by Eniola Bello
Since the process leading to Nyesom Wike’s election as governor began, the story from Rivers State has not been a pleasant one. It’s been a story of violence, blood, and death. And there seems to be something ingrained in Wike’s politics, if not his governance style, that ignites and fuels the serial bloodletting that has re-launched Rivers State as the treasure base of political violence. Indeed the politics of Rivers has almost always been ruled by violence. Between 1999 and 2007 when Peter Odili was governor, kidnappings and cult wars and political killings were so rampant that oil companies relocated their offices from Port Harcourt. And in the earlier years of that administration, militants – guns, amulets and all – usually drove in a convoy to the Office of the Secretary to the State Government for their own “monthly allocation”. However, the Rotimi Amaechi administration declared war on the militants, drove them out of town and restored peace to the state. That was the situation until about two years before the April 2015 elections when then Minister Wike, with the backing of the federal government, became the de facto power, following Amaechi’s opposition to the re-election of then President Goodluck Jonathan. Since then, Rivers has been gripped by violence and bloodshed. The situation is now so bad that it would not be out of place to describe today’s Rivers as one day, one death.
In the last few weeks for instance, Franklin Obi, a local leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Omoku was shot. Perhaps to be doubly sure he didn’t survive the gunshots pumped into his body, Obi was beheaded in a primitive display of violence. His wife and son were also killed. Before Obi, some 24 persons had allegedly been killed in Omuku. There was an attack on the military in Yeghe. And in Bori, the campaign office of Senator Magnus Abe was torched. From the report of one politician clubbed to death in Opobo, to that of another beaten and set ablaze in Buguma, to yet another buried alive in Yeghe, it has been one gory incident after another. Wike has repeatedly denied APC accusations of being the sponsor of the violence ravaging the state. However, as chief executive, Wike must accept more than vicarious responsibility for the violence and bloodbath that have befallen Rivers lately. And in four key areas below, Wike’s actions and utterances have been less than noble.
1) When the hood makes the monk:
How do you assess a man whose total education and upbringing is limited to the confines of a single community? How do you see a politician who has done very little or nothing in his adult life outside of politics? Wike suffers from these two debilitating handicaps. Having studied Political Science at the University of Port Harcourt, and Law at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, also in Port Harcourt, Wike worked for only one year as a Junior Associate with the law firm of Emmanuel C. Ukala. Then he joined politics, and with an unlikely experience of having managed a budget of even N1 million in his life, he was between 1999 and 2007 an elected chairman of Obio-Akpor Local Government, one of the richest councils in the country where he had to superintend over a budget of nothing less than N1 billion (the council’s budget for 2013 fiscal year was N6.3 billion). After serving two terms as council chairman, Wike was appointed Amaechi’s Chief of Staff, from where he became Jonathan’s Education Minister, until his election as governor. For a man born in 1967, Wike did not work or live outside of Port Harcourt until his appointment as minister. At the time, he was already 44. And throughout his ministerial tour of duty, so at sea was he in Abuja that he used to, by his own admission, travel to Port Harcourt every Friday for the weekend. In the process of his political sojourn, Wike has acquired stupendous wealth. Essentially therefore, Wike not only has a limited exposure to other cultures, he sees politics as the be-all and the end-all, having done almost nothing outside of politicking in his working life. Herein lies the danger.
Politicians of Wike’s ilk, who though have no pedigree, yet have done so well for themselves in politics, would have no inhibitions sacrificing anybody and anything to realise their ambition. To compound the situation, Wike operates on the extreme right of Odili School of Politics, where money, and aggression (what some would rather call violence) are essential requirements for political success. Perhaps this is one reason Wike is hardly moved by the violence and killings ravaging his state. Dismissing the allegations that recent killings were politically motivated, Wike was quoted as saying: “”When cultists die from a feud, some people will start shouting that they are killing their party members. Have you asked … why no known politician has been killed or even a known person?” This is an unfortunate statement from a state chief executive. So those killed have to be known for their death to matter? By his bearishness in comportment, in words, and in action, Wike empowers the purveyors of violence in Rivers.
