By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN
Rivers State was created on May 27, 1967 out of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria. Until 1996, the state contained the area which is now Bayelsa State. The state covers a land area of 11,077km, and it has both riverine and upland geographical areas. Its borders include Imo and Anambra to the north, Abia and Akwa Ibom to the east and Bayelsa and Delta to the west. Its state capital, Port Harcourt is a metropolis that is considered to be the commercial centre of the Nigerian oil industry. Its population is estimated to be about seven million, being the 7th most populous state in Nigeria. The state accounts for about 21% of the total oil production in Nigeria and it is home to two major refineries in addition to the liquefied natural gas domain. Rivers State enjoys substantial electoral value given its number of voters. The state is currently enmeshed in serious turbulence due to a rift between the current governor and his predecessor in office.
Under and by virtue of section 5 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, “subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the executive powers of a State shall be vested in the Governor of that State and may, subject as aforesaid and to the provisions of any Law made by a House of Assembly, be exercised by him either directly or through the Deputy Governor and Commissioners of the Government of that State or officers in the public service of the State.” In the context of Nigeria, governors are lords of some sort, given the enormous powers that they wield. The governor is however as powerful as those who installed him in office allow him or as far as he can struggle for power. In many States such as Akwa Ibom, Abia and Kaduna, the battle to contain the governor has not been so successful. As rich as Rivers State is, it has not enjoyed the measure of development commensurate with the resources accruing to it from oil revenue. It is the same story in most Niger-Delta States of Delta, Edo and Ondo States, where the oil producing areas have been totally neglected and abandoned, as some kind of punishment for the natural resources that they are endowed with. Against all odds, the former governor Nyesom Wike successfully installed the present governor, Amaopusenibo Siminalayi Joseph Fubara, who served as the Accountant-General under him. True to the predictions, it was only a matter of time for the two to fall apart given the circumstances of the emergence of the governor.
Despite his constant denials, former governor Wike eventually emerged as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, with his own votes, his own administration and his unique style of governance. The Minister has stated openly in public that he was responsible for the emergence of all elected public officers in Rivers State, that he bought their nomination forms and he also oiled their campaigns leading to their victories at the polls. One may not be able to confirm this but there is no controversy on the role that the Minister played in the emergence of Governor Fubara. The Wike-Fubara feud brings to fore so many lessons that we have refused to learn as a nation in development, particularly as it relates to leadership recruitment in governance. There will still be so many Wike and Fubara in other States of the Federation as times goes on because we do the same things over and over again. On the one hand, leaders who have had the opportunity to lead others should learn to leave when the ovation is loudest. No one should play God who alone owns power and decides on how to donate it. The nature of the powers given to governors make it difficult for anyone to seek to lord it over them, unless the governor does not know his onions. Through the power of defection, the governor can checkmate the ambitions of his predecessor and build his own base. On the other side of the coin, people who run to others for sponsorship and support stand the risk always of being dwarfed by dictatorship. In this case, the governor knew well that in consenting to be sponsored by another power monger, he was taking a calculated risk. If the conditions for attaining power are oppressive and monstrous, good conscience should dictate sensible withdrawal at the earliest stage.
This issue is important because it affects governance as we have seen in Rivers and Ondo States. Once there is a disagreement between the godfather and his godson, governance suffers and the people bear the brunt. Whilst the godfather is angrily deploying all his arsenals to frustrate the godson and bring him to submission, the godson is busy fighting the battle of his life to quench the fire of his godfather. In that situation, every other thing is at a standstill, divisions abound between the two camps and well-meaning citizens keep mum for fear of persecution by either of the warring camps. As no one is certain of who would become victorious eventually, people sit on the fence in order not to be tagged as the enemy. In relation to Rivers State, governance has taken the back seat as no one is sure of anything. Various cases are pending in various courts, there are two factions of the House of Assembly, most Commissioners have resigned and even the budget for the coming year 2024 has no defined destination.
On October 29, 2023, a section of the Rivers State House of Assembly was razed down by a mysterious fire. Lawmakers loyal to the Minister accused the governor of masterminding the arson in order to stall his impeachment. The next day being October 30, 2023 news filtered in that the Rivers State House of Assembly had commenced impeachment proceedings against the governor. This was met with protests by loyalists of the governor who himself stormed the Assembly complex to demand for his offence. Eventually on December 13, 2023, the Rivers State House of Assembly Complex was brought down by the state government on the ground that it was no longer fit for legislative business. Ever since, all kinds of troubles have streamed into the state.
The President has intervened twice in the Rivers State crisis but nothing seems to have come out of it to douse the tension generated as a result of the feud between the Minister and the governor. What would Governor Fubara have done in six months to warrant his impeachment? In the usual fashion, cases of impeachment would always come in the form of allegations of financial impropriety and such other high-sounding phrases that will all sum up to mean gross misconduct as specified under section 188 of the Constitution. The victims of impeachment fight hard to survive because they are well aware that the process of impeachment is not normally actuated by merit but rather political considerations. In most cases, the Assembly is being teleguided by a political heavyweight such that the panel to be set up to investigate the allegations of gross misconduct will most likely submit a damning report in less than twenty-four hours and the office holder stands to lose his office as the sun follows the moon. In this case, the Minister needs to calm down. If Governor Fubara is undermining political structures that he inherited as alleged, the simple thing is for the Minister to withdraw or transfer his structure. In any event, a structure built for eight years that cannot endure for six months becomes questionable.
That said, why would a governor lead a protest to the House of Assembly of his own State? To do what exactly? There is no other way to tell Governor Fubara that he overreached himself. From the arson to the protest and eventual demolition of the Assembly complex are all actions that do not portray democratic tolerance. Should the opposition party have reason to disagree with any of the policies of Governor Fubara, all that is needed is to mobilize protesters to demolish the Governor’s Office? And the governor proceeded to present the budget of Rivers State to four legislators! We make mockery of democracy in Nigeria. To make matters worse, the four legislators got the Court to ratify their leadership, so that they will conduct legislative business in any suitable location provided for them by the state government and any day they venture to pass any bill that does not go down well with the government, they will be locked out. The Minister should allow the governor the exercise of his constitutional functions, whilst the governor accords due respect to the legislative autonomy and authority of the assembly. As the court cases are being withdrawn, the assembly should be properly convened so that the legislators will elect a new speaker. Let the people of Rivers State breathe!