Will Tonye Cole dethrone Wike?

Okenyi Kenechi

It is Tonye Patrick Cole’s official endorsement for the post of governor, but speculations have been rife for months over the choice of the billionaire businessman after rumours of a meeting with the Minister of Transportation and leader of the Party, Rotimi Amaechi in London in March indicated that the businessman will be the minister’s choice. Although, political observers and analysts alike seem to be divided over his emergence and see it as a mixture of both good and bad news.

However, while his endorsement has been greeted with cheers by party fateful and opposition alike who believe that his choice is an own goal and an easy ride to victory for the incumbent, Barr Nyesom Wike, Cole has kept as low a profile as possible with observers saying he is more of a ‘Lagos boy than a PH boy”.

Some analysts have said that Cole having been a successful businessman and a developmental expert is what the state needs now to shift away from a group of politicians who have held sway in the state since the 4th republic.

Although such concerns are true, other analysts are worried that being a total stranger in the state and its politics, and having no structures of his own, his emergence might spell doom for the party and widen the cracks created by violent congresses.

Members of the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressive Congress have spent over four months disagreeing with each other after series of violence erupted prior to and after local congresses in May. The Minister’s position that it is the turn of the riverine to produce the governor has caused wide division in the party, with fateful from other ethnic groups feeling disenfranchised, calling it undemocratic.

On the list is Magnus Abe, the current senator representing Rivers South-East in the National Assembly who has been at loggerheads with Amaechi over the conduct of the State congresses in May which threw up the Ojukaye Flag-Amachree-led state executive.

Abe, an Ogoni man, a governorship aspirant and a long-term associate of Amaechi has had his ranks deplete over the past months as one of his key allies, Barry Mpigi, defected to the Peoples Democratic Party in July leaving him with Elder Chidi Wihioka, member representing Emohua/Ikwerre federal constituency.

A factional secretariat set up by Abe was also destroyed in August by thugs said to be loyal to Amachree.

Many party fateful have come to see Amaechi’s endorsement of Cole as a betrayal of loyalty, of those who have laboured to ensure that the party retains relevance in the state.

Some analysts have argued that the party needs a candidate who would match the incumbent governor in the area of access to the grassroots and not a candidate who would bank totally on Amaechi’s popularity for votes.

But Cole’s choice has widened the cracks within the party, especially within the minister’s camp as insiders say the minister has fallen out with his political protégé, the Director-General of NIMASA, Dakuku Peterside, whom many felt would be the minister’s choice having run unsuccessfully against Wike in 2015. But Dakuku issued a statement on Friday, saying he will accept Amaechi’s decision.

Others like the billionaire businessman and philanthropist, Dumo Lulu-Briggs are also expected to accept the minister’s choice. It is left to been seen if they will work together for the success of the party at the polls.

Amaechi’s political rating appears to have improved since, though he almost never speaks to local media so it is difficult to judge but the minister’s faction’s poor handling of the Port Harcourt Constituency 3 seat which was marred by violence coupled with the utterances of the state chairman of the party has led to some belief that it will be long before it gets better.

While many see the battle not between political parties but between Amaechi and his long-term political associate, Governor Wike, whom many still believe enjoys a reasonable level of goodwill and who fell out with each other in 2013, some have insisted that the 2019 election will retire either of the minister’s or the incumbent governor’s political dynasty.

Political intrigue is thickening ahead of next year’s election. Wike has announced he will run again, as there has been a spate of defections into his party, the PDP in recent months while he banks on lack of performance from the ruling APC which has seen the economy dwindle since taking office in 2015.