By Caleb Fubara
In politics, those who leave indelible footprints in the sands of time are not necessarily those who occupy the highest offices available. They are patriots who made altruism their goal, and egalitarianism the hallmark of their politics. In other words, great leaders in the cast of Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Lee Kuan Yew, Nelson Mandela and Obafemi Awolowo were men who took to politics as pivot for social engineering.
Any surprise that years after they’ve transited, we still reckon with them as yardsticks in gauging decent politics and good governance? Even in death, their political strides still speak volumes of how much they impacted their world; ever reminding us of how politics should be a catalyst to better the lot of the ordinary people. As leaders, they come across as a fine blend of strong character, vision and selflessness. They exuded integrity, and ever willing to sacrifice individual comfort for the overall interest of the populace. They even risked the ultimate price to ensure that society evolved better than they met it.
On the contrary, here in our nation, gaining access to public treasury seems to be the greatest allure to politics. Whereas altruism is the primary focus of true leaders, those who lead in our clime are simply a band of opportunists, who will kill to gain political power, that being the shortest route to plundering the people’s commonwealth. Sadly, the people from whom political power derives authority and, for whom it is meant to serve have since been relegated to the proverbial beast of burden.
Politics is further cloned as a game of ruthlessness to induce fear in the citizenry. And by enlisting the element of fear, power mongers not only have a field day, but have ingeniously raised the bar on mass participation. Yet, in the aftermath of maiming and killing to access power, the people are never spared the comeuppance of ineptitude, ravenousness and vicious power play. Ultimately, disenchanted hoi polloi is compelled to resign itself to fate. And while the docility reigns, their resources are made susceptible to pillage; and the primary purpose of government lost on the actors.
Sad to say, Rivers State is by no means insulated from this national malady. As a matter of fact, the Rivers politics reeks of blood and profligacy. The state has had to endure untold executive recklessness that has continued to exacerbate since the millennium year. Besides being denied true participation in governance and the much touted democratic dividend, the people have become unduly polarized, traumatized and disillusioned by what I termed the ‘Brick House Might’. Unhealthy rivalry, violence and bitter contestations have become the hallmark of the Rivers politics.
And except for a handful of gladiators who have managed to keep their heads above this murkiness, it has been hatred, violence and more hatred. Politics is no longer a game of interest with neither permanent friend nor foe; but a game of obsessed ambitions steeped in blood and permanent hostility. Aside the insurgence in the North-East, the marauding herdsmen and banditry in some parts of the country, the state singularly holds the worst record of politically engineered deaths since the millennium year. Consequently, the once peaceful and welcoming state now bears the despicable tag of the Rivers of Blood. Rivers State now celebrates graveyard silence as evident of a peaceful state. How pitiable can it get?
Bad politics has seen the state coffers plundered so terribly by those we have ‘elected’ to bewield it. The state now ranks among the worse, if not the most profligate of all states. Those who stooped to conquer have suddenly transformed into lions and the state the jungle of their pride. The society now handsomely rewards hoodlums, common criminals, and even informants. Presently, the office of governor of Rivers State is a foundation class, preparatory to ascending the presidency.
Meanwhile, leaders of thought who should call evil by its name have long been browbeaten into playing the proverbial ostrich. And to avoid executive tantrums, political blackmail, or outright assassination, the elite class has equally ducked into an induced silence, thereby giving the state up to be governed as a conquered territory. What is more, the youths, (students and the like) who should demand accountability are simply hand in glove with the political class, massaging the bloated fancy of those who fritter their future with reckless abandon.
As at the last count, the state has produced the loudest and most flamboyant governors since the return to civil rule in 1999; albeit at the price of time tested developmental legacies. Rivers governors have been decorated as peace ambassadors, even at a time when political violence and cult wars ravaged every nook and cranny of the state. Some reputable institutions have also thrown caution to the wind as they engaged each other in the business of decorating Rivers governors. Sometimes the awards come in such torrents that fuels strong speculations of their being procured.
The Rivers publicity stunt is to say the least outlandish. Many have argued that what the state spends in eight years to launder government’s ‘achievements’ could provide adequate publicity which a decent government needs in half a century. Yet, on the flipside of side of this propaganda, lies endemic corruption, unemployment, youth restiveness, abandoned education sector, collapsed civil service, dearth of infrastructure, an accursed pension system, perennial hunger, etc. All things considered, it has been a case of trying so hard to fool all the people, all the time.
