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Rivers 2019: Three Friends In Serious Battle

In Rivers State, a fierce political battle among three friends will help to shape the battle for the ticket of APC’s governorship ticket, The Nation's Southsouth Bureau Chief, Bisi Olaniyi reports.

Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, is a former boss of current Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, and the lawmaker representing Rivers Southeast Senatorial District, Senator Magnus Abe. But today, the three are at loggerheads.

Who will have the upper hand this time?

Amaechi, an Ikwerre from Ubima in Ikwerre Local Government Area, was Speaker of Rivers House of Assembly between 1999 and 2007. Abe was the House of Assembly’s Minority Leader from 1999 to 2003, prior to his appointment by the then Governor, Dr. Peter Odili, as Rivers Commissioner for Information. While in the Assembly, Abe was a member of the All Peoples Party (APP), which later became the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).

Wike, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also an Ikwerre from Rumueprikom-Port Harcourt in Obio/Akpor LGA, was a two-term Chairman of Obio/Akpor LG council of Rivers State and he had his re-election as the council’s helmsman made possible by Amaechi as Speaker, when most Ikwerre people in his LGA kicked against his candidature, because of alleged poor performance and lack of respect for elders.

Amaechi became Rivers governor on October 26, 2007, following the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court the previous day, which sacked Sir Celestine Omehia, from the same Ubima hometown.

Shortly after his inauguration as governor, Amaechi appointed Wike as Chief of Staff, Government House, Port-Harcourt, while Abe, a lawyer, emerged as Secretary to Rivers State Government (SSG).

In order to ensure hitch-free re-election in 2011, Amaechi appointed Wike, aka High Tension, as the Director-General of his campaign organisation and subsequently recommended him to the then President Goodluck Jonathan for a ministerial appointment, while Abe was elected into the Senate.

Right from 2011, especially shortly after Wike’s ministerial appointment, he started nursing the ambition to be Rivers State governor on the platform of the PDP in 2015, which he got through federal might, while Abe was a governorship aspirant on the platform of the APC in Rivers in 2015. However, a former member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, got the ticket, with Abe returning to the Senate.

The senator (Abe) started his 2019 governorship activities very early, but disclosed that Transportation Minister visited him in his Abuja house, warning him in the presence of his wife, not to vie for governorship next year, which Abe said he was not comfortable with.

Amaechi wants the governorship candidate of APC next year in the multi-ethnic Rivers to be a riverine person to ensure even development, equity, justice and fairness, in view of the fact that the state’s governors since 1999: Dr. Peter Odili, Omehia, Amaechi and Wike are from the upland part of Rivers.

On August 30 in Lagos, stakeholders of APC in Rivers endorsed a co-founder of Sahara Group, Pastor Tonye Cole, as the governorship aspirant of the party in the state, but Abe stated that he was not aware that Cole was a member of APC, insisting that he would vie for Rivers governorship on the party’s (APC’s) platform.

Ironically, Amaechi’s impact in the political life of Abe cannot be denied, which made the Senator (Abe) to proudly and openly state recently that the Transportation Minister had invested so much in his political career, making him to become the highest political investment of Amaechi in Nigeria.

Abe, however, inaugurated a parallel secretariat of APC at Waterlines Bus Stop on Aba Road in Port Harcourt, with the former Deputy Chairman of the party, Prince Peter Odike, emerging as the Acting Chairman.

The three friends (Amaechi, Wike and Abe) have now turned to foes, because of the politics of 2019 elections.

Amaechi, on Sunday, September 16 this year, at Rumueme Civic Centre, Port-Harcourt in Wike’s Obio/Akpor LGA of Rivers State, at the LGA’s mega rally of the APC to receive over 5000 defectors from the PDP, declared that his successor (Wike) was panicking and had stopped shouting, but he must go in 2019, in spite of his sponsoring unnamed members of APC to cause confusion.

At the well-attended rally were Senator Andrew Uchendu (Rivers East), the endorsed governorship candidate of APC in Rivers, Tonye Cole; the state Chairman of APC, Ojukaye Flag-Amachree; and leader of the party in Obio/Akpor LGA, Chikodi Dike, among other top politicians.

Amaechi, who is also the current Director-General of Buhari/Osinbajo Re-election Campaign Organisation, said: “Nothing is greater than God. I closed my mouth for nearly three years, to enable Wike to do his work. Instead of doing his work, he was busy going everywhere, talking and stealing our money. Wike stole N117 billion belonging to Rivers State, as revealed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

“Wike is sponsoring people in our party (APC) to disintegrate the party. Now, I have come out. The way to go about it is to let the party at the national and to let the country know that we are ready for elections. All these people distracting us inside the party, under the sponsorship of Wike, we will ignore them, because Wike must go in 2019.

