…APC, others vow to resist governor
Akani Alaka writes on the controversies and rising tensions in Rivers State over the recent actions of Governor Nyesom Wike seen as part of his plot to muscle other parties out of the campaign for the 2023 election.
Speaking during his latest media chat last Thursday, the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike said he has now entered into the mode of full-blown politics for the 2023 elections.
But many will say the Rivers State governor, who used the media chat to harp on the fact that he is not ready to back down on his demand that Iyorchia Ayu should quit office as the chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the party to get his support has been in full political mode at least since the beginning of the year.
At least, he went round the country to campaign for the presidential ticket of the PDP and after that, he and his allies continued to hold the PDP by the jugular over the demand for a shift of the chairmanship position of the party to the Southern part of the country.
At the time of writing this story last week, the Rivers State governor and his allies had reportedly left for Spain for what was believed to be a continuation of their meetings on how to get Ayu out of office.
However, back in his state, the concern of politicians and other stakeholders is the likely bent of the campaign for the 2023 election.
I00,000 At A Go!
Wike had early last week stoked that fear with a rave of appointments of special assistants into political units and liaison offices at the ward and local government areas of the state.
The governor had on Tuesday, 11 October, through his spokesperson, Kelvin Ebiri, announced the appointment of over 14,000 political assistants and liaison officers.
He reviewed the number to 28,000 and 50,000 respectively between Wednesday and Thursday.
Beyond describing them as political assistants and liaison officers, no other job description of the appointees, or indeed, the criteria for their recruitment was given in the statement by the spokesperson for the governor.
However, at the last Friday media chat, Wike’s interviewers had sought to know why the governor was making such massive recruitments less than eight months to the end of his tenure.
But they got a shocker as the governor said he had even agreed to double the number of advisers earlier announced to be employed.
“We met this morning and we are going to increase it to a hundred thousand. They are all Rivers people,” he said. He added that the appointments were part of his government’s promise to alleviate poverty and empower the youth.
“Is it not the duty of the government to reduce poverty? Is it not the duty of the government to empower its people? What are the people saying at the polling booths; are they happy with our government? You go and find out so we can make adjustments before we leave,” he said while adding that he has the funds to pay the new appointees.
He also refused to disclose much he would pay the appointees or their specific function. But Rivers is one of the states where elections are usually tainted with violence.
Thus, members of the civil society and the opposition said the job of the appointees may not be other than political thuggery.
According to them, Wike may have begun the process of further muscling the opposition and even members of his party who are not in his camp out of the 2023 election campaign with the mass appointments.
But the appointments were not the only unnerving actions of Wike toward the opposition and other stakeholders in the past few days.
The governor had some days before signed into law Executive Order 21 prohibiting the use of public schools for rallies without permission from the State Commissioner of Education and the local government.
He stipulated that permission must be obtained from the Commissioner of Education not less than two weeks before the date of the rally and payment of a non-refundable fee of a N5 million as conditions for permitting political parties to use public schools for rallies.
He warned that any public school administrator who violates the prohibition order will be appropriately sanctioned.
“The Commissioner of Education and the Local Government Chairmen have strict instructions to enforce the Executive Order 21 prohibiting the use of public school structures and premises for political rallies,” Wike said.
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The Rivers State Governor signed the Executive Order into law alongside a law passed by the State House of Assembly derecognising Celestine Omehia, as a former governor of the state. Omehia succeeded Peter Odili as governor of Rivers State in 2007.
However, he was sacked after about six months in office as the Supreme Court declared Rotimi Amaechi as the validly elected gubernatorial candidate of PDP for Rivers.
Omehia vacated office and went into oblivion until Wike, who battled Amaechi decided to rehabilitate him as a former governor of the state despite the Supreme Court ruling as a way of getting back at his immediate predecessor in 2015.
In a ceremony witnessed by leaders of PDP, Wike had personally hung Omehia’s official photograph at government house executive chambers to symbolically recognise him as former governor even though he was sacked by the apex court.
