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Gbenga Omotoso: Rivers: Where are the elders?


Gbenga Omotoso: Rivers: Where are the elders?

by Gbenga Omotoso

What is going on in Rivers State?

The scene is familiar. A group of lawmakers – usually infinitesimal in number – find their way into the House of Assembly chamber, grab the mace, proclaim one of them speaker and, apparently in a befuddled state of a newfangled legal muscle, proceed to make fundamental decisions. By the time the world learns about such actions, it is too late for sanity to prevail, too late to withdraw a bitter joke.

That was the scenario on Tuesday at the Rivers State House of Assembly. Five lawmakers – they are often described as loyalists of Minister of State for Education Nyesom Wike; have they lost their identities? – seized the chamber to proclaim a new leadership that lasted just a few minutes. Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi moved in to pull the brakes on the theatrics. The nonsense stopped after a few heads had been smashed.

A source has just told me that the root of the Rivers crisis is money. Cash. As a corollary of this is 2015. The crisis in the local Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been contrived to achieve a purpose, which surely is not to project the people’s interest, but to pursue personal designs for personal gains. I hope the actors do not think they can take the people for granted forever. When they realise the truth and rise, the consequences may be too grievous for us all to handle.

A brief recall of some of the events. A court in Abuja handed over the leadership of the party to Felix Obuah as chairman. Obuah is believed to be loyal to Wike. Godspower Ake, who the Abuja court removed, is of Amaechi’s faction. He insists he was validly elected in an election Obuah never participated in. The House of Assembly suspended a local government chairman and his executives from office for alleged fraud. The party asked Amaechi to restore the council chiefs. He did not. He couldn’t have. The principle of the separation of powers will never allow that. The party suspended Amaechi and asked him to apologise for him to return to the party.

Ever since, the Rivers crisis has been part of the trouble with the national PDP. Amaechi’s plan to retain his chairmanship of the Governors’ Forum became a fratricidal strife from which the forum is yet to recover. Governors became the subject of beer parlour jokes after Plateau State’s Jonah Jang maintained that he won the election with his 16 votes. Amaechi scored 19. Academic giants were seized by a strange frenzy in a bid to unravel the new theory of how 16 became bigger than 19 – the Nigerian politician’s latest contribution to scholarship. Till date, they are yet to resolve the mystery. Unable to conceal his questionable neutrality any longer, President Goodluck Jonathan embraced Jang, hosting him at the Villa.

Amaechi was subjected to all manner of indignities. A recent visit of the First Lady shut down the Rivers capital city, Port Harcourt. He had to shelve some official engagements for as long as the Dame Patience Jonathan road show lasted. Many verbal grenades were hurled at him. The official aircraft that flew him to the Akure Airport was grounded in questionable circumstances. Before then, Rivers had lost some oil wells to its neighbour, Bayelsa, in what has been seen in many informed circles as an attempt to cripple the state financially.

Amaechi and Commissioner of Police Mbu Joseph Mbu are not the best of friends. They are not working together. In fact, the governor says since Mbu’s arrival in the state, the crime rate has surged, adding that kidnappers are back in business and robbers have ended their holiday to seize the state by the throat. Mbu denies it all. He insists that he remains an impartial enforcer of the law and not an executioner of a political design drawn up from the very top as part of a line-up of activities to enfeeble Amaechi.

The governor has remained pertinacious, saying the interest of the people is paramount. Nobody, it should be noted, has dismissed Amaechi’s achievements in many areas of development – health, education, infrastructure and all that. Why then is he having problems? Politics? Envy? Ambition?

A school of thought says it is because Wike, a former associate and Chief of Staff to Amaechi, wants to succeed him, but that the governor has dismissed this as a mere dream because he and the minister are from Ikwerre. Others, he says, should be given a chance. Wike kicked. He launched into a war of attrition against Amaechi.

Like a mere scratch of the skin, the Rivers crisis has grown into a sore that needs attention because of its potential to balloon into an infectious disease that will spread to other places and become difficult to heal. There are speculations that the main target of the madness in the House on Tuesday was Amaechi. If the five legislators had had their way, they would have initiated impeachment proceedings against the governor. Sounds strange? Yes. But, recall, dear reader, that recently, 16 was said to be bigger than 19. Besides, memories of such incidents are fresh. Dariye. Alamieyeseigha. Fayose. Impeachment is a long process, but our politicians sure know how to shorten any process. After all, doesn’t the end justify the means?

The role of the police in this drama has been everything but noble. From just watching hoodlums harass the lawmakers on Tuesday, the police yesterday stepped up the game. They reportedly fired teargas into the Government House as they pursued people who had come to show solidarity with the embattled governor.

Where is the Constitution in all this? Where is the rule of law on which the Jonathan presidency has built its shaky public image? With businesses shut down yesterday as policemen chased protesters around the city, there is a clear invitation to anarchy. Presidential aide Dr Doyin Okupe has said his boss is not involved in the crisis, adding that Amaechi is too small for Dr Jonathan to fight. Hold it doc; that is wrong. The issue is not Amaechi. Why should the President watch as a part of the country is being wracked by anarchists who don the garb of politicians. Shouldn’t he show he is not part of this morbid game – many believe he is –?

Those former militants who made a living by fighting the law are back in business. They are leading the assault on the state’s constituted authority – obviously with official backing. Isn’t this a costly way of keeping ex-militants busy?

Nigerians, ever inventive, have started cracking jokes with the Rivers situation. A friend sent me this: “Dad & Son.”

Son: Dad, why are you training in martial arts?

Dad: It has been entrenched in our constitution as part of the criteria to contest elective office.

Son: Are you sure, dad, that we now have such in our constitution; since when?

Dad: Oh my son, yesterday the Rivers State House of Assembly was suddenly turned into a boxing ring. I need to acquire skills to defend myself when I become a honourable member.

But the Rivers crisis is no laughing matter. It is the type that makes decent people fulminate. Where are the elders? Should the nonsense in Rivers be allowed to go on? The other day at the Villa, a group of Rivers indigenes, among them some notable individuals, visited the President. They poured invectives on Amaechi, casting him in the mould of an implacable brat. That is not the way of elders who are expected to be custodians of public morality and wisdom. It is politics taken too far.

It is good that the National Assembly has stepped into the matter. The nonsense in Rivers must be arrested. It should not be allowed to spread. With a state of emergency in three states, the fiendish bloodletting in Plateau and the communal clashes all over the place, Nigeria seems to be overdrawing its account in the bank of peace. It may hit the red.

Rivers indigenes have a big role to play in the resolution of this crisis, which is part of the long-predicted implosion of the ruling PDP. They should demand peace and decency. But, again, where are the elders?

– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Gbenga Omotoso

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