The Governor of Rivers State, Siminalayi Fubara, for now, cannot afford to sleep with his two eyes closed. Although President Bola Tinubu, Governors elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party and the court have given him a temporary reprieve, he cannot be complacent or he would kiss his job goodbye.
He has stepped on the tail of a cobra and it is either he fights and kill the snake or he will himself become food.
Fubara, an indigene of Opobo Town in Opobo Local Government of Rivers State became the Governor just five months ago, but the man whom he took over from, and who ensured that he got the seat is not happy with him and is ready to teach him one or two political lessons.
I like the rhyme of his first name, Siminalayi. It sounds interesting to me. When I enquired about the meaning, I was told that it translates to ‘the poor may beget the rich’ in Opobo dialect. In actual fact, is that not the prayer of all parents; that their children turn out better than them in life? His father, a retired soldier, is late, while his mother is a retired civil servant. In choosing that name for their first son, his parents must have had a dream that the little boy would one day dine with Kings and Queens and became a big man in life.
Humble and somewhat shy, Fubara became a Secondary School teacher after his university education. However, he soon found his way into the Rivers State Civil Service where he was posted to the Ministry of Finance as a Senior Accountant in 2007. His rise was rapid, and he soon became the Accountant General of the State. That was where he came in contact with former Governor Nysom Wike, who took him under his wings. When Wike’s tenure was winding down and he embarked on a search for a successor, Fubara became the anointed candidate.
Fubara did little or nothing before his emergence as the Governor of the state. Even during the campaign, it was Wike that mostly took to the podium to canvas for votes for his godson. And when he was sworn-in, he was seen more like a stooge, holding the reign of governance for his pay master. No major decisions were taken without the inputs of the godfather Wike.
However, just few months down the line, the young man, who is beginning to find his voice, had started questioning some of the orders coming from Wike. But he realises, and quickly too, that he cannot be his own man without a strong political base, and in creating his own power enclave, he has to poach from his godfather’s camp. That signaled the beginning of the crisis in the state.
As stated in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: “The falcon cannot hear the falconer again; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” This time around, the anarchy loosed on Rivers State.
Many Nigerians got a whiff that something may be brewing in the state when the Rivers State House of Assembly complex went up in smoke upper Sunday. Being a non-working day, many were shocked as to what could have caused the edifice to go up in smoke. News soon filtered in that some members of the Assembly, alongside political thugs, may have deliberately set the place on fire to prevent majority of members of the House from having their planned sitting the following day where an impeachment plot of Fubara, which had been hatched and perfected, would be delivered on the 48-year-old Governor.
But in their bid at getting the Governor removed, the Majority Leader of the State House of Assembly, Edison Ehie, had to go first. He was seen as too loyal to the Governor and a stumbling block to the planned impeachment.
In Nigeria politics, we build strong individuals but sadly, not strong institutions. Wike, as the Governor of Rivers State, nominated and bankrolled the elections of majority of members in the State House of Assembly and even that of the Governor. He equally had a hand in the selection of many of those working with Fubara as cabinet members, including his Chief of Staff and Chief Security Officer. That shows how powerful Wike is. There were insinuations that Fubara actually promised to remit certain percentages of the state’s funds to Wike on a monthly basis, although both camps are keeping quiet on this allegation.
Wike does not tolerate 99.9 per cent loyalty from anyone who has either graduated, or is still a student at his political school of thought. It’s either 100 per cent or nothing. Wike, the lawyer-turned politician, is seen as the biggest contributor to the loss of the People’s Democratic Party’s 2023 presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. He and Peter Obi, who was formerly a member of the PDP and Vice-Presidential Candidate to Atiku in the 2019 presidential election, who left the party to contest the Presidency under the Labour Party, substantially got a huge chunk of the votes Atiku would have garnered in the South South and South east regions, making them architects of Atiku’s defeat in the 2023 presidential poll.
Aside from the fact that he delivered Rivers State to the APC in the presidential election, Wike also succeeded in hatching a strategy that worked against Atiku, not only in Rivers state, but also in Oyo, Benue, Abia, and Enugu states, and Tinubu wasted no time in recognizing Wike’s role in his victory as he gifted him with the juicy Federal Capital Territory portfolio in his cabinet.
But while in Abuja, Wike is keeping a tab on political happenings in Rivers, and began complaining few months after Fubara was sworn-in, when it seemed that things were not going as expected. Wike was not happy when Fubara started approaching some of his aides to switch loyalty from Wike to him. The Minister alluded to this when he told PDP Governors on a fence-mending mission that Fubara was bent on cutting him out of Rivers politics and eventually make him irrelevant in the scheme of things in the state. His words: “All of us want to be politically relevant; all of us want to maintain our political structure. Is it not my political structure? Will you allow anybody to just cut you out immediately? Everybody has a base. If you take my base, am I not politically irrelevant?” Deep!
Tinubu and the PDP governors having succeeded in dousing tension in the state, at least for now, I however, do not see the duo working together for too long. Wike is a tough cookie and Fubara would definitely want to assert himself. Again, if the duo eventually work together, the people of the state will have little or nothing to show in terms of democratic dividends.
Indeed, karma is a b***h. This is exactly what Wike did to his predecessor in the state, Rotimi Amaechi. As Governor of the state for eight years, Wike ensured that Amaechi was run out of town politically. In August 2013, Amaechi was amongst seven serving Governors who formed the G-7 faction within the PDP and by November, Amaechi, alongside five members of the G-7, defected to the new opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), where he became the Director General of Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential campaign. When Buhari became President in 2015, Amaechi was made Transport Minister.
The dish Wike served Amaechi is gradually being prepared for him by Fubara, but the fox in Abuja would not fall for it. He is now bent on bringing the roof down. Tinubu, who is the major beneficiary of Wike’s brand of politics has intervened and all seems to be well for now. Again, Fubara has secured an injunction from a court to prevent the State House of Assembly from impeaching him while he has also reversed the sack of his Chief of Staff, a strong ally of Wike. Now that he is out of power in Rivers state, Wike is determined to remain politically relevant and he will do all within his power, including getting Fubara impeached, if it becomes necessary.
From all the shenanigans playing out in Rivers state now, the question should be “what is the fate of Rivers state indigenes who are at the receiving end of the bad politics playing out in the state? When we allow godfathers to determine who emerges as the Governorship candidate of a political party – majority of whom are after their political interests and pockets – we shall continue to have a dysfunctional system of government. Politics and democracy have been given new definitions in Nigeria and it is time we all sit down to interrogate whether we are actually benefitting from democracy as a form of government. If we are not, what are those things we have to do to reinvent the system or make it align with our peculiar way of life? It is not only in Rivers that incumbent Governors are having issues with their predecessors. Raji Fashola, Akin Amobode, and many others went through similar situations. Even Usman Ododo, the APC gubernatorial candidate in Kogi state is likely to face similar problem if he clinches the ticket in this Saturday’s election. Nobody needs a soothsayer to predict that
The way out is for political parties to ensure that there are free and fair primaries when picking governorship candidates across the states of the Federation. Allow the people to choose who their Governor should be. It is natural that state Governors that did not perform well while in government may want to impose a stooge on the people so that they would be able to cover their tracks, but it is when there are strong institutions that can resist the antics of these so-called godfathers that we would start having a semblance of democratic governance at the state level.
The battle for the soul of Rivers state has been temporarily put in a cooler for now, but the war is definitely not over.
See you next week.