Rivers Crisis: A Go-Round Obio-Akpo Memogate!

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

The state capital of Rivers is undergoing another political crisis. That is neither a novelty, nor particularly significant. The treasure-base routinely seems to set-in the throes of emergency. People of Port Harcourt also experienced that often when this part of the Niger Delta was a part of the eastern region until 1970’s. Things have not improved even after the creation of Rivers State. With the emergence and prominence of multi-ethnic groups and continued unemployed youths dominance, things might actually have deteriorated.

This time around it is somewhat different. Three significant state institutions are at loggerheads with escalating conflicts between the civilian government, the ruling party,PDP and the State House Of Assembly and Nigerian Police formation breathing down the neck and looming large. No Port Harcourt aborigine elected government has ever completed its term in office, even if some were elected by landslide votes and two-thirds majority.

Port Harcourt has fared better in this regard. Three successive governments, despite opposition unrest and agitations, and clamour for early elections, have completed their terms, not counting the April 15, 1979 one-party election; the resultant NPN regime enacted the Melford Okilo government which was booted-out thereafter.

The current regime, despite gross accusation, intimidating tendencies, callous subjectibility, sit-by-fence hungry opportunists waiting to truncate off the election pledges, calling unrelenting the state chief executive to resign, it has become ingrate actions and insane option. Such discrepancies will likely fulfil the infidel followers in term as well. Is that the way it should be? But being one up in civilian government or democracy compared to Nigeria is no solace or a benchmark and scant glory.

The road to democracy in Nigeria has been disrupted and derailed by successive military coups, often backed by a weak and compliant judiciary. In times of crisis, the army, Nigeria’s most powerful institution, has overthrown the civilian government on grounds that the leadership had been unfit and corrupt. The fact is that the military regimes were no less corrupt or incompetence in addition to being despotic.

The military has staged three coups, not counting the first coup in 1966 as a result of the deteriorating situation in western Nigeria where politicians had failed to find a solution, ‘political killings had risen to a dangerous level’ and the whole country was heading towards chaos and disaster. However, one exception to this recurring pattern of factions was the Ogoni people (Mosop), who managed to articulate their grievances into the Ogoni ‘Bill of Rights’ in October 1990. They worked closely with the campaign for democracy as well as attracting the attention of the UN and the support of international NGOs to protest against the Abacha regime. Despite these unified efforts, the military reacted with forceful violence, terrorising villages and holding a corrupt trial with no right of appeal; this resulted in the hanging of 9 activists in 1994.This demonstrates that even when unified support did challenge military rule, the military had the totalitarian power to suppress this opposition Two military dictators, General IBB and General Abacha were involved. The economic effects of military rule were disastrous. The traditional agricultural based economy was abandoned and they became extremely dependent on exports of oil which due to frequent fluctuations in oil prices led to an unstable economy.The Babangida regime of was characterised by “gross incompetence and unbridled, waste and mismanagement, the privatisation of public office and public resources, the neglect of non-oil sectors and misplaced priorities staged their uprising and usurped power in post-slave trade exploration era.

Frequent military rules have weakened democratic institutions and undermined credibility of politicians. Due to the latest entanglement, there has been mounting concern that another coup is in the offing. Nigeria’s political scene resembles a combat zone, with the state organs and significant players heading for a possible showdown.

In the recent past, the military has put intense pressure on the civilian government by participating in a Supreme Court inquiry which could see Gen.Zamani Lekwot prosecuted and convicted owing to Zango Kataf crisis. The government has retaliated by accusing the military top brass of flouting the rules, misusing authority and warned them against setting up a ‘state within the state’.

The Abuja-power seems to be backing the opposition, questioning the honesty of Gov. Amaechi about 2015 aspiration. The presidency wants corruption cases against numerous politicians, including the state government of Chibuike Amaechi reactivated. The presidency have publicly stated that the government does not intend to implement some of the court decisions against the ruling party ,PDP, which they characterise as politically motivated.

This turf war among important state institutions is taking place at a time when opposition groups are trying to gain a foothold in the run-up to general elections, due in early 2015 but likely to be held before then. With the uproar and commotion now in full swing, the election may ensue sooner rather than later.

After 15 years of dabbling in politics, mostly as a fringe player without making much headway, Ogoni playmakers including Mr. Magnus Abbe and his kinsman Barry Mpigi are now attracting huge crowds to his public rallies. They asserts that the tsunami will wash away the ‘corrupt politicians and plunderers’. Whereas the trios of Chibudom Nwuche, Austin Opara and Abiye Sekibo are trying to cash in on their assertive and effective politicareering background combined with clean and righteous image.

