For months, neither the Rivers State governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, nor the Minister of State for Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, publicly admitted that their relationship had gone sour. But the April 15 ruling of an Abuja high court which sacked the Chief Godspower Ake-led executive of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state brought to the public glare the extent to which the relationship between them had degenerated.
The court ruled that Chief Felix Obuah was the authentic chairman of the party in the state, with Ibibia Walter as the secretary.
Since the ruling, there has been a flurry of activities by supporters of both camps. While Amaechi and the structure of government in the state insist that they would not recognise the new executive, Wike and his supporters have rallied support for Obuah and his team. Wike has also come out publicly to state that the new PDP executive was part of his political structure.
If Amaechi’s government was not sure of the level of support the new party executive had, the event of Friday, April 19, when Obuah and his team returned to Port Harcourt, after being sworn in at the national secretariat of the party in Abuja was an eye-opener.
Obuah was received at the Port Harcourt international airport by a mammoth crowd of supporters. Operations at the airport were disrupted for hours, as jubilant supporters chanting anti-Amaechi slogans escorted Obuah and his team to occupy the party secretariat.
The same day, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu, said he would enforce the court ruling declaring Obuah as the authentic chairman of PDP in the state. Addressing journalists in Port Harcourt, Mbu vowed to deal ruthlessly with anyone or group that tried to foment trouble in any part of the state. He said insinuations that there was a political crisis in the state was wrong and warned that the state police command would not hesitate to deal with anybody who tried to cause tension in the state.
Mbu said, “We are supposed to obey the court judgement. We are here to enforce the law. At the moment, there is no instruction from the President, the Inspector General of Police, the Governor or anybody, we can only recognise and enforce the court judgement.
“For now, judgement has been given and we stand by that judgement until there is a contrary order. Anybody that attempts to cause tension in the state, we will deal ruthlessly with such a person or group.
Plot Against Amaechi
The dethroned chairman, Ake, while ruing the judgement that saw him out of office, said the whole affair was a plot to destroy Amaechi’s political structure. Receiving some chairmen of local government councils who paid him a solidarity visit at his Port Harcourt residence, Ake said the crisis in the party was a conspiracy with the ultimate aim of destroy Amaechi’s political structure and the state government.
He accused Wike and other top politicians of being behind the crisis.
“What the detractors are doing is best known to them. It is disheartening for people to build a house and turn round to destroy it. Wike is, however, not alone in the fight against Amaechi. There are others at the top conspiring to destroy Amaechi’s structure. The party is actually not the target but the Rivers State Government,” Ake said.
He called on party members to remain calm.
Miscarriage of Justice’
The state government described the judgement as a travesty of justice.
The Commissioner for Information and Communication, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, described the ruling of the Abuja court as an abuse of court process and a miscarriage of justice.
“How can the court give leadership of the party to someone who did not even purchase a form for the position?” she queried.
Semenitari said, “Clearly, there is an oppression going on. I believe as a member of PDP in the state who voted at the congress, I am very upset that anybody will say that my voice will not count. I think that if I feel this way, every other PDP member in the state will feel the same way because we cannot imagine that somebody will come and foist over us a man who neither took form nor was present at the election.
“I do not know where this happens in any part of the world. It is a shame. It is an embarrassment. It is unthinkable that this will still happen in today’s world when we are talking about democracy. It is especially shocking when the party is talking about reconciliation.”
She, however, said, “I do not believe that Mr. President will lend himself to such grave injustice. I do not believe that Mr. President will be part of this kind of undemocratic thing. I do not believe that Mr. President, who himself is a product of democracy and who received about two million votes from Rivers State, will be part of this travesty of justice. I do not believe Mr. President will like to kill PDP in Rivers State. So I don’t think President Jonathan is involved.”
But, curiously, a day after Semenitari’s statement, she was invited by the office of the National Security Adviser to answer questions regarding the security helicopters purchased by the state government. The NSA was piqued that she divulged too much information about the acquisition of the helicopters which also involved the Presidency.
