By Azu Ishiekwene
The only thing that trumps the mocking viral videos of the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, are the live footages of the State House of Assembly being demolished on Wednesday morning by a dozen bulldozers in what appeared like a scene from Gaza.
Reporters were even warned to steer clear. It was no longer renovation as planned; it was a full-blown war zone.
Happening on Wike’s 56th birthday, it was the most unlikely birthday present from the government of Siminalayi Fubara that he installed six months ago in Rivers, Nigeria’s richest South-South state. If there was any hope that the attempt by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to reconcile the warring parties might succeed, the bulldozers crushed them.
The question is: what next?
A few days before the bulldozers were deployed to flatten the partially burnt House of Assembly with the furniture, fittings, files and whatever was inside, something else was trending.
Twenty-seven of the 32 members of the House of Assembly loyal to Wike had announced their defection from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC), trading the umbrella for the broom and excitedly waving the APC flag on the streets of Port Harcourt.
They had defected they said, not out of choice, but out of necessity to escape a divided party following the refusal of the party’s National Secretary to intervene in the crisis after the fire outbreak. Also, they claimed that in obedience to their constituents, they would keep their seats, a rampant habit among politicians of straining out the insect but swallowing the camel.
Of malaria and cancer
The defections stirred the social media, washing up old videos of Wike in his heyday as the tormentor of the APC.
In both the English and pidgin versions of the videos he spitefully dismissed the idea that he would leave his “malaria-infected PDP” for the “cancerous ruling APC”. Yet, after he fell out with the PDP over his shabby treatment, he supported APC’s Bola Ahmed Tinubu for the presidency, while rallying the state to vote PDP in the governorship election.
Suggestions that Wike might eventually join the APC are not new. In an article I wrote in September last year entitled, “Anatomy of Wike’s Endgame,” I said, “What is Wike’s Endgame? To avenge his displacement from within while securing the positions of his allies who are already carrying the PDP flag into the next election. His destination – if not by words, but by his conduct – is APC. Everything in-between is in translation.”
Politics rewards expediency, not constancy. That was why black congressman William Clay famously said in the game of politics, there are not permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests.
When, for example, a video of the former Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, rallying support for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda was exhumed three years ago, the minister blamed his indiscretion on youth. “I was young, then,” he said. “Now, I’m older and wiser.” Wike might also argue that he said what he said out of exuberance.
The more surprising thing in the drama out of Rivers State has been the speed with which Wike and Fubara fell out. Power tussle between governors and their benefactors or godfathers is not new. It is such a regular feature of transitions in our political landscape that current beneficiaries who start by despising godfathers soon become godfathers themselves. They invariably become what they hate.
Whether it is Governor Godwin Obaseki and his deputy Philip Shauib in Edo or the even more complicated version in Ondo between Rotimi Akeredolu and now acting Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa, it’s the same old story, only in more scandalous latter-day versions.
In Rivers, however, the speed, depth and extent of the fallout have been spectacular. It was not supposed to be this way. Wike was, in a sense, like the biblical David who couldn’t build a house for God because he fought too many bloody wars but left it for his son, Solomon.
Whether it was checkmating the tyranny of federal agencies, containing meddlesome Abuja politicians, showing up when federal agents descended on the state at night to arrest Supreme Court justices, or helping to rebuild the opposition as a vital force in what was fast becoming a one-party democracy, Wike never shied away from a fight.
Although he lost the war to become the PDP’s presidential candidate in 2023, he won the battle to keep his state, leaving behind rich spoils of projects and a strategic alliance that paved a highway to Abuja, all supposed to secure a peaceful reign after him. In fact, as a seal, he ended the 16-year hegemony of the Ikwerre ethnic group in Rivers State by choosing an Ijaw man as his successor.
He seemed to have left his house in order, until October, when the first cracks appeared. Some have laid the blame on Wike, accusing him of leaving the chair, but taking its legs. He has been accused of running the state from Abuja and even asking the governor for the key to the treasury.
None of these accusations has come directly from Fubara himself. But it’s either the governor is enjoying the mudslinging or has become captive to forces in PDP, nPDP, APC and sundry Wike foes desperate to exploit the division and hijack him. There appears to be too many people around the governor egging him on to a war he does not need at an inauspicious time, and at a cost the state cannot afford.
What is the point, for example, of demolishing a multi-billion naira complex built by former Governor Peter Odili about 15 years ago under Rotimi Amaechi’s supervision as Speaker, when the government already has a High Court judgement forbidding the pro-Wike lawmakers to meet there?
Abuja as warfront
After the demolition of the House of Assembly, pro-Fubara lawmakers used a golden mace in storage in the Government House, as against the silver mace in the demolished complex, to receive the appropriation bill inside Government House, in defiance of an existing Supreme Court judgement in Hon. Muyiwa Inakoju & 17 Ors v Abraham Adeolu Adeleke & 3 Ors (SC 272/2006) NGSC (12 January 2007) that lawmakers cannot meet outside the House. Yet, if two wrongs don’t make a right, Fubara appears ready to try a third.
Wike has said Fubara’s attempt to tamper with his political structure, like a neonate dragging its mother’s womb and umbilical cord at the same time, was at the heart of the current conflict. He knows what he’s talking about, especially with local government elections coming up in February 2024.
If Wike was good enough to carry the governor through the dark, difficult days of their trials together when some of the governor’s ardent supporters today didn’t know him from Adam, the governor should be the last person to hang his benefactor out to dry so quickly.
The bigger challenge for Wike, however, is not Fubara or his army of snippers. It is not even about his legacy of projects in the state that would be hard to beat or his political structure which he can reinvent. It is how he would find the presence of mind to face his new assignment in Abuja, a city desperately in need of salvation.
Nearly overwhelmed with filth, pot-holed roads, street urchins, poor water supply and unlit highways, Abuja has become the war front that Chinua Achebe was afraid of. It is the wayward place that Obafemi Awolowo would have gladly handed over to Walt Disney as a franchise.
This broken city needs attention 24/7. Wike will not be judged by his conquests in Rivers State; so Fubara may level the entire Port Harcourt if he chooses. The FCT minister will be judged by what he does in Abuja, a city in danger of decay in the face of a combined severe threat of livability malaria and malignant cancer.
Ishiekwene is Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP. More: azuishiekwene.com