Resolving Rivers’ Political Crisis

Resolving Rivers’ Political Crisis

While the Boko Haram menace raged, destroying lives and property and bringing the economy of Northern Nigeria to its knees, no group of governors in the North deemed it wise to gather and approach the country’s former military Heads of State, to save the North, and by implication, Nigeria. Boko Haram Islamists had slaughtered Christians and Nigerians from other parts of the country, and threats of reprisals portended civil strife. But no former military leaders were beseeched to save Nigeria. Yet, some northern governors have latched onto the Rivers State political crisis as a pretext to beseech two former military Heads of State not to gloss over the turbulence from the South-South. It seems like an after-thought that the same set of governors later approached Second Republic President, AlhajiShehuShagari, ostensibly on the same Save-Nigeria mission.

If that is intended as a conciliation strategy, it is bound to encounter difficulties, or flounder altogether. The Presidency, as one of the alleged multi-parties to the maelstrom in the Rivers crisis, will be hard put to see the strategists as honest brokers. Some of the governors were fingered in the vote betrayal that ironically earned Governor RotimiAmaechi of Rivers State the controversial victory in the Nigeria Governors’ Forum elections. Also, whether correct or mere mudslinging, Amaechi’s name has been mentioned not infrequently in the permutations ahead of the 2015 presidential elections, by which he would be, it is speculated, running-mate to a candidate from the North, thus seeking to supplant President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015.

 

Take, also, Governor BabangidaAliyu of Niger State, who has been vociferous about presidential power returning to the North in 2015. Even if that were to be discounted, it cannot be forgotten so easily that Governor Aliyu is scarcely a supporter of President Jonathan. Witness, for example, the fact that in the 2011 presidential elections, Niger State was one of the few states where incumbent President Jonathan scored less than the required 25 per cent of the votes cast in the state for the presidential candidates.

I think that Governor Amaechi will do well to reflect soberly on the outcome of the visitation by all but one of the governors of the South-West zone, that were in Port Harcourt shortly after four Northern governors paid Amaechi a solidarity visit. The South-West governors belong to the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which has conjoined with other parties to transmute to All Progressive Congress (APC). The governors had also, in the aftermath of the contentious NGF elections, thrown their weight behind Amaechi. But, after they visited Amaechi in Port Harcourt, and before the cameras and microphones with Amaechi standing amongst them, the South-West governors expressed concern over the political crisis in Rivers State. They did not call names; neither did they pour petrol, to further stoke the flame. Instead, the South-West governors advised Governor Amaechi to seek audience with President Jonathan, proclaiming with a maturity that is scarcely seen in our polluted political environment, that Mr President is the “Governors’ President.”

Given the scope and intensity of the conflict involving the multi-parties, and their proxies, in the Rivers crisis, it will be unwise for Governor Amaechi solely to reach out to the President, in seeking to resolve the crisis. For one, access will not be easy, as evidenced by the way and manner Amaechi was prevented from a close encounter with Mr President during the Mid-Term Dinner with the Transformation Team at the Presidential Villa in June. So, if Governor Amaechi were to go meet MrPresident on his own, it will be a futile exercise. We must not discount political behaviour by which subordinates often see an attack on their principal as a call to arms.

Thus, as matters of this nature go, the use of intercessors/ conciliators is paramount. Anger is still boiling; the fire in the belly of each antagonist has first to be doused, before anyone can calmly listen to any talk of ultimate conciliation. Who, therefore, are the conciliators that will pull the chestnut out of the fire? While the South-West governors have offered Amaechi wise counsel, they cannot also be the intercessors, although it will not be out of place to have one or more of them join the lead intercessors.

Happily, Rivers State Elders—men and women with silver hair, accomplishment and reputation to boot—have sought to mediate. The fact that positive results have not emanated from their recent efforts should not be cause to give up trying. After all, there is a cultural and social obligation the elders of a community are expected to discharge, especially in circumstances similar to the Rivers crisis, where the younger generation are flexing their muscles in dangerous displays of political masculinity.

