By Ehichioya Ezomon
“Wonders shall never end!” is an apt description of Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike’s newfound love for free, fair, and credible elections, and an independent legislature, and judiciary.
Yet, Wike is the antithesis of what he’s preaching, after about eight years of doing the unimaginable to undermine the electoral process, freedom of the legislature and independence of the judiciary.
In all practical purposes, he’s one of Nigeria’s chief enablers of electoral malfeasance, emasculators of the legislature, entanglers of the judiciary, and perverters of the rule of law.
And Wike deserves a trophy as a political actor to publicly rubbish the credibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) since democracy returned in Nigeria in 1999.
For the record, Wike accusingly corruptly influenced INEC officials with hundreds of millions of Naira, to manipulate the 2019 elections in Rivers State, to favour him and his political platform, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
During the bribe-for-vote drama, Wike reportedly urged INEC officials, who couldn’t “deliver”, to refund their largesse. And those that delivered have been sanctioned by INEC, or prosecuted and/or made to forfeit the bribe-money and/or property therefrom.
How did Wike thrust onto the scene and acquire power and influence to become the most formidable voice of the opposition since 2015 when he’s elected as governor of Rivers?
A product of the political family of former Governor Peter Odili (1999-2007), along with the Minister of Transportation and former Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi (2007-2015), Wike started off as Chairman of Obiokpor Local Government Area of Rivers.
He graduated from Chief of Staff to Amaechi, to Minister of State (Education), contested for governor in 2015, and got re-elected in 2019, with those polls defining his portraiture in today’s polity.
Wike began his solid political forays when Amaechi, as Chair of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), won re-election on May 24, 2013, but was de-recognised by then President Goodluck Jonathan.
Jonathan, allegedly fighting his wife, Dame Patience Jonathan’s proxy war with Amaechi in Rivers, upheld Plateau State Governor Jonah Jang, who lost the NGF poll to Amaechi by 19 votes to 16 votes – in a scenario derisively dubbed “16 is greater than 19”.
Having wormed his way into Mrs Jonathan’s heart, Wike was armed with the instruments of “federal might” to practically cage Amaechi, and disorganise the smooth running of his government.
There’re untoward events in Rivers; three suffice here: * Security operatives blocked access to Government House, Port Harcourt, preventing Amaechi from going out or coming in for several days.
* In mid July 2013, four PDP governors (Babangida Aliyu (Niger State), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano), and Sule Lamido (Jigawa), visiting Rivers in solidarity with Amaechi, were stoned at the airport by members of Grassroots Development Initiative (GDI), a group formed by Wike for the 2015 polls.
* Prior, the streets of Port Harcourt became a battlefield for days, following failed attempts by five members to take control of the House of Assembly dominated by 27 pro-Amaechi members.
As reported by Vanguard on July 11, 2013, as the GDI-led group drove pro-Amaechi members into Government House, policemen in pursuit “fired teargas canisters into the seat of power, “peppering government officials holed inside the complex,” while street chaos “forced banks, the state secretariat and judiciary to close shops.”
The Rivers fracas drew the ire of the National Assembly, with the House of Representatives calling for sack of the partisan Police Commissioner Joseph Mbu, who repeatedly declared himself as the “de facto Governor of Rivers” in defiance of Governor Amaechi.
It’s no surprise the 2015 polls in Rivers recorded many deaths, with some victims decapitated, and doubtful millions of votes amid a balloting apathy for fear of political thugs ready to spill blood.
Aftermath of his assumption of office, Wike turned Sunday worships into a bully pulpit where he launched weekly claims of plans to rig elections, or to assassinate him for being vocal against the leaders and governments of the APC at all levels.
So, it’s okay by Wike to use a church service, to mark Nigeria’s 61st Independence Anniversary, to allege rigging plans in 2023, and preach credible polls, and independent legislature and judiciary!
But hasn’t Wike indirectly censored himself, as his hand is found in every political pie, whether of the PDP or APC? His across-board interference has earned him the alias, a “busybody”.
Exploiting his seeming invincibility, Wike could indict PDP leaders and go unpunished, partly due to his enormous funding of PDP’s activities, and his fierce opposition to the APC and its leaders – an acclamatory pastime that gives needed cover to the opposition.
On that score, Wike has done a terrific job as a nonconformist policing the APC and its officials at the federal and subnational levels, without which the leaders could take Nigerians for a ride.
Still, only Wike could label PDP stakeholders as “tax collectors” (bribe-takers), for trying to fleece Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki for the PDP ticket for his re-election in 2020.
Behaving to type, “Wike, nicknamed “The Emperor”, often speaks in partisan and governing affairs in the first-person’s pronouns of “me” and “I”, e.g: “I will show him/them”, “I will not take nonsense from anybody”, “They don’t know me”, “Let them try me and see”, “I fear nobody”, “I do what I like”, “Nobody can challenge me”.
That’s why Wike is able to mesmerise PDP leaders, and had his way in literally single-handedly picking two national chairmen of the party he’s had no qualms to ditch before their terms expired.
In February 2016, Wike, along with former Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose, browbeat the NEC of the PDP to impose former Borno State Governor Modu Sheriff as national chairman.
Sheriff, not a full-fledged PDP member, lasted only months before he’s replaced, on account of allegation that he’s scheming to derail PDP’s fortunes in favour of the APC in the 2019 elections.
Again in December 2017, Wike caused his protégée, Prince Uche Secondus, to be coronated as national chairman, a post he’s lost, thanks to Wike’s ambition for President/Vice President in 2023.
Needless to dwell on the non-independence of Rivers legislature and judiciary, as circumscribing of both arms of government cuts across the states, with, perhaps, the exception of Lagos State.
State legislatures, as mere rubber-stamps to the wishes and dictates of governors, could pay a heavy price for “craving for independence”: induced impeachment of the principal officers, blocked access to the chambers, and stoppage of emoluments.
Similarly, canvassing independence in adjudication could lead to judicial officers losing governors’ “patronage” in promotions and mouthwatering welfare packages, like luxury cars and homes.
Fittingly on Wike’s watch, Rivers is labelled the “Political Litigation Capital of Nigeria,” not for profound judicial opinions, but on alleged “amenability” to “procure judgments” by litigants, many from outside Rivers, that file cases in breach of territorial jurisdiction.
Unless he’s turned a new page, Wike isn’t a good candidate for mimicking free, fair and credible polls, and independence of the legislature and judiciary – all aspects that he’s “guilty as charged”.
Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.