitutional right to intervene in internal affairs of states. Prominent among those who hold this opinion is Robert Clarke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). This position shared by Clarke in a live interview with Channels Television, was re-echoed by former Governor of Lagos State and immediate past Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola SAN.

I am aware that the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended), under General Provisions (Part 1), establishes the Federal Republic of Nigeria, States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory. The same Constitution vested the executive powers of the federation on the president and that of a state on the governor. The Minister of the FCT is an appointee of the president.

Hence, it is both an aberration for the president to get involved in a political crisis within a state, where there is a governor, and for the governor to share executive powers in a state with an appointee of the president. Such flagrant abuse of the constitution endangers our democracy and amounts to planting landmines on the foundation of the Nigerian federation, and therefore, must not be condoned.

Secondly, I think that the courts ought to be allowed to thrash out the conundrum surrounding the issue of the defection of the 25 Wike loyalists in the House from PDP to APC. The Constitution of Nigeria is explicit that lawmakers should have their seats vacated by virtue of defection from one party to the other. So, I agree with legal minds that the defectors need to prove to the court that their defection complies with the exceptions provided in the Constitution.

Thirdly, one of the greatest challenges of the Nigerian political system, especially at the sub-national level, is the conflict arising from godfatherism. In most cases, the godfather wants the governor to become his stooge. Once the governor attempts to assert his authority, crisis erupts. The godfather fights back and attempts to impeach the governor.

At the beginning of the Fourth Republic, we witnessed many of such cases, including the Jim Nwobodo-Chimaroke Nnamani clash in Enugu State, Olusola Saraki-Governor Lawal imbroglio in Kwara State, Emeka Offor-Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju debacle in Anambra State and Lamidi Adedibu-Rasheed Ladoja fight in Oyo State. The climax was the epic battle between self-styled godfather of Anambra politics, Chris Uba and Governor Chris Ngige.

When two elephants fight, the grass suffers. In the fight of the godfathers and the governors, the people suffer. governors redeploy resources meant for development in the State, to prosecution of political war against the godfathers. In some cases, insecurity is heightened in the state. Remember that it was during the clash between Emeka Offor and Mbadinuju that the Onitsha branch Chairman of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Barnabas Igwe and his wife were brutally murdered.

In other cases, public and private property are destroyed. For instance, during the Uba-Ngige saga, part of the Government House Awka and state-owned Ikenga Hotels were razed by political thugs, purportedly acting on the orders of the godfather who had the federal might behind him. 

Godfatherism is an ill-wind that blows no one any good. The ongoing Rivers crisis is the latest case of godfatherism in Nigeria. From all indications, Wike is hell-bent on calling the shots in Rivers from Abuja. Rivers is not an extension of the FCT. Does he want to become Minister of Rivers State, when there is a sitting governor? A ship cannot have two captains. That he was instrumental to Fubara’s emergence does not matter. As governor, Fubara is accountable to the people of Rivers State and not Wike.

Again, Wike accused Fubara of trying to destroy the political structure that brought him to power. As a political scientist, I sincerely don’t understand what he meant by political structure. Political structure simply means political system. In Political Science, a political system or political structure refers to the type of political organisation existing in a state, whether presidential or parliamentary, unitary or federal, democracy or autocracy, among others.

If Wike was talking about “political machine,” then he should know that one man cannot appropriate the franchise to himself. It is a party organisation (with a boss or controlled by a small group) which has enough votes to have control over political administration in a city, country or state. One man alone cannot constitute the machine. He is minister today, courtesy of the contributions of the entire membership of the machine, including His Excellency, Siminalayi Fubara. Wike should know that the money he used in buying forms for all the elected officials in Rivers State is the patrimony of the people, and not his personal resources.

If truth be told, he is the person that should be accused of ingratitude and not Fubara. The governor is not importing crisis to himself as Wike claimed. The latter is the person exporting crisis from Abuja to Rivers State. I heard him say that if you haven’t given a manpower and money, then, you don’t know the person. Let him remember the saying that “when you point a finger at someone, there are three more pointing back at you.”

Literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe (of blessed memory) said in “Things Fall Apart” that “Those whose kernels were cracked by benevolent spirit, should not forget to be humble.” Elder statesman, Edwin Clark recently revealed in a television interview how a former governor, picked up Wike from a motor park and made him a council chairman. From there, Rotimi Amaechi made him Chief of Staff.

When Amaechi could no longer contain his “cantankerous” behaviour, he recommended him to President Goodluck Jonathan for ministerial appointment. The same man later teamed up with Jonathan’s wife to fight Amaechi, all in a bid to become the Governor of Rivers State. Today, he no longer reckons with Jonathan and his wife. It sounds preposterous that this same character is accusing another person of betraying him. Was he not the one that said that betrayal is part of politics?

I remember that during the battle between Emeka Offor and Mbadinuju, the then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo invited the two to Aso Rock and told Offor pointblank  that “a man carrying the carcass of an elephant on his head, does not search for cricket with his legs.” I expected President Tinubu to tell same to his minister. He has been a governor for eight years. He was local government chairman. He was Chief of Staff. He was Minister of State. Today, he is not an ordinary minister, but a super minister. He is the only minister whose ministry was excluded from the Treasury Single Account (TSA). I heard him brag the other day that he is the only minister who presents his budget directly to the National Assembly. So, what did he forget in Rivers State?

As a result of his divided attention, the FCT Abuja is now a den of kidnappers. I agree with activist Deji Adeyanju that his negligence was responsible for the insecurity in Abuja. He cannot put the blame on innocent Area Council Chairmen. He is the Minister of the FCT and should take the responsibility for the frightening insecurity in the seat of power. I expect the president as a statesman and pro-democracy activist, to rise to the occasion and rein in his minister.

In conclusion, Wike must leave Fubara alone to do the job for which Rivers people elected him. He should stop taking advantage of the governor’s peaceful disposition to cause trouble in Rivers State. Rivers people cannot be intimidated with federal might. Let him be wary of a South African proverb which says that “even an ant can hurt an elephant.”

 Nzomiwu writes from Enugu

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