AFTER the fractious elections that took place in Rivers State some four months ago, issues of the moment demand that we return to the basics in order to know when the rains began to beat the embattled people of the state. If we are to bring crystal ball gazers into the political mix in the state, they will readily tell us that the dark clouds are gathering again. A few months ago, the state squirmed with choking discomfort over the rerun elections for legislative offices. As is customary with the present-day electoral commission, the exercise was inconclusive. Elections could not take place in some constituencies. And even where the exercise took place, freestyle violence rocked the boat. Lives were lost. Arrests were made and some were charged to court over the mindless destruction of life and property.
Even though the courts are sitting in judgement at moment over who killed who before, during and after the elections, the contending parties are still spewing hate all over the state. In all of this, Governor Nyesom Wike is in the eye of the storm. His opponents have been accusing him of being behind the brigandage that engulfed the state.
But that is just one side of the story. The other side is that the Wike support group would take none of that. They have stopped at nothing to return the battle to the arena of the governor’s detractors. For them, it was the former governor of the state, Chibuike Amaechi, and his irate supporters that spilled all the blood. Their mission, the Wike group has alleged, is to overrun the state through acts of violence and, by so doing, run the governor out of office. It is all a game of subterfuge. What you see may not be what you get.
Whatever the true intent, what is beyond dispute is that the show of power did not quite produce a winner on the battle field. But someone had an upper hand on the electoral turf. Wike’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won the elections convincingly to consolidate its hold on the state. But the inconclusive polls in some constituencies was a source of consolation for the disadvantaged All Progressives Congress. It wanted the elections in the outstanding constituencies to be postponed indefinitely. However, after months of outcry by the concerned people of Rivers State, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has returned to the drawing board. It has promised to conclude the elections in the next few weeks.
But those who know what is at stake recognise that concluding the elections will not put paid to the power game in Rivers State. Wike has more than demonstrated that he has the upper hand in the Rivers debacle. He has won before and is likely to win again. His opponents will, therefore, not be too eager to go to battle with him. He has been riding the crest in a manner that has left his political opponents gaping. This being the case, elections may not be the right arena to confront Wike in Rivers State.
Those who are not comfortable with Wike’s hold on Rivers politics are obviously ill at ease with this state of affairs. What then do they do to neutralise him? What land mines should they lay for him? This is the intrigue that is dominating the politics of the state at moment.
Since the March 19 rerun elections were won and lost, the contending parties have been jibing at each other. Each has accused the other of perpetrating the violence that rocked the state. As the chief security officer of the state, the governor is being accused of complicity. His opponents feel that he wants to thwart the course of Justice in the murder trials. But that is one of the burdens of leadership. The governor or any other person in position of responsibility must carry the cross. It is a familiar route to tread.
However, blackmails as cheap as this may not be the ultimate booby trap that Wike will have to surmount. Another script, though familiar as well, may be the joker. The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has directed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to probe the finances of Rivers State government over an alleged N11 billion withdrawal. This may be the Achilles heel that Wike’s detractors are working on.
Those who are conversant with the running battle between Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State and the EFCC will know what is at play. As in the case of Fayose, the EFCC may be planning to freeze the accounts of Rivers State government over allegations of financial malfeasance. If the commission does that, that may cripple government activities, a situation that may put the government on the warpath with the people. The overall objective could be to give the government a bad name and make it look suspect in the eyes of the world. If the EFCC succeeds in doing this, it may have, by hook or crook, awarded Rivers State to Wike’s opponents. That is the new headache that Wike will contend with.
But Wike and his government will not be caught napping. The Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice of Rivers State, Emmanuel Aguma, has alerted Malami of the illegality inherent in his directive to EFCC. The chief law officer of Rivers State, while relying on the 1999 Constitution as well as decided cases in law, has reminded his federal counterpart that no agency of the Federal Government has the constitutional or legal right to probe the finances of a state. The responsibility, he has copiously argued, is that of a tate House of Assembly.
Since both Malami and Aguma are Senior Advocates of Nigeria, I am convinced that they are learned enough to know what the law says with regard to the issue at stake. But if Aguma is right as many, even the not-so-learned believe he is, then we cannot but wonder why Malami will choose to turn the law on its head. It will not be out of place to suspect that Malami is trying his hands on a piece of mischief. The plan here may be that this Wike who has been escaping all the traps set for him must be ensnared. He escaped impeachment. He also escaped emergency rule. Should he also escape the Fayose treatment? This is the worry of the governor’s traducers.
However, if we understand the undercurrent of the Fayose ordeal, we will begin to come close to what Rivers State is being primed for. Governor Wike is, probably, being dressed for the slab, ready for slaughter.
But the progressive descent into lawlessness is not without a price. In Ekiti state, the immunity, which a state governor, like the president, enjoys, has been taken away. Everybody, including those who do not like Fayose, is asking why. The Fayose treatment is reminding them of military dictatorship. They wonder whether President Muhammadu Buhari actually understands that governors have their sphere of influence just as the president has his.
The watching world is also wondering why the avenging angels of democracy, who populate the political party that brought Buhari to power are hiding their head in shame. But for want of a good answer from the complicit crowd that reigns and rules under the present atmosphere of repression, the conclusion the people have reached is that power, as Lord Acton once told us, truly corrupts.