And by the privilege which only the ‘Brick House Might’ confers, Wike and Amaechi now interchangeably play the hero and villain in the Rivers political drama. They have come to epitomize the bitterness and extremism, which the state politics currently embodies. Interestingly, as it is common with everything borne of time, Wike and Amaechi have reached their peak in the Rivers political arena. They have exhausted all that the state can possibly offer in terms of political ascendancy. Posterity and the people now watch with bated breath, as these two of a kind assail Nigeria. But even as they prepare to lock horns at the centre, Rivers State is still a prize they desperately wish to keep. Neither of them contemplates losing grip of the state, at least, not in the near future.
Politics, they say, is local. In other words, even as they now eye the office of the president, nor Amaechi nor Wike is prepared to let go of the state. And the reasons may not be far-fetched. First, even as they seek to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari, they both need votes from their home state to validate their claim as being popular with the grassroots. Second, should the tall dream fail, they will have to fall back on the state to retire to the senate as it is the tradition with former state governors lately. Should that happen, Wike and Amaechi will be gunning for the same senatorial ticket; a promised renewal of their wrangling. Third, getting one of their protégés to succeed Wike as governor come 2023 is an impending and inevitable fight. It is a fight that will finally confer on either of them the godfather status they will be craving to stay afloat post 2023. Of concern, is the fact that each of these permutations carry with it a chain of possible backlash for the state; thereby strengthening the call for a new dawn in the Rivers politics.
Like it or not, at the end of this marathon, the chicks will come home to roost. Nobody has to be an Abuja politician for life. In any case, it seemed only yesterday that Dr. Peter Odili, Rt. Hon. Austin Okpara, Barr. Celestine Omehia and Dr. Abiye Sekibo were made Abuja politicians by an Amaechi-Wike political alliance. Today, the pendulum swings in the opposite direction. Wike now refers to Amaechi and his supporters as the Abuja politicians, while those who earlier bore the tag are now the governor’s alter egos. How time makes mockery of our existence?
The high jinks would’ve been well and good, except that the Rivers people are made to bear the brunt in what has turned a circle of bloodletting. A nightmare that can only be stamped out when people decide to take the gauntlet. Only a decided populace can end this present narrative for good. The soul of the state beckons us all to come to the rescue.
This brings us to 2023 and the call for a new political order. With less than fifteen months to the next general elections, it is incumbent on the people to get their priorities right; beginning with a change in their lackluster attitude to politics. The period of complacency must come to an end. The governor and his predecessor must not to continue to aggregate our political aspirations as a people to achieve their selfish ends. Only the people’s active and mass participation can compel them to tone down on the politics of extremism and sheer subterfuges, which they have both championed since 2013. After all, it is now evident that the so called Ikwerre agenda is but a gambit employed by power mongers to hold sway.
Wike as the state governor must be prevailed upon to create a level playing field for all who will aspire to lead the state, beginning with his party’s intra contests. Nobody should be fettered by any form of intimidation across party lines. It is not enough mouthing the lessons learnt from Dr. Odili, and the regrets in foisting a protégé as successor on the state. He has to live the talk. His latest propaganda of the PDP leadership in the state selecting her gubernatorial candidate must be properly scrutinized. Party members must insist that an oligarchic arrangement that will ultimately translate into endorsing the governor’s choice must not supplant the due process of selection.
On the other hand, Gov. Wike must give a serious thought to what becomes of him and the state as he bows out in 2023. He has indeed served the state as a shrewd politician and a governor. Posterity now beckons on him to act like a true statesman. He must understand that the ‘Brick House Might’, is at best a fleeting phase.
Finally, there are eminently qualified sons and daughters who are willing to run for the office of governor come 2023. But in our quest for a new political order, the people must look out for a governor with a large heart-a governor that will reconcile the state. The next Rivers governor must be a man whose politics, carriage, outreach, presence of mind and leanings assure of a new dawn. Rivers State needs a governor that is far removed from the current politics of extremism. The state adjures for a governor under whom Wike and Amaechi including their apologists can coexist absent fear of exclusion, intimidation and haunt. And given the right political atmosphere, it is doubtless that the people know who fits the bill.