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Wike, Fubara, And Risks Of Political Godfatherism

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In this report, ENYINNAYA APPOLOS, a FREELANCE WRITER, traces the political history of godfatherism in the oil-rich Rivers State, from Dr. Peter Odili to the present.

Who controls the deep and robust treasury of the oil-rich “Treasure Base of The Nation” and its political structure is at the center of the political debacle in the PDP-controlled Rivers State, between Governor Sim Fubara and his godfather, former Governor Nyesom Wike, who is currently the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory under the APC-led Federal Government of President Bola Tinubu.

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Opinions are divided among both camps. While many observers think that Wike should concentrate on his assignment as Minister in Abuja and allow Fubara to be in charge as governor, others are of the view that “an agreement is an agreement.”

Also, some feel that what is happening in Rivers State is a political cycle where godfathers refuse to learn from recent political history. Only time will tell if Fubara will end up the way of his predecessors, or if he would be a good student of recent political history.

Wike is not the first former governor to install a successor who is presumed to be loyal to him. Ironically, the outcome and reality always turn out to be cantankerous. Many former governors who want to be political godfathers, even to the detriment of the development of their states, have a similar tale of betrayal and “had I known” to share.

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Wike is the first former governor in Rivers State politics who successfully installed a successor, but that does not mean those before him didn’t try to do the same but failed, after spending huge sums of the resources of the state on such a venture. It is understandable why he is also the first to experience the risks of political godfatherism. For Wike, supporting Fubara is a ‘mistake.’

Before Wike, Dr. Peter Odili and Hon. Chibuike Amaechi were the political godfathers of the state at different times when they reigned as governors.

In 1999, when Odili emerged as the governor of the state under the PDP platform, he didn’t hide his desire to be in charge and control as the political godfather of the oil-rich Niger Delta state. When it was time to hand over in 2007, he didn’t hide his interest and plans to hand over to Amaechi, his political godson. With the available state resources at his disposal, he ensured that everything was done for Amaechi to take over from him.

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Odili enjoyed a long-time affinity with Amaechi. When Odili was Deputy Governor in the 3rd Republic, Amaechi was his special assistant. In 1999, when Odili became the PDP governorship candidate, he ensured that Amaechi became the PDP House of Assembly candidate for the Ikwere State Constituency.

Even when Amaechi lost at the polls to Chief Uche Okwukwu of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Odili, who wanted Amaechi to be the Speaker of the House of Assembly, refused to inaugurate the House until Amaechi’s case against Uche was decided in his (Amaechi’s) favor by the court. This paved the way for Amaechi’s election as the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly under Odili. He remained Speaker throughout the 8-year tenure of Odili.

In 2007, Odili, who wanted to succeed President Olusegun Obasanjo as the President of Nigeria, also didn’t leave anyone in doubt that he wanted Amaechi to succeed him as Governor of Rivers State. He ensured that Amaechi won the PDP governorship primaries for the 2007 election, until Obasanjo, who was not politically at home with Odili’s presidential bid, suddenly discovered a ‘K-leg’ in the nomination of Amaechi as the PDP governorship candidate, hence, Chief Celestine Omehia was drafted into the race, and his name was smuggled to INEC as the PDP candidate. Against the wishes of Odili and his political camp, Amaechi was dumped, and Omehia went through the polls and was declared the winner and sworn in as governor.

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However, Amaechi and his political camp, where Wike belonged then, went to court to challenge the process of Omehia’s emergence. While Amaechi relocated to Ghana on self-exile, his political camp headed by Wike, Senator Magnus Abe, and others remained opposed to the Omehia tenure, which eventually was ousted by the Supreme Court, which declared Amaechi governor on 26 October 2007, as the rightful candidate of the PDP and winner of the April 2007 governorship election in Rivers State, six months after Omehia had been governor.

