The Murky Road to 2015 By Uche Igwe

I thought I could avoid talking about the political rift between Governor Chibuike Amaechi and President Goodluck Jonathan for a while. However, as I continue to struggle to look to another direction, the whole thing continues to get murkier and more disgraceful.  The sad incident last week at the Rivers State House of Assembly seems to be the crescendo. Some have called it a civilian coup. Some prefer to describe it as a travesty of democracy. Others call it a desperate effort at democratic authoritarianism. Some others choose to codify it with the cliché of “Jonathanian abaracadabra”. Regardless of whichever side you are, the incident of last week in Port Harcourt is an insult of a superlative nature on all true democrats the world over.

 I know a little about the history and character of the Nigerian political class. There are a few words that could easily come to one’s mind whenever one invokes them. Never, and I mean never, did I imagine this level of insanity. And to envisage that we still have a President who hails from same region as the state that is wallowing in an unfortunate orgy of denial convinces me that there is real danger ahead.  So, where will you start?  When we saw it happen after the Nigeria Governors’ Forum chairmanship election, some us thought that these political deviants would learn some lessons, understand the pulse of the Nigerian people and begin to thread softly. But it appears that they are adamant. The puerile political war between Jonathan and Amaechi has now become such an open show of shame. At some point, both of them were in denial. They hugged and smiled and some of us began to feel that they had made up. Some people had attempted to exonerate the President and indict the wife. I do not agree that the President does not endorse the actions and utterances of his spouse. That is at best paediatric logic.

 I am a defender of the democratic right of dissent as far as such rights are advanced with decorum.  Let me make myself clear here. Jonathan deserves respect as the current occupier of the office of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Therefore, all governors, including Amaechi and indeed every Nigerian ought to respect both the office and the person occupying it.  Our peculiar history has made the Presidency a very powerful office especially after the civil war and the successive military regimes. But one must quickly add here that the word “respect” must be seen as what it is and the opposite word “disrespect” should also be used appropriately.   I cannot fully describe the scope of the word “disrespect” but I know what it is not.  I am prepared to argue that it does not in anyway include holding and, where possible, advancing divergent political views in a democratic space. To me, those who, therefore, peddle disrespect to Jonathan as one of the sins of Amaechi are mere propagandists and that is very wrong. Genuflecting before political office holders is a symptom that our democracy is still on a sickbed.  We do not even understand the democracy that we pretend to be practising. We often mistake democracy to mean regular elections. No, not at all. Democracy is about freedom and choice, including not choosing at all. Unfortunatley, our minds are still working as though we are in a military regime or a one party autocracy where any form of alternative view cannot be tolerated. Until we get to that stage that we can tolerate opposing views, then we cannot call ourselves democrats.  One other aspect of the “disrespect” of the President by Amaechi is the perception that the governor had not voiced his support for Jonathan’s 2015 reelection bid even before it is announced.  And the protagonists of this latter aspect condemn Amaechi even the more for failing to categorically express his support especially since he is of the same stock, kith and kin with the President. Now, I do not blame those who believe that if you are from the South, you must support a Southern president. That is an unfortunate carry-over from the immediate post-colonial era when many of those who fought for independence had to retreat to their various tribal cocoons in search for tribal, as against national, legitimacy. And so if Amaechi or any public office holder for that matter does not consent to support Jonathan, such a person will automatically be labelled a traitor that must be hounded and harassed to submission. So, where is the place for performance in all of this?

Similarly, many commentators have urged Amaechi to exercise some restraints. They argue that since he belongs to the same party as the President, he must be bound by the decisions of the party, be they the composition of the party leadership or automatic candidature etc. Instructively, the governor has not said to anybody that he would not support President Jonathan’s probable re-election bid. What Amaechi is reported to have said publicly is that even though Jonathan got more than two million votes from Rivers State, the federal presence in the state has been very minimal. He has complained about the suspension of the funding of the LNG project in Bonny Island to shift financing to the Brass LNG. He has also said that the Federal Government had yet to refund about N150b spent by the state on federal roads so far.  The matter would have been an open and closed issue if the relevant federal agencies promptly addressed the veracity or otherwise of his assertions, just like the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsay Orubebe, did regarding the Rivers portion of the East-West Road project.  Democracy, especially in a federation, is about allaying the genuine fears of the respective interests and federating entities, not battering them.

 It is the position of this writer that even though both political gladiators will suffer (and have suffered) tremendous losses from this unending battle, Jonathan may unwittingly end up the bigger loser.  If he is thinking about contesting election in 2015, he should quickly make peace with Amaechi and not allow this matter to escalate or snowball to tragic dimensions. There are conflict entrepreneurs and political mercenaries who are lining up to benefit and are indeed already benefitting from the current saga. They should not be made to continue to have their way. Furthermore, the President should watch out for any action that will put his integrity in doubt before the Nigerian people. After the NGF election, many Nigerians seem to have begun to doubt the sincerity of the President. Jonathan had denied repeatedly that he was interested in the outcome of the election, only to later make a U-turn to support a faction. As much as possible, a President must strive to be seen as someone who has integrity and who will stick to any promise he makes or statement he puts out in the public domain. Now, the President has also said that he is not involved in the Rivers State crisis. Almost every Nigerian knows the true position and has said so in open defiance of the presidential stance. This speaks volumes. However, again, the wife of the President has made public statements that indicated her antagonistic position. So, instead of denying, the President and Amaechi should own up and pursue genuine reconciliation for the sake of Rivers people and the whole of the Niger Delta region.

On a related note, I watched some of the video footages from the free-for-all at the Rivers State House of Assembly and was very embarrassed.  I condemn the rascality, brutality, brigandage and bestiality on display. One wonders how these sorts of characters found their way in the first place into the parliament and what they really do there.  Lawmaking? Clearly not! Let me underscore that it is wrong for anyone to convert the parliament to a battlefield. Finally, I want to urge President Jonathan and Amaechi to halt further covert or overt hostilities and reconcile with each other. Nigerians are tired of this rift that is based on petty politics rather than ideology.

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