Fire and Petrol: The politics of Nyesom Wike and Rotimi Amaechi

Last weekend, re-run elections held at the National and State Assembly levels across the local governments of Rivers state, Nigeria. It was expected that this batch of elections were going to be tense and finish controversially, and it did, not to mention the number of assassinations and near-death experiences recorded before the day. The main protagonists in the re-run elections were supposed to be the people of Rivers state, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the contestants for the Senatorial re-run elections. However, what Nigerians heard for most of the weekend was what the Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike, and Minister for Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, were doing. Their inflammatory words before the polls meant their supporters would take their words to heart, especially the crisis-loving groups. However, could the events of last weekend have been averted?

The love-turned-hate relationship between the present governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike and his predecessor Rotimi Amaechi is not new (Read here). The hate between these two former friends, who are members of separate major political parties in Nigeria, APC and PDP, further intensified when Wike won at the Supreme Court early this year to reverse the election tribunal’s decision to sack him as governor. And when the Supreme court also nullified some National and state assembly election results, it was clear that something major would go down at the re-run elections. Cue last week Sunday, six days before the re-run elections, Amaechi issued a challenge to Wike and his “supporters” to “come out with their guns to the polls” because “there would be security” in the form of the Nigerian army, in a region with a history of electoral violence. And instead of the Rivers state Governor Nyesom Wike to keep quiet on the issue or rebuke Amaechi, his response was to imply that Amaechi, the Commander-in-chief of Nigerian armed forces was bringing military personnel to Rivers state to rig the elections. It is no surprise then that a Nigerian army major and three soldiers were murdered by unknown gunmen just two days later. Co-incidence? I think not.

As such, the indignation displayed by Nigerians on social media platforms following the elections seemed a lot more like hypocrisy. Were people expecting a Christian Youth camp meeting with people singing “kumbaya my Lord” around a bonfire? Nigeria and its government should have been expecting this, especially when the two major parties saw it as a “do or die” affair with propaganda tweets flying around on social media which were intended to mislead people. Force can’t be stamped down with more force in a democracy, especially in Nigeria. The precedent to this election was the violence in the April 11 2015 gubernatorial elections in the state and Bayelsa state’s re-run gubernatorial elections in January this year. The nations South-South seems to only come alive in matters of its oil, or elections.

One would imagine why the Minister of Transportation who hasn’t seemingly implemented any policy in that sector for 5 months is so concerned about senate elections in his state, and announced himself as the head of the APC of Rivers state when the current APC chairman knows himself? Did he forget that his mandate changed when he was appointed a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? It is wise for President Buhari to call him to order, except if the president himself is implicit in this controversy. Also, why would the governor of Rivers state, who is the Chief Security Officer of the state incite his own people to violence? Has he also not made the transition from being a political thug to a governor?

Perhaps the tension would have reduced if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had postponed the elections, or if the president had equipped the Nigerian Police Force instead of calling the army to handle matters of civil defense. Nigerians need to remind themselves that, in many cases, they hold the power, not politicians. A personal tiff between two politicians should not be an influence on voters’ conduct during elections.

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