It was alleged that Odili lost his political godfather figure to Amaechi when he agreed with Obasanjo that Amaechi’s nomination had a ‘K-leg.’ Immediately after Amaechi was sworn in as Governor, he forgot how he began with Odili and Odili’s contribution and sacrifices to his political growth. It was said that the feeling was that Odili abandoned him when he needed him most. Amaechi went after Odili, instituted a probe of his tenure, and ostracized him politically from Rivers State. Throughout Amaechi’s 8 years as Governor, Odili was treated with disdain, as Amaechi held sway as the godfather of Rivers State.

Amaechi, as the godfather is aware of the political potential of Wike, as a man of strength and strong character, who pursues whatever he believes to a logical end. He knew that he would have Wike to contend with, as far as his choice of successor was concerned. First, he appointed him Chief of Staff in his first tenure and, by his second tenure, nominated him for a ministerial position at the Federal Executive Council. His motive was said to be a ploy to keep Wike out of the state and control the political structure.

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Eventually, Amaechi and Wike fell apart. Wike’s closeness to then-President Goodluck Jonathan and his powerful ministerial position made Amaechi realize there was no place for him in the PDP despite being the governor. He went into a warpath with Jonathan and eventually left the PDP to join Jonathan’s political enemies in opposition.

Amaechi, along with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Senator Bukola Saraki, and others, formed the New-PDP splinter group that later formed APC with the Bola Tinubu-led ACN, the Muhammadu Buhari-led CPC, and the Senator Rochas Okorocha-faction of APGA.

In 2015, Amaechi, as governor of Rivers State on the platform of APC, sponsored Hon. Dakuku Peterside as the APC governorship candidate, but Wike, as the PDP candidate, defeated him in the election. This was how Amaechi, as a godfather, lost his chance of having his preferred candidate succeed him. Amaechi and APC went on again to lose to Wike and PDP in 2019 when Wike was re-elected for a second term with Prince Tonye Cole as the APC governorship candidate and as Minister under the APC federal government of former President Buhari.

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In 2023, when Wike, who wanted to be President of Nigeria under the PDP platform but lost the presidential ticket to Atiku, he became the first outgoing governor of Rivers State to install a successor when he sponsored the unanimous emergence of Fubara as the PDP candidate and eventual winner of the 2023 governorship election in the oil-rich Niger Delta state.

Just like Odili and Amaechi, who enjoyed a long-standing relationship, Wike and Fubara are said to have had a long-standing relationship from Wike’s days as a two-term Executive Chairman of Obio Akpor Local Government Area from 1999 to 2007. Wike is said to have left his agelong political allies who were interested in succeeding him as governor and settled for Fubara, who was completely new to the political milieu of the state, as his successor.

However, Wike appears to have been faced with the risks and realities of godfatherism, as his preferred supposedly loyal successor, Fubara, has turned the Rivers State political table against him. Despite efforts by politically interested parties in the country, including the Presidency, to intervene and quell the situation, the political corridor of the state has remained tense and unabated, with both the political camps of Wike and Fubara remaining undeterred in their plotting to wrestle political power and control of the oil-rich state.

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While it is unclear which side of the political divide will triumph in the end, as both have continued to make inflammatory remarks and comments against each other, the call for a ceasefire by former President Jonathan is the latest attempt to resolve the political impasse.

While in Rivers State on the invitation of Governor Fubara to flag off the construction of the 12.5km Trans-Kalabari Road project, Jonathan said, “There is a need for a ceasefire.”

He continued, “If Rivers State is destabilized, the whole Niger Delta will be destabilized, and it will not end within the Niger Delta alone. Because I am from this part of the country, I know how the system works. We don’t want a crisis in Rivers State.”

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“And I join the leaders of Rivers and well-meaning Nigerians who have been calling for a truce, who have been calling for a ceasefire, to also re-emphasize that there is a need for a ceasefire. Let us do things that would rather project this state positively.”

“There is this common saying that when two elephants fight, the grass suffers. Both the governor and the minister are young people, very young people, but they are powerful. And if you continue to fight, Rivers people will suffer, and we don’t want Rivers people to suffer,” Jonathan said.

This article was submitted by ENYINNAYA APPOLOS, a FREELANCE Writer

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