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Hotbed of controversy

By News Express on 28/07/2016

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The controversial emergence, in 2007, of Chi­buike Amaechi, as the governor of Rivers State is remarkable in a number of ways. One of the things it has done to the state is the introduction and entrenchment of the culture of controversy in the politics of the state. Amaechi became governor in spite of all odds. He never stood for election, yet the Supreme Court pronounced him governor. He made an illicit jump into the office of governor. But it was not his fault. He was a creation of the courts.

But that was the beginning of the story. Amaechi’s manner of emergence had a telling effect on the Rivers State political landscape. It sent the then governor, Celestine Omehia, packing. But more than anything else, it threw Peter Odili, the godfather of both Amaechi and Omehia, into a state of inertia. Odili was no longer seen or heard in the politics of the state. The Supreme Court had spoilt the broth for the good-natured ex-governor.

But if Odili retreated into quietude, Amae­chi charged at the atmosphere. He, literally, de­veloped wings and was ready to fly. The dance of Fortune had made him the king of Rivers politics. In all of this, he was at one with a man called Nyesom Wike. They flocked together until the last days of the Amaechi governor­ship. Their point of departure was Amaechi’s discomfiting disrespect for President Goodluck Jonathan. Wike, a serving minister under Jona­than, detested Amaechi’s recklessness. When Amaechi could not be reined in, Wike turned his back against him. They went their separate ways.

But Wike provoked the tiger in Amaechi when he stepped out to stand election for the office of governor. If Wike succeeded, Amaechi would have lost grounds. His hold on the politics of the state would be whittled down. That was why they fought the 2015 elections with power and might. While Amaechi set out to upset Jonathan in his backyard and remain the lord of the manor, Wike played the counterpoise. He clipped Amaechi’s wings. In the end, Wike carried the day. He snatched Rivers State from the vice grip of Amaechi.

The outcome of the 2015 elections was supposed to have put paid to the show of political strength. But it did not. Amaechi and his supporters did not accept defeat. They want to sweep Wike out of the office of governor. But he is resisting them. He will not let anyone ride roughshod over him. That is why Rivers is boiling. The combatants are struggling for political space. But the situation in the state is becoming curiouser by the day. The courts have been deployed into the mix. But that has not changed the set-up. Now, crude tactic has been brought into play. That has still not changed the situation.

Now, the Buhari presidency appears to be the final tool in the hands of Wike’s detractors. A few weeks ago, they tried to recruit the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to nail the coffin of the Wike government. But that has not, as yet, succeeded. As we await what the EFCC has up its sleeves, the election holding in the state soon is being employed as a tool. It could be used to inflict maximum damage on Wike’s reign.

This brings us to the role the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is playing or can play in this matter. If ours were to be a decent setting, we will expect that the electoral commission could play a stabilising role in the supremacy contest. But that is hardly the case.

Our sense of optimism is not helped by the fact that the new chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, has not, so far, acquit­ted himself creditably. Since he came into office a few months ago, Yakubu has, wittingly or unwittingly, created the impression that he is ill prepared for the onerous task of conducting free and fair elections in the country. He appears to be merely comfortable in joining the long list of Nigeria’s electoral chiefs many of whom ended up on the wrong side of history.

The hallmark of Yakubu’s INEC so far is the avalanche of inconclusive polls that it has recorded. From Kogi to Imo, Rivers to Bayelsa, among others, the story has been one of inconclusive elections, owing largely to the commis­sion’s slipshod preparations. In some states, re-run elections have been held ad nauseam. In Imo for instance, the election for Imo North senatorial seat is being held for a record third time, yet the conclusion still looks distant. Part of the problem is that the commission is believed in certain quarters to be pandering to some vested interests. The story that rent the air over the Imo polls of last Saturday bordered largely on complicity. The commission was believed to have been hijacked by the party in power in the state. This is a dangerous tag, which the electoral body may do well to dispense with.

Imo is not the only sore point of Yakubu’s INEC. In Rivers State as well, the commis­sion stands accused. The other day, the state governor, Nyesom Wike, accused Yakubu and some of his top officials of meeting secretly with the leadership of the rival All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state. The commission may have explained away what transpired be­tween it and APC officials, but that does not remove the tag of duplicity, hanging around its neck. An electoral body, which aims at winning the confidence of the people must stay above board.

The point must be made without equivocation that the re-run elections coming up in Rivers State will present Yakubu’s INEC with difficult times. But it can navigate itself out of trouble if it tries its hands on some deftness. One stigma, which the commission must strive to kick out is that of vicarious liability. A few days ago, Governor Wike had cause to raise an alarm. He said that some police officers, who were posted out of the state for unwhole­some acts after the fractious re-run elections of March 19, were being redeployed to the state. Some of the police personnel are said to be pro­moters of cultism and kidnapping. The worry here is that if these questionable characters are allowed to take charge of security on Election Day, their activities are bound to be injurious to the conduct and outcome of the polls. If this should happen, Yakubu and his commission will carry the can. The police would have succeeded in giving the commission a bad name. Yakubu needs to be very wary here lest the commission be used as a cannon fodder.

As Yakubu girds his loins, we cannot but wonder why so much fuss is being made over the Rivers State elections. Election in the state is seen as a life and death affair. The inability of Wike’s opponents to trounce him during the governorship elections of last year is at the root of the crisis. I do know that elections are usually very keenly contested. But the situation in Rivers State goes beyond keen contest. Ego is at play here. But it will be unfortunate if a government agency that is supposed to serve all interests without bias makes itself a willing tool in the hands of political adventurers.

•This piece column originally appeared in today’s edition of Daily Sun. Amanze Obi can be reached via

Source News Express

Posted 28/07/2016 3:31:35 PM


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