But for the incumbency of Governor Adams Oshiomhole in Edo State during the 2015 general election, All Progressives Congress (APC) would have returned a dismal outing in the entire South-South geopolitical zone. The outcome of the 2015 poll in the zone was expected largely because the then president Goodluck Jonathan was seeking another term as President. As such, in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta and Rivers States, it was a near clean sweep by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The situation in Rivers was not helped by the prominent role of the then outgoing governor, Rotimi Amaechi, who was playing in the raucous challenge by APC to take over the reigns of political power in the country.
As the Director General of APC Presidential Campaign Organisation, Amaechi’s influence was felt more in the area of funding than on the ballot. His nemesis and former ally, Nyesom Wike, who was on his way to becoming his successor, did much to hold the electoral ground with his Grassroots Development Initiative (GDI) movement.
Less than three months to next year’s general election, the table has turned and with the APC controlling the Presidency, President Muhammadu Buhari’s desire for another term in office is facing similar rambunctious challenge from the electorate, particularly in the South-South.
Although Amaechi remains the DG of APC Presidential campaign, the party is under enormous pressure to return more than 25 per cent of votes from the zone to shore up the president’s vote tally to a competitive level and ensure victory. The fact that all the states in the geopolitical zone but one are controlled by PDP, the ruling APC have been making frantic efforts and executing curious schemes in the bid to mine as much votes as it could from the zone.
Part of the ruling party’s strategy to get maximum votes from South-South was the induced defection of former Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio from the main opposition PDP to APC. The introduction of Akpabio as one of the ruling party’s playmakers in South-South, it appears, was intended to shore up the contributions of Amaechi and Oshiomhole, the national chairman of the party.
Right from the time the APC Presidency was inaugurated, the party did not lose sight of the strategic position of Akwa Ibom in its determination to hoist its flag in the Southeastern part of South-South geopolitical zone. With Akpabio directing affairs of the party in Akwa Ibom, the political shadows of Amaechi and Oshiomhole, in Rivers and Edo completes the three dimensional approach of APC to the 2019 poll in the South-South region.
However, barely three weeks after electioneering commenced the progress of the three leaders of force have been under some stress, including domestic indifference or resistance to the APC incursion.
Rivers: Amaechi versus Wike
At the buildup to the 2015 election, Amaechi, who moved from being Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly to becoming governor, believed that he had the means and political clout to implant his preferred candidate as successor.
Having turned his back on the PDP to become one of the movers and shakers of the inchoate APC, Amaechi waged battles not a few with the wife of then President Jonathan, and by extension, the PDP.
Emboldened by the national charge to lead the presidential electoral battle, Amaechi saw a larger than life image of himself as a giant killer and godfather rolled in one. He believed that with the North’s insistence on power returning to the zone, Jonathan was as good as gone. Then as an additional feather on his political cap, the man from Ubima selected his personable childhood friend, Dakuku Peterside, to set into his shoes as governor of oil rich Rivers.
When the results were announced, Amaechi succeeded in leading APC to a successful debut in the presidential poll, but found his mercurial former Chief of Staff, Wike, too hard a nut to crack. The inability to foist a successor at the BrickHouse, Rivers State Government House, diminished his presidential exploit in that it gave the former governor out as a king without a kingdom.
As the 2019 election beckons, and Amaechi knowing that he no longer commands the large war chest as was the case when he was governor, cleverly avoided Peterside, who is settled as the Director-General of Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) only to settle for the oil magnate, Tonye Cole. Although Cole is reputed to have means and ways, he remains a total outsider to the various political circuits in the Garden City state, particularly the Peter Odili line up.
Watchers of the highly volatile Rivers State politics believe that Amaechi’s decision to draft Cole into the governorship fray instead of siding Senator Magnus Abe was ostensibly to guarantee his sole administration type of politics, because Abe does not seem as pliable as the Transportation Minister expects.
Weeks after the APC governorship primary, the fart from Amaechi’s unilateral attempt to foist a candidate of his choice has continued to foul the political atmosphere in Rivers, APC.
Piqued by the impunity exhibited during the ward congresses and primary, Ibrahim Imah and 22 others filed a suit against APC, saying that the process did not align with the constitution of the party.
Casting away all restraint, including a court injunction, the party went ahead to conduct subsequent elections, including the nomination of candidates of the party. The hide and seek game with the court culminated in the recent Appeal Court ruling, which invalidated the nomination of Cole as the gubernatorial candidate of APC, insisting that it “is a function of illegality and unconstitutional acts.”
Justice Chinwendu Nwogu, in his ruling, had set aside the Rivers APC ward congresses of May 19, 2018, as well as the state congresses of May 21, 2018. The judge declared that “all actions taken by the party while the case was going on have been set aside, because they are illegal and unconstitutional.”
An important aspect of the ruling is that the court held that “all those who purchased nomination forms for the ward congresses were entitled to contest the election of May 19, 2018.”
Going by a popular legal cliché, since you cannot build something on nothing, all efforts by APC and Amaechi’s selected team for next year’s election have collapsed like a pack of cards.
The observation by the Judge that the “rule by might must be checked by the rule of law. We must restore the hope of the common man in the justice system,” sounds as a direct indictment of Amaechi.
But even when the party plans to test the latest ruling of the Court of Appeal, which upheld Justice Nwogu’s judgment at the apex court, it does not look like different outcome is possible.
Indications have emerged that APC plans to substitute some of its candidates in the spirit of accommodation to ensure that the party partakes in the election; there is a plan to adopt the ACCORD Party as a fall back.
But there is a snag. Dumo Lulu-Briggs, who emerged as Accord Party (AP) gubernatorial candidate of the state, walked out of APC in protest against Amaechi’s designs to sideline him in preference for Cole, after luring him to APC.
In what many now interpret as prognostic deposition, Lulu-Briggs, in his letter of exit, stated: “I am 100 per cent Rivers just as you, and so I trust that we shall keep our friendship and possibly realign if and when we feel the need. Once again, I reiterate that it is about Rivers people and my doors are open, praying that we find ourselves in ONE ACCORD.”
It is becoming increasingly possible that APC structure loyal to Amaechi would file behind Lulu-Briggs “in one Accord” to realign and continue the quest to rescue the state.
As things stand in Rivers, Amaechi’s capacity to wrestle the state from Wike seems to be shrinking by the day and it does not seem possible that having reached a point of no return in the estrangement with Senator Abe, he could navigate the party for maximum onslaught in the forthcoming election.