Then it was the turn of Amaechi’s camp to fight back. Chairmen of local government councils in the state, under the aegis of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), addressed a press conference where they restated their recognition of the Ake executive. The press conference was attended by 17 of the 23 chairmen. They said they would not recognise or work with the Obuah-led executive.
Amaechi himself also described the judgement that brought Obuah to office as a desecration of the temple of justice.
Addressing a crowd of supporters who marched in solidarity to Government House, Port Harcourt, Amaechi, represented by his deputy, Mr. Tele Ikuru, declared, “I think as a nation one area we should not allow mud to go into is the judiciary. As a nation one area we should not allow to become a thing of play is the judiciary. The temple of justice has been desecrated. Nigeria arise, Nigeria arise. If we do not rise, we will lose our country. As a nation, any day we allow the temple of justice to be desecrated we’ll lose our country.”
Amaechi, who is also the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, said, “Any day a poor man cannot go to the court and state his case and get justice the country is lost.”
Speaking in his own capacity, Ikuru said, “I was privileged to be part of that convention, I was privileged to see the votes counted, I was privileged to see the results announced and then, suddenly, in broad daylight, somebody said that that election produced another person.” He said, “When certain people die their eyes will not close because they tell broad day lies. Those who open their eyes, know what is right, see what is right and say something different. The day they will die their eyes will never close.”
Ikuru called on the people of the state, especially the members of PDP, to be law-abiding and go about their duties without breaching the peace.
The all-PDP House of Assembly also said they would not recognise the Obuah-led executive, and pledged their support for Amaechi and the Ake-led executive.
Wike, on his part, declared that he only disagreed with Amaechi’s policies, not with the governor personally.
He told Rhythm FM in Port Harcourt that he still believed in the Amaechi-led administration in the state, saying if he has any reason to take the risk he took in 2007 to actualise Amaechi’s mandate, he would do it again. Wike stated that the change in the leadership of PDP in the state, which he championed, was as a result of injustice, stressing that he would fight injustice anywhere he had a reason to fight it.
Responding to a question, he said, “Why will I support him from the beginning and I will not support him till the end? I supported him, and my local government gave him the highest number of votes in the state. Having supported him to win the election, will I now say he should leave the office? That is unthinkable.”
New Theatre of Conflict
But rather than douse tension, Wike’s interview elicited reactions from the government, which moved to sack the chairman, vice chairman and the 17 councillors of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, where Wike hails from.
The House of Assembly, based on a petition written against the leadership of the council, approved the recommendation of its committee on local government affairs suspending all elected officers of the council.
Barely 24 hours of the Assembly’s decision, the state government appointed and swore in a seven-member caretaker committee to run the local government.
Reacting to the incident, Obuah issued the Assembly and the governor a 48-hour ultimatum to rescind its decision or face the wrath of the party.
A chieftain of the party, Prince Emma Anyanwu, also called on Amaechi to resign from office as governor for his inability to manage the crisis in the party.
Anyanwu said, “The governor has now lost control of and the management of the state, he has lost the heart of the party on which he was elected into office; this situation has also resulted in the illegal dissolution of Obio/Akpor local government council elected chairman, vice chairman and councillors.”
The sacked officers of Obio/Akpor have already approached a Port Harcourt High Court seeking an injunction against the assembly, the state government and the state Independent Electoral Commission to stop their removal from office.
But also interesting is the story making the rounds that powerful figures who had fled the PDP are making their ways back. They include former Governor Peter Odili, Chief Celestine Omehia, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, among others.
Reactions have continued to pour in from supporters of both political camps, with the dramatis personae sticking to their guns. There are no indications that any of them is willing to back down. But what seems to go down very rapidly in the current PDP debacle in Rivers State is the integrity of the judiciary and the prospect of peace ahead of the 2015 general election.