The festering feud between Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi and Senator Magnus Abe in Rivers State is one assignment that would definitely stress the imaginations of the All Progressives Congress, APC trouble-shooter, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu
By Egufe Yafugborhi
The unfolding drama in the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress, APC, is not entirely new. Ahead of the 2015 elections, Senator Magnus Abe was said to have buckled to the supremacy of the outgoing governor, Rotimi Amaechi albeit grudgingly when Dr. Dakuku Peterside was chosen as the governorship candidate.
The disaffection created by that situation was believed to have, in part, deepened the setbacks which resulted in the failure of the party to win the governorship contest.
Ahead of the 2019 governorship contest, Abe’s body language suggests that he is not prepared to acquiesce to Amaechi’s superiority this time.
Amaechi’s kinsmen cling to Abe
Abe apparently took his case to Amaechi’s backyard when he got some of the former governor’s kinsmen to endorse him earlier this month.
A clan of the pro-Abe supporters, grouped as Rivers East APC Stakeholders, made up of party stalwarts from Ameachi’s Ikwerre enclave, on February 6th in Port Harcourt, endorsed Abe as the “overwhelming choice” of the district for the 2019 governorship ticket.
Present at the occasion were some leading party stalwarts who had in the past, strongly identified with Amaechi. Among them were the member representing Ikwerre Emuohua Federal Constituency, Chidi Wihioka, Allwell Onyesoh, Adokiye Oruwan. Also present were Tony Okocaha, Amaechi’s former Chief of Staff, Golden Chioma, former lawmaker and Chibuiko Akarolo, former Mayor of Port Harcourt City among others.
“We have endorsed Abe to contest the 2019 gubernatorial election under the APC. It is our conviction that Abe is most qualified to contest and salvage our state from the rudderless voyage it is on. Rivers people and all men of goodwill should support this cause,” Amaechi’s kinsmen declared in a communiqué.
Amplifying reasons for their preference for Abe, Akarolo said:
“You cannot deliberately undermine your best student to field a far less qualified one to represent you in a game of wits, school debate or academic contest. We tried it in 2015, where did it land us?”
I will never support Abe, Amaechi stokes the conflict
Penultimate weekend, Amaechi ended the mind game of silence, stoking the raging conflict, apparently having had it with the speculations. “No fight in the APC. I am not in any way stopping Abe from running for the governorship, but what I know is that I will not support him. Abe is daring me, an Ikwerre son. He is abusing me everyday. I will ensure I use Ikwerre vote on him,” he exploded at a meeting in Port Harcourt with another set of Ikwerre APC Chiefs and Elders’ Forum, IACEF.
He also stressed that his opposition to Abe was on the need to rotate the governorship between the upland and riverine sections of the state.
“When we finish with riverine, if Ogoni shows interest, we will support them. I am not saying that Ogoni people do not have qualified persons. At the moment, we have not chosen a candidate, only God will decide who will become the next governor.”
Abe and promoters of his candidacy continue to fault Amaechi’s preference for rotational governorship, fondly tagged Upland/Riverine dichotomy, as an insincere and indefensible conspiracy at changing the goal post in the middle of the game if only to displace Abe.
Those who cling to this view note that if Amaechi defied this sentiment when he, an Ikwerre Uplander took over from Governor Peter Odili, also from the Upland, that he shouldn’t be whipping up the same sentiment.
Added to the argument is the pain that Ogoni as a major Rivers ethnic block, has never been allowed to enjoy the governorship. Yet, another argument is the claim that Amaechi had, in 2015, accused Ogoni of late indication of interest in the governorship with a promise to support them come 2019 should they make early declaration of intent.
However, Darlington Nwauju, an APC member strongly defended Amaechi saying the former governor never said the things alluded to him.
“I challenge anyone to come up with proof of how and when Amaechi made such promise. The Transport Minister is a man known for his tenacity. He wouldn’t eat his words. If he agrees to fight for a cause, he supports you till the end,” Nwauju noted.
Saraki, Ikanya, even Wike caution
In the midst of the tension, key stakeholders have called for caution. Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who led colleagues to Abe’s election thanksgiving earlier this month, pressed for peace. “We want all APC members in Rivers to call for peace and reconciliation. What is wrong is wrong. We want peace to reign in Rivers and the chapter of the party,” Saraki said.
In a vote of confidence in Abe, Saraki further said, “The presence of Senators from across the country as well as other dignitaries at the reception shows that Abe is a very humble person. Abe worked very hard for the party. If not for Magnus Abe, somebody will not be in the cabinet today. You are a very loyal and courageous person.” State chairman of the party, Davies Ikanya who was present at the occasion, said, “Candidates will emerge from the congresses of the party at the proper time. All adoptions and endorsements before the congress are illegal and amount to nothing. The party is not involved in those.”
At the thanksgiving, a most unlikely advisor was Governor Nyesom Wike who cautioned that the state politics was like a wrestling contest that those who rush in before the real fireworks start may lose steam to sustain the fight in the middle of the game.
“The state should be first to be considered at all times. The interest of the state is paramount. When we come together, all we should preach is how Rivers should be the number one state in the country. When the time for wrestling comes, we will wrestle. I am urging you to hold on, when it is set we will come out,” he charged stakeholders.
Abe has yet to respond to Amaechi’s public declaration not to support his governorship ambition, but those who know him are sure he would respond. “You know he hasn’t declared for governorship, but it’s a very predictable possibility. Abe will say his mind at the appropriate time, which won’t be long from now”, a chieftain of the Rivers APC told Vanguard.
Given Amaechi’s influence in the APC and vehement rejection of an Abe ticket, except a miracle happens or some other factors intervene, Abe and his supporters know the balance of power for the APC governorship ticket rests majorly on Amaechi.
Knowing that Abe is not also given to giving up easily on a cause he believes in, there are suspicions that in his recent sizzling closeness with Wike, he may have worked a Plan B – to decamp and pull his support base to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) should he be edged out again for the APC governorship ticket.
Abe has strongly insisted that he would not leave the APC he cofounded to bring change in the polity. However, not many, especially among mainstream Rivers APC, believe him. An APC chieftain said, “Abe is a wise man, but this calculation could consume him. We know his game plan. He already made up his mind to join Wike in the calculation that he retains his Senate seat and waits on Wike’s magnanimity to get the governorship ticket in 2023.
“Wike would be happy for it to better his chances for a second term next year, but he certainly can’t be trusted to support even Abe’s retention of his Senate seat in the PDP or APC. He is going to be the ultimate loser.”
Head or tail, the odds of divisions rocking the Rivers APC seem to be proving a booster to Wike’s quest for an unassailable second term. Added to the dismal performance of the APC-led Federal Government, the cracks in Rivers APC have become a reference point for the governor’s new found role as an advocate of political tolerance.
No crack in Rivers APC, we are politicking — Pro APC group
However, with the conflict and its negative consequences glaring to unbiased watchers, the Free Rivers Development Initiative, tilted to Amaechi’s interest in the APC maintains that there are no cracks in the party
President-General of the group, Sampson Ngerebara, said: “Whether you are a leader or not, you have a divine right to have choice. Amaechi, yes, is the leader of Rivers APC, but he has just one vote at the primaries. How many persons will emerge as party candidate? Just one. So assuming you have three, four, five persons contesting the primary, will Amaechi vote for all?