Intrigues in Rivers politics as Wike probes Amaechi
THE unending political friction between Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike and his predecessor, Chibuike Amaechi, has once again been brought to the fore following the setting of a judicial commission of inquiry to probe the latter’s administration.
Amaechi who governed the state between 2007 and 2015 and his All Progressives Congress (APC), have labeled the setting up of the seven-man judicial commission of inquiry headed by Justice George Omereji, as a political witch-hunt targeted at changing public perception and preventing President Muhammadu Buhari, from nominating the former governor into his cabinet.
The setting of judicial commission of inquiry by successive administration in Rivers State is gradually becoming a ritual for keeping political opponents at bay. For instance, when Amaechi assumed office in 2007, with Wike as his Chief of Staff, some key henchmen in his predecessor, Sir Peter Odili’s regime, attempted to undermine him.
But when Amaechi decided to set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by late Justice Kayode Eso to probe the unrest witnessed in the state during Odili’s administration, those who attempted to politically undermine him became cautious and he got some respite. And once Amaechi got the needed respite, he never implemented the Eso panel report.
A similar scenario is unfolding as Wike has constituted a judicial commission of inquiry to probe sales of some State assets and execution of some projects by the Amaechi’s administration.
Observers of Rivers politics believe that Wike who as a Minister of State for Education, used apparatus of state to undermine Amaechi between 2013 and 2015, fears that if Amaechi becomes a member of the Buhari’s cabinet, he might use instrumentality of the Federal Government to taunt him, hence the setting up of the commission to change President Buhari and Nigerians perception of Amaechi through a likely damning report by the panel, particularly as the power plants and Olympia Hotel were sold to a company co-owned by a friend of the former governor.
Others are of the view that in the event of the cancellation of the disputed Rivers governorship election, the incumbent government through the panel would have successful tarnished the image of the past administration as being corrupt and sway public opinion about the former governor’s political party.
Wike wants the Justice Omereji commission to unravel the reason for the non execution of the construction of Justice Adolphus Karibi Whyte Specialist Hospital after the payment of $39. 2 million to the supposed contractor. Shortly after swearing in the commission members, the governor charged them to ascertain the circumstances of the sale of the multi billion naira State Independent Power Project in Omoku (150 Megawatts gas turbine), Afam (360 megawatts gas turbine), Trans Amadi (136 megawatts gas turbine), and Eleme (75 megawatts gas turbine) by the Amaechi’s administration.
The commission is to identify the purchasers of the gas turbines, the total costs for which they were sold, and whereabouts of the proceeds of the sales. According to him, the commission should also ascertain whether the transaction was conducted with the requisite transparency and accountability in accordance with the provisions of extant laws in force in Rivers state.
In addition, the governor wants to the commission to investigate the sale of Olympia Hotel, Port Harcourt, ascertain identity of the buyers as well as terms of the transaction and the price for which it was sold by the former administration and where the proceeds of the sale was domiciled. Other issues that commission is to investigate include the controversial multibillion mono rail project; the disbursement or use by the Rivers State Ministry of Agriculture of the sum of N2 billion agricultural credit guarantee scheme funds and the alleged withdrawal and expenditure of the accrued N96 billion from the Rivers State reserve fund without compliance with the reserve fund Law No. 2 of 2008.
Amaechi has however described the probe panel as deliberate witch hunt designed to smear him and he has vowed to use every constitutional and legal means available to protect his name and image from what he described as State-sponsored onslaught against him even when the good things he did with the resources of the state are visible all over the state.
While the setting up of the panel has sent shock waves within the political spectrum as many fear that the political feud between Wike and Amaechi is far from over, a close political associate of Amaechi, who pleaded anonymity told The Guardian in Port Harcourt, that the probe is far from being altruist, rather it is an attempt by the incumbent government to destroy Amaechi’s legacy because of the fear that their election will be nullified at the tribunal, so they needs to wipe, crush the opposition so they do not stand a chance if there is fresh election.
He observed that in the treacherous game of politics, you can either win a political contestation by merit or by destroying your opponent through art of political witch hunt. According to him, all that is required is to tilt the truth in form of a good accusation and ignite public frenzy.
He explained that the contentious mono rail project started as a Build Operate and Transfer (BOT), but the state took over after global financial meltdown as the partner involved in the deal could no longer access funds. He stressed that irrespective of the huge cost of the rail project, the Amaechi’s administration was merely preparing Port Harcourt for future growth.
On the Karibi Whyte hospital, he argued that government provided fund to start the project but it was later stalled due to disagreement between the government and the contractor. He explained that the contractor who was seeking further advance whilst evaluation by the state showed that contractor had not delivered up to the percentage mobilized, prompting the state to report the matter to the Department of State Security and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Wike has asked the commission to make appropriate recommendations for the recovery of the proceeds of sales of the power projects, all the sums of money unlawfully disbursed to the contractor in respect of the Justice Karibi Whyte Hospital, the Olympia Hotel, the mono rail and the N2 billion improperly and unlawfully disbursed under the agricultural credit guarantee scheme and all sums of money unlawfully withdrawn from the Rivers state reserve fund.
The Rivers All Progressives Congress chairman, Davis Ikanya, has said that the party is aware that Wike’s desperate efforts to bring down Amaechi and rubbish his good name despite all his feats as Rivers State Governor, are aimed to stop President Buhari from appointing him into his cabinet.
Ikanya who reckoned that the probe of Amaechi is diversionary and mischievous too, observed that Amaechi ran a transparent administration and made it a habit to render account of his stewardship to Rivers people almost on a quarterly basis throughout his eight years in office as governor. He said it was rather heartrending for Wike who is barely a month in office to start sniffing the ground in a bid to find out if Amaechi soiled his hands while carrying out his functions as the Governor of Rivers State.
But Wike’s former campaign spokesperson and now Commissioner for Housing, Emma Okah denied allegation that the governor is witch-hunting his predecessor by probing certain aspects of the administration. According to Okah, there is nothing wrong or immoral for an administration that received and managed about three Trillion Naira on behalf of the people of Rivers State to explain some of her decisions and actions.
Okah said that the simple thing Amaechi needs to do, if invited by any commission of enquiry, is to state his own side of the story and tender documents to buttress his case, adding “there is nothing to fear if his hands are clean.”
The commissioner said it would be wrong to accuse the governor of witch hunt if he decides to ask officials of the immediate government to explain why an aircraft belonging to the state was sold and till date, no word on the sale proceeds or the processes.
But a source close to the former governor said the State currently owns two Aircrafts and three helicopters. An Embraer Legacy 600 purchased during the tenure of Dr. Odili and the Bombardier Global 5000. He stated that the legacy is currently at a repair facility at RUAG, Munich while the global is at the Nigeria Air Force base in Port Harcourt in operational state, adding further that one of the helicopters is on long lease to Aero to generate revenue, while the two surveillance helicopters are awaiting shipment to Nigeria.