2017: The forces, events that will shape Rivers politics FeaturedWritten by Kelechi Esogwa-Amadi
Every New Year ushers in new expectations, anticipations, apprehensions, events, challenges, optimisms and sometimes scepticisms. Thus, when the world welcomed 2017 on January 1st, it was clear that another vista of uncertainties have opened. Hence, a lot of people, on the first day of every year, make New Year resolutions that are supposed to guide their activities throughout the year. For Rivers State, which is still smarting from a beehive of political activities that culminated in the December 10 legislative re-run elections and their chequered aftermath, 2017, no doubt, provides for politicians an opportunity for stock-taking, evaluation, re-examination and preparation for further political exploits. As political gladiators re-strategise to either protect or pursue their various interests in furtherance of their political career, The Neighbourhood Editorial Team has deemed it necessary to look at the forces and events that will shape the politics of Rivers State this year, 2017.
Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike
As the number one citizen of Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike, no doubt, wields enormous political power in the state, and it may remain so for at least the next two and half years when his first tenure is expected to expire. As the de facto leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, Governor Wike also wields much influence on his party members and as is expected, should determine the direction the party goes in the quest to protect its interest.
Also, through his policies, programmes and projects, the Rivers Governor can, to a large extent, partly influence the politics of the state in 2017. The role he played for his party during the March 19 and December 10, 2016 legislative re-run elections in Rivers State are good examples of how he can influence the politics of the state as the current governor, even though such roles as played by the governor have been hugely controversial. Recently, the Department of State Service, DSS, implicated him in a plot to commit treason, thereby arresting his point man, who is an SA to the Senate President. Recent media revelations had allegedly implicated Governor Wike in electoral malfeasance as revealed in leaked audio conversations of the governor.
One of Governor Wike’s strong points is his die-hard attitude when it comes to pursuing or protecting his political goals and/or interests. Rivers people and Nigerians at large will not forget in a hurry the battle he waged against the former Rivers Governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. As Minister of State for Education then, Wike ensured that Amaechi did not have peace in the last two years of his administration, all in a bid to actualise his own ambition of governing the state. If Wike continues to demonstrate this never-say-die spirit in his approach to issues in 2017, it will definitely impact on the politics of the state either negatively or positively. The Rivers governor, as a known grassroots politician, is believed to have a strong support base in many rural areas, which could be described as a political plus. Besides, the fact that his boys are still in control of the LGAs as CTC chairmen means he remains a force to reckon with in 2017 politics and cannot be wished away irrespective of how stiff his opposition is.
As Wike plots to achieve an extended political empire, he has stretched his hands across the Niger to seek alliance with the caliphate in the far North. During his 100 days in office, for instance, Wike invited the Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, as guest. He also recently visited Sultan of Sokoto and later, attended Tambuwal’s daughter’s wedding. Political watchers believe that these moves by the Rivers governor is not unconnected with his desire to win the heart of the caliphate in order to, in return, get their protection against the hammer of the DSS, whose Director-General reportedly vowed recently to clamp down on Wike even if it will take ten years. These notwithstanding, the Rivers governor remains a strong force that will help shape the politics of the state this year.
Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi
Being a former governor of a state, leader of a ruling political party at state level and a current federal minister no doubt makes one a powerful force and this is the lot of Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. It will not be an overstatement to say that he is presently the most powerful politician from the south-south zone in President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. His dogged fight against former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan administration, his contribution towards the success of Buhari as his campaign Director-General and the fact that he allegedly nominates virtually all appointees from Rivers State and to an extent the South-South, into Buhari’s administration, accord him this status. Amaechi’s influence in Rivers State politics cannot be under-estimated and this will be a major, determinant factor on how Rivers State politics plays out this year.
Apart from the fact that he leads the strongest opposition party in the state - the All Progressives Congress (APC) – Amaechi still enjoys a cult support and followership in the state, especially because of some of the legacies he left behind as governor of the state, such as the model primary schools, model health centres, some road infrastructure and agricultural projects that many still believe had the capacity to transform the state economically if efficiently managed. However, Wike has killed the Amaechi agricultural legacies.
Amaechi’s roles and contribution to his party, APC, during the March 19 and December 10 legislative re-run elections last year show how influential he is in Rivers politics. Feelers that he has the ears of President Muhammadu Buhari is an indication that the Ubima-born former 8-year Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly remains a force in Rivers State politics in 2017.
Dakuku Adol Peterside
Although arguably a young politician, Dr Dakuku Adol Peterside is a force that cannot be under-rated as long as Rivers politics is concerned. As the 2015 governorship candidate of the APC, Dr Peterside still enjoys the support and solidarity of his party leadership and members and many Rivers people, especially the riverine, who see him as the icon of their last attempt to reclaim the governorship of the state. The numerous felicitations he received from a cross section of APC chieftains and some Rivers elder statesmen during his recent 46th birthday celebration is a confirmation of the massive support and acceptance he enjoys in the state. His fearless criticism of some of the actions and policies of Governor Nyesom Wike in recent times and the attention he gets from Rivers people whenever he speaks underline his status as a force in Rivers politics.
Beyond that, he is seen by many as the face of the new breed politicians, not only in Rivers State but also in Nigeria, a view strengthened further by his position as Director-General of the Nigeria Maritime Safety Administration and Control (NIMASA). As long as Nigeria is concerned, a D-G of NIMASA cannot avoid being sought after by highly exposed political persons, including the leadership of the national assembly.
As NIMASA DG, Peterside controls a huge national revenue vault anchored on the maritime and security functions of the agency. Though not an official security top brass, Peterside attends some highbrow national security meetings which also have the nation’s service chiefs in attendance. So, though a “common civilian” he enjoys conspicuous presence at national security meetings.
