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Rivers state politics: As the dark clouds gather…

Politics in the Rivers State has been in the news for some time due to the stream of dramatic turns that impact on the nation’s…

Politics in the Rivers State has been in the news for some time due to the stream of dramatic turns that impact on the nation’s public space. However, a new twist may be emerging with tell-tale signs of wild cat  conflicts ensuing between agents of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government on one side, and supporters of sundry opposition parties on the other side, sooner than later.  And the trigger for the looming turbulence is none other than the series of suffocating administrative ‘road blocks’ which are emerging by the day, ostensibly to discomfit and frustrate opposition interests, with the more pronounced being executive orders recently signed into law by the governor of the state Nyesom Wike. 

He had issued Executive Order 21 in October which prescribes the payment of a fee of N5 million ‘security fee’ along with formal government approval, before a political party can use public owned premises such as schools for electioneering campaigns. Just last week he issued another Executive Order 22 which restricts the use of residential premises for political party offices as well as campaign activities, without the express approval of government. Hence with restricted access to public spaces and quarantine on private premises, questions are rife over where Wike wants the opposition parties to campaign.

 Meanwhile, as has now gone viral, Wike had in October appointed an unbelievably astronomical number of 319 Ward Liaison Officers, 14,000 Special Advisers, 40 Local Government Area Liaison Officers and 50,000 Special Assistants to administer political units along with a yet to be identified complement of other functionaries, all of whose purported mission is to ‘assist’ him in governance. The ominous import of that initiative has never been lost on a wide cross-section of Rivers people who saw the ‘Special Advisers’ as rather poised to serve as ‘Special Enforcers’ in waiting, of whatever directive that will come from the top. Some observers who tie the executive orders to these  ‘special appointees’ see the play-out of a scorched earth policy, targeted at encirclement and emasculation of his political opponents.   

Nevertheless, a twist in the scenario is that while Wike may be citing several reasons including security considerations for his actions, such are not going unnoticed by some opposition factors who are also converging into a unified front, in order to muster counter measures for any untoward fallout from his agenda. To these, he is seen righty or otherwise as a common adversary that needs to be checked in his tracks as the activities of his administration offer nothing but hurt, to their enterprise. Among the strategies adopted by a growing anti-Wike opposition lobby is the joint de-marketing campaign against him, especially as he has provided fodder for such venture through his daily souring relationship with even the leading lights of his PDP in the state. 

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For instance, during the past week, a joint appearance on AIT station where anti-Wike tirades were launched, was staged by two spokesmen: one for Rivers State APC and the other representing the anti-Wike group in the Rivers State PDP.  Feeble as their effort may seem presently, it will be a misjudgment to wave it aside as it marks a new dimension in the political calculus of the state whereby the opposition is converging through both manifest and discreet salvoes, to exploit whatever weakness exists in Wike’s political machinery. 

 A second strategy is an insidious campaign that is credited to the camp of the PDP gubernatorial candidate Siminialayi Fubara and has him promising to turn heel on Wike, once he is elected governor, as a counter-pose to the overbearing disposition of the latter. This second strategy is spawned by the trending argument that any vote for Siminialayi is a vote for Wike’s third term agenda, as the latter has served two consecutive terms and seemingly wants a say in the tenure of whoever succeeds him. The moot point here is that given Wike’s personal involvement in the Rivers State PDP gubernatorial campaign as well as his missionary zeal to install Siminialayi as governor to-be, he will stop at nothing to interfere with the latter’s government.  And if Siminialayi does not seem to nurse that concern publicly for now, such must rank as a high level act of pretension by him, or crass insensitivity.

In any case, there is enough reason for Siminialayi to detour from the Wike factor and style, in order to earn respect as being a man of his own and not the latter’s lackey. That is if he is to win the coveted office. In the first place, Siminialayi’s political antecedents are different from Wike’s. The latter’s administration enjoyed the rare advantage of running for two consecutive terms without any significant opposition in the Rivers State House of Assembly and other elective offices as the leading opposition party APC was statute barred from fielding candidates for any elective office in both 2015 and 2019 general polls. Siminialayi is not likely to enjoy that privilege, as the next administration may not be a one party affair. He will therefore need to start reaching out to win hearts from now, as a person distinct from Wike. But how the independence he will need to exercise to escape from Wike’s shadow and reconcile with the latter’s dominance, is a matter of interest. 

 Meanwhile, even as some opposition elements are engaging the Wike factor as considered above, others are disposed to tackle it head-on more dramatically, especially the executive orders and the implied clampdown on electioneering campaigns. Already the APC in the state has officially come out to discredit the executive orders, as being in conflict with the Constitution. The stage is now set for the opposition to acquiesce or resist. To acquiesce is to concede victory to Wike’s political agenda, even without a contest, while the alternative is to fight.

 It is in this context that fears of dark clouds of turbulence gathering in the state cannot be swept aside, as if they are baseless speculations. The saving grace is that with the assurance from the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), that the forthcoming elections shall be electronically driven with minimal room for manual intervention and possibility of out of control corruption, fears that some of the historic electoral malpractices will emerge are diminishing, as voters hope to enjoy the liberties of voting according to their convictions, with the guarantee that their votes will count. 

This consideration also places in context, the regular boast by Nyesom Wike to whoever cares to listen to him that the votes of Rivers State are under his control to divert to wherever he chooses. Can he be considered to be bluffing, or taken seriously as someone with a plan to destabilize the ‘one man one vote’ principle, on which the forthcoming polls exercise stands? This is an area where the INEC and the opposition parties in the state need to plant their gaze. For as the cliché for survival goes, the prize of liberty is as Nigerians will say, ‘always shine your eye’.