TIMIPRE Sylva and Rotimi Amaechi, former governors of Bayelsa and Rivers states, used to be Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, stalwarts.
But, for all sorts of complicated reasons, they both defected to the All Progressives Congress, APC, and helped President Muhammadu Buhari defeat ex-President Jonathan in the 2015 election.
Amaechi and Sylva weren’t, however, able to drag the Niger Delta into the APC fold. Their home turfs, under the leadership of PDP chieftains Seriake Dickson and Nyesom Wike, remained doggedly wedded to the PDP and unrepentantly alienated from the “Centre”.
Amaechi became Minister of Transport; Sylva, chairman of the Oil Gas Free Zones Authority. But their triumphs on the national stage and enviable relationships with Mr President were not enough. They also – understandable, given that this is a highly territorial country in which most politicians feel extremely humiliated if they lack clout in their ancestral terrains – craved regional relevance.
In other words, Sylva and Amaechi weren’t satisfied by the juicy Federal cake they were enjoying. They were obsessed with covering the cake with super-sweet local icing, and they ferociously focussed on becoming sharp thorns in the sides of their successors. Wike and Dickson were up to the task and fought back vigorously with support from the majority of Riverians and Bayelsans.
Various battle royales ensued, culminating in the APC being trounced, yet again, in the recent 2019 Bayelsa and Rivers elections. So nothing much changed in the four years that elapsed between 2015 and 2019. President Muhammadu Buhari retained his primacy in the corridors of power, while his Niger Deltan lieutenants’ power grabs failed.
I wasn’t surprised when Amaechi and Sylva’s names appeared on the ministerial list that was finally unveiled last week because it is normal in Nigeria for fellows who haven’t secured electoral victories to be compensated by their parties via “juicy” appointments.
But I was immensely surprised – to the point of gobsmacked! – by the civilised graciousness displayed by Wike and Dickson towards longstanding opponents who have caused them tonnes of grief, enemies they have regularly accused of terrible crimes.
Ministerial nominees have to be screened by the Senate and Wike and Dickson could easily have instructed Rivers and Bayelsa senators to loudly object to Amaechi and Sylva.
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Since the Senate is APC-dominated, PDP senators’ objections wouldn’t have prevented Amaechi or Sylva from surviving the vetting process and joining Buhari’s cabinet.
But objections can still serve a purpose in the sense of inflicting enormous embarrassment, reminding the world of an individual’s shortcomings and generating plenty of negative media coverage.
Frankly, if I’d been in Dickson and Wike’s shoes, I’d probably have told “my” senators to kick up a huge fuss and publicise my reasons for not wanting my state to be represented by guys with whom I was at loggerheads…guys who, by the way, have not gone out of their ways to deliver Federal benefits to their core constituencies.
Dickson and Wike, however, resisted the temptation to be malicious. And I salute them for their admirable forgiving spirits.
I was actually present when Dickson sighed philosophically and told Bayelsa senators not to obstruct Sylva “because he is our brother”.
I was also told, by two of the three Rivers Senators – Barry Mpigi and Betty Apiafi –-that their boss, Wike, gave them permission to let Amaechi sail through the screening without any controversy.
If the boot had been on the other foot, would Sylva and Amaechi have displayed such generosity? “No, in Sylva’s case at least!” says Dr Katch Ononuju, an intellectual, TV pundit and PDP member whose National Assembly contacts provided him with the following information:
“Despite the goodwill shown him by PDP senators, Timipre Sylva visited the Senate chamber with APC’s chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, shortly after he passed his screening, to lobby against the inclusion of PDP members as chairmen of Senate committees…
“Fortunately, the Senate president, Alhaji Ahmed Lawan, showed maturity by ignoring Sylva/Oshiomhole and keeping his promise to the PDP leadership by giving PDP members 22 out of 69 chairmanship positions. This is much better than the House of Representatives where the PDP got only 20 out of 105 committees.”
I know Sylva and he has always been nice to me; so I’m reluctant to think ill of him. But I was so sad when I heard that he acted ungratefully, and I fervently hope that he will retrace his steps and reciprocate the kindness he has received from his Bayelsa brethren.
The Niger Delta is in the deepest doldrums and nobody will fix it for us. Our people are suffering and impoverished. Our beloved lands and creeks are being poisoned by pollution. Our cities are being boycotted by investors because they are crime-infested and unsafe.
We will only thrive if senior stakeholders put petty rivalries aside and cooperate with a view to strengthening our society, maximising our economic potential and eliminating security nightmares.
I call on Amaechi and Sylva to elevate love above ego, quit regarding the Niger Delta as a place that needs to conquered on behalf of “outsiders” and use their considerable influence to dynamically develop their core constituencies and win hearts and minds.