These accord Dr. Peterside marginal influence that cannot be downplayed, especially where Rivers politics is concerned. The recent lecture he delivered at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, is an attestation of his rising influence in the nation. Thus, in 2017, Peterside will be a force that will give direction to the politics of Rivers State and to ignore him will be at the peril of any political interest.
Senator Magnus Ngei Abe
This Gokana-born senator has already established himself as a voice and force in Rivers State politics, and it is clear that the tempo of his impact will not decline this year 2017. His dogged fight against the opposition, including intense campaigns, in his bid to reclaim his senatorial mandate shows that Senator Magnus Ngei Abe is not an easy nut to crack. His stake in 2017 Rivers politics is further underscored by heightened rumours in some quarters that he could contest for the governorship in 2019. Although he is yet to open up on this, Abe’s body language since 2014 has given pundits reason to believe this rumour. And if it is true that majority of the Ogonis are in support of this rumoured ambition of Abe’s, then expectations of his impact in 2017 Rivers politics should be high. Since the Rivers State College of Arts and Science incident where he was reportedly shot at by the police during a Save Rivers Movement, SRM, rally in 2015, many a Rivers man sees Senator Abe as the ‘sustained’ face of APC in Rivers State.
But if his influence temporarily waned in Rivers State because of his absence in the senate between 2015 and 2016, his victory in the December 10 legislative rerun election and subsequent return to the Nigerian senate have indeed revived it, despite the fact that Rivers State PDP is currently challenging the victory at the tribunal.
If she was the typical Nigerian politician, praise-singers could have, by now, been addressing her as the Iron Lady of Rivers politics. But Mrs. Ibim Semenitari combines what seems a natural strength of a well-bred technocrat and an avid administrator to drive her reputation as an achiever.
Right from when she was Commissioner of Information and Communications during former Governor Rotimi Chibuike’s administration, this seasoned journalist and doyen of the 8-year deputy governor, Sir Gabriel Toby dynasty, has continued to progress from one successful stride to another, her profile rising in the process.
Her brief but action-filled stint as Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, after her quality performance as Media Director of Dr. Dakuku Peterside Governorship Campaign Organisation and a member, Muhammadu Buhari Presidential Campaign Organisation in 2015, is another feather in her cap in the service of her fatherland. Her rising profile and influence will, no doubt, rob off on the politics of Rivers State, although the dimension at which her impact could be felt this year remains unfathomable for now.
Being the only female from the south-south that had occupied the highest political office under Buhari, Mrs. Semenitari sure enjoys national prominence and presidential acknowledgment. Though her tenure at NDDC had ended since November 2016, Mrs Semenitari, dubbed then as the Governor of Governors in the south-south, will pull a lot of trigger in Rivers State politics this year, whether in office or out of office.
Prince Uche Secondus
Popularly called ‘Total’ by his admirers and political associates, Prince Uche Secondus is another force whose actions will help shape the politics of Rivers State this year. Over the years, he has played prominent roles for his party, PDP, in Rivers State, using his positions first as state party chairman and later as a member of the national exco as platforms. His long years of experience, wide political connections and unwavering influence as the political leader of Andoni PDP, and a former acting chairman of the party at the national level, make him a silent force in Rivers politics, a status he is unlikely to relinquish this year. As the godfather of many politicians of Andoni extraction, especially since the return of Nigeria’s democracy in 1999, including former deputy governor, Engr Tele Ikuru, ‘Total’ will, no doubt, continue to hold an ace in Rivers politics. He is believed to have played a prominent role towards the victory of Rt. Hon. Ikuinyi Ibani in the December 10, 2016 legislative rerun election. There are unconfirmed rumours that Prince Secondus is presently helping Governor Nyesom Wike to get a strong support base across the Niger.
Dr. Peter Odili
Right from when he represented Rivers State in the 1995 constitutional conference to when he ruled the state from 1999 to 2007, Dr Peter Odili has remained a great influence in Rivers politics. He is believed to be the godfather of many past and current Rivers politicians, including the current Rivers State Governor, Chief Barr Nyesom Wike, which underscores the Ndoni-born former presidential aspirant’s influence in Rivers politics. He has what it takes to turn things to his candidate’s favour when the chips are down, and Rivers politics will indeed feel his impact in 2017.
Sacked elected LGA Chairmen Vs Rivers State Government at Appeal Court
A major event that will contribute in shaping the politics of Rivers State this year is the case between the sacked elected local government chairmen and the Rivers State government that is pending at the Appeal Court. Political pundits believe that the outcome of this case will be very significant for grassroots politics in the state. There is a general view that if the Appeal Court makes a declarative verdict to the effect that the sacked LGA chairmen should be reinstated, then Governor Nyesom Wike and his party, the PDP, will lose their grip of the grassroots, as the sacked LGA chairmen belong to APC. However, if the Appeal Court, perhaps, stops at condemning their sack without ordering for their reinstatement, the grassroots will remain under the control of the PDP.
Unconfirmed rumours making the rounds that the Wike administration is doing everything possible to ensure that the Appeal Court keeps delaying the judgment on the case suggests that his PDP-controlled government is aware of this dicey situation. The fact that by law, no government has a right to sack elected chairmen makes the case a tricky one. And if the judgment of the Supreme Court on a similar case between sacked LGA chairmen and a former Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, is anything to go by, then the Rivers State government sure has reasons to be afraid of the outcome of the case, as it will indeed mark a paradigm shift in the grassroots politics of the state in 2017.