“This is not a campaign rally, but it is a rally to show the world that we are in Wike’s village. Just five minutes trek. I walked from there to this place. When I was running for governor, if you entered Ubima (his hometown in Ikwerre LGA) and you come out alive, then you are a good man. We have entered here (Rumueme Civic Centre), we will enter again and again.

“I am very impressed with the quality of people who are defecting to APC. Wike has stopped shouting. I told you he would stop shouting. I told you we would go underground, we would work and seeing our work, Wike would panic. Now, Wike is panicking and I am enjoying it. Do not be afraid anymore. Wike does not have the monopoly of killing.”

“I want to know the membership of APC in Rivers State. Get registered in APC and also get your Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). I will come, ward by ward, to meet you. If our membership base is 796,000 as at now, we have won the elections.”

The former Rivers governor (Amaechi) also called for the setting up of prayer groups in APC across the 23 LGAs of the state, assuring that members of the party would pray and vote, to end Wike’s bad governance next year.

Cole, while also speaking at the rally, assured that APC would win in all the wards of Rivers State during the 2019 elections, while declaring that Rivers belongs to APC.

Leader of APC in Obio/Akpor LGA (Dike) stressed that with PVCs of members of the party and other Rivers residents, Wike would be voted out in 2019, ‘to end impunity in Rivers’.

While speaking on behalf of the defectors, Solomon Ademola, who was Obio/Akpor LGA’s Coordinator of Wike’s Grassroots Development Initiative (GDI), described PDP as dead in Rivers State, with the defections from PDP to APC across the 23 LGAs of the state.

Rivers Commissioner for Information and Communications, Chief Emma Okah, while reacting on behalf of Wike, however said that his boss has no basis to panic, as alleged by Amaechi, who he described as “a dictator, with oppressive style.”

Okah said: “Amaechi is the person sponsoring opposition against Governor Wike and the Rivers State government. Amaechi should look inwards and solve his problems, rather than blaming the focused and performing governor of Rivers State.

“Governor Wike is solidly on the ground in Rivers State. His administration has enough development projects across the 23 LGAs of the state to justify his re-election next year. Amaechi should tell Rivers people the development projects he has attracted to Rivers State, as the Minister for Transportation.”

Rivers Information Commissioner also admonished discerning minds to ignore Amaechi and APC’s propaganda and to continue to support Wike’s administration.

Abe, on September 17, at an interactive forum with members of 26 notable organisations within the old Port Harcourt Township, popularly called Town, which took place at an event centre on Aggrey Road in the Rivers State capital, stated that Wike was not sponsoring him.

The interactive forum, with theme: “The possibilities of restoring the economic prospects of Rivers State, a case study of the old Port Harcourt Township,” was also attended by the Director-General of Freedom House, Abe’s campaign organisation, Worgu Boms, a lawyer; and the representative of Ikwerre/Emohua Constituency in the House of Representatives, Elder Chidi Wihioka; among other APC chieftains.

Representative of Rivers Southeast Senatorial District declared that the Minister for Transportation, who is also the leader of APC in Rivers State and Southsouth zone, would not be able to stop him from participating in the party’s primary election and emerging as the standard bearer of APC, in spite of August 30 endorsement of Pastor Tonye Cole by Rivers stakeholders of the party in Lagos.

Abe, a lawyer, early this year, had electoral victory thanksgiving reception at Polo Club, new Government Reservation Area (GRA), Port-Harcourt that was attended by Wike and other top officials of Rivers State Government.

A chieftain of APC in Rivers (name withheld) later alleged that Wike supported Abe with N30million, thereby ensuring the success of the thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Garrison Bus Stop, Aba Road, Port Harcourt. But that alleged financial assistance has been denied.

The governorship aspirant (Abe) said on September 17: “I have the capacity, I have the knowledge, having been to every part of Rivers State, and I have the understanding of the challenges of our state. If you give me the opportunity to lead this state, I can lead the state in a different direction. I can do things differently. I can bring our people together, in a way that we have not been together in a long time and be able to get the best out of every Rivers man and woman.

“In this political season, I have decided that I will offer myself as a governorship aspirant of my party, the APC, to be given an opportunity to challenge Rivers people that we can do things better and differently.

“Rivers State needs unity. The politics of hatred, bitterness and acrimony that has characterised our state in recent past cannot move us anywhere. It will destroy the state. We need to bring people together. We need to learn how to tolerate one another and accommodate divergent views, thereby bringing out the best in us.

“When I was Commissioner for Information to Dr. Peter Odili, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi (the then Speaker of Rivers House of Assembly) was aspiring to be governor of Rivers State, and it caused a big problem in the politics of that time, between him (Amaechi) and Dr. Odili, but I stood with Amaechi. At a point, I was practically the only person in Odili’s government that Amaechi was still talking to. I chose to stand by my friend (Amaechi). Whoever God has said will be governor of Rivers State will be governor of Rivers State and there is nothing Amaechi can do about it.

