In search of political dynasty in Rivers | Independent Newspapers Limited
Newsletter subscribe


In search of political dynasty in Rivers

Posted: Apr 26, 2015 at 12:04 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Daniel Abia P/Harcourt

Rivers state would be forty eight (48) this year. The economically virile state is one of the oldest states created by decree 19 of 1967. Initially called the Oil Rivers Protectorate by the British Colonial Administration because of its abundant reserve in both palm oil and later crude oil, Rivers State is blessed with great economic potentials but lacks political coherence, season after season.

Odili Amaechi

Odili Amaechi

Presently, Rivers offers Nigeria and the entire world crude oil and natural gas in abundance. There is therefore no doubt whatsoever that Rivers is supposed to be one of the most fast growing states in the country, and its rate of growth derives from its multi-billion dollar oil industry.

In Rivers State, Ogoniland is the most economically viable ethnic nationality in the state, far ahead of others. It has four local government areas endowed with great economic potentials. There are such institutions as a refinery, petrochemical industry, export free zone, deep sea water and thousands of companies dotting the economic space of Onne area and beyond.

Despite its sufficient wealth, Ogoni has never produced a governor in the history of the state. In the last electoral process, it was widely believed that the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state would have magnanimity of nominating an Ogoni man as its governorship candidate. However, it turned out a huge surprise that Senator Magnus Abe, an Ogoni politician and associate of the state governor, Rotimi Amaechi, was by-passed for another riverine politician, Dakuku Peterside.

Incidentally, no sitting governor has been able to install a successor in the political history of the state.  Looking at the Old Rivers state before the creation of Bayelsa State, the politics of the state has been dominated by the Ijaws both in the military and civilian administrations.

Between 1967 and 1975 ( i.e. 8 years) Navy Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff from the Ijaw-speaking area of the state, but now in Bayelsa, held sway as the first ever military administrator after its creation. It is important to note at this point that the eight years of Spiff as a MILAD satisfied the constitutional and democratic requirement of eight years of two terms each.

Chief Melford Aranyo Okilo was the next Ijaw and first civilian governor of the state between 1979 and 1983 (4 years) with late Eze Frank Eke as his deputy from the Upland bloc. It was at this point that the principle of political balance and equity came to play in the history of the state thereby giving the feeling of self-assurance and protection to all the tribes irrespective of size and economic endowment.

At the end of his four years, Okilo could not install his deputy, Eke, as a successor. This was mainly due to the fact that there was a curious incursion into the political process at that time by the military once again. That military action led to another period of interregnum and the country was dragged twenty years backward in democratic experiment.

It was not until 1992 when yet another Ijaw man from Okrika, Chief Rufus Ada George, who had Dr Peter Odili from Egbe/Egbema/Ndoni local government area, representing Rivers Upland, as his deputy. That administration was short-lived as it lasted for just one year before the military struck again for the umpteenth time.

Following the military eras of Lt Col. Dauda Musa Komo 1993-1998, Col. Musa Sheikh Shehu of 1998-1999 and that of Group Captain Sam Enwang of 1998-1999, there was a long period of military rule. It lasted that long until 1999 when Dr Peter Odili from the Upland was elected governor.

In the spirit of the principle of zoning or what many people will want to describe as a fair deal, Odili chose Sir Gabriel Toby from the riverine Opobo region as his deputy. Both leaders had a near perfect working relationship until they completed their constitutional eight years in 2007. There was any issue involving Odili and his deputy unlike what was trending then in the political history of Nigeria in other states.

Again, Odili failed to allow his deputy take over from him despite his political sagacity which also saw him making so much waves at the national level. The former governor was very close to grabbing the presidency but not for the conspiracy orchestrated by his best political friend and former President, Olusegun Obasanjo.

However, Odili came very close to installing his successor when he penciled down the major three political musketeers in his kitchen cabinet to select from. They were: Rotimi Amaechi who was then a speaker of the House of Assembly for eight years under Odili; Austin Opara, who was then deputy speaker in the House of Representatives and Dr Abiye Sekibo, secretary to the state government and later Transport Minister.

There was also Sir Celestine Omehia, Amaechi’s cousin who was an Adviser to Odili on Religious Matters. Too much attention was not paid on Omehia because nobody reckoned with him as an active politician like the above three.

