For APC And PDP, It’s Rocky Road To Rivers Brick House

Peterside-APCFEBRUARY 28, 2015 governorship election in Rivers State, promises to be the most competitive since 1999, when Nigeria returned to the so-called democratic rule. 

  Prior to 2013, when Governor Chibuike Amaechi who was elected under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling party has since 2003, pulled in not less than 80 percent of total votes cast.  But, the situation this time might be diametrical, as the battle is too close to call.

  The PDP, which is now in the opposition, will, for the first time since 2003, go to the poll with the baggage of major split in its ranks.

Led by Governor Amaechi, some of its once sturdy members — 26 state legislators, nine federal lawmakers, 22 local government areas chairmen and their councilors — drifted away to the APC.

   Now, the major gladiators in the 2015 governorship election are the former Minister of State for Education and Chief of Staff, Rivers State Government House, Mr. Nyesom Wike (PDP), and Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Dakuku Peterside (APC).

   Though the outcome of the APC and PDP governorship primary elections were rancorous, the APC has been able to manage its affairs and everyone seem to have moved on; but the same cannot be said of the PDP, whose primary remains a subject of litigation. Some aggrieved governorship candidates like Tonye Princewill, has defected to the Labour Party, while some other members have moved to APC and other parties. The fallout over disputed primary elections in both PDP and APC might, therefore, trigger vote swings in some constituencies in Rivers State in the forthcoming election.

    Both Peterside and Wike have been traversing the entire state canvassing support from the electorate, who will, probably for the first time, have the privilege to really choose between two viable alternatives.  No doubt, the extensive campaigns have been colorful. The billboards of the two major candidates have also penetrated the rural areas where they hope to sustain their visibility ahead of February 28.

   Peterside, who is widely seen as a Governor Chibuike Amaechi’s political protégée, anchors his campaign on critical areas such as the economy, employment generation, education, housing, health, good and transparent governance, gender equality, youth development amongst others.

    The APC candidate, who is of the Ijaw ethnic extraction, will no doubt capitalise on the much-trumpeted infrastructural achievements of Amaechi’s administration, particularly in the area of road construction, when he was Rivers Commissioner of Works, to persuade votes. 

He will also leverage on the existing 23 local government caretaker committees, 2 APC senators, nine House of Representatives members and about 25 State lawmakers, to garner the required votes to win the election.

   One contentious issue in the 2015 governorship election in Rivers State, which may result in protest votes, is the perceived entrenchment of Ikwerre ethnic hegemony, courtesy of Wike’s ambition to succeed his kinsman, Governor Amaechi, in office, irrespective of stiff opposition within the PDP itself. 

   Recently, Ijaw leaders, led by former director general of the State Security Service (SSS) and pioneer chairman of the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), Albert Horsfall, gave the PDP up till January 5, 2015 to substitute Wike, or risk mass protest votes. He had warned that if the PDP ignored the demand, the Ijaws would support Peterside to defeat the PDP.  

   Under the aegis of Rivers Mainstream Coalition, some 5,000 PDP members, led by the first secretary of the party in the state, Mr. Lolo Ibieneye, recently defected to the APC due to the failure of the PDP to zone its  governorship ticket to the coastal areas of the State. Ibienye, who was a former Commissioner for Water Resources during Peter Odili’s administration, explained that their decision to decamp to APC was informed by the choice of Peterside, who hails from the coastal area of the state, as the party’s governorship standard bearer. He pointed out that majority of Rivers people, in a bid to continue to live in peace and harmony, have been yearning for power shift, but the PDP leadership failed to appreciate the sensitivity of the issue.

   The Rivers Mainstream Coalition has been a platform for 14 PDP governorship candidates who boycotted the primaries in protest over the purported hijack of the party structure by Wike. 

    The ruling APC in the State has never been tested electorally before, though it has a formidable political machinery in place. However, for the first time since 1999, the governorship election may not be business-as-usual for a ruling party; hence, the current mass mobilisation by the Peterside Greater Together political team.

   For the PDP, this will be the first election after the 2013 split. Acclaimed to be a great mobiliser, Wike has promised to  pursue a policy of economic and infrastructure reforms  primarily aimed at repositioning  Rivers State.  

  He (Wike) had started his campaign since 2014 under the guise of mobilising support for President Goodluck Jonathan. He  appreciates that the stakes against his ambition, ranging from internal disgruntlement within the PDP and ethnic disharmony caused by his ambition, are high, thus, he is fighting with everything at its disposal.  It is widely speculated that he will be relying on the support of the wife of the President, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, the Police and other institutions of State to defeat the APC. So far, he has been able to galvanise politicians like former Governor, Peter Odili, Celestine Omehia, Austin Opara and some former council chairmen during Odili’s days together and even ex-militants, in a bid to wrest power from the Amaechi-led APC.  

   Because the stakes are high, Wike’s political campaign strategy has been aimed at reaching to those perceived to have been alienated by Amaechi’s administration. For instance, he expects to cash in on the failure of an Ogoni, Senator Magnus Abe, to clinch the APC governorship ticket, to divide Ogoni vote. He will also be depending on the massive Obio Akpor vote to thwart the APC’s desire to retain power. However, the overwhelming support accorded Peterside on January 4, when both of them met at Bori, means that a lot works need to be done. There has been series of clashes between his supporters and those of the Chief of Staff to Government House, Tony Okocha, who also hails from the same Obio-Akpor. 

   Wike has aggressively been campaigning across the State; in a bid to divide the Ijaw votes, he has selected a Kalabari woman, Mrs. Ipalibo Harry Banigo, who is married to an indigene of Bonny, as his running mate.

  So far, the campaigns have been somewhat issued-based, with a few aspersions cast here and there. Yet, none of the two parties is expected to cruise to an easy victory.

    The 2015 general elections are expected to be more competitive and volatile than any previous election Rivers State has ever witnessed. Due to bitter political rivalry, the pre-election era has already witnessed intimidation, attacks, bloodlettings, arson and other heinous crimes.

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