The visit Tuesday by leaders of the All Progressives Congress to Rivers State may have set a new tone in the battle for 2015, writes Olawale Olaleye
Indications that Tuesday’s visit by leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) would not end without some drama had manifested two days. That day, five of the G-7 governors of Rivers, Kano, Jigawa, Niger, Sokoto, Adamawa and Kwara States had it rough with the presidency or the federal government as it were.
First, a meeting of the governors held at the Kano State Governor’s Lodge, in Asokoro, Abuja, on Sunday was reportedly disrupted by a group of policemen led by the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the Asokoro Police Division, Nnanna Ama, a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), who had stormed the venue to stop the governors and others from continuing with their meeting. Apart from Kwara and Sokoto State governors, Abdulfatah Ahmed and Aliyu Wamakko, who were absent, other governors were in attendance.
However, on Monday, the governors held another consultation with some of the leaders in the country- from former president Olusegun Obasanjo to former head of the Interim National Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan and finally, former Minister of Defence, T.Y Danjuma. At the end of the day, the planes chattered by two of the governors were grounded and they had to pair with their colleagues to return to their respective destinations.
Thus, the Monday drama disrupted the initially planned visit of the APC leader to Rivers and so, it was rescheduled for Tuesday. As early as 7.00 am, the entrance of the Port Harcourt International Airport had been filled by supporters of the governor, who had not only come to receive him but also welcome his guests to the state. Interestingly, the same crowd was there the day before when the visit was abruptly called off.
The Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, had arrived Port Harcourt the Tuesday morning at about 9.00 from Lagos, where he had retired the previous night to receive the APC leaders. As he drove to the airport gate on the express, he noticed a large crowd scattered around.
Obviously lost as to what was wrong, the governor pulled over to make inquiry, only to discover that his supporters were denied access into the airport, an apparent order from the top. Livid, Amaechi approached the police officers who confirmed that they were acting on instructions from the top but he insisted they allow his supporters in as they usually concede to other politicians who are considered friends of the president in the state.
While the police refused to accede to his request, Amaechi, a THISDAY source said, had called the Inspector-General of Police, MD Abubakar and the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, whom the source noted had promised the governor the night before that the police would not harass his supporters.
Certain that nothing might change, the governor then pushed the gate open at exactly 9.15 am, cashing in on a slip and almost half of his crowd seized the opportunity and went in with him as they trekked from that stretch of the road put at about five kilometers, back to the airport. The governor who had planned to get home and refresh before returning to the airport to receive his guests could not however leave the airport again until the plane jet that brought his guests touched ground at 9.40 that morning.
Onboard the aircraft were former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, former head of state, Muhammodu Buhari, Interim National Chairman of APC, Chief Bisi Akande, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Bello Masari; APC National Vice Chairman, Chief Tom Ikimi and former governor of Edo State, John Oyegun, amongst others.
Immediately, they moved into a waiting coastal bus and left for town, amidst an elated crowd. Whilst the drama at the airport gate last hours, thus disrupting flight schedule and held commuters up for several hours, the police also tear-gassed the governor’s supporters at the airport roundabout in a bit to disperse them. It is important to note that despite being held up for several hours in the wake of the drama that greeted the visit of the APC leaders, commuters on the other side of the road were excited to see their governor in company with the APC leaders and hailed him continuously.
As the convoy moved from the airport, it stopped at one of the model primary schools in Elekahia, Port Harcourt, where Amaechi conducted his guests round and explained to them the reason education topped his development initiative, and immediately left for one of the health centres which shared compound with the school.
From there, the convoy finally berthed at its destination- the Government House, where a big party reception was already awaiting the APC leaders with another large crowd from across the 23 local government areas of the state, other than those at the airport, lining up the roads leading to the Government House.
As the guests took to their seat, the programme started, first with the national anthem and then, an opening prayer.
National Vice Chairman of the New Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), South, Sam Sam Jaja, set the stage when he said leadership in Rivers State was being shown practically and not the cosmetic type identifiable with some states. He cited areas of Amaechi’s successes to include health, education, infrastructure and power.
He therefore said to their guests that “Whatever brought you here, we pray God to bless it. By the time you finish your consultation, I’m sure you’d be happy you did,” he said.
Next was the APC national chairman, Akande, who said the APC members had been privileged to meet Amaechi many times but did not know him closely as well as the people of the state, other than the propaganda that the governor was on his own and had no support base.
“Later, we started seeing the reason for the persecution and discovered the stuff Amaechi was made of. He is a bundle of courage. His response shows he is brilliant. And we wondered why he’s been persecuted and now, we’ve seen why. So, we have decided to know him more; we want to ask him, through you to come and join APC,” he said as he got a cheery response from the crowd.
Immediately after Akande, Tinubu took the floor and told the gathering that the APC leaders were not in Port Harcourt to campaign but seek a working relationship with the people through their governor.
“We came here to see, seek and invite you. I know Rivers State; I know Rotimi Amaechi and I know he’s progressive. I know him as speaker where he performed very well,” he recalled, adding that they had come for consultation with the state on the way forward for Nigeria.
“This nation cannot develop on the nexus of intimidation, harassment and lies. A man who stands to be cheated is not a man; he’s a cheat. Please, ask Amaechi to lead you to APC. That’s why we are here to continue with that handshake. We are offering the rescue votes; this is a mission to rescue Nigeria and we shall win with your struggle and commitment,” he said.
Just before Buhari was called up, Ikimi also had a stint on the stage where he described APC as the alternative platform that is real. He said though they had not come to campaign, Rivers was the first port of call in the South-south region and that it was significant in many ways. He dismissed the insinuations that they could not penetrate the region.
