Tonye Princewill

November 11, 2011

Celebrating Amaechi vs Omehia: Ceremony set in the future? (1)

By Tonye Princewill
A CEREMONY is a formal occasion, on which an important occurrence is celebrated or solemnized. Its purpose is to underscore experiences that have survival value and store them in our collective memory.

The Governor of Rivers State recently hosted a ceremony in the Hall of the State House of Assembly, to commemorate such an experience—a seminal episode, in Nigeria’s political evolution.

It was a colloquium on the Supreme Court’s momentous and monumental ruling of October 25, 2007, in which it removed the sitting governor of Rivers State and installed the ceremony’s host.

The colloquium though, was not really about Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi or Sir Celestine Omehia, the two central characters in this historic political drama—any more than its ramifications are confined to Rivers State.

As with any other drama, the characters are mere symbols, more important for what they represent than for whom they are; and the storyline has implications that extend beyond the setting and the twists and turns of the plot.

I was not physically present at the colloquium, which was held at Port Harcourt. But the story of the 2007 gubernatorial primaries, and the sordid sequence of events that followed, is well known; and the infamous “k-leg” scenario is all-too-familiar.

What makes this story unique, what sets it apart from previous political conflicts, is its prescient and promising resolution. Not only do the good guys win, and the villains are dispatched, but the courts have set a legal precedent which ensures that sequels can also end happily.

But it could not have done so, until all the other elements in the equation of progress fell into place. Among these, were a blatant attempt to over-rule the electorate—in which a serving head of state to unilaterally cancelled the party primary—and Rotimi Amaechi’s epic resistance.

It all began with the infamous “K-leg” episode of 2007, in which the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) denied Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi the right to be its candidate in Rivers State’s gubernatorial election—despite his resounding victory in the party primaries.

Amaechi had proven his metal, in a fiercely fought contest with seasoned politicians, such as Chief Austin Okpara, the late Senator Martin Yellowe, Pawariso Horsefall and Chris Orji. In the balloting, he won 6,527 out of a possible 6,575 votes—leaving 48 for his seven competitors to share.

Accordingly, Amaechi’s name was forwarded to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on December 14, 2006 in compliance with Section 32(1) & (2) of the Electoral Act; and INEC officially announced him as the PDP gubernatorial candidate.

Then, something went “bump” in the night! Mysteriously, Amaechi’s name disappeared and Sir Celestine Omehia, his cousin and political rival, became the PDP gubernatorial candidate. While presenting nominees with party flags, at Liberation Stadium, Port Harourt, the then head of state quipped that Amaechi’s candidacy had developed “k-legs”.

The head of state was, at that time, also party emperor; and his “k-leg” quip is as close as he or anyone else came, to explaining how Omehia—who had not even contested in the primaries, or bothered to purchase a PDP form–got the nomination.

In the mean time, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), then under Ribadu’s leadership, turned its attention to Amaechi—apparently to shut him up. Amaechi took refuge in Ghana, where he and his family reportedly lived in two rooms, while his lawyers sought redress in the courts.