By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Dapo Akinrefon & Gbenga Oke
Two of the leading political figures in the Niger Delta are engaged in a battle of wits that only shadows what could come in the immediate future.
They are among the most visible public officials from the South-South geopolitical zone. They are also two men with control over the biggest budgets directed towards the region. One is Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and the other is Chief Godsday Orubebe, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs with oversight over the whole of the Niger Delta region.
It started with Orubebe’s response last weekend to comments allegedly made by Governor Amaechi demanding that the East-West Road which traverses the six states of the Niger Delta be handed over to the states for repair.
The dilapidated state of the road has largely been a major worry for the people of the Niger Delta region. Though efforts have been made in the recent past to rehabilitate the road, the fact that the major part of the road remains an eyesore is an issue for the majority of the people of the Niger Delta.
That is despite the effort of some of the governors, including Governor Amaechi, in putting flyovers in portions where state roads intersect with the East-West road.
So for the people of the Niger Delta the fact that the administration headed by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who is from the region has been unable to do much work on a project that is of vital importance to the people of the Niger Delta was especially worrisome.
Added to the infrastructure deficit is the political brinkmanship that has characterised relations between the presidency and some of the leading political lights from the region.
As the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, Governor Amaechi has especially been regarded as a thorn in the flesh of the presidency given his role in conveying the minds of governors on the matters concerning fellow governors.
It is claimed that after governors take their decisions which are sometimes at variance with the wishes of the presidency, that the duty often falls on Amaechi to convey such to the presidency, a fact of life that the governor has had to bear.
So given the mantle of leadership on him it is not surprising that he is often seen as an enemy of the presidency.
In the past even the wife of the president, Dame Patience Jonathan had to openly rebuke the governor in the course of his efforts in cleaning up some sections of the Port-Harcourt city.
So when Chief Orubebe took on the governor last weekend it was seen in some quarters as a continuation of the proxy fight between the governors and the presidency.
But did Orubebe go too far?
Orubebe was quoted as saying that “the governors of the Niger Delta want to take over the East_West Road, which implies that Rivers State has enormous resources, but I can categorically tell you that there are so many villages in Rivers State that have not been connected by road.”
“Port Harcourt used to be the Garden City of this country. Today, Port Harcourt is a slum. I think that he should concern himself more with utilising the resources at his disposal to develop Rivers State.”
If it was a matter of the Niger Delta road it would have ended there, but the minister was to latch on to what some have claimed as Amaechi’s disrespect for the president.
“But reverse is the case in Nigeria as even governors from the South-South, particularly, Rotimi Amaechi, has no respect for the President of this country.”
Amaechi’s chief press secretary Mr. David Iyofor, was quick to respond saying “Amaechi has great respect for the person of the President and his office. Ordinarily, I would not have responded to the ludicrous, thoughtless and bizarre ranting of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe against Rivers State Governor but it has become imperative for me to do so and show clearly that the minister’s game plan is just to divert attention from his ineptitude and abysmal failure.”
Amaechi was to send his personal response to Orubebe from the United States of America. Speaking with journalists in Houston, Texas, US, on the side-lines of a town hall meeting with Rivers State community, he said the reason for the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta was to develop the region, adding: “Under Orubebe, what development have we witnessed? None.
It is a strategy to distract the Niger Delta people by trying to hide all his failures. I had gone through the region and no presence of his ministry was felt anywhere in the area of meaningful or people oriented projects.
“I challenge him to a debate for every one project Orubebe can show me that he had done in the Niger Delta region. I will show him 10 of such projects in Rivers State. We did a 41-kilometre road to Opobo under water, yet the East-West Road on land he cannot complete. The Port Hacourt/Owerri Road is their road, yet we are doing it with Rivers State funds.”
On his rumoured presidential ambition
The governor also spoke on his rumoured presidential ambition, saying: “I cannot contest against Mr. President. We are from the same region. I respect him, and he is a good man. I am tired of responding to this issue of presidential ambition. It is normal to have contrary views on some topics but it doesn’t transcend to hatred.”
“It is the likes of Orubebe that fans the embers of hatred. It is unfortunate that he can accuse me of corruption, nobody has accused me before. If Orubebe wants us to go public any day, I am ready. I often tell them that the problem with me is that I am not an old man. I am equal to the task of confronting anybody who confronts me on issues that are mundane.
“I advise him again to face his work, and make his presence felt in the region. After all, I don’t have any mansion anywhere, but I know Orubebe’s mansion. If he wants, we will show the world his mansions.”
Remarkably some of the major political figures from the region are expressing concern on the development. While Senator Lee Maeba, a former senator from Rivers State out rightly blamed Governor Amaechi for what he claimed as opposing the presidency, Comrade Joseph Evah, Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group, said both Orubebe and Amaechi were playing on the intelligence of Nigerians.
He said, “Both of them are of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and their actions so far have shown they are playing on our intelligence and when people talk too much, they will tell you it is a PDP affair”.
He stressed, “For Orubebe and Amaechi to be attacking themselves on the pages of the Newspapers means nothing serious and I wont be surprised if both of them are seen drinking beer together at night”.
Manijar Seigha, who is the chairman of the Niger Delta Nationalities Forum opines that Governor Amaechi erred in suggesting that the governors should take over the East West road as that was a serious indictment on Orubebe.
While trying to calm tension, Seigha in a telephone interview said: “It was an indictment on the minister and under normal circumstances, the minister would have reacted; and when the minister reacted by saying that Amaechi should keep his distance and handle only matters that were related to Rivers State, he (Orubebe) must have over reacted. We think that Amaechi has performed.”
In addition, he said “It is only the president that can say whether or not Orubebe has performed because he knows the allocation for his ministry. But my plea is for both of them to stop the media war and not over heat the Niger Delta.”