Has the violent battle for the soul of Rivers State ended before the actual fight?


Okenyi Kenechi

That the All Progressives Congress will likely not field candidates for the 2019 elections in Rivers will perhaps become one of the greatest political stories that posterity will be blessed with. Yet despite the euphoria associated with the declaration by the highest court in the land that the Rivers APC issue deserves to be given a ‘decent burial’, of importance is the fact that among the things buried by the Apex Court on Friday were not just ambitions, aspirations but political dynasties.

Among the things also buried by that declaration is the mindless bloodbath which would have trailed the 2019 general elections in the state.

The violent battle for the soul of the oil-rich state saw a clash between political associates turned foes. The ground for what would actually have taken place on the 16th of February and March 2nd was tested on August 18, 2018, during the Port Harcourt City Local Government Constituency III By-election which was marred by indescribable and despicable violence.

The seat became vacant after the constituency representative vied for the office of the Port Harcourt City Local Government Chairman and won. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, then fixed a date for the by-election but it was characterised by ballot box snatching, intimidation, accusations and counter-accusations and gunshots. INEC during a press conference on the day of the election, having been convinced that the process had been distorted, pulled the plug and suspended it. Till date, the people of that constituency have no representative at the state house of assembly.

Nyesom Wike, the Rivers State governor new that he was being cornered. All his moves were being monitored especially as regards security. His attempt to launch a state-controlled security agency was resisted from Abuja with soldiers drafted to kill it. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC launched another attack on the state in a bid to investigate its finances. The state was marked to be taken. The plan was laid bare. Those who keyed in into it were getting prepared for a final showdown and convincingly so, were bold in providing counter-arguments in support of their methodology. “Wike did it in 2015. It is his turn to test the waters”

But such argument, vile as they sounded, formed the crust of discussions even among the elites, at beer parlours, inside the markets, taxis and at home; especially with rumours flying about that the leader of the party in the state and current minister of transportation, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi has eyes on the presidency come 2023. And to support his ambition, the former governor needed a conforming, loyal political protégé as the governor who would have no structures of his own but would rely on the existing structures of the minister and if he does not stick to plan, will be removed easily. That, according to rumours, informed the Tonye Cole’s candidacy.

But other foundational members of the party disagreed with the plan which was daily materializing, especially as the party’s congresses approached. These foundational members who disagreed openly were quiet, calm but a hardened mob with an in-your-face attitude from the long end of town. Their insistence on the party’s candidates emerging through a democratic process sparked off tirades but they were the opposite of the loud and chaotic mob that is the minister’s faction.

Among them is the Senator Representing Rivers South-East Senatorial district at the national assembly, Magnus Abe; the member representing Ikwerre/Emohua federal constituency, Chidi wihioka; member representing Tai/Eleme/Oyigbo federal constituency, Barry Mpigi and others like the former attorney-general of the state, Worgu Boms. Mpigi would later dump the party for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

The violence that erupted on the 5th of May 2018 at the Forces Avenue secretariat of the APC was the making of the hammer that would nail the Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi’s political dynasty in the state to the wall. But if the violence of May 5 nailed it to the wall, the violent attack on the Rivers State High Court of May 10, 2018, that was aimed at stopping the court from sitting on a day it was to give an interlocutory injunction against the conduct of the party’s congresses euthanized it and the Apex Court buried it.

The minister who came to power as governor through the court would later grow to despise the courts. He subsequently shut the courts down at the height of disagreements over who will become the Chief Judge of the state but the courts fought back years later.

And while members of the APC fought tooth and nail in the courts, the governor whom they were gearing up to remove became the biggest beneficiary of their quarrel.