Driving around Port Harcourt city in the evening can be quite enjoyable. With an impressive new set of macadamised roads and bright street lights, one will freely explore the garden city even at dusk. However some of the streets could become unusually lonely especially when you turn off from the Aba road end into the old Government Reserved Area(GRA). The popular night life which flourished over the past few months had reduced significantly in the face of rumours that security in the city might have started declining. I was warned by a close friend to stay indoors because a popular Rivers born politician that is Abuja based had returned home that night in a private plane packed full of ex-militants. But who knows me? My jalopy is almost worthless and I am not yet smartphone compliant, I murmured as I sped towards a popular Cinema house known as the Genesis, to visit a friend who lives close by. My friend is a typical Port Harcourt boy and I felt that his company will be a useful guide at least about the dos and don’ts of city life. That gave me some confidence.
I decided to park my car in his house and drive with him to a popular pub in the city. We managed to park the car we came in far away from the pub entrance to save us from the mild traffic of people queuing to buy assorted roasted meat popularly known as (suya). Our entry into the drinking area was very smooth and uneventful. No one even noticed or greeted my friend who is a top bureaucrat and so I felt at ease and melted into the corner as we placed our orders. Before I could go halfway with my energy drink while I awaited the rest of my request, two men and one lady joined our table. We managed to exchange pleasantries before I started devouring my hot spicy plate of giant snails which had just arrived. Come and join me, I reached out to my table mates as is usual when in our culture. I requested for more drinks and brought my snail meal to a more central position on the table. The young lady took the first shot and her friend later joined. In less than ten minutes, we were all eating and chatting as if we had known each another for ages. The subject matter of our conversation centred around politics and security. We started by a general appraisal of the current turbulent political atmosphere in the country before we zeroed in on the political faceoff between President Jonathan and Rivers State Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi both of who are of the Niger Delta extraction.
The central question was whether the Rivers State Governor had betrayed the Niger Delta cause by his current political posture. One of my new friends explained what he described as the position of the average Niger Delta person on the matter. For him, they feel that Governor Amaechi had betrayed the Niger Delta struggle by openly disagreeing with the first President of Niger Delta extraction. He made some street sense. For many people from the region, the Jonathan Presidency is the most potent result of the struggle and whosoever becomes a potential and actual stumbling block to his re-election must be declared a traitor and an enemy of the Niger Delta cause. In between his passionate explanation, I retorted thus: “I may not be from the core Niger Delta but at least I am from the NDDC state and have been an academic activist for the past fifteen years. I know that the issues that the struggle in the Niger Delta were based on. I saw the Ogoni Bill of Rights of 1990 and Kaiama Declaration of 1998. I know that the struggle agitated for true federalism, cleaning up polluted ecosystems, sustainable development of the region, resource control, reparation for oil activities and environmental remediation. Now one will expect that all these concerns will receive accelerated political attention under a President from the region, however very little has happened. Both the Amnesty program and the Ministry of Niger Delta were initiated under late President Yar’ Adua. What specific benefit has accrued to the Niger Delta region under Jonathan for the region to support him for another term? Is it not uncharitable to continue to break our neck and threaten others with fire and brimstone for someone under whose Presidency, the region has continued to suffer neglect? I queried” Most of the people around the table were nodding their heads in agreement while I was explaining the issues after which I felt very relieved.
