By Egufe Yafugborhi
Given aggravated acrimony between once closest political associates, Governor Nyesom Wike and Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi over the life-and-death 2019 Rivers state governorship election, the first verdict on the lips of several respondents as the curtain fell on the epic drama was “Wike has disgraced Amaechi”. If the fortunes had been reversed for both key actors, the verdict would have been same against Wike.
The celebrations and whimpering for both winners and losers may have waited till the minute State Collation Officer, Teddy Adias mentioned, “I hereby Declare Chief Nyesom Wike Governor-elect” Wednesday April 3 at the Port Harcourt office of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, but the battle was won and lost long before the first vote was cast for the Rivers governorship.
Rivers APC handed Wike his predicted “sweetest victory” when the the party self destructed with the overbearing impositions of its overlord which set him against a clan of dissenting voices led by Sen Magnus Abe. The fractionalization that came with the internal dispute sparked by the Amaechi, Abe feud left the party so vulnerable as Wike’s professed meddling ensured an unprecedented INEC’s delisting of all Rivers APC candidates from partaking in the elections.
Rivers election: PDP snaps all Rivers senatorial seats
Federal might not enough
Going into the elections, the APC, by utterances and body language of its leaders made it clear that it was all out to take it all from Wike, not by superior popularity of its candidate above the incumbent, but on a retaliatory exaction of federal might that Wike allegedly used against Amaechi forces back in 2015.
“We want Wike to feel what we felt in 2015”, was the refrain on the Amaechi’s faction of Rivers APC even when it dawned on them that they won’t be participating in the election. Amaechi, unable to hide his vengeful feelings, even infamously drummed an Igbo war song at the Port Harcourt APC Presidential Campaign rally where, before President Mohammadu Buhari, he vowed to face Wike “fire for fire” in the 2019 elections.
He chanted, in Igbo, “orule mgbe anyi gawa anya onye ujo abiala nge anyi na awa anya” literally translated, “it is time to go violent and anybody who is a coward should not join us”.
Under a divided house, federal might, however, didn’t turn out enough to topple widely acclaimed grass root politician as Wike. As a PDP chieftain said, “Amaechi has never been an election strategist. All he has is his bloated ego and mouth. He, himself professed that he was willing to give up his 2007 stolen mandate, but for Wike who chested out, took all the heat and did the yeoman’s job to enthrone him.
“In 2011, you would have seen the picture where Wike was delivering the winning results to Amaechi on his re-election. Did he (Amaechi) know where he was elected? Wike did all the good, the bad and ugly for Amaechi then. Check it, has Amaechi won the governorship with all his federal might and clout in Rivers since Wike took over?
“Who said Rivers PDP didn’t have their own internal issues when Wike came to take leadership in 2011 and even through the build-up to the 2019 governorship. He has been able to manage every situation or put all dissenting voices under control.”
Amaechi’s further dramatic flaws
Even when he was compelled to act on a Plan B after leading all candidates of Rivers APC to the mocking delisting from the 2019 elections, Amaechi exhibited same costly dramatic flaws when he settled for yet an anonymous, Biokpomabo Awara, candidate of equally anonymous African Action Congress, AAC, to support against Wike.
Ann Kio Briggs, Convener, Niger Delta Self-Determination Movement, NDSDM, spoke on the violence in Abonnema during the election: “My people were killed because one man picked someone we didn’t know to be governor and also knocked the heads of two of our sons together.
“You came to the community, picked one man (Dumo Lulu Briggs) to be governor. You left the one before, picked another (Tonye Cole) without caring who we want. You don’t pick who people don’t know. You knocked the heads of two Abonnema sons together. When you saw them bleeding, you went to a neighboring community to pick another (Awara) from a party not known.
“If you destroyed your party, consequently left out on the ballot for an election and you want to lobby people to vote for another party where your interest lies, you don’t do that on a Thursday before elections on a Saturday. You just created problems for Abonnema while your community is safe.”
An APC chieftain, aligned to Abe’s faction probed, “How could they have expected to win on impunity? He said Wike used federal might against him in 2015, was it on petty representation.? Wike was popular, grass-rooted and campaigned vigorously even with the advantage of federal might in 2011.
“How did they expect to field unpopular strangers to run against Wike and expect to get a different result from the 2015 experience when it was Dakuku Peterside against the majority’s wish? See where playing god has led us now”
Wike’s consistent step ahead of opposition forces
If Wike says he wasn’t shaken by the threats from the forces towards the election, it would be sheer expression of pretense. Rather than weaken him however, the intimidation and threats to unseat him at all cost toughened him to face the challenges frontally.
