.Gov Wike

A few days ago, Gov Wike marched around the bushes. Cameras and journalists followed him. Wike, the strongman.

He went to seek out and destroy the illegal refineries that had poisoned his state. Wike, the detective.

He cried that the soot billowing from the illegal refineries was choking residents and businesses in the state. Red-eyed and breathless, surrounded by soldiers and policemen, the governor seemed a Tarzan on a rescue mission.

They say any time a man wakes up is his morning. Wike’s soot morning is January 2022. But if a man wakes up in the afternoon, he shouldn’t call his kinsmen for morning prayers. Wike woke up after his state had become well suited in soot.

We will not ask Wike what made him sleep and forget himself. He must be busy with many projects, building flyovers all over the place and helping to build the PDP.

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But a visitor watching Wike swearing to deal ruthlessly with boys who steal and cook crude oil would think Wike was elected into office the previous week.

Or that the soot flew into Rivers state that day and woke Wike up from an afternoon slumber. But we will leave Wike; he is a theatrical man.

The only problem is that the comedy script Wike rehearsed in the bushes should have been flagged by a good editor as lacking believability.

Wike could have said the boys began cooking beyond acceptable limits. That’s all. Because the governor, in pretending he never knew about the soot, inadvertently exposed himself as egregiously inept. 

For six years, Wike soothed the soot and allowed it to mushroom in Rivers. Now, Wike is hooting and tooting, pulling the wool over our eyes, rooting around, rummaging bushes for the source of the soot. Woot! 

Some might say since he has started, we should encourage him. We shouldn’t distract him by asking him naughty questions. But can we all pretend that Wike didn’t see the soot for six years?

Wike’s triumphant entry into the bushes was so dramatic that even some of those who had lived in Rivers all their lives were tempted to believe that soot had been a problem that Wike’s predecessors didn’t have the balls to curb. So they didn’t see a criminally negligent governor.

They saw their strong man taking the bulls by the horn in Isiokpo. After all, isn’t that why he is the only workaholic governor in Africa?

The problem with Africa is that charlatanism wears long robes with matching hats and marches around with confidence while living in high places. Before Wike became governor, militancy had been banished from Rivers.

In 2015, Wike had to win the rivers governorship elections by all means. So he threw in the kitchen sink. Militants who had found other decent careers in Lagos returned to help him. After he won, some of them became traditional rulers.

It’s good to reintegrate former militants into society. They are stakeholders. But, when an emperor compensates the youths by looking the other way while they steal and cook crude oil, he cannot come many years later to feign ignorance, find scapegoats and fool the country.

Port Harcourt is now buried in soot. The former garden city now has a black blanket. Before Gov Wike became governor, Portharcourt didn’t know soot, and soot didn’t live in Portharcourt.

Now, once a child walks barefoot on the balcony, he must wash his feet to save the bedsheets. The roofs are all black— black-maroon, black-brown, black-beige, black-green. The tennis courts are messy. Lungs, all soot-filled.

Fo so long, doctors didn’t know that the inhalation of asbestos dust caused any problems. Hundreds of years after asbestos became popular.

Asbestosis was only discovered in 1924. Then, it was discovered that one out of every four who worked in the asbestos industry suffered Asbestosis. Asbestosis was a disease of latency; it took many years to manifest.

But the link between Asbestosis and lung cancer was only established about 1955. Wike knows that six years of massive soot inhalation has guaranteed a future health calamity. Chronic soot inhalation can quietly damage the lungs and the heart. Wike knew that before he became governor. But he had his priorities. 

Wike wants to blame the police. He wants to pass the buck. Since Wike came, he has set up committee after committee to find the immediate and remote causes of the soot. Where are the reports of those committees? Are they covered in soot?

The committees consumed taxpayers money to see what school children in a helicopter could have discovered in 10 minutes.

What exactly does Rivers State Executive Council discuss with their sooty microphones on their sooty tables in their sooty chamber? What has Rivers state ministry of environment done for six sooty years?

The truth is that the soot plague is the product of criminal collusion between the governments and the governed at many levels. A responsible governor, prioritising public health above political patronage and electoral conquests, would have declared an emergency on soot in 2016.

But an opportunistic emperor, looking out for his boys, would leave the soot till he finished his fantasy bridges and visited Real Madrid with his friends.

The problem started in 2016 from the Okrika axis. All children in port Harcourt knew this. Those stealing and refining crude oil in the riverine areas were allowed to develop this alternative economy.

The lowest-paid labourer in a ‘pot’, the local refinery, is the man who does the bagging. That man receives N8000 a day. Lucrative business.

The initial investment to establish a pot is about 12 million naira. It is no secret. The business breaks even in a few months. The village youth, traditional ruler, community dev union, security agencies all have their cuts.

The justification was that other folks were mining diamonds and gold in Zamfara to look after their families. Nice logic, right?

Gov Wike looked away when the industry began in Okrika. As the boys in the riverine villages became wealthy, the boys in other communities started their own refineries. It didn’t take long; refineries sprouted everywhere.

Once the boys engaged themselves in the petrochemical kitchens, crime rates dropped.

That was what somebody said. Perhaps, the federal government let sleeping dogs lie so that the major crude pipelines could heave a sigh of relief. Perhaps the federal government was asleep too.  If the stealing of crude oil didn’t matter, the health hazard should have roused Abuja.

The consequences were foreseeable. The government abdicated its responsibility. The same Wike who rushed to crush two hotels on a Sunday for flouting covid regulations allowed the soot to seize the state. And when he decided to play to the gallery, he didn’t choose a chopper. It’s understandable.

In a helicopter, the world would have seen more than he wanted it to see. So he went on foot chasing grasshoppers leaving the elephants in the Okrika and other riverine areas. 

The Igbo say a frog doesn’t make an afternoon dash in vain. It’s either chasing something, or something is chasing it. Buhari is not Obasanjo, he doesn’t threaten governors. It’s possible Wike wants the boys to return to the campaign field.

The timing is suspicious. It’s possible Wike wants the soot to leave before he leaves. So that it wouldn’t look like the soot belonged to him. So that his opponents won’t name the plague Soot Wike. A plague that resembles a Crime Against Humanity. 

With a reasonable budget for the media, any cunning Nigerian politician with agbero instincts and a knack for crude talk and rancid comedy can be a hero. 

But someday, an inquest into the soot scandal will happen. 

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