Patience Jonathan, Nyesom Wike and Politics of Succession in Rivers State,By Uche Igwe

Uche IgweThe latest news in town is that the wife of the Nigerian President, Dame Patience Jonathan has anointed three of his sons to take over as Governors of Rivers, Bayelsa and Bauchi states. To many of us, it is nothing new. Such information has been floating in the air for some time now. However her handlers have tried to partly deny it insisting there is no way she can dictate or install anyone into political offices but that those mentioned remain loyal sons of the President. There contradiction in wording of her statement is obvious to every discerning mind but let us give her a benefit of doubt. She is the First Lady.
The part of the news that she could not deny is her support for the Supervising Minister for Education Chief Nyesom Wike. Indeed it has been widely reported that the First Lady has endorsed Wike as the next Governor of Rivers State. She has declared Wike as the PDP leader in Rivers State who enjoys the followership of his people and that her support is in line with the expectations of the people. For many that is a very big boost in what has become the desperate bid of the Education Minister to succeed his former boss at the Brick House. This is clear defiance of the ban on electoral campaigns by the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC). However let us leave that for another day.
The exclamation of the First Lady exposed her and Chief Nyesom Wike in many ways. Since the political conflict between the President and the Rivers State Governor broke out, both characters have tried to convince everyone that the Rivers State Governor is a disrespectful arrogant man who had an anti-Ijaw agenda. On the side of Wike, he went on air repeatedly to state that the main reason why he decided to fight Mr. Amaechi is because the Rivers State Governor is allegedly against President Jonathan’s yet to be announced re-election bid. Many people believed him and began to see Amaechi as a traitor who did not want the Niger Delta people to enjoy the largesse of the Presidency. The statement of the First Lady about Wike has exposed what all the fight against Amaechi has been about. It is now clear that the Education Minister was merely using the name of the President to pursue his political ambition. The First Lady herself is just interested in extending her political fiefdom for guaranteed access and continuous flow of patronage. Now that she has endorsed an Ikwere man to take over from another Ikwere man, it is left for the Rivers public to discern the real persons who are the enemies of Ijaw people and other groups in Rivers State who are aspiring to produce a governor in 2015.
Right from the day Governor Amaechi was re-elected; he has not hidden his intention not to support a successor from his Senatorial zone not less his kinsman. For those who know the Governor, he keeps his word and that public announcement was the point that he parted ways with Nyesom Wike. The political disagreement with the President merely gave the Minister an opportunity he was looking for.
The endorsement of the First Lady is a clear signal of the shift in the direction of the lingering political conflict in the state. It seems that all the efforts to remove the Rivers State Governor from office have proved abortive and so the wise thing to do is to concentrate on handpicking his successor. The relationship between the President and the Rivers State Governor has deteriorated with the exit of the governor to the rival All Progressive’s Congress (APC). The First Lady has therefore gotten enormous leverage to continue her husband’s proxy war. Underneath it, she is also expanding her own loyalists. She is recruiting sons and daughters to extend her motherly control, particularistic access to public resources and privileges as the spousal appendage of the President. That approach has quite fruitful lately. At least she got herself a pensionable appointment of a Permanent Secretary in the President’s State, Bayelsa.
The Education Minister understands the game. Give it to him. He must be smiling now with the public endorsement by the First Lady. It will definitely give him mileage to continue to confront his former boss. With the way things are going, Chief Wike may end up procuring a few more endorsements that will make him the man to beat in the gubernatorial primaries of the People’s Democratic Party(PDP). He is hoping that with the Presidential support, Rivers people will overlook that he is the kinsman of the current governor and fill behind him in the next election. He is confident that he will use his enormous wealth to sedate the big politicians in the state and silence the agitation that other areas of the state should take a turn and produce a governor too. He has continued to plant his political organisation, the Grassroots Democratic Initiative (GDI), in all the local governments in the state as a vehicle to actualize his ambition. Those who are opposed to this plan have already expressed it through the Third Force Movement. It is also said that the recent declaration of the former warlord Chief Ateke Tom to join the gubernatorial election is not unconnected to a protest against the candidature of Wike. Whatever is the reason, the entry of such a character is beyond comic relief. It goes a long way to show the world the thinking of those who are bent on installing Mr. Ameachi’s successor and their desperation to actualize their ambition.
While all these are raging, it is important to state that the All Progressive’s Congress remains the party to beat in Rivers State and even Nyesom Wike knows it. During the last registration exercise, more than two hundred thousand adults registered in Obio Akpor LGA alone, the alleged stronghold of Chief Wike. If an election is held today, APC will sweep the gubernatorial elections in Rivers State. For the Presidential elections, one cannot say the same. Regardless of this clear picture, it is the democratic right of the First Lady to throw her support in any direction she chooses. The Education Minister should enjoy it but how far such endorsements will take him remains a matter of conjecture. It is a well known fact that the First Lady endorsed both Chief Timipre Sylva and Chief Tim Alaibe at various times after which they were humiliated by forces allegedly loyal to President Jonathan. Her style is relatively well known in political circles. The most tragic one was that of Chief Timipre Sylva who was said to have procured assurances for a second tenure from the First Lady only to receive a shocker a few days later when he was disallowed from contesting the primaries. The Education Minister may be right in his positioning but he must not fail to learn from Sylva and Alaibe. Two things are now clear from these permutations. The first is that Rotimi Amaechi may not be the enemy of the Ijaws and betrayer of the Niger Delta cause as his detractors continue to paint him. The second is that the forthcoming elections in Rivers State will bring interesting lessons to the table.

Uche Igwe is a Doctoral Researcher in Politics and wrote from University of Sussex, United Kingdom. He can be reached on [email protected]

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