The Rivers Elders should be encouraged and supported. Such support could come from high-ranking South-South monarchs, and other elder statesmen from the zone, who should be viewed by all sides as honest brokers. In fact, I offer myself, to join in the collective effort to find solutions to the unnecessary political crisis. I so offer myself because I have friends on either side of the current antagonism: Amaechi is my friend. President Jonathan is my friend and leader. So, too, are Rivers Deputy Governor Tele Ikuru, the Rivers State new PDP Chairman Felix Obuah alias “Go Round,” ChibudomNwuche alias “Tiger,” former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Austin Okpara, and Celestine Omehia.

The imperative for mediation and conciliation is compelling. In this regard, we must discountenance the exaggerated claim that the Rivers political crisis is a threat to our democracy. That alarmist viewpoint is being exploited by opponents of the President to create the misleading impression that the Fourth Republic is imperilled. The disposition of the South-West governors is a hopeful sign that the Rivers crisis will not be exploited to foment trouble in that zone. There is also no likelihood of a contagion effect of the Rivers crisis in the South-East, or most parts of the North-Central, and most of the remaining parts, too, of the North. Therefore, it is plain scare-mongering intended to overheat the polity by analogizing the Rivers crisis to a national political crisis. It isn’t. That is notwithstanding the fact of the impact of the disputed NGF elections. The NGF is nothing but a club of amity.

Yet, the Rivers political imbroglio cannot be left unattended. The opportunity cost of the crisis is enormous. Countless managerial man-hours have been diverted to plotting and counter-plotting. Blood has been spilled on the floor of the Rivers Assembly with the whacking of heads with the mace. Safety and security have once again become endangered. But above all, the Rivers crisis is a disservice to the people of the state who are desirous of quality leadership and service untrammelled by the distractions of quarrelling politicians and their proxies.

Furthermore, the Rivers political crisis must be seen as an embarrassment to the Niger Delta. It does not portray us as a people who recognise that social peace is a sine qua non for growth and development. Only in the last couple of years, following the rigorous implementation of the amnesty programme, did the Niger Delta begin to quieten from the ceaseless rampage of militants, who hampered economic activities and occasioned massive social dislocation. From a genuine cause of seeking redress for the wanton neglect and destruction of the oil-producing states, militancy was hijacked by sundry criminals and hoodlums, who then turned the region into a theatre of perennial conflict and crisis.

In Rivers, as elsewhere in most of the Niger Delta, the pace of infrastructural provision and renewal has picked up, following the drastic reduction in militant atrocities. As a consequence, economic activities have grown considerably. Is it that we in the Niger Delta are so bound to conflict and crisis that, so soon after the respite from the ruinous militancy, political actors are up in arms in Rivers? That must be seen as a source of embarrassment, which bodes ill for our collective reputation in the region.

As the man in the eye of the political storm, Governor Amaechi must contemplate what he envisions as his legacy. He has unfinished business, which was why he sought and won re-election for a second term that is due to end in 2015. If the current imbroglio is unresolved, we can only expect an escalation in the run-up to 2015. Such an atmosphere will not permit even the most courageous, visionary, dedicated and determined political office holder to concentrate fully on the all-important task of governance.

Governor Amaechi started out well, and the record speaks mightily in his favour, regarding his achievements in upscaling development in Rivers State. But, how will he end? Governor Amaechi must not put himself in the untenable position, where he would claim that, but for the political crisis in the state, he would have cemented his legacy by bringing to fruition a number of landmark projects and programmes he embarked upon. On the other hand, if the crisis lingered, Governor Amaechi’s achievements would be viewed through the blinkers of the cantankerous politics that marked the final years of his reign, more particularly his abrasiveness and a disposition of taking no prisoners. History is replete with examples of good deeds spoilt by bad manners.

Politics is give-and-take. It is no sign of weakness to step back and embrace peace and erstwhile colleagues with whom one had fallen apart. However, to seek to dig in and not budge, even with the best opportunity to act otherwise, is to attract unpleasant consequences. Amaechi must consider how he intends to win the war. But, like every wise war commander knows, Amaechi must also have an exit strategy. Governor Amaechi must listen again to the admonition by the South-West governors, not the busy-body cheerleaders, who will only be too delighted to see more blood as brothers tear into each other.

The Guardian: August 25th 2013.