As the year 2023 when the next general polls will hold draws near, jostling by political gladiators and their respective followers for positioning sundry strategic ambitions, is building up across the country. One place where politics around and in 2023 will offer significant drama in a macabre context is the Rivers State, with indications that the immediate past governor of the state and Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi, is ‘returning’ to active politics in the state. He had left office in 2015 at the end of an eighth year stint and under circumstances that were not simply incendiary, but largely disposed the state as one of the hot beds of political high-drama throughout the period preceding, during and after that year’s general elections.
Courtesy of a prolonged face-off between Amaechi and his estranged political ally, successor and incumbent governor of Rivers State Nyesom Wike, the former faced a significant dip in political fortunes featuring a tacit disconnect from the mainstream of politics in the Rivers State for much of the period between 2015 and 2019 during his first stint as Minister of Transportation. Indeed, throughout that period, Amaechi could as well have been described as being in the political wilderness as far as politics in the Rivers State was concerned. It is not an exaggeration to note that during that period, efforts by him and the Rivers APC to gain any tangible foot hold in the state were largely neutralised less by the dominant PDP than by the infighting in the APC – with him cited as the arrowhead of the problem, for indulging in dictatorial tendencies that breached the tenets of intra-party democracy.
The fortunes of the Rivers State APC took a further dip in 2019 when due to failure to reconcile differences among its members, especially between Amaechi’s supporters and those of Senator Magnus Abe, the party lost the opportunity of fielding any candidate for any political office in the state at the 2019 general polls and was subsequent blighted from the power calculus in the state. Their failure to resolve their differences amicably imposed on them the deserving penalty of mutually assured destruction, with more than salutary consequences for the teeming rank and file of party faithfuls. Needless to state that the in-house crisis in the APC in 2019, facilitated the total sweep of the electoral fortunes of the state by the rival PDP, which went ahead to operated unopposed and unchallenged in every tier and facet of governance in the state. Since then not a few observers have rued the lack of opposition in governance in the Rivers State, as a contradiction of the ethos of democracy.
Meanwhile, fears over the return of Amaechi to active politics in the state are justified by at least four incidents during which he had beaten the drums of war as a begrudged and embattled belligerent, baying for revenge. Firstly was at the funeral ceremony of late Justice of the Supreme Court and international jurist Adolphus Karibi-Whyte on September 26 2020, where Amaechi deviated from his tribute to the deceased, and veered into launching veiled invectives at Nyesom Wike, by insinuating that the latter was misgoverning the state as well as suppressing free speech.
Secondly was his defiance of a Presidential directive by his boss President Muhamadu Buhari that all ministers should visit their respective home states at the end of the recent #EndSARS protests and relate with stake holders in order to douse tensions there. Amaechi was widely reported to have shunned the exercise especially as it offered the prospects of coming to the Rivers State and fostering a contact and even reconciliation with Wike. Yet the third instance was his failure to participate in the recent parley in the Rivers State Government House Port Harcourt, between a delegation from the Presidency led by the Chief of Staff to the President Professor Ibrahim Gambari and political leaders of the South South zone. Many believe he also shunned the parley ostensibly to avoid a rendezvous with Wike, who was the chief host of the forum.
Without doubt the fourth instance and perhaps the most significant one was the recent rally by the Rivers State APC during which Amaechi in his capacity as a leader of the party in the South South, received some decampees from the PDP to his party. That occasion graphically brought to the fore what to expect from an Amaechi return to dominance in the politics of the state. Against the backdrop of the forum witnessing the participation of only his faction of the APC in the state, lies the uphill task he has to address in his goal of returning as the undisputed leader of the party in the state. His stake in this enterprise becomes most accentuated as his presidential ambition come 2023, unfolds. As things stand, how far he will go in this new enterprise depends wholly and solely on what he offers in his new missionary journey.
With all eyes fixed on the governorship of the state in 2023, it is understandable that both the APC and PDP will deploy all assets and arsenal at their disposal to clinch the prize. However with the sabre rattling posture of Amaechi and his camp, the PDP in the state cannot be expected to lower its guard against ‘enemy forces’ and in line with tradition, will strive to match force with force against the APC. The ultimate consequence will be another disposition of the state towards a further dip into the vortex of perdition, by the build-up in the camps of the two matadors being Wike and Amaechi.
By 2023, neither Wike nor Amaechi will be eligible to contest for governorship hence they will likely field their anointed cronies and engage in a possibly bitter proxy war, which may not spare the wider interests of the good people of the state. If by their antecedents the emerging scenario is not scary, then little else will be in the country’s politics firmament. Yet such a dispensation constitute a grand disservice to the state, against the backdrop of the serial privations it has suffered all through the inter-personal fight between Amaechi and Wike. To put it succinctly, the politics of the state calls for leadership perspectives that are manifestly altruistic, and therefore go beyond the parochial idiosyncrasies of any individual no matter how endowed such may be.
From the perspectives of demography, economics, geography and politics, the dawn of meaningful development and progress in the Rivers State beyond its presently stunted circumstances can only be with a broad minded political leadership. Beyond Lagos, Abuja and perhaps Kano, the Rivers State is easily the most cosmopolitan community in the country given its status as the base of the country’s oil and gas industry, as well as its maritime and aviation endowments. With its heavy presence of non-Rivers indigenes who see the state as home away from their ethnic bases, no governor sponsored by any godfather in the state, with clannish tendencies and a laager mentality, can successfully run the state without issues.
This is where the return of Amaechi to Rivers State politics at this time stands to repeat the failure of 2019 unless it is shorn of any vestiges of parochialism and impunity, but adopts a reconciliatory disposition. For it is difficult to see how he can penetrate with any of his acolytes as next governor of the Rivers State, the current formidable massing of factors against his return in the form of deep cleavages in the state chapter of the APC, a five year hiatus in regular mingling with the mainstream of his acolytes in the course of his tenure as Minister of Transportation, a deep seated animosity between him and the sitting governor of the state as well as a disposition of arrogance towards even his allies. Electoral breakthroughs are hardly built on such unproductive premises.