The pendulum actually swung Amaechi’s way but he had Obasanjo to contend with. Obasanjo who was the leader of the PDP then shocked the Rivers people at the Liberation stadium in 2007 when he invented the K-Leg theory which has come to stay in the political lexicon of the state.

Because of the K-Leg saga, Amaechi was automatically disqualified from the governorship race and his place, his cousin, Omehia, took. Though Omehia’s tenure just lasted for about seven months, Amaechi resurfaced to become the governor by the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court on October 26, 2007.

At this time, Amaechi had three principal characters to fight in the unfolding political drama in the state. First, he would never forgive Obasanjo and his K-Leg doctrine that denied him the opportunity of contesting his first competitive election in the state. Another person was his former boss, Odili, who could not perform any expected magic to prevail over Obasanjo’s unthinkable incursion into the state’s politics.

Finally, Amaechi must have felt betrayed by his cousin, Omehia who benefitted from his political misfortune to become a governor in his stead. That acrimony and bitterness may not have totally been overcome even up till now. After all, there are only permanent interests in politics and no permanent friends.

Given the above scenario, it is very clear that Dr. Odili could not install any of his loyalists to build the type of political dynasty that would see a former governor having a voice in the political affairs of the state no matter who remains there as governor. Again, the illusion of political dynasty continued.

In the just concluded 2015 general elections, Governor Rotimi Amaechi came very close to being the first governor that would have built that institution in the state but this was roundly scuttled by a superior political force.

The governor had long ago told Rivers people at Beerah community in Ogoni that he would not have a hand in choosing who would succeed him. He even said that he would pray for God’s choice, “I will not pray with any name in my mind”, because doing so means that you have already have some one that you prefer.

At that time, there were two main potential aspirants who indicated interest to succeed Amaechi. Senator Magnus Abe and Dakuku Peterside were the closest allies to the governor. At some point, observers thought that with his wealth of political experience and the fact that Ogoni has never produced a governor in the state since inception, Abe would be favored. That was not to be.

Amaechi chose Dakuku ahead of Abe. That decision sparked off wild protest and condemnations, especially from the Ogoni kingdom. They felt that they were cruelly betrayed by the government they supported so much and thought the best way to reciprocate their gesture was to nominate one of their own to occupy the Brick House (Government House).

Apart from the fact that both Dakuku and Amaechi had known each other for more than fifteen years, both men schooled together in the University of Port Harcourt, UNIPORT. Besides, a credible source informed that Amaechi would not want to be betrayed the second time having suffered in the hands of his former Chief of Staff, Nyesom Wike, now governor-elect.

Perhaps, one can rightly or wrongly say that the governor may have more confidence in Dakuku than anyone else, hence the exotic office of a governor could be entrusted to him. The choice of Dakuku by Amaechi was premised on the fact that people of the riverine region would rally round their son to vote against a PDP candidate from the Upland area. That calculation was not totally correct. First, the voting strength of the Rivers Ijaws and the entire Riverine region cannot compete with that of Obio/Akpor and Port Harcourt City alone.

What further weakened that calculation was the choice of a first Ijaw female deputy governor, Dr Ipalibo Banigo, by the PDP. That choice did not only divide the Ijaw votes between her and Dakuku but it was one of the best strategies by the party to solicit the understanding and support of the Rivers women.

In the final analysis, Dakuku did not win the April 11 governorship election. Again, the opportunity of Amaechi building a political dynasty in the state politics was dashed.  Even though arrangements by the APC are on the way to head to the Tribunal, one cannot say with certainty that judgment will go the way of the party.

As it stands right now, APC has lost all the seats in the National Assembly. It has only about two candidates in the state House of Assembly.

As it stands right now, APC has lost all the seats in the National Assembly. It has only about two candidates in the state House of Assembly. So, the next dispensation will now see an all PDP government in the state. It is a replica of the sweeping political change at the center where APC was able to unseat the PDP president and win 21 out of 36 states in the country.

The Rivers State Chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) might have concluded arrangements to storm the State Election Tribunal to “reclaim its mandate which was stolen by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in connivance with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Police during the governorship polls of April 11.”

If the election Tribunal should affirm the victory of Barrister Wike, the state will only continue the tortuous wilderness journey without a culture of setting up that dynasty that would lead to a strong democratic institution in Rivers state. For now, the search continues.