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Rotimi Amaechi: the Knife that Tore the Umbrella, By Majeed Dahiru

In an atmosphere of extreme sectionalism that pervades the Nigerian political culture, it is better to keep the home front united behind you, irrespective of political differences. The same friends cheering Amaechi on today will exploit the faultline in his home base to undermine him while using his public display of impunity to discredit him, in the case of a power struggle that may most certainly arise within the APC.

Frontline Niger Delta region’s oil producing Rivers State, host to leading multi-national oil companies, as well as the largest oil and gas infrastructure in Nigeria, is truly the treasure base of Africa’s second largest oil producer. Nigeria’s economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas export earnings (90 percent). It is not always gloomy in the Niger Delta. Oil producing states benefit significantly from the natural resource endowments of their land. A constitutionally guaranteed 13 percent derivation payable to oil producing states have put them ahead of other states in terms of financial resources. Rivers State is the most important of all the oil producing states.

 

Although the third largest oil producing state, it derives enormous resources from taxes as the host of the highest number of oil multinationals and oil and gas infrastructure in Nigeria. The state also has the largest population of all the Niger Delta coastal states due to the numerous economic opportunities that abound within its borders. Nigeria’s political culture thrives on a corrupt patronage system of crass cronyism; therefore, Rivers State is very important in the power equation at the highest level of government. Whoever governs this very important state is very influential and powerful in the politics of Nigeria. This explains why democratic elections in Rivers State are usually intense and sometimes violent.

 

Rotimi Amaechi, former governor and current minister of transport, proved the importance of Rivers State in national politics in the 2015 presidential elections. Amaechi was the man who led the revolt of five PDP governors, resulting in the break-up of the then ruling party. His boldness and political astuteness endeared him to millions of Nigerians across the country but alienated him from his people on the home front because the man he worked against, former president Goodluck Jonathan, is a son of the soil. The needless disagreements between Amaechi and the first family, were as a result of the former president’s little understanding of the Nigerian political space; an area in which Amaechi had a clearer understanding.

 

The minister of transport lived yesterday in order to exist today. He looked beyond Goodluck Jonathan, the first Niger Delta president of Nigeria, as the ultimate destination of the Niger Delta people. Unlike so many Niger Delta politicians who became regional ethnic champions because one of their own was president, Amaechi remained faithful to the broad alliance that was the PDP, by maintaining a nationalistic posture and outlook without falling for the immediate but temporary gains of sectionalism. He refused to compromise his position as the Governors Forum chairman on sectional considerations, by being fiercely loyal and faithful to his colleagues and pressing hard for the implementation of the resolutions of the body, which were sometimes in conflict with then Goodluck administration. When resisted, he was defiant in a manner which his kinsman perceived as disloyalty, if not outright despise. Amaechi was also not ready to tolerate the meddlesomeness of the then ebullient and provincial first lady, Patient Jonathan; a Dame no man could tame, not even her husband.

However, Amaechi’s main adversary and nemesis will emerge from behind his own shadow – Ezenwo Nyesome Wike, his closest political ally, confidant and nominee into the Federal Executive Council (as minister of state for education). Wike is a man of proven ability in the grassroots politics of Rivers State. He was like the field marshal of the Amaechi political family. Like most Nigerian politicians, Wike was driven by personal ambition for power. The only problem was that his ambition to become governor did not fit into the equation of his leader’s permutation of power rotation in Rivers State. Amaechi, as then political leader of Rivers State, openly expressed the desirability of the governorship seat to rotate to the riverine area of the state after his tenure terminated. Wike, who like Amaechi, is from the upland area of the state, was nursing the ambition to be governor.

Amaechi refused to cave in but instead led the revolt of five PDP governors to join forces with other political associations to form the APC. Amaechi was the knife that ripped the umbrella. He became Jonathan’s ultimate nemesis. He knew so much about Jonathan and systemically exposed the former president’s weak points to millions of Nigerians who craved change.

Amaechi’s position on moving the seat of power in the state to the riverine areas was not to spite or shortchange Wike, but was only fair and consistent with PDP’S inherent zoning and power rotation pact. Driven by the burning fire of his political ambition, Wike who came to terms with the reality that he may stand no chance under the leadership of Amaechi, suddenly, in a deft move, pitched his tent with the first family. Goodluck Jonathan who was also nursing the ambition to become president a second time – an ambition which he suspected Amaechi may not support on account of the understanding that power should rotate back to the north – found a natural ally in Wike. Both men were united in their personal ambition over the common interest of the collective interest. This alliance further aggravated their dispute with Amaechi. Wike knew too much about his former boss and ally. He knew his weaknesses and strength and was able to deconstruct and demystify him at the highest echelon of power.

 

Goodluck Jonathan found in Nyesome Wike a trusted and reliable ally, and tied his presidential ambition to the governorship quest of Wike. In order to neutralise Amaechi and reduce his influence and power within the ruling PDP, the Godspower Ake-led Rivers State executive committee of the party was dissolved on the order of a federal high court sitting in Abuja. This was speedily obeyed and Wike installed the Felix Obuah-led caretaker executive committee. This move effectively made Wike the leader of the PDP in the state. The full weight of “federal might” was deployed to support Wike’s ambition. In the ensuing power tussle, Amaechi’s exercise of his authority and power as a governor were undermined by federal agencies on “orders from above”.

 

Amaechi refused to cave in but instead led the revolt of five PDP governors to join forces with other political associations to form the APC. Amaechi was the knife that ripped the umbrella. He became Jonathan’s ultimate nemesis. He knew so much about Jonathan and systemically exposed the former president’s weak points to millions of Nigerians who craved change. Amaechi’s rhetoric against Jonathan was perceived as an “insider’s account” and were largely held to be true. The deep purse of Rivers State was used to oil the electioneering wheel of APC’s Muhammadu Buhari effectively. Coming from Jonathan’s region, Amaechi’s revolt was very instrumental to uniting opposition forces against the former president, which led to his defeat at the polls. Amaechi achieved his ultimate goal, while Wike achieved his ultimate ambition of becoming governor. Jonathan lost out. The former president was fighting Wike’s war thinking it was his.

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