If the daily thickening drama featuring the rash of declarations of intent to contest electoral offices by several aspirants, the case of Rivers State must rank as perhaps the most convoluted, or one of such. Among other tendencies, the political situation in the state had for some time featured a polarization of loyalties between the interests which are loyal to the Transportation Minister and immediate past governor of the state, Rotimi Amaechi of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the incumbent governor Nyesom Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The state of acrimony between the duo, had been so intense as to percolate to their loyalists before whom they now enjoy tacit but unwarranted deification and cult figure status whereby, loyalty to them comes first before party interest.
This situation has percolated into their respective parties, where unless they sneeze or cough, nothing happens. Their grips on their respective parties have been so pervasive that even the mere expression of interest to contest electoral offices by aspirants – no matter the status of the individual, had to be at their pleasure.
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For instance, the APC in the Rivers State last week presented Tonye as its consensus candidate for the governorship election in 2023, through a process that is facing significant protestation by a faction of the party loyal to Magnus Abe, who debunk the exercise as undemocratic and therefore null and void. Besides, they also claim that Amaechi who they see as a major traducer of Abe, was the architect of the process as well as its outcome of a consensus candidate. The protesters have therefore called for the conduct of a proper primary election to produce a more acceptable candidate. This is even as some of the leading lights of the party including some of the hitherto aspirants, have already endorsed the development.
Considering that a similar development had cost the Rivers State APC, any form of participation in two consecutive general elections of 2015 and 2019, there are concerns that the fresh development may lead to further turbulence in its structure and operations with implications for the 2023 polls. It is left to be seen how the party resolves the matter eventually.
On the flip side, the PDP has not fared better in its docility to Wike as the fear of the governor is the beginning of wisdom not only in the state chapter of the party but the entire state. Just as Amaechi’s dominance of the APC in the state has denied it the ventilation of any independent aspiration for public office by any individual, so has Wike appropriated exclusive powers of allowing any ‘stray’ contemplation of political ascendancy by any member of his party. In fact, just last week a scenario that served as a pointer to Wike’s disposition towards power dynamics in the state, emerged when Farah Dagogo, a member of the House of Representatives and aspirant for the office of governor, was initially declared wanted by the Governor Nyesom Wike, and later arrested by the Police, on the allegation that he Dagogo, sponsored thugs to disrupt party operations. A twist in the development is a press statement by Dagogo’s media assistant that his principal was arrested by a team of police officers led by the Camp Commandant of Wike’s Government House Port Harcourt, who took the politician to “an unknown destination”.
A pointer to the hegemonic sway of Amaechi and Wike is the rash of declarations for the office of governor soon after the two leaders apparently gave the go ahead for declaration of interest by aspirants, ostensibly to justify their own enterprise of also campaigning nationwide, to win the presidential tickets of their respective parties. For soon after the tacit lifting of the embargo by Amaechi and Wike, as many as almost 40 aspirants from the two parties commenced the flaunting of their interests in the office of governorship of the state, just like pigeons let out of a restraining cage.
In the circumstances, among questions that border the public on the intentions of most of these aspirants, are the following. Given the imperative for the governor of the state to serve the public interest, why did all of them wait to be seemingly released by their ‘principals’ before expressing interest in the office and with scant regard for offering any convincing manifesto for their tenures if elected? Secondly is, what assurances can the public nurse that if elected governor of the state, such will not fare as the handpicked successor of the incumbent, who will serve as the mere extension of Wike’s hegemony, after he leaves in 2023?
Needless to add that it is the apparent concern for the future of the state that the clamour for a third dispensation beyond the PDP and the APC camps, is raging with public attention on other alternatives, and specifically on a politician like Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, an oil business tycoon, and widely acknowledged philanthropist, who is attracting rave attention as the person to fit the bill. The attention on Dumo Lulu-Briggs as a popular choice is the concern that any candidate of the two leading political parties APC and PDP may simply perpetuate the agenda of his respective master and keep the state further colonized for the foreseeable future. At least, Lulu-Briggs who is not a stranger to the politics of the state, is seen capable of leading with significant autonomy.
A strong argument for this mindset draws from the run of governance during the tenure of Amaechi (2011 to 2015) and the terminating one of Wike, (2015 to 2023), both of which featured bitter sweet tendencies –depending on which side of the divide the observer is observing from. However what cannot be disputed is that both tenures recorded significant negatives that degraded the political fortunes of the state, beyond the credit which their publicists are wont to grant them. A moot point in this context is that by any measure the Rivers State is presently a shadow of itself.
Interestingly, the Lulu-Briggs campaign effort is riding on the mantra of a social needs-sensitive political platform with the name ‘We Agenda – putting people first’, which is the primary objective of good governance.
With the present state of affairs in Rivers State, such a message is simply sweet music to the ear.