2) When politics is personal:
In saner climes, politics is never personal. When campaigns are over and the election is won and lost, the winner moves ahead with the business of governance and the loser moves on with his life, until another election cycle when knuckles are, once again, bared. This is not necessarily the case with our politicians. But even weighed on a scale of the general political pettiness, Wike, like the Babylonian King Belshazzar (Daniel 5:27), has been found wanting. He seems to think about nothing else but Amaechi. Were the regularity of the crude verbal fireworks always from the other side, one would have dismissed it as the groaning of a frustrated loser. But then, having been declared winner and sworn in, and having had his electoral victory affirmed at the highest court in the land, what else does Wike want? Shouldn’t he tone down his war rhetoric and personal attacks on his predecessor and be the father of all which his office confers on him? But even in church, at a supposed thanksgiving, Wike was still wickedly belligerent. “I pray,” he told the congregation at St. Peters Anglican Church, Rumueprikom February 7, 2016, “that my enemy should continue to have permanent high blood pressure. I wouldn’t pray that God would heal them. My own has come down now, and for seven months it was high. It is time for their own to rise.” Why such expression of bitterness to the point of wishing political opponents un-healable ill health at a thanksgiving ceremony in church? In wishing his political opponents permanent high blood pressure and not wishing they received healing, wasn’t Wike saying he would be happy to see them dead? And wasn’t that enough encouragement for the militants and cultists and hoodlums and other apostles of violence to kill, maim and burn? Any wonder why there is so much-bloodbath under Wike’s watch?
3) In Ogoni, a déjà vu:
Following the attack on the military in Yeghe community, and the touching of Senator Abe’s campaign office, a cross section of Ogoni youths and apparent supporters of the APC embarked on a peace walk on the streets of Ogoni. That was on 2nd March, 2016. The protesters condemned what they called Wike’s hate speeches and expressed support for the presence of the military in Ogoni communities to arrest the insecurity in the area. A few days later, another group, obviously supporters of Wike’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) organised a counter protest, condemning what they called “military invasion” of Ogoni communities. The PDP Senator Lee Maeba, and Kenneth Kobani, Secretary to the State Government in the Wike administration, addressed the second group of protesters. Had Wike been a leader who has a sense of history, he should have resisted the temptation to organise a counter protest. His resort to divide and rule may advance his political objectives in the short term, but disrupt peace in Ogoni communities in the long term. And history is there as a guide. In the mid-90s, four Ogoni leaders (OGONI 4) including Edward Kobani, the father of Wike’s SSG, were murdered in a protest the MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People) organised. The military administration of the late Gen. Sani Abacha arrested, secretly tried, convicted and executed writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight MOSOP leaders (OGONI 9) in what was globally described as judicial murder. It wasn’t too long ago that the Ogoni communities cast away the shadows of mutual distrust and suspicion resulting from the murder of Ogoni 4 and the state execution of Ogoni 9. Wike, with his politics of divide and rule, should not allow history repeat itself.
4) A vote against peace:
The regularity of the violence and the gory nature of mindless killings without any arrests being made, indicate, if there were any doubts, that the police are totally helpless. Of course, we all know that because men of the Nigeria Police Force are sharply short in equipment and manpower and structurally immobile, they are easily overwhelmed when confronted with the superior organisation and firepower of some criminal gangs. The received wisdom has always been to invite the military to assist in internal security situation in any part of the country the police have been unable to cope. That was the situation in the immediate past administration in which Wike served as minister. Wike’s opposition to military deployment to Yeghe in pursuit of some outlaws is therefore difficult to understand, particularly when a large cache of arms was reportedly recovered from the residence of Solomon Ndigbara, a former militant. Expressing his opposition to military deployment for internal security, Wike said: “Nigeria is a democratic society. … Army is to protect the territorial integrity of the country. If there is a problem in any part of the state, police should be sent there. Anything outside this is not acceptable”. Really? So Wike is comfortable with the unbridled violence and bloodfest going on in his state, which the police have been unable to arrest? As chief executive, he’s not worried by the barbaric killings in some Rivers communities? Or his people’s lives do not matter to him so long as his party is victorious in the rerun elections to State and National Assemblies just as it won the governorship under the cloud of fear and anarchy?
The bedrock of leadership is statesmanship. As governor, it behoves Wike to initiate moves capable of healing the wounds eating away a bitterly divided political family, and leaving in its wake death and destruction. The people of Rivers do not deserve the serial mourning of loved ones in the name of politics. It is said politics is not about permanent enmity, but interest. That being the case, there is nothing wrong in Wike suspending his petty differences with Amaechi and collaborating with him for the greater good of Rivers State. In no distant time, Wike’s tenure will be over. And if he does not re-examine his politics, he would be remembered not by how many lives he touched as governor, but how many people were butchered to get him elected. And keep him in office.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Eniola Bello/Thisday