A political battle is looming between two former close allies and friends, the Minister of Transportation and the immediate past Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, and Senator Magnus Abe who represents Rivers Southeast Senatorial District at the National Assembly. They are set to clash over the 2019 governorship race. Port Harcourt Bureau Chief of the Nation BISI OLANIYI examines the intrigues and power-play that led to their parting of ways.
THE Minister of Transportation and the immediate past Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, and Senator Magnus Abe who represents Rivers Southeast Senatorial District at the National Assembly, were bosom friends and close political associates who have worked together. Abe himself once admitted that he has benefitted immensely from Amaechi’s political benevolence. The indigene of Bera-Ogoni, in Gokana Local Government Area, was the Secretary to the Government (SSG) in Amaechi’s administration, between 2007 and 2011. Thereafter, he was given the ruling party’s ticket under the same administration to proceed to the Senate in 2011.
But, the two of them are now on collision course over the 2019 governorship battle in the state. Before the last general elections in 2015, leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State zoned the governorship to Rivers Southeast senatorial district. The other zones, Rivers East and West senatorial districts, have produced governors; either in the new Rivers State or the old Rivers State, before Bayelsa State was created by the administration of the late Gen. Sani Abacha on October 1, 1996.
Rivers Southeast senatorial district has never produced a governor since the creation of the state on May 27, 1967, so the APC’s zoning arrangement was hailed as a move to ensure equity, justice and fairness in the multi-ethnic state. Apart from senatorial zones, there is also the upland and riverine dichotomy in Rivers State. The upland part has been producing governors since 1999, but the riverine part, which also includes Rivers Southeast incidentally, has never produced a governor. That was why Amaechi who is the leader of the APC in the state pushed for a riverine person to succeed him in 2015.
This led to the emergence of Dr. Dakuku Peterside, a former member of the House of Representatives who hails from coastal town of Opobo, as the governorship candidate. But, he was defeated in the controversial election by Governor Nyesom Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Abe who was a governorship aspirant on the platform of the APC in 2015 is now insisting that the zoning arrangement should subsist in 2019, so he can realize his ambition of governing the state. But this development does not go well with Amaechi, who recently accused Abe of betraying him, by fraternising with Governor Wike. The minister also accused his former associate of equally fraternizing with the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, another arch enemy of the APC chieftain. He concluded by saying that Abe could not be trusted with governorship power.
The senator believes he deserves the governorship ticket, because he assisted the minister when he was in dire need of help, when he was fighting to recover his mandate after the 2007 election. The battle for the APC governorship ticket between the feuding chieftains, who almost share the same birthday — Abe was born on May 24, 1965, while Amaechi born on May 27, 1965 – is likely to fester as 2019 approaches.
An ally of Abe, who pleaded for anonymity, stated that when the senator was the Minority Leader of the Rivers House of Assembly between 1999 and 2003, then as a member of the defunct All People’s Party (APP), which later became the now defunct All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), with Amaechi as the Speaker for eight years (1999 to 2007), that Abe greatly assisted and supported Amaechi for peace and stability in the House, especially between 1999 and 2003.
The source noted that when Abe later defected to the PDP and he was made Rivers Commissioner for Information by the then Governor Peter Odili, that Abe and Amaechi closely worked together. He added that the senator was one of Amaechi’s backers when he was fighting to recover his mandate. Amaechi later triumphed and was inaugurated as governor on October 26, 2007, following the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court the previous day, which sacked Sir Celestine Omehia as governor.
Shortly after Amaechi became governor, he made Abe the SSG and Wike, a former Chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government, emerged the Chief of Staff. The then governor later recommended Wike for ministerial appointment in the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Some months ago, the transportation minister held meetings with APC stakeholders at the residence of Chief Nnamdi Wokekoro at No. 13, Woluchor Street, Rumukalagbor, Port Harcourt and the house of a former Chairman of Etche Local Government, Reginand Ukwuoma, a lawyer, at Tombia Extension, Port Harcourt. At that meeting, most loyalists of Abe were removed as leaders of the APC at the local government level; a decision Amaechi described as a move to strengthen and reposition the party ahead of the 2019 general elections.
In an earlier meeting in Port Harcourt with party stakeholders, the minister had urged aspirants for elective positions in 2019 to hold on and to avoid overheating the polity. But, thousands of party chieftains from the 23 local councils loyal to Abe recently called on the senator to declare his ambition for the governorship ticket on the party’s platform. They declared that political parties exist primarily to win elections, and not to pander to the whims and caprices of individuals and that each person was free to make his/her political choices without fear.
The APC stakeholders loyal to Abe met for over two hours at Tana Event Centre, King Perekule Street, Government Reservation Area (GRA), Phase 2, Port Harcourt and later issued a six-point communique. The communique was read to reporters and APC stakeholders by a former Rivers Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Worgu Boms.