On the part of Amaechi, my friend took us through a lengthy overview of the list of calculated wrong doing against Rivers people which sounded like a laid out plan to punish the ” much orchestrated Amaechi rebellion”. I know that there was an on-going controversy surrounding the ownership of oil wells between Rivers and Bayelsa State. However I and others around the table did not know that it was a plan to unconstitutionally redraw the boundaries between the two states in order to deprive Rivers State of their oil revenue and hand over same to Bayelsa ostensibly under the solid backing of the President Jonathan led federal government. Not many people knew that the monies that accrued from those disputed wells which were hitherto deposited in an escrow account over the years pending the final determination of the constitutional owner were allegedly disbursed to Bayelsa State on orders from above without recourse to the other party in the conflict before the final resolution of the dispute. We never heard that before that incident, some other Rivers owned oil wells have been unjustifiably ceded to Abia and Akwa Ibom States and that there were further attempts to cede some to Imo state. We also heard about the reluctance to honour the agreement reached between federal government and Rivers State to refund monies expended on federal roads in the state but we did not know that it was up to 150 billion naira. In addition my friend told us about the deliberate diversion of funds meant for the LNG project in Bonny to the Brass LNG and the halting of any form of federal presence in the whole of Rivers State. The Rivers State portion of the popular East-West road is a popular example. We were grieved about hearing all what had befallen a state all in an effort to hurt an individual.
Again for the second time. I heard of the alleged counsel by close confidants of the President Jonathan for him to teach Amaechi a lesson which led to a water-tight plan code named ‘The Sylva Treatment’. I first heard about this plan in Coventry among some Bayelsa students but I made little of it. We were told that under this plan, the state owned aircraft was going to be grounded after which the governor will be forcefully impeached and sent to jail. I started to take the boasts seriously when the aircraft was successfully grounded by the Ministry of Aviation apparently based on spurious reasons. The impeachment sub-plot was aborted midway. However we learnt from the explanations that the July 9th aborted impeachment had the blessing of the President, his wife and their associates. It was revealed that a high level combined squad from the office of the Inspector General of Police, the office of the National Security Adviser and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) were already in the state fully mobilised to whisk Governor Amaechi away to an already prepared underground cell after the expected impeachment the next day. But fate took its turn and the impeachment was aborted and the said security men secretly flew back to Abuja in frustration in the face of unanimous condemnation from across the world who termed it a civilian coup.
Listening to the whole gist that evening, I began to see reasons why the Rivers State governor had found a new alliance with those governors from the North. I am sure Mr. Ameachi discovered that if he does not act quickly, the Presidential sledge-hammer will fall on him and he may end up in jail on trumped up charges. He(Amaechi) had to hurriedly mobilize a coalition that President Jonathan cannot afford to underestimate. The Rivers State Governor should be seen as a fearless and courageous man who is somewhat politically savvy. Many observers argue that if he had not gone into the alliance with the Northerners and the Westerners, he would have been crushed by the Presidential might by now. But whether this new alliance will save him remains a discussion for another day. The case between the President and Amaechi is clearly that of take out a guy who wants to take you out?? Except one wants to be sentimental, this is pure politics of self-interest that has nothing to do with Niger Delta cause on all sides.
Interestingly, the man referred to in the plan against Amaechi is the former Bayelsa State Governor Timipre Sylva. When he disagreed with the President, it was reported that he went with his wife and a top clergy man to prostrate before President Jonathan and ask for forgiveness and the President agreed to give him a safe landing. But what happened, the Nembe born politician was taken down to political cemetery and the rest they say is history. Should Amaechi have allowed the President, his wife and loyalists to disgrace him out of office like Sylva and dent his political career irredeemably? Probably? Those who know the details of the conspiratorial dynamics of the on-going saga have become very cautious in trading blames and arriving at hasty conclusions. As I stood up fulfilled about a well spent evening now early morning, I began to ask myself several questions about the political crisis in Rivers State and the current tribulations of Mr Amaechi. Are all these actually about conviction, selflessness or vaulting ambition? Will history at the end will judge him fairly? As a villain or a hero; a saint or a sinner? I cannot gaze into history as I do not yet possess the power of clairvoyance. The only question I want all of us, keen observers of the on-going political conflict to ask is this: If I were in the shoes of Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, would I not respond the same way to targeted hostility?
Uche Igwe is a Doctoral Researcher in Politics at University of Sussex and UK Bureau Chief of Africa Courier magazine.No tags for this post.