By Obi Nwakanma
On Friday, Vanguard reported that the National Executive Committee of the opposition All Peoples Congress (APC) directed its members in the National Assembly to block the passing of the appropriation bill and the confirmation hearings of the president’s new cabinet nominees and service appointments to the Nigerian High Command “until the federal government halts the escalating violence in Rivers State.” Basically, the opposition party wants to use what the Americans call the “filibuster” to shut down government. It is the job of the opposition to give the governing party a run for its money, and so what the APC has called its members to do is all part of democracy. But Nigerians need to ask the APC national leadership, the following questions: who benefits from the shut-down of government? Because certainly if the budget is not passed, the Federal government will by law be unable to spend money and meet with its various domestic and international financial obligations.
Civil Servants will not be paid. Agencies of government engaged with various strategic services will be unable to function. Circulation of money will thin-out and will affect various facets of Nigeria’s social and economic life. The public will suffer. Is that what the APC wants? Is the aim to make the Jonathan administration unable to govern and in effect force its bitter end? Well, if that is APC’s goal, this choice of action will only be a political blunder because its sum effect is bound to be counter-productive and deleterious to the overall interest and material condition of Nigerians whose votes and considerations the APC seeks as a party. Secondly, and this question is as exploratory as it is directed: who is really to blame over the Rivers State crisis? As I understand it, Rotimi Amaechi is the governor of Rivers state, and Nigeria is still, even weak as it is, a federal system.
Under the federalism principle, the governor and the president are equals, even though under the principle of “primus inter pares” the president as head of the Federal government takes precedence. I also realize that the office of the Nigerian president has enormous powers, such in fact as might make its occupant something of a demi-god. Yet, the governor’s powers are not merely symbolic either. The governor is actually not merely a wallflower. In the clash of authority between the two levels of power, there is bound to be a mighty chasm, and the bridge to that chasm is fundamentally the law of the land, and the courts.
APC has constantly retailed the fiction that Governor Amaechi and his supporters in Rivers State are just innocent victims of the president’s tyrannical power. In this case, the president is alleged to be misusing his oversight control of the Nigerian Police Force and the office of the Rivers State Commissioner of Police to suppress and victimize his opponents. Nigerians deserve to know that the story is certainly more complicated. What is happening in Rivers State is political theater of the farcical kind.
The remote origin of the drama is also a bit complicated: according to informed sources, the face-off in Rivers has more to do with oil than with ideology. It all began when the courts awarded oil producing acreages once claimed by Rivers state to Bayelsa, Abia and Akwa-Ibom states, and the president signed-off on these court-instructed adjustments. Governor Rotimi Amaechi felt the president used his powers to enforce this schlepping – the slow and arduous shaving off of Rivers inheritance – and so, staged his own coup de grace as chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum.
Things went downhill from there. Amaechi is also quite an ambitious and savvy politician, and there is talk that the office of the Vice-President has been dangled before him by Jonathan’s opponents who have made the political defeat of the president by all means necessary the endgame of the 2015 elections. By their calculation, engineering and stoking the crisis in Rivers state is taking the battle straight to President Jonathan’s doorstep and backyard. If the president cannot control his own region, his opponents may have concluded, his political legitimacy would be significantly whittled and his campaign for re-election will seem significantly hollow. And it does indeed seem that the opposition is making a lot of hay in Rivers State. Recently, in an event almost like a scene straight out of a Harold Pinter play, Senator Magnus Abe was allegedly shot at a campaign rally allegedly by the Nigerian police and allegedly on the orders from above.
To add to the absurdity, neither blood nor visible wound was evident in the pictures of a Magnus Abe released to the press, lying in mock-stupor at the hospital before he was flown to London. Police have claimed its men shot rubber bullets to disperse an unruly crowd at an unruly political campaign and not at senator Abe. Political violence in Rivers State is becoming a matter that the police cannot ignore, from the violence in the Rivers State Assembly in which a state legislator, Chidi Lloyd smashed the mace on the head of a rival. The same Chidi Lloyd allegedly ran over another political opponent and a policeman, and killed them both, and was allegedly arrested trying to flee the country in a private jet from Port-Harcourt.
The political crisis and the escalating violence in Rivers State demands that politicians on both aisles take a chill pill, and above all, the police must hold each person, including the president accountable for his deed. Finally, did the president issue direct orders to the Rivers State Police Commissioner, Mr. Mbu to go after his political opponents? Has the president thus misused his office by illegally targeting his political opponents? If the APC has hard facts, they should present it to Nigerians, and go beyond hollow propaganda to impeachment.
Now, the party has asked its members to block the president’s appropriation bill and the confirmation of his nominations until “the federal government halts the escalating violence in Rivers State.” Perhaps we should remind the APC that without the backing of parliament the president cannot intervene. The president has one choice now it seems: approach the National Assembly to request granting him the power to declare a state of emergency in Rivers State, appoint an interim administrator, stem the violence, and restore order. Perhaps that is the kind of intervention APC demands of the president, because without these extraordinary interim powers, the president has neither the rights nor the capacity to intervene in Rivers State and stem the escalating violence.
Until such a power is granted the president, the governing authority in Rivers State is Rotimi Amaechi. It is he who must bear the responsibility for de-escalating the violence in Rivers State.