Dissecting Rivers State Election Battles And Judgments
In The Beginning…
APART from the militancy that occurred in Rivers State and other states in the South-South zone some years ago, the oil-rich Rivers has been calm politically. With governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi’s assumption of office via judicial pronouncement, he declared total war on the militants in the state.
Thereafter, the state was relatively peaceful until 2013 when the demolition of Kidney Island also known as “Water Front” by the state government took place. The Island was majorly occupied by people of low income and it stretched into the heartland of Okirika people.
Amaechi’s government had considered the areas as slum and being filthy, the government believed that it was a safe haven for criminals that were terrorising the garden city.
When the government moved to demolish the area, the occupants (Okirika people) protested against it. Luckily for them, the then First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Mrs. Dame Patience Jonathan, is from Okirika. They saw the government’s move as an onslaught and quickly reached out to their daughter (Patience) for rescue.
Patience Jonathan quickly intervened but her intervention was not enough to persuade governor Amaechi whose mind appeared to have been made up and the area was demolished and property owners compensated. The development was followed by the removal of Okirika Local Council chairman by the governor, Amaechi.
The removal of the council chairman was seen by the many especially Mrs. Jonathan and his supporters as an affront on the presidency.
With this development, the relationship between governor Amaechi and the presidency became strained.
To increase the tempo of the crisis, the demolition matter was given a back seat and Amaechi’s Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) activities were presented to the Presidency as a major threat to President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term ambition.
It was alleged that Amaechi had concluded plan to run as a presidential running mate to Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State in 2015. Political posters bearing Lamido/ Amaechi ticket for 2015 presidency were sighted in some Northern parts of the country. Amaechi’s public and vehement denial of such ambition didn’t douse the concerns in the presidency. That was the beginning of Amaechi’s many battles and the political crisis in the Rivers State.
President Jonathan’s golden silence and body language at the inception of the political stalemate was seen by many as a tactical endorsement of Amaechi’s humiliation. In the same vein, Amaechi’s consistent outbursts and unguarded utterances targeted at the Presidency did not help the situation.
Amaechi’s Loss Of PDP State Exco
Handy to be used by the Presidency to prosecute the war against Amaechi in the state was his strong ally for years, and Minister of State for Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike.
In order to keep Amaechi and his loyalists at bay politically, a suit was filed at Federal High Court Abuja by Wike’s loyalists challenging the congress that produced Chief Godspower Ake-led state executive loyal to Amaechi.
In his judgment, Justice Ishaq Bello sacked Ake-led executive and replaced it with Mr. Felix Obuah led-executive loyal to Wike.
Members of the Ake-led executive challenged the judgment at the Court of Appeal, insisting that the suit should not have been filed at an Abuja High Court, equivalent of a Rivers State High Court, in a case involving the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which ought to have been filed at a Federal High Court. The case is still pending.
Rivers State House Of Assembly Crisis
Shortly after Obuah became state party chairman, five out of the 32 Rivers House of Assembly lawmakers: Michael Okechukwu Chinda (Obio/Akpor II constituency), Kelechi Godspower Nwogu (Omuma), Evans Bipi (Ogu/Bolo), Martins Amewhule (Obio/Akpor I) and Victor Ihunwo (Port Harcourt III) switched loyalty to the Supervising Minister of Education, Chief Nyesom Wike.
Their attempt to impeach Amaechi turned catastrophic as a fight ensued on the floor of the House and some members were seriously wounded. The police led by the State commissioner Mr. Joseph Mbu was accused of bias by the Amaechi camp.
National Assembly’s Intervention In Rivers’ Crisis
After the failed attempt to impeach Amaechi by the Evans Bibi led-faction of the State Assembly, the National Assembly as a matter of urgency and constitutionalism intervened in the matter. While the Senate sent its Committee to visit Rivers State and investigate the crisis in the assembly, the House of Representatives has in a resolution said it has taken over the affairs of the Rivers Assembly in a in bid to restore sanity to the State.
In a unanimous voice vote, the House of Representatives, invoked Section 11(4) of the 1999 Constitution as amended and resolved that the National Assembly should take over the functions of the crisis-ridden Assembly.
Also, the House resolved that the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, should as a matter of urgency re-deploy the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu.
Amaechi’s Suspension From The PDP
Subsequently Felix Obuah-led state executive of the PDP suspended Amaechi and his loyalists in the House of Assembly. Neither the Presidency nor the national leadership of the party called the state executive to order. That was how Wike became the leader of the party in the state. All the needed support was given to Wike to operate in the state. At the national level of the party, Amaechi and some of his colleagues were not finding things easy.
That was how five of them defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Judicial Battles In The State
Ahead of 2015 polls, the battle for the soul of the state between Amaechi and Wike groups shifted from the political contest to judicial battle. The bone of contention was the appointment of the Chief Judge of the State. The crisis lingered endlessly to the extent that it affected court activities in the state for almost one year. Even the National Judicial Council (NJC) that ought to have salvaged the situation then did not do enough, as it seemingly sat on the fence and looked helpless and overwhelmed by the intrigues and intricate politics that characterised the whole saga.
Wike who is from the same senatorial zone with Amaechi emerged the PDP governorship candidate. Not many Nigerians were amazed with his choice considering his closeness to the Presidency and his role in the fight against Amaechi.
APC of which Amaechi was the leader made the choice of Dakuku Peterside from the riverine area as its choice of governorship candidate. While Wike was declared winner of the governorship election in the state, his benefactor and godfather, President Jonathan lost the presidential poll to Muhammadu Buhari of All Progressives Congress.
With Jonathan’s loss, Wike on assumption of office renewed the political fight against Amaechi in a bid to stop his ministerial nomination. Despite the state judicial panel of inquiry’s indictment of Amaechi, Amaechi was not only appointed ministerial nominee, he has been screened.
Tribunal Verdicts Against Wike, Others
Since the tribunals delivered its verdicts nullifying the elections of governor Wike and the 20 PDP House of Assembly members in the state, there has been mixed reactions. It was like a triple tragedy for Wike, 20 PDP House of Assembly members and PDP, having lost at the tribunal and the apex on the matter of jurisdiction.
Wike, his supporters and party have described the verdicts as judicial terrorism and gang-up. On the hand, Dakuku Peterside and his supporters have hailed the verdicts describing it as a victory for democracy and will of the people.
However, there has been allegation and counter-allegation of compromise and inducement of the tribunal members to pervert justice, but none has been substantiated yet. For Wike and his party, the option is to appeal the judgments. A move they have promised to make, hoping to get reprieve.
What if at the end, the Apex court as it affects Wike’s case, and the Appeal court as it affects the nullified House of Assembly seats uphold the tribunal verdicts, will Wike and the PDP win the rerun or will Peterside and the APC spring surprise by taking over the state? If the appeals go in favour of Wike and the 20 PDP House of Assembly members, what will be the place of APC in the state politics? Only time will tell as the battle for soul of Rivers State continues unabated.