Re-Austin Tam-George and Wike’s toxic nativism by Chris Okparaolu


It’s over 48 hours and I am yet to read the Rivers state government’s response to Mr. Austin Tam-George’s published opinion where he accused Mr. Nyesom Wike, the head of that government, of nativism. If that publication, misleading as it is, has met nothing but robust silence from those who should ordinarily react to it, my guess is that the governor may have, for obvious and easily understandable reasons, preferred silence.

For some reasons, I consider it necessary that I react to Mr. Austin’s opinion. I’ll start by filling you in on some pointers so we will travel on the same plane.

While addressing a cross-section of the public days ago, Mr. Wike had dared to turn the showers of praise on his predecessor, Mr. Peter Odili for “paving way for an Ikwerre Governor”.

This act of Mr. Wike, had in a way, provoked Mr. Austin, who himself was shot to relevance by a previous act of Mr. Wike – about four years ago when Mr. Wike appointed Mr. Austin as the Commissioner for Information.

Mr. Austin was to later resign that appointment but before doing so, he had on many occasions presented Wike to the public as a man with impeccable leadership qualities and one whose compassion for the downtrodden was consummate and one whose loyalty to the people he led was grand, total, unwavering, and unflinching.

He also had on various occasions taken on Wike’s political enemies, a job he did beautifully well as his command in English language is enviable. It is with delight I remember his releases taking on the revered Nobel laureate, Mr. Soyinka. The issue was that Soyinka had allowed Mr. Amaechi, who was then governor of the oil-rich state, to expend thousands of unbudgeted public dollars to mark his birthday.

But let’s not digress. If Mr Austin has a personal axe to grind with his erstwhile boss, Mr.Wike, he should go ahead and do so privately. Mr Austin’s subtle attempt to bring in the Ikwerre ethnic nationality to the whole issue between himself and his former boss is as disingenuous as it is discourteous. He may have been very subtle at this but, if you ask me, that is the more reason why someone has to point it out.

I am not a Nyesom Wike’s apologist and recently, I have spoken very loudly against his administration but Mr Austin is yet to point me to what is so provoking in the governor saying “thank you to Odili for paving way for an Ikwerre governor”.

Those who have followed Rivers state politics know that is the truth. It would be unwise to insinuate that the term ‘Ikwerre governor” means anything else other than a governor of Rivers state from the Ikwerre ethnic nationality. I say this because variations to this like Ogoni governor, kalabari governor, Okirika governor are commonplace in the political lexicon of Rivers state. It helps that I have, many times, caught the governor say he is not a governor for the Ikwerre people only.

The question here is not whether Mr. Wike has preformed creditably well as governor or not. And it’s not the question because Mr. Austin did not present that as the source of his provocation.

The question we seek to address here is whether there is justification for Mr. Austin’s provocation on account of the governor ‘s praise for Mr. Odili for paving the way for an Ikwerre governor.

With the points we have already raised, it is obvious that our resolution to this question is in the negative.

The interesting thing in all this is that Mr Austin had in the said publication tried to make the point that the Wike-led Rivers state government has not been of any special favour to the Ikwerre ethnic nationality as a whole. This and a few other publications authored by Mr. Austin since he left Wike’s cabinet show that Mr. Austin’s view of Wike has changed.

I do not have problems with people changing views and expressing same. But if you have benefited money and food and power from the person(s) whom your views and its marketing favoured and, for any reason, you have a change of view, courtesy demands that before you go back to the people to market views different from what you had previously told them, you need to explain why to them. You need to tell them what happened, and the point things went sour and why – full disclosure.

Nigeria is not suffering from the scarcity of brilliant and intelligent persons. What we suffer from is the dearth of men and women with character. This is why it is important that we ask the former information commissioner what actually happened!

Mr. Okparaolu Chris writes from Lagos.