Backed by a law passed by the State House of Assembly, all the rights and privileges, including pensions attached to the office of a former governor were restored to Omehia. As part of the bid to immortalize Omehia as a former governor, Wike renamed SARS Road, a very popular road in Port Harcourt, ‘Sir Celestine Omehia Road.’
The Rivers House of Assembly in the bill as signed into law by the governor derecognising Omehia had also said he would no longer be addressed as “His Excellency” while he is to refund the sum of N600 million monetary entitlements and N96.5 million in pension paid to him up to September 2022 within seven days.
It is not certain if Omehia has refunded the money at the time of writing this story.
However, the Rivers chapter of APC in a press statement by its acting Publicity Secretary, Darlington Nwauju had mocked that a Greek gift offered Sir Omehia to spite Amaechi, has been effortlessly retrieved.
But even while gloating at what was a reversal of fortune for Omehia, APC had also noted that the deployment of such political might and the obvious abuse of such powers is a dangerous signal to the growth of democracy in Rivers.
Analysts had linked Omehia’s ordeal to the ongoing battle between Atiku and Wike camp in the PDP.
Wike, in a bid to prove that he is in total control of the PDP and will determine who gets the over three million votes in the state had also moved against the interests of his party chieftains seen around Atiku.
The governor soon after he lost the presidential ticket of the PDP to Atiku also made a broadcast in which he warned proprietors of hotels cafeteria, relaxation lounges or private homes from allowing their facilities to be used for ‘unlawful political gatherings and other criminal acts by party thugs and other criminal elements, including cultists.’
He had vowed to bring down or seal any facility that violated the order.
Soon after his warning against the use of hotels and other facilities for hosting political meetings, for instance, security operatives attached to Rivers Government House had sealed Mega Tools filling station Port Harcourt owned by Dr Chinyere Igwe as well as Priscy lounge at Elekahia area, Preray hotel in Eagle Island owned by Jones Ogbonda and Ikechi Chinda respectively.
While the hotels were sealed for allegedly allowing cultists to use their premises for a meeting, the Rivers State Government had accused the owner of the petrol station of engaging in oil bunkering.
The three owners of the businesses are associates of Austin Opara, a former deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, a former ally of Wike turned loyalist of Atiku.
Wike had also dissolved the board of the Elechi Amadi Polytechnic, Port Harcourt headed by the former senator Lee Maeba another of his former associate now in the camp of Atiku.
Before Wike’s recent actions, the Rivers PDP chieftains had vowed that the governor could not prevent them from supporting Atiku.
“We have a candidate of the party who has the capacity to lead Nigeria out of crisis. So, nothing can deter us from supporting Atiku to save Nigeria,” Maeba said.
“Wike is not hiding that he is fighting Atiku. He is ready to fight to the finish. We don’t know what he (Wike) is planning to do because when campaigns start, we are qualified to campaign too. We are waiting to see how he will do it. This is a joke taken too far,” he added.
However, analysts said with the series of Wike’s recent actions, it may be difficult or even dangerous to campaign in Rivers. Enefa Georgewill, the Chairman of the Coalition of Civil Society Organization in Rivers state alleged that the massive appointment of special assistants and liaison officers just as the whistle was blown for the kick-off of campaigns by INEC was tantamount to recruiting political thugs that would stifle the campaigns.
Chizy Enyi, the Chief of Staff to Emeka Beke, the Rivers State Chairman of All Progressives Congress, APC, described the appointments “as the most dreaded Greek gift from Governor Wike to encourage electoral violence as the election is around the corner.”
A socio-political group, the One-on-One-Network, has raised the alarm that the appointment was “a subterfuge towards weaponising and unleashing political violence in Rivers State ahead of the 2023 general elections”.
A statement made available to the Press by the Director-General of One-on-One-Network, Comrade LoveGod Nweze, said Governor Wike had by the appointment “weaponised political violence ahead of the 2023 general elections by recruiting alleged renowned thugs and cultists as advisers”.
