Dr Ugoji Egbujo
They are home to the two most important towns in Nigeria outside of Lagos: the headquarters of the Northern and Eastern regions. They are a story of a broken promise. Port Harcourt could have been a dazzling garden and port city. It was the place where tourism planned to meet business. Kaduna represented power and hope. Now, it represents the North and its baffling retardation, retrogression. It hosts a multitude of educational institutions yet owns a teeming population of idle illiterate youths.
The two states have never really lived unaccompanied by upheavals. Kaduna convulsed before the war. Nzeogwu lived there. Zango Kataf came to reveal Kaduna as the bed of an active ethno-religious volcano. Sharia crisis came with seismic waves and reawakened anxieties. The herdsmen crises have left Kaduna moaning, inflamed at its vulnerable joints. Port Harcourt saw the civil war, first hand. And became the home of its eternal painful memory—‘abandoned properties.’ Later, Saro Wiwa came with his MOSOP and sought redress for chronic injustice, and birthed a new consciousness. A new breed of ‘righteous’ violence. Militancy later took amnesty and cash, and gave way to kidnapping and banditry. Rivers State was once brought down to its knees by kidnapping. Port Harcourt was made desolate. Militancy has subsided but its depraved grand children litter the state in cults and profuse gangsterism.
Kaduna and Rivers switched political parties and circumstances in 2015. They were however united in recruiting two temperamental governors. The politics in both states have been infected with bitterness, vitriol and sensationalism. The governor in Rivers is the defacto head of the opposition. He dismantles and reconstitutes the leadership of the PDP in his bedroom. The fierce contest for the control of the state has not lost any inflammability. Between the governor and his former boss, the former governor, there are no rules of engagement. The governor of Rivers rehabilitated ex militants, perhaps, his bulwark against federal forces whose utility he is quite conversant with. Naked violence mediates elections in Rivers. Cults once got involved and heads of opposition party officials were taken as trophies.
In Kaduna, the political battle is more internecine but no less vicious. The governor has a small stature but the heart of a lion. The senators representing the state want the governor out. The senators, feeling alienated, tried to factionalize the ruling party in the state. The governor responded by bulldozing the putative secretariat of the breakaway group. The senators then sliced their nose to spite their face. They rejected an approved world bank loan for the state. An enraged governor questioned their ‘indigeneship’ and declared them enemies of the people. Such incitement of the public against political opponents is a trait he shares with the current governor of Rivers. The Rivers governor once brandished a machete gift. He said it would serve to contain his opponents.
The Kaduna senators must have learnt self destructive vendetta from the current governor of Rivers. The current Rivers governor who in concert with a former President stopped the rehabilitation works at the Port Harcourt airport. Port Harcourt Airport is the most important airport in the Niger Delta. The domestic wing of that airport came to be ranked as one of the worst airports in the world. The current Governor of Rivers and the then President stopped the work at the airport to politically hurt the then Rivers Governor. But the blow landed on the economy of the state and the people.
The fortunes of both states, since 2015, however, have taken divergent trajectories. The governor of Kaduna is gifted with a reckless tongue and an abundance of indiscretions. He is arrogant. But he is industrious and innovative. He compensates what he lacks in political sensitivity with a penchant for bold new ideas. He knew lack of education would keep his state and the North backward. He did something new and radical. He sacked the bulk of the indolent teachers. He didn’t mind the immediate personal political costs. He confronted the powerful teachers union and waged a battle against uninformed public opinion. The governor of kaduna has his weakness. And they showed in the handling of the shiites crisis and the herdsmen violence. But he championed the articulation of demands and made recommendations for devolution of power for the ruling party.
The Rivers governor has been active. But his politics is all brawn. And bits of ‘Father Christmas’ philanthropy. He has not shown himself to be a man of new bold developmental initiatives. He has barked at the Federal Government at every opportunity but his state capital has been covered in soot for over two years. He has an Environmental Protection Agency. But that Agency stares at the Tsunami of soot blanketing Port Harcourt. He earns more money from the federation account than most states. The boys in the creeks who run the illegal refineries know him. But he wouldn’t take some initiatives to checkmate the scourge of kidnapping that once crippled Rivers. The former governor of Rivers had inherited a state enveloped by a dark cloud of rampant kidnapping and street violence. He secured a detachment of the federal police. He trained the policemen in foreign lands and equipped them beyond our standards. That police squad came in with modern methods and tactics and the criminals succumbed and surrendered the state back to the people. Life was restored to Port Harcourt.
Education in Kaduna state is receiving commendable innovative attention. Education in Rivers is in a reverse gear. The governor of Rivers has literally abandoned the modern schools built by his predecessor to rot. The schools were once the envy of the whole country. But the state now has other priorities. These schools that bridged the gap between the poor and the rich have now been deemed too expensive to be maintained while the state governor services his ego. National politics is good. But it can’t be played by governors at the expense of scholarship grants and maintenance of public primary and secondary schools.
The political temperature of both states is feverish. But the governor of Kaduna had the foresight to champion the introduction of electronic voting in the country. The state has conducted local government elections with significant transparency. The opposition won more seats than it could have reasonably hoped for. Rivers state earns much more than Kaduna. But since the current governor resumed, Rivers has not come up with any new ideas. The Rivers governor has no developmental ideas.
It’s exciting to have a strong man governor. But it pays the people to be governed by a visionary, even a temperamental one.