Rivers: Time to stop the slide By Waheed Odusile

Not a few Nigerians, both at home and in the Diaspora were disturbed by the recent turn of events for the worse in the escalating political crisis in the Rivers State chapter of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Not only were they disturbed, they were equally surprised and disappointed at the orgy of violence that attended the legislative session of the House of Assembly last Tuesday and the show of shame put up a day later by the Police which barricaded the Government House in Port Harcourt for close to three hours, firing tear gas into the premises.

And most Nigerians are now not just ashamed of what politicians are turning this democracy into under President Goodluck Jonathan’s watch, but are also afraid that the 4th republic is in peril if the Rivers crisis is allowed to fester and spread to other parts of the country. They fear the Egyptian scenario could play itself out here if care was not taken. They could be right.

In Egypt as we all know, the military had just kicked out the elected government of President Mohammed Morsi when the country was sliding into seeming unending chaos, replacing it with an interim civilian administration. The chaos though, is continuing and the military (mis)adventure looks unlikely to restore peace, stability and sustainable democracy any time soon.

This is the path the Rivers crisis seems to be taking Nigeria. Remember we travelled this route before twice with disastrous consequences. The political crisis in the western region in the first republic over disputed election got to a head when opposing lawmakers fought one another in the Parliament building at Agodi in Ibadan, using chairs and other movable furniture as weapons. The photographs of members of the regional parliament escaping through the window are there in history books to remind us of that period.

The rest of Nigeria practically looked on as the Western Region literarily burnt as supporters of rival political  parties engaged in arson and killing in what was known locally as “Operation  Wetie”, that is, wetting the subject or object with fuel before setting in fire. They thought it was a Yoruba problem, but they were wrong as the failure of the federal government then to contain it drew the attention of five Majors in the Nigerian Army who staged the first military coup in the country, thus terminating that democratic experience.

And our politicians certainly did not learn anything from that experience as the south west again burnt in the second republic when disputed election in Ondo state in 1983, led to similar arson and killing which together with other political mayhem and similar crises elsewhere attracted the intervention of the soldiers and our second attempt at democracy was halted on December 31st 1983.

Those who could recall these two past experiences have been drawing the attention of the political class to their similarities with today’s crisis in Rivers State and the need to avoid that path, but it does appear they are talking to the deaf.

The crisis that culminated in the free for all fight inside the chambers of the Rivers State House of Assembly last Tuesday has its roots in the plans by rival political camps within the ruling PDP in the state to control the administration and resources of the state after the tenure of Governor Rotimi Amaechi in 2015. While the Amaechi group is intent on him seeing out his second term successfully, it also aims to produce his successor and therefore sustain his legacy of good work, performance and delivery of ‘dividend of democracy’ to the people.

The other camp led by a former Amaechi ally and now a member of the federal cabinet Nyesom Wike, wants to be in charge and seems not willing to wait till 2015; it wants the governorship now and appears ready to do anything and everything that could bring about this. And it has found a willing ally in the wife of the president, Dame Patience Jonathan, an indigene of Rivers, who not only wants to build her own political followership in the state but also produce the next governor preferably from her Okrika ethnic group. Together they have sold the idea to Jonathan who has lent the federal might to their project with the selfish belief that that is the only way to guarantee him the two million or so votes from Rivers state in the 2015 presidential election.

Both of them are using the presidential support differently. Wike, with ears of the president, is manipulating the party structure and with the help of a contentious court order has been able, for now, to wrestle the control of the PDP in the state from the Amaechi group, the intention being to either use the party to compel its members in the Assembly to impeach the governor and provide a window for the group to sneak into the Government House or deny Amaechi the party ticket in case a court invalidates his election and orders a rerun. They attempted to push through the impeachment and the outcome was the mayhem witnessed last week at the Assembly.

The First Lady on her part has been using the security agencies especially the police to intimidate the state government to either run the governor out of office now or weaken him so much as to be unable to produce or influence his successor in 2015.

The governor is expectedly not keeping quiet. In the face of the federal onslaught both against his government, his supporters and even the larger society in Rivers state, Amaechi has been fighting on all fronts to resist the other group and still be able provide leadership to his people and continue to deliver on his promise of good governance. This must be a tall order because the federal might arrayed against him is indeed awesome and powerful.

To the chagrin of his opponents, the majority of the people of Rivers are with him, so also are most of his colleagues in the Nigeria Governors’ Forum where he remains the chairman, the presidency’s attempt to polarize the forum notwithstanding.

But the effect of the ‘war’ is beginning to tell on the people. Security situation in the state is getting worse, no thanks to the Commissioner of Police, Mbu Joseph Mbu who seems to be more interested in playing along with the First Lady rather than working with the state governor. Militants, cultists and their likes that were driven out of town five, six years ago are back on the prowl, working for the anti Amaechi forces and terrorizing the people. Kidnapping we are told is on the increase, so are other crimes, but CP Mbu is unperturbed as long as ‘Madam at the top’ and the Minister are happy. He seems to be answerable to no one but the First Lady, not even the Inspector General of Police.

In all of this the president is behaving as if all is well or Amaechi must be brought down to his knees and thought a lesson even if Rivers will burn. This is unfortunate. If Jonathan continues to fold his arms and allow events in Rivers to degenerate further to the point where things would begin to fall apart the blame would be on his head and nobody would cry for him. If truly he is the leader of his party, then he should be able to call all the warring groups in PDP in the state, including his wife to order in the interest of not just this democracy but also the country. He knows who and what is causing the crisis in Rivers state, he also knows the solution. He should stop playing politics with us. It is time to act as leader of the nation that his position has conferred on him He should resist the temptation to press the self destruct button. Nigeria can’t afford to travel that road again. NO.

While this is not an attempt to justify Governor Amaechi’s actions or exonerate him from whatever blames he deserves, President Jonathan bears the greater responsibility to ensure the survival of this democracy and the country as a united entity.

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