However, Buhari whose time was heralded by a special rendition from the musical act on standby said though all that needed to be said had been said by the APC leaders, he noted that “We’ve decided to target some governors that will make the difference on the political scene of this country. We are here to seek your understanding through the leadership of your governor.
“We are at a crossroad- whichever way you look at it, 2015 will be another watershed. Your governor has been a great asset. So, we decided to come together with these governors,” he said, adding that the people of Nigeria must organise themselves to maximise resources of state for their growth and development.
“We must get together to get this country moving again. We have the capacity,” Buhari reassured the people, adding that his hope for Nigeria was renewed when Amaechi conducted them round some of his projects, and rounded off, saying: “Thank you for this time out; we’ve never seen anything like it yet.”
Similarly, all the 23 local government chairmen in the state, the state assembly members led by the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Hon. O. Amachree and members of the National Assembly led by Senator Magnus Abe, came out to identify with Amaechi and the purpose of the visit by the APC leaders, urging the governor to go ahead.
The Chairman of Eleme Local Government, Oji Ngofa, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, said the governor had their backing because the time had come to move from the path of cluelessness to greatness and patriotism if the nation must move forward.
Amachree, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues in the state Assembly, had sent a note of warning to Amaechi. While reminding him of the process of lawmaking which allowed the legislature to veto the executive if a bill was not signed into law after 30 days of passing it by the legislature, said they might be forced to veto him on the request of the APC leaders.
Abe addressed the crowd on behalf of the National Assembly members and corroborated what others have said. He reiterated that they had given Amaechi the permission to further his political career in a way that will enhance the growth of the state and the development of the country in general.
The senator who waxed very political in his address spoke of the anomaly in the PDP and the leadership’s take on issues of discipline as well as the right of members to hold a view on issues they feel strongly about. “You must respect the views of members and respect the fact that they have a right to hold opinions,” he said.
At this point, it was clear the day had been far spent, especially that the APC leaders were set to leave for Niger State and so, the next person to seize the stage was the big masquerade- Amaechi. In a rare feat of political razzmatazz, never unidentified with the governor, Amaechi held his guests and supporters spellbound for the few minutes that he spoke.
Not only was he sending subliminal messages to the opposition within, he also threw a challenge of debate on issues relating to corruption, governance and the cost implication.
The governor, who started his address first by dancing and singing a Christian song in his native dialect, insisted that the movement towards 2015 has begun. “You must have been wondering why I’ve been dancing since the burial at Okrika. The reason is that when you have God behind you, no one can stand against you,” he said alluding to the fact that like his name, Chibuike, God has remained his strength.
The number one reason, he said was that his opponents had boasted since 2007 that they would get him out of office and that up till now, they have not been able to get it done, adding that even though the judgment had been fixed for Monday, November 11, he had nothing to fret about because his opponents were not God and that he would continue dancing.
The second reason, according to him, was because they had also told him before the burial of the first lady’s foster mother in Okrika that he would be pelted with stones but to his amazement, he was hailed all round by the people, an indication that they cherished his presence and appreciated his effort at changing the thinking on the horizon.
Amaechi reiterated that the reason some forces were fighting him in the state was not unconnected with the fact that he had refused to share money as was the culture before his coming to power. He however pulled a momentary stunt when he threatened to mention certain names but later changed his mind.
Even at that, the description he gave had given some people away like his example of a former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives from the state, who was allegedly awarded a contract backed by full cash payment and was yet to complete the contract up till the time of making his speech.
Insisting that his traducers were corrupt people, Amaechi spoke of another person who allegedly got N17billion contract from the Ministry of Niger to construct a certain road but instead was busy building hotels while the road suffered neglect. He summed up the problem of the opposition in the state as hunger-induced, saying “They had served and the money they made from government has finished and now, they are hungry.
“They have gone to hire Mbu to do their bidding as the military wing. So, the movement has started; police will come after you but you must confront the Nigerian police; you must get ready to stop them and we’ll move from house to house,” he said.
Amaechi also addressed the issue of the revenue said to have so far accrued to him as being peddled in recent time. He said he was ready for a debate, even though according to him, government has been inconsistent with the figure. Initially, the governor said, government had alleged it was N3billion, pruned it down to N1.2billion and later N1.9billion. But whichever figure they presented; he said he had tangible evidence to justify it.
From the wage bill to road infrastructure, schools, health facilities, Agriculture and power, Amaechi said Rivers money has been judiciously used to better the lot of the people and the facts are there for people to see. He said the interesting thing was that they never accused him of corruption but the fact that he was not sharing money.
While thanking the people of Rivers for giving him the opportunity to serve, he told the APC leaders that he had listened to their request and that he would consult the elders from his part of the country, including the president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and that whatever his decision, it would be made known at the new stadium with 40,000 sitting capacity. He said it could be either way; if it was a no, then the President would address the people and they would move on but if it was a yes, then, Tinubu and Buhari would be the ones to address the crowd.
He reminded his guests that his case was peculiar because he was from the same zone as the president, hence the need to thoroughly consult before reverting to them. Of course, immediately after his speech, the reception ended.
Quite significantly, the APC visit to Rivers was instructive in many ways. One thing to be taken away from the nuances of the event was that Rivers, beyond the imagination of the governor’s opponents, appears set for the battle ahead. It may not be as easy, certainly; it is obviously not in the region of whatever Amaechi’s opponents are also extrapolating. Any attempt at the use of force or sustained harassment of the people will soon backfire as witnessed at the airport when the people pushed through the gate to access the airport.
Premised on the assertion by Amaechi that the movement for total political emancipation of the strate has begun and that the people should be ready to confront police’s recklessness, harassment and intimidation, the die is therefore cast in Rivers as far as 2015 is concerned and the state, without doubt, is one to watch out for given all the trappings of a flashpoint that had so far typified its theatrics.