One consistently potent weapon most engaged in Wike’s defense armory was the intelligence report that helped him to preempt every plot or conspiracy to cage him before it manifested. From real to imaginary threats, he developed a mindset not to trust any of the critical stakeholders, particularly security and INEC, over the 2019 electoral process.
“INEC has no capacity to carry out credible 2019 election. The Army (Chief of Army Staff and authorities at the 6 Division, Port Harcourt”) have been programmed to intimidate me and ensure the failed federal government’s APC grabs Rivers against the people’s will”, Wike repeatedly alleged publicly before the international community against as much denials by the accused authorities.
Whether directed by genuine intelligence gathering or sheer intuition, from the replacement of Rivers Commissioner of Police weeks before the elections through elevations of Rivers FSARS Commander, to Assistant Commissioner of Police to the crushing of the planned inauguration of local vigilante, Rivers Neigborhood Watch, these scenes and more played out in reality as Wike had predicted long before they happened.
Asked how he was being able to preempt the forces against him so precisely, he had said back then, “Why not, why should anybody be surprised? I am chief security Officer of a state. I have my intelligence sources and they have never failed me. Is there any plot or conspiracy against me I spoke about that never came to pass? That should be what people should worry about, not how I know these things ahead of time, before they manifest”
One advantage he scored from the wailing against INEC and the security forces was having the international community pay peculiar attention to how the 2019 elections would be conducted in Rivers. The state became the most visited repeatedly by delegations from the UN, diplomats from the US, UK, Germany and other leading nations of the world before and during to the elections.
Cashing in on APC’s self destruct
From the point Justice Chiwendu Nwogu of the State High Court in Port Harcourt gave the momentous injunctive order which defiance by Rivers APC the courts tenaciously held to disqualify all Rivers APC candidates from the elections, Wike took full advantage to ensure his party won.
The huge benefit accorded Wike by APC absence at the ballot made one of the party chieftains say, “Wike didn’t win this election on popularity. He won because of overbearing lordship which destroyed the APC.
“Even when we had to settle for Plan B, they introduced another anonymous candidate from an anonymous party. Federal might is not enough. When Wike won in 2015 with federal might, he came in strong as a candidate and canvassed well for vote.
“If APC had be been cleared to fully participate in this election, the story would have been different. With our federal might and a popular candidate, we would have taken Wike to the cleaners. Everybody will suffer the consequence now”
Wike, PDP Vs Army, FSARS
With the only visible opposition party, APC, obliterated from the elections and vast proportion of anonymous candidates surrendering support to Wike, the incumbent found justification to boast, “We have no opposition in this election. Rivers is a PDP state. It’s a fact everybody knows. No other party can win any election here. The only opposition we are up against is in the Army and FSARS.”
Whether the allegation was substantiated or baseless, full weight of the extreme militarization of the elections in Rivers came hard pointedly at the PDP and unyielding INEC officials.
Aside the invasion of collation centers, the men in uniform stormed various communities, breaking into hotels to intimidate, arrest and molest key PDP men, some of who where held in military custody and denied participation in the election before being released.
In the fatalities recorded during the security forces invasions of collation centers, only PDP equally cried out in losses, the most disheartening being that of Feddy Gberegbe, the Polytechnic lecturer who died from bullets pumped into his bowels.
INEC’s unsung hero
For all the intimidation and verbal bashing he received from all manner of stakeholders, political parties, candidates and civil society groups, Oboh Effanga, Rivers state Resident Electoral Commission, REC, took in all in his stride, in tenacious calm while sticking to due process.
Beyond dutifully supervising the distribution of materials to field prior to voting, Effanga, award winning journalist, lawyer and activist, took backstage and allowed the Collation and Electoral Officers take the front role in superintending the field activities in the process.
Even when the wave of criticism and allegation of compromise by the commission came pointedly at him by protesters, party leaders and candidates calling for his sack, prosecution or redeployment, he refused to join issues with many of the accusers.
Through the final collation as the process resumed at the INEC office in Port Harcourt, Effanga maintained his calm, restrained on being heard, leaving it up to the State Collation Officer to run his show and he, sheer participant observer.
One, among Rivers bloated governorship candidates, said of Effanga, “I think this young REC has done more than Igini. He probably doesn’t gain as much attention because he hardly talks. Recall that under Effanga last year, as politicians sponsored violence over a by-election into Port Harcourt City Constituency III, the exercise was suspended and never lifted till today “.