Also returning to the fray is the former civilian ruler Peter Odili, who has been in self-imposed to lead the solidarity and plea visit President Jonathan. He plans to return to the state shortly despite previous EFCC harassment over various criminal charges, including allegation of being an accomplice in the former PDP chieftain Marshal Harris’ murder case.

The current elected (Odili-grooved) politicians have survived longer than any other in Rivers history, and that probably explains why the confrontation between the institutions has mushroomed and assumed alarming proportions. After assuming power 1999, the government tried to bring the military and the ISI, its shadowy intelligence service, under civilian control but did not succeed and had to retreat.

Tensions with the military surfaced after the May 2, 2008 militancy disturbances. Some civic and political groups called for top military officials to be sacked for failing to detect both the accomplice and political backers.

The simmering tension spilled into the open over a memo seeking the JTF help to avert a possible insurgency in the wake of militant upturns. The regime points to the fact that the memo is unsigned and officials deny former President Yar’Adua had anything to do with it. The present stand-off is a direct outcome of the divergence of views of the military and the civilian government on the memo issue, some calling it the ‘Memogate’.

There are unprecedented developments in the political and state power arena. As old and new players jump into the scene, what will happen next is still not clear. Rumours of another impeachment move from the Rivers State House Of Assembly have been swirling around the ongoing crisis. But most analysts think the deputy governor or another governor takeover is highly unlikely this time around.

The ‘’nigeria4betterrule participants has identified five specific reasons why emergency rule in Rivers State at this juncture is improbable:

1. People will not support another governor takeover: A history of failed government has worn out much of public confidence in th

e army’s ability to solve Rivers’ social, economic and political problems.

2. Vibrant news media reluctant to military rule: Reporters Without Borders calls Port Harxcourt a most dangerous city for journalists. But the free and fiery news media acts as the vigilant watchdog for the fragile democracy. The army will be subject to intense media scrutiny in case of a coup.

3. Independent judiciary: In the past, a pliant and controlled judiciary gave credence to change in leadership batton. The current Supreme Court, led by a chief justice fired Celestine Omehia in 2007 , may not back down from a confrontation with the military.

4. Allies’ aversion for impeachment: Opposition political hold sway over Chibuike Amaechi because of their economic and political commonness in the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF). That is despite recent tensions following the grounding of the governors Bombardiar private jet as well as the NGF re-election saga. Analysts at “nigeria4betterrule forum” say, allies would view an impeachment as destabilizing and threatening to fragile peace process in the Niger Delta region, and will not accept it.

5. PDP and their option: The notion of an impeachment stems from the perception that the ruling party national leadership does not like Governor Amaechi. Tensions between the two sides escalated after the Go-Round by Obio-Akpo Memogate. If the ruling party wants him out, there are better and more practical options. A court ruling against the governor, for example, would leave him too isolated. The ruling party could sit back to let the court do the work of ousting the government.

There are a number of major players in the current tension and the crisis will be resolved based on the stance they take. The main figures are the presidency, the minister of state Education, The state commissioner of Police, ,SSS (intelligence) chief, perhaps along with Chibudom Nwuche and Lee Maeba, to name a few.

With the flurry of activities, Port Harcourt appears to be heading again into a period of turmoil and turbulence which many observers believe would translate either into a stronger democracy or a total collapse of the system. Amaechi and his government received immediate reprieve when he won a vote of confidence in the NGF last election.

Amaechi however, has been a subject to the Nigeria media. He reportedly offered to stay-put to settle the matter and assuage frayed nerves. Even if his government survives the rancour and remains in power, it is thus possible that there may be a different commissioner of police for the state. The name of at least one likely candidate has been bandied about.

If the crisi in the Rivers State House Of Assembly is not abated and continues to resist the ruling party quest, the presidency may seek emergency rule option which it can undermine the constitution, to implement its decisions. If it does, the military, already in confrontation with the government, may make a move.

The government options appear clear. If the PDP regime allows itself to be kicked out of office in Rivers State with the leader going through tough time, it will wash off the stigma of oneness and brotherhood, among Nigerian governors for which it has been persistently criticized since its inception. If the regime survives the crisis, it will emerge as the first ever civilian government to establish supremacy of leadership over other state institutions.

A lot will depend on how the different institutions, and various power and pressure groups play their cards over the coming days and weeks. Whoever ends up holding power faces overwhelming challenge with the economy in doldrums and militant insurgency virulently active in the Niger Delta parts of the country.

Let me end with a famous and familiar Winston Churchill quote: ‘Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’

If Nigeria does not realise that and if Rivers people by and large do not appreciate that after years of periodic military misrule, despotic repression, misery of the country and torment of the people, they never will. And nothing will and can assist them and ameliorate their recurring political subjugation and dictatorial tyranny.

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