“I am not being sponsored by Governor Nyesom Wike. I decided to fight for my right, not only as a citizen of Rivers State, but as a member of the APC. Amaechi also fought for his right up to the Supreme Court to be governor in 2007 and we stood by him. The then Governor Odili never accused Amaechi that he was a betrayer or being sponsored by anybody.

“I am fighting for my right. I want to be governor of Rivers State. I will fight in any way that is constitutionally allowed, both by the party (APC) and our Constitution. Whatever God says at the end, I will accept in good faith. Nobody can deny me the right to fight for my right.”

The senator also stated that he would continue to refer to Amaechi as the leader of APC in Rivers, especially as the only member of the party that is a former governor and a member of the caucus of the party.

Abe stressed that referring to Amaechi as APC leader in Rivers was also to send a signal to all members of the party that no matter how aggrieved they might be, they should be ready to work with him (Amaechi), anytime he decided that it was appropriate to allow justice to prevail in the party, adding that he had never abused the Transportation Minister publicly and he would never allow any APC member to do so, but to continue to respect his former boss.

Wike-led Rivers State Government has however asked Amaechi to account for the $308 million (about N112 billion) proceeds of the sale towards the end of his administration of the state’s gas turbine power stations to Sahara Energy, belonging to Pastor Tonye Cole, the endorsed governorship aspirant of the APC in the state.

Rivers Commissioner for Information and Communications, Emma Okah, alleged that the sale of the power stations and diversion of the proceeds to fund political activities of APC was responsible for why Amaechi’s government abandoned so many uncompleted projects and owed salaries and pensions to workers before he left office in 2015.

Okah claimed that besides the power assets which Amaechi sold to Sahara Energy, the same company also bought the Olympia Hotel in the old Government Reservation Area (GRA), Port Harcourt and other high-value state assets, under suspicious circumstances.

He said: “The Justice Omereji Commission of Inquiry investigated the spurious sales and indicted the Minister for Transportation. Instead of refunding the money, the minister rushed to court to set aside the findings of the commission. He lost at the High Court and at the Court of Appeal. His appeal to the Supreme Court has been abandoned, because for over a year, he has failed to file a brief of argument,” he said.

Responding, the Publicity Secretary of APC in Rivers, Chief Chris Finebone, declared that the state’s Information Commissioner’s allegation was a classical display of the fright that had gripped Wike and his government since the possibility of Cole, an Architect, flying the governorship flag of APC in Rivers State, became public knowledge.

Finebone said: “It will be an unthinkable and unimaginable mismatch to have Architect Tonye Cole and Nyesom Wike debate the economy, politics and development, among others, on the same platform. What will Wike say? Nothing!

“Wike is a drowning man who is being abandoned by reasonable people. His case will be made worse if he has to square up with Tonye Cole in 2019. We truly understand his dilemma.

“Tonye Cole is one of the governorship aspirants of the APC in Rivers State. Should he get the party’s ticket, Wike is finished; hence the frenzied fear that has enveloped Rivers governor and his men.

“On the matter of Cole’s businesses that cover energy, power and oil and gas within and outside Nigeria, it is absurd to talk about his company buying a single facility in Rivers State. Let those talking about it be informed that Cole’s organisation bought a wide range of power plants from the Nigerian Federal Government, such as Egbin Power Plant, Afam Power Stations and others. The power plant sold by the Rivers State government to his company pales into insignificance, even if his company had to pay twice the amount the company bought that of the Federal Government during the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, because of the competitive negotiation of the state government under Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.

“Wike and his Commissioner for Information will be sorry for themselves, if they had an idea that Tonye Cole’s company paid higher for the Rivers State-owned power plant, almost twice what it paid for all the Federal Government power plants the company bought. The facts are there.”

Rivers Publicity Secretary of APC also asked the state’s governor to quickly recover from his fright and be ready to face the so-intelligent, well-travelled, highly-experienced and very brilliant Cole or anybody APC fields in 2019 and stop behaving like a village coward at the wrestling arena.”

APC guber ticket 
To slug it out for APC’s governorship ticket in Rivers State are Cole, an indigene of Abonnema, the headquarters of Akuku-Toru LGA: Abe, who hails from Bera-Ogoni in Gokana council; and a former member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Dawari George, an indigene of Buguma, the headquarters of Asari-Toru LGA.

Other APC governorship aspirants in Rivers are an oil magnate, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, also from Abonnema; and a renowned environmental and human rights activist, AkpoBari Celestine, an Ogoni man.

Abe and Celestine are from the upland part of Rivers State, while the other governorship aspirants are from the riverine part.

Keen observers say APC leaders must put their house in order, in order to present an acceptable and popular candidate that will be able to dislodge Wike in 2019, considering the fact that APC leadership wants the governorship running mate to be from Ogoni and Speaker of the House of Assembly to be an Ikwerre person from Wike’s Obio/Akpor LGA or Port Harcourt City LGA with the highest voting strength.