Party Discipline And The Rivers Crisis By Abraham Ogbodo

THE resultant smoke in the Rivers crisis has grown far larger than the fire itself. Many of the fire fighters, who have chosen to descend onto the arena to contain the raging inferno, are entangled by the smoke. They are not pushing beyond the smokescreen to reach the fire. The dominant story in town is that the Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi is at cross paths with the Presidency for choosing, against the scheme of things in Nigeria, to protect his little space against the consuming desires of an imperial President.

  Like a piece of Nazist propaganda, the story has been persistent and consistent and so, it has been taken for the whole truth. Worse still, the Presidency does not know how to give its own compelling account, to effectively puncture the bogus story that is making the rounds. The more President Goodluck Jonathan tries to remove himself, the more he gets linked with the issues in Rivers State. If he says he has no hands in the things happening to Amaechi, the people instantly call him a liar. Yet, his silence seems even louder than his speech. Anything he does and says or does not do and say counts equally against him in the court of public opinion, where he is standing trial for impatience, intolerance and lacking in other vital attributes for democratic engagement. Put differently, the President is being tried for acts capable of derailing this hard-earned democracy.

  The jury is swayed by the sheer vehemence and loudness of the arguments. And so, Governor Amaechi, who is in the ring with the President, is having the upper hand, because he is crying out louder. It is a highly organised confusion in which any strong point against Amaechi is drowned in the resultant noise. The popular position, which has proved difficult to upturn is that President Jonathan is using proxies who include his wife, Dame Patience, Minister of State for Education, Nysome Wike, the Rivers State Police Commissioner, Joseph Mbu and even Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State to cause an innocent governor sleepless nights in Port Harcourt. All the arguments add up to cast Amaechi as the perfect victim in this unending Dracula-like melodrama in Rivers State.

  The acts that have built up the drama to this crescendo are not hidden. One is that Jonathan is overreacting to the rumoured ambition of Rotimi Amaechi to pair with Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State to gun for the PDP ticket in the 2015 presidential election. There is also the accusation that President Jonathan caused some 300 oil wells to be moved from Rivers State to Bayelsa State in order to reward Governor Seriake Dickson for his loyalty and punish Amaechi for his recalcitrance. But the breath-taking build-up to the election of a new chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and the outcome of the election, more than anything else, sharply lifted the drama to the combustible point that was witnessed last Tuesday at the Rivers State House of Assembly.

  Again in the boisterous post-mortem that followed the Port Harcourt performance, Jonathan, who was in China in the Far East with a colony of ministers, governors and aides in pursuit of foreign investment for Nigeria was dragged into the fray. Even when his handlers explained that linking the President with what happened was “mischievous” nobody wanted to listen. Dr Reuben Abati said; “We are constrained to state once again that there is absolutely no factual basis for suggestions that some of the politicians involved in the current dispute are acting at the behest of the President.”

   Not too many people were convinced. They include no other than Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka who, on Thursday, addressed a press conference tagged: Presidential Emergency: A People Under Siege, to condemn “President Jonathan’s indifference to the political imbroglio (in Rivers State).” Mr Femi Falana, who was at the press briefing, also dropped a few sour lines in condemnation of President Jonathan. Prof Pat Utomi, Prof Itse Sagay and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar reportedly lambasted the President for working assiduously to abort the Fourth Republic. Atiku, even likened the development to the July 10, 2003 adoption of Dr. Chris Ngige in Awka by gangsters who wanted to force his resignation as governor of Anambra State. It is a striking simile because the Port Harcourt battles were fought on Tuesday, July 9 and Wednesday, July 10.

What has Amaechi done? This is the question on everybody’s lip, yet none is ready to probe deeper for good answers beyond lip-service explanations.

  Amaechi is not a good party man, pure and simple. He has committed no other sin. This should remain the singular argument of the Presidency and same should be repeatedly reinforced to make it sink among the people. All other explanations will amount to beating about the bush and creating a participatory role for the President in a duel where he is designated an umpire.

Amaechi had his way against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the matter of his annulled candidature in the 2007 governorship election in Rivers State. In a watershed judgment, the Supreme on October 26, 2007 ruled that Ameachi was the rightful PDP candidate in that election and that, since elections were won by parties and not individuals, Amaechi, being the actual PDP flag bearer should be sworn-in to replace Celestine Omehia as governor of Rivers State. Thus, Amaechi became governor in 2007, in spite of the PDP. This was enough to breed in him great contempt for a party that clearly worked against his ascendance on the power ladder, even as a feeling of invincibility started welling up in him. He had become Amaechi, the conqueror of the PDP, the largest political party in Africa.

  Although no good reason was adduced by the PDP for annulling Amaechi’s candidacy in 2007, it remained a party decision and the PDP would have felt bruised when the Supreme Court enthroned Amaechi. The party suffered another ego bruise when the House moved against it and elected Aminu Tambuwal from the Northwest geo-political zone as Speaker, as against Mulikat Akande-Adeola from the Southwest to whom the PDP had assigned the slot.

  The underlying argument is that Jonathan himself is a product of party rascality. The proponents say the President, against the party understanding to leave the Presidency with the North for eight years, secured the PDP ticket and contested and won the 2011 presidential election following the death of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adu.

  In a way, neither Amaechi nor Jonathan has blame in the Rivers crisis. The whole blame is on the head of the PDP, which cannot keep its family members in check. Gradually, it has become heroic for members of the PDP to go against its directives. Discipline has become such a scarce virtue in the fold. For instance, when the NGF chairmanship was looking like a contest of supremacy between President Jonathan and Governor Amaechi, the party prevailed on Amaechi not to contest so that the PDP, like a Sicilian Mafia family, can remain one and together. Amaechi followed his mind as he had always done and contested. He won but he has not been able to function because there are now two forums. Earlier, the party had appealed in vain to Amaechi to recall the sacked chairman of Obio/Akpor local government, Mr. Timothy Nsirim.

These were the instances of disobedience of party positions cited in suspending Governor Amaechi from the party. But the grand jury has been conspiratorially silent on these. The jury is also not seeing through the layers to the subtext. I am talking of the role of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in all of this. The ACN has suddenly become more interested in the political wellbeing of PDP governors and legislators than the PDP itself. Yet, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the man who owns the ACN is not too known to offer free lunch packs. There are attached strings and I dare say that the opposition is offering to help the PDP weaken itself against 2015.

   The PDP has a responsibility to apply lawful means to protect itself against the antics of the opposition. If a governor becomes the weak link, there shouldn’t be any qualms cutting him off. The Bible recommends amputation if the limb becomes the entry point of the devil into the body. This, to me is the wider picture. Intra-party politics is not so much about democracy in action as it is about the discipline to defend a collective position. It is either you are in and be abiding or out and be free. The ACN, which is today posturing as a defender of free speech cannot allow one Governor Babatunde Fashola or whoever, to stand eyeball to eyeball with the Asiwaju in a supremacy contest.

  When the national executive of the African National Congress (ANC) decided to recall Thabo Mbeki ahead the expiration of his tenure as South Africa’s president over allegation of misuse of power against his arch-rival, Jacob Zuma, who later succeeded him as president, there were no arguments. A spokesman man only came on air to say; “the president has obliged and will step down after all the constitutional requirements have been met.”

 Even in the US where democracy has the most esoteric interpretations, the party is supreme. The Democratic Party had rallied around President Bill Clinton to forestall his impeachment in 1998. It cannot be different here and this is the point that should preached vigorously, by the presidency.

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