The group also alleged that the Executive Order of Wike was intended to frustrate the activities of perceived political opponents and other political parties in Rivers as it would be near-impossible to get approvals to use the facilities for political activities even after paying as high as a non-refundable five million Naira per activity to officials appointed by Wike.
The group had appealed to President Buhari to call Wike to order before things go out of hand: “Already, Wike’s penchant for constricting the political space by obnoxiously narrowing mobility and visibility of intra and inter-party opposition and dissenting voices has been clearly established thereby necessitating the urgency of appropriate authorities and accountability groups to rein him in before he turns Rivers State into a cauldron of violence and insecurity as we build down to the general elections.”
We Will Resist Wike
Also, chieftains of APC, the main opposition party in Rivers have vowed not to obey rules set in Wike’s Executive Order.
A chieftain of the party told this newspaper last week that the only places usually available for the campaign, especially outside of Port Harcourt are the open fields of public schools.
He also added that it will be difficult to pay N5 million for every campaign, while the possibility of getting permission from Wike’s appointees could not even be predicted.
“Wike wants to turn himself into a god that should be worshipped in Rivers. He has said nobody can win an election in Rivers without his support.
“But he is trying to do that by foul means or tying the hand of the other parties. Remember that the PDP is also in court asking for the nullification of the primaries of the other parties in Rivers,” the source said.
The governorship candidate of APC, Tonye Cole, has vowed not to obey Wike’s directives on campaigns in public schools.
He also vowed that the party would campaign across all 23 local governments of the state.
The APC gubernatorial candidate a statement signed by Sogbeye C. Eli, his spokesperson, said the enforcement of the Executive Order howsoever would amount to a brazen affront on the constitutional rights of political parties to campaign freely.
He also warned security operatives not to join in the enforcement of the law. “We urge them to resist the lure of exercise of power that can only result in anarchy from the resistance of the parties and candidates targeted by the obnoxious Executive Order 21”.
“The Governor is also reminded that under President Buhari’s government, political parties in Rivers State will conduct their rallies peacefully and without provocation, but should he push them to the wall, he will be reminded of how he forced his way into Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium in 2015,” he said.
On his part, the Chairman of the Labour Party, LP, in Rivers State, Deinye Pepple said the Executive Order was aimed at muzzling the other political parties.
“Where will political parties that have not been in government get N5 million non-refundable caution fee to pay to use public facilities from taxpayers’ money for each campaign?
“He is trying to deprive political parties’ right to campaign. There should be level playing grounds for every political party,” he said while calling the Police and INEC to intervene to forestall political crisis the ban may generate in the state.
Also, Eric Apia, the candidate of the APC for Abua-Odual/Ahoada-East Federal Constituency said Executive Order 21 will be challenged in court because it is against the freedom of movement, freedom of association and fundamental human rights as guaranteed by the constitution.
“What Governor Wike is doing is to muzzle everybody. The signs are there. He dragged all the political parties to court, alleging non-compliance with the Electoral Act, except PDP, his own party.
“We need to rise against Wike and challenge this obnoxious order. He has taken all the political parties to court, alleging the non-compliance with the Electoral Act during their primaries,” he said.
Speaking after unveiling his deputy Mrs Brassba Jack, Kwanee the Zenith Labour Party candidate for Rivers, Leyii Kwane, said, “As a party, we view Executive Order 21 as a quest to monopolise political power through monopolising political activities and space in the state. However, we are committed to obeying legitimate laws of the land as we cannot trade the security of lives and property of people living and doing business in the state for anything.
“The political environment in Rivers State is charged and has become more polarised and divisive than ever. This ugly reality has introduced a rapid change in interpersonal relationships and the resultant trust effect is a deficit on several fronts in the polity”.
However, Wike had warned political parties that they must abide by the Executive Order during his media chat last Friday while, insisting that it was meant to protect public infrastructure. “I dare anybody to go to any public school for a rally without approval,” he said.
Analysts warned that with the threats and counter threats, the ground is being laid for the enactment of the violence-ridden campaigns the state has been known for.