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Rivers State and the politics of absurdity

Yesterday, the Rivers State governor, Siminalayi Fubara, signed the 2024 Appropriation Bill of N800 billion into law. It appeared to be a banal act as…

Yesterday, the Rivers State governor, Siminalayi Fubara, signed the 2024 Appropriation Bill of N800 billion into law. It appeared to be a banal act as has been done by so many other governors. Rivers, however, is a special drama. He had transmitted the Bill to the State Assembly only the previous day. Calling the four legislators he submitted the bill to as the State Assembly is a bit of a stretch as the body is composed of 32 members. The court-appointed speaker he works with had dismissed the 27 other members of the Assembly for carpet crossing the previous day. It would have been a silly old type, unrealistic comic Nollywood drama had the issue not been such a serious one.

The story started at the end of November when dynamite was used to blow up a part of the state Assembly. It turned out that the recourse to explosives was to stop an attempt by some lawmakers to impeach Governor Fubara. The arson took place the night before the said impeachment would have occurred.

It is not surprising that there have been no concerns expressed by furious citizens or law enforcement about such criminal activity to stop a state organ from carrying out its functions.

Following the explosion, the governor indicated that his godfather, Wike, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, was the brain behind the attempt to remove him from office. Wike told journalists that he was indeed fighting back because the governor he installed was trying to dismantle his political structure in the state and that impeachment is a constitutional route to addressing political problems.

Again, I did not hear screams on how dare a former governor proclaim publicly that he would personally remove a governor who had presumably just been elected into office by a majority of citizens of Rivers State. Where is the anger about a disregard for democratic norms? What should we consider to be the legitimacy of the 27 presumably elected members of the State Assembly who would be instructed by a former governor to change their party affiliation, an act prohibited by the constitution and they would obey with immediate alacrity.

Governor Fubara, having procured judicial recognition of his faction of the legislature from the State High Court proceeded to completely demolish the State House of Assembly complex and gave his faction a room in the government house to operate from, making a complete mockery of our constitutional order.

He claimed the demolition was necessary because engineers had discovered structural defects in the building. The other faction also rented a meeting room in town and the two “assemblies” held parallel meetings yesterday.

Meanwhile, tempers are running very high in the state. The former Niger Delta militant leader, Asari Dokubo, is dragging the federal government into the matter. He called the President Bola Tinubu-led federal government as the worst ever the country has seen. He had previously been one of the most vocal supporters of Tinubu in the country.

Dokubo, in a viral video clip that went public this week, declared that his Ijaw people are angry with the present government because of the ongoing crisis in Rivers State. Governor Fubara is Ijaw and Dokubo made it clear that if Wike is allowed to remove him, they would hold the government responsible.

Ijaw organisations have come out clearly in support of the governor since the crisis broke out with the implication of a return of militancy if Wike is allowed to succeed in his political ambition of removing his former godson Fubara and installing another governor.

In a swift response, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Idris Malagi, yesterday dismissed allegations that the federal government orchestrated the political crisis in Rivers State. The minister emphasised the absence of concrete evidence linking the federal government to the crisis, saying, “I’ve not found evidence to suggest that the federal government is engineering the crisis.”

The problem of course for the federal government is the very cosy ties between Minister Wike and the Tinubu administration, suggesting that is drawing upon “federal might” to remove Governor Fubara.

The core of the crisis is the lack of respect for democratic and constitutional norms. Wike has been a PDP member and since he lost his bid for the presidential nomination of the party, had set up a faction of governors that openly and systematically subverted the interest of his own party. He became the very symbol of the definition of anti-party activities.

It was to reward the damage that Wike did to his own party, thereby boosting the chances of the ruling APC in the elections, that Wike was rewarded with a juicy ministerial appointment. President Tinubu has therefore been a beneficiary of Wike’s politics at the state and national level.

The real issue however is that Rivers politics has throughout the Fourth Republic been about reckless disregard for democratic norms. Both in party primaries and in elections, political godfathers there had always had the capacity to produce the results they wanted, with or without the accord of voters. This means there is never a lawful or morally upright side in the political factions that fight out gladiatorial battles in the state.

Money, armed thugs, illicit use of the police and the army and manipulation of the judiciary are the elements that define politics in Rivers State. It’s a sad story of the negation and subversion of democratic norms. Meanwhile, we watch as the godfathers and their sponsors continue to draw on these resources to intensify the absurd struggle against democracy and constitutionalism.

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