Both are brothers, and were political soul-mates until seemingly irreconcilable differences set them apart. Since they went their separate ways during the 2015 elections, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the current minister of transportation, and the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike have been on each other’s jugular, looking for every slightest opportunity to strike.
Both are from the Ikwerre ethnic nationality. While Amaechi comes from Ubima in Ikwerre Local Government Area, Wike hails from Rumuoprikom in Obio Akpor Local Government.
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The two political gladiators passed through former Governor Peter Odili’s tutelage. He groomed them to occupy enviable political positions in Rivers State and Nigeria in general. While Amaechi became the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Wike was the chairman of Obio Akpor Local Government.
Both politicians continued to support each other as evidenced in 2007 when Amaechi and Odili fell apart because of his inability to hold the gubernatorial ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). While Amaechi severed his political relationship with Odili and went into self-exile in Ghana, Wike stood solidly behind him in Nigeria, fighting tooth and nail until the former’s mandate was reclaimed. In appreciation, Amaechi appointed him as chief of staff to the Government House and later nominated him to become a minister from the state.
But their relationship deteriorated in the buildup to the 2015 elections as Amaechi fell out with the then President Goodluck Jonathan, who hails from the neighbouring Bayelsa State. Sensing that he was not going to get the backing of Amaechi to succeed him as governor, Wike, who was supported by the federal might, hijacked PDP structures in the state, a development that forced Amaechi out of the party to the then newly established All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the 2015 governorship election, Wike defeated Amaechi’s preferred candidate, Dr Dakuku Peterside. Since then, the two Ikwerre brothers have maintained a cat and dog relationship, throwing jabs at each other. Efforts by prominent Nigerians and well-meaning indigenes of the state to reconcile them have always hit a brick wall.
The recent declaration of the two politicians to vie for the highest political position in the country is seen by pundits as a continuation of their feud, which has defied all known solutions.
Amaechi, who is touted as one of the ‘anointed candidates’ of President Muhammadu Buhari, declared his intention on April 9. He made the declaration at a thanksgiving service attended by top members of the APC across the country and his numerous supporters at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, Rivers State. The minister said he was contesting for the office of the president because of his belief to serve the country.
He said he was bringing a combination of experience and patriotic passion he acquired in his 23 years of political sojourn to the table in order to ensure stability and continuity in governance.
He argued that his experience had prepared him for the task ahead if elected president in 2023.
“In these capacities, I did not just fill vacant posts. As a speaker, I managed the legislative process in a difficult transition from military rule. As governor, I defeated mercantile militancy and restored security. As a minister, I can modestly claim to have justified the trust of Nigerians,” he said.
Speaking at the event, the chairman of the APC Governors Forum and Plateau State governor, Solomon Lalong, described Amaechi as a pragmatic leader and pledged to do everything possible to support his political aspirations.
The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Idris Wase, said all the members of the APC caucus in the National Assembly would support the minister to succeed in all he was assigned to do.
Before the declaration, a frontline politician in Rivers State, Prince Tonye Princewill, had led a campaign team canvassing for support for Amaechi’s presidential ambition.
On his part, Wike, who made his intention known on March 27 in Makurdi, Benue State after a meeting with PDP stakeholders, said his priority would be to tackle the festering insecurity in the country and engender rule of law.
“Let me thank the people of Benue for receiving me to talk to them. It is obvious that I am going to run for the presidency of this country. I am declaring for the first time in Benue because of my special relationship with them,” he said.
Responding to questions from journalists on what he would do differently if elected president, Governor Wike said he would pragmatically tackle the issue of insecurity.
To achieve this, he said service chiefs and heads of other security agencies would be provided with the requisite equipment and incentives to discharge their constitutional duties. And they would be given a timeline as his administration would not be disposed to excuses. He further condemned the recent attacks in the country.
He also assured that if elected, his administration would engender the rule of law in order to attract more foreign investments into the country.
The Rivers governor told the Northern Progressives Elements and Friends of Wike, who recently presented the expression of interest and nomination forms to him in Abuja that he had the capacity to address the lingering poor economy in the country.
Wike emphasised that both Nigerians and the PDP did not need persons that would ‘chicken out’ when intimidated by the APC in the buildup to the 2023 general elections.
“They have tried it with me, but they know they can never succeed. And it didn’t work. If you give us the ticket, go home and sleep,” he said.
He said God had given him wisdom and good health and it was time to utilise them to wrest power from the APC and tackle the numerous challenges facing the country.
The tactics, strength and odds
The two presidential aspirants are relying on several indices as their selling points to clinch their parties’ nomination tickets. Both are relying on their achievements in areas of infrastructure and human capital development, support of various ethnic blocs across the country and prominent Nigerians, as well as their closeness to their respective party structures.
As governor of Rivers State, Amaechi carried out so many infrastructural projects, such as roads, schools, hospitals, as well as real estate development. He reconstructed over 200 roads that cut across the 23 local government areas of the state, but many of them collapsed within a couple of months after they were delivered, a situation that was blamed on the incompetence of the contactors and poor quality of materials.
The former governor also constructed model primary and secondary schools, as well as primary health centres across the local government areas of the state.
The former governor also created jobs for teachers and medical doctors. His employment of 13,000 teachers took many jobless residents of the state off the streets.
Also, as minister of transportation, Amaechi has been credited with reviving the ailing rail transport system in the country. The ministry under his supervision has given life to Nigeria’s 25-year-old rail transportation revival plan initiated by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
Despite criticisms that Amaechi sited most of the projects in the North, he is also credited with influencing some projects in his area, including the development of eastern ports to decongest Lagos and serve the population in the South East and South South better.
Amaechi is rumoured to be President Buhari’s choice for the plum job. His turbaning as Dan Amanar Daura (Trusted Son of Daura) by Emir Umar-Faruk Umar is seen as a political move to secure votes from the North.
Although he will battle a former Lagos governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, among others, for the ticket of the APC, insiders said he stood a good chance to pick the ticket.
Despite coming from Rivers State, his supporters said he also qualified as a presidential candidate from the South East.
Also, as minister of state for education, Wike was instrumental to the implementation of the almajiri education programme in the North, special schools for girls, construction of electronic libraries in unity colleges, intervention grant to public universities on the platform of the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), among others, under the Jonathan administration. He also influenced the establishment of the Faculty of Law in the University of Port Harcourt.
Governor Wike, who is popularly known as ‘Mr Project’, at the inception of his administration, carried out infrastructural projects, including roads, schools, hospitals and flyovers.
The governor’s road projects opened up communities like Oyigbo, Eleme, Ahoada, Abonnema and Degema to link up with Port Harcourt, the state capital.
Many of his road projects have stood the test of time because of the quality of contractors he engaged.
Some of his signature projects include 10 flyovers that cut across Port Harcourt, but his critics say they do not bear any economic value.
The governor also reconstructed over 120 roads, many of which have been completed while others are ongoing. He also reconstructed schools and hospitals across the state.
Wike is known to have a huge influence on the PDP as one of its major financiers, especially during the post 2015 general elections when the party lost control at the federal level.
Despite the agitation that the party should present a candidate from the South East, Wike seems to enjoy the backing of the two governors from the zone in the party. In fact, permutations favour him to win the votes of most delegates from the South. However, if northern aspirants in the party, such as Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Gov Aminu Tambuwal, Dr Bukola Saraki, Governor Bala Mohammed and others agree to present one of them, the bloc vote from the region is expected to undo the ambition of Wike.
Considering his influence to mobilise resources, Wike will be a top-shot for the vice presidential slot if he fails to get the presidential ticket and an aspirant from the North becomes the candidate of the party.