APC stakeholders who attended meeting include: Senator Wilson Ake, who until 2015 represented Rivers West senatorial district; ex-Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt, Chief Tony Okocha; and a former Mayor (Chairman) of Port Harcourt, Chimbiko Akarolo.
Indications are that Amaechi is going to give the APC governorship ticket to the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, once again. An oil magnate, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, who had shown interest in the 2019 governorship race, is believed to be heading for the Senate, to represent Rivers West district. Lulu-Briggs recently defected to the APC from the PDP.
Wike, a former Minister of State for Education, is, however, determined to be a vice-presidential candidate to a presidential candidate from the North, while grooming an ex-Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Austin Opara, also an Ikwerre as the current Rivers governor, to succeed him in 2019.
Stakeholders had deliberated on the state of the party in Rivers State ahead of the 2019 general elections. The stakeholders said: “Without equivocation and with the power and support of both the APC’s constitution and the Nigerian constitution, the meeting stated that Senator Magnus Ngei Abe’s eminent qualification to aspire to the office of governor of Rivers State, under our party, could not be questioned.
“Accordingly, the meeting called on him (Senator Abe) to present himself for the 2019 governorship, under our great party, the APC, as he clearly has the support and approval of a vast majority of our party faithful.”
The stakeholders also expressed gratitude to members who were genuinely dismayed and broken-hearted and fiercely discriminated against in the party, on account of their political orientation and the style of leadership, which they alleged had been instilling fear and threats for associating with Abe, especially for not leaving the party, but continued to stay on and contribute meaningfully for the advancement of the APC.
They said: “The meeting drew attention to the deep and strong division in the party, which division, if not checked and resolved, will bode ill for the party’s electoral outing. The meeting strongly urged the State Working Committee (SWC) to strive for independence, impartiality and inclusiveness, if the party must come out of the present low morale of members.
“The meeting affirmed the right of all party members to have ambition within the party, openly express it, canvass, lobby and rally support for its actualisation, without fear and within the laws and constitution of the party. The meeting insisted that it was only thereby that the party would be built, rather than through the handpicking of candidates, as was done in the past, in line with the change agenda of our great party.”
Abe was, however, urged by members of the Forum of APC Chairmen in the 23 local councils to call his supporters to order. The council chairmen also pledged their unflinching and unalloyed loyalty to the party, under the chairmanship of Chief Davies Ikanya, and the leadership of the Minister of Transportation.
Members of the forum, which has as Chairman, Gift Loveday, who chairs the party in Abua/Odual Local Government, had at a press conference in Port Harcourt accused Abe’s supporters of displaying uncontrollable impudence, insult and outright disobedience to the party’s constituted authority.
The forum said it was not in doubt that the APC would reward all faithful members. The chairmen admonished the leadership of the party not to hesitate to take firm disciplinary measures against all errant members, irrespective of the status of anyone or group involved.
In an interactive session with reporters, Rivers APC chairman, Ikanya, also urged members of the party to imbibe team spirit and respect the party’s leadership, as it works toward victory in 2019. He assured them of fairness in handling individual and collective interests, as they concerned the growth of the APC. He also urged members, especially at the unit and ward levels, to channel ideas that would help to strengthen participation and boost the party’s relevance at the grassroots.
Ikanya also urged APC members to take advantage of the commitments of the members of the National Working Committee (NWC) to strengthen the party.
At a stakeholders meeting in Bori, Khana Local Government, Ogoni leaders called on Abe to vie for Rivers governorship in 2019 on the platform of the APC. In a communiqué, APC leaders from the council said: “As partners, populous in electoral capacity, but absent in representative leadership, we are pleading with all our neighbours in Rivers State to join us collectively as we ask that an Ogoni son to be considered for governorship of Rivers State in 2019.
“Since the creation of Rivers State on May 27, 1967, Ogoni people have not held offices as chief judge, speaker, deputy governor, and governor. The Ogoni is one of the most populated ethnic groups in the Rivers Southeast senatorial district. We resolved that an Ogoni son should be given the opportunity for governorship of Rivers State on APC platform in 2019. Senator Magnus Abe, an Ogoni son, from Bera in Gokana Local Government, should present himself in this capacity.
“APC leaders from Khana appreciated the fact that there are numerous Ogoni sons and daughters, who are eminently qualified, but the political investments of Senator Magnus Abe communicated a competitive edge that makes his marketability more appealing. The Khana meeting strongly urged the State Working Committee (SWC) of the APC to strive for independence, impartiality and inclusiveness, if the party must come out of the present low morale of members.”
APC leaders Abe had the support and approval of the vast majority of the Khana people.