Somewhere, right now, a mother is weeping for her slain child, siblings are crying for their brother, a father is feigning composure over the headless corpse of his son. The mourners’ crime is very grievous. They had the effrontery to be either present, or have a relative present in Rivers State in an election season. Accordingly, the megalomaniac politicians have executed their punishment—the rivers flow with blood, not water.
In biblical times, as recounted in Exodus, the Egyptians awoke one morning to meet a bloody Nile. The River Nile had been elaborately bloodied as punishment for political disobedience. One interesting thing is that the bloody Nile was the result of an egotistical contest between the Egyptian Pharaoh and the God of Israel, both duly represented by their vassals. Looking at the events surrounding the rerun elections in Rivers State, a parallel exists with the biblical Egypt. This time, the clash of egos is championed by two political gladiators, with their vassals using assault rifles and machetes in place of spiritual power. To understand the present crisis, we need to go back a bit in time.
In 2013, while then Gov. Rotimi Amaechi was feuding with then President Goodluck Jonathan, the then Minister of State for Education, Barr. Nyesom Wike, emerged as the president’s local champion, his boot on the ground. As Amaechi gradually increased his affinity for the then opposition, Wike set a machinery in motion to capture control of the state’s PDP chapter. When Amaechi finally decamped to the APC, Wike’s efforts paid off, putting him as the PDP’s point man. The state began to witness a vitriolic feud between Amaechi’s camp and Wike’s camp.
The above paragraph does not seem to explain how Amaechi and Wike became archenemies. Let’s try going back further. With the return to democratic rule, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi became Rt. Hon. (Right Honourable!) Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, based in Port Harcourt. Some kilometres away, in Obio Akpor LGA, Barr. Wike became the LGA’s Executive Chairman. Both kinsmen would go on to hold their respective posts for two tenures.
In 2007, as Amaechi campaigned for the state’s governorship post, he turned to his kinsman as his right-hand man. With the abracadabra that led to Amaechi’s substitution with his cousin, Celestine Omehia, Amaechi had a big fight to prosecute. Trusted sources say that Wike stood by Amaechi, and helped him with the resultant litigations, even in times when Amaechi had to rove between Ghana and Nigeria. Hence, with Amaechi’s victory at the Supreme Court, he appointed Wike as his Chief of Staff. From this role, Amaechi would later nominate him to the president for a ministerial appointment.
The painting above depicts two brothers in arms, comrades related not just by political interest, but also by tribe. Nobody has publicly said if both men had any agreement during Amaechi’s legal fight, or before Wike’s elevation to the federal level. A trusted but unconfirmed source once claimed that Amaechi’s nomination of Wike for minister was a Trojan horse as he subtly worked to prevent his confirmation. This theory is unproven. If it should somehow be true, it would imply that whatever caused their rift occurred before July 2011. Whatever the root cause, their egos have not helped matters.
The 2015 elections in Rivers State were largely a contest between Amaechi and Wike for political supremacy. All the contenders in the two main parties knew that the real election was Amaechi vs Wike. Even the water seller on the street was privy to this information. After months of grandiloquence by both men, the elections came, and were duly characterized by violence. As a Rivers boy, I can attest without fear that no side can claim sainthood as regards the electoral violence.
It is easy to see why elections in Rivers State are characterized by violence. With thousands of uneducated or barely educated youths sitting idly, the political cannon has abundant fodder available. Alcoholism, drug addiction and every other possible social vice have produced youths with dead consciences, to whom human life has no value. Rampant street-level cultism has worsened the problem, with widespread availability of guns joining the steaming pot. Politicians merely feed into the existing dysfunction to recruit willing tools for their horrendous missions.
Last weekend’s rerun elections reiterated something that was screamed last year—guns, money and egos are a combustible mix for politics. Reports suggest that at least ten persons, including a serving youth corps member, were killed. Knowing Nigeria’s police report culture, one can safely take it that more than ten persons have lost their lives. All for what end? So that two men can beat their chests in victory over the other?
This is a sad chapter in Rivers’ politics. Gov Wike may say he has the people’s backing against “federal aggression”. The rightness or wrongness of his claim does not justify the violence unleashed in the state. Amaechi may feel the vengeful right to repay Wike for the misuse of federal might during his time. This vengefulness does not explain why others are killed while his children are safely insulated from the brouhaha. Both men may claim innocence, but only a deluded person would believe that Amaechi and Wike don’t have influence over the violent rascals on the streets. These two egos are destroying our state, engendering discord among brothers.
While this clash of egos traps the state in a pressure cooker, statesmen inside and outside the state continue to look on with folded arms. Maybe when the state becomes too hot to handle, people with sense will sit the clashing egos and preach peace. For those wishing for a state of emergency, know that it would only exacerbate matters. The rivers of blood will continue to flow until the warring parties give peace a chance. My condolences to the already bereaved, and those whose relative’s blood the river still awaits. May peace reign!