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Forced friendship: Wike, Fubara square up again as Villa’s peace deal crumbles.

Last updated on April 17th, 2024 at 08:27 am

8th April 2024

Siminalayi Fubara and Nyesom Wike

IT is no longer news that the peace pact between the Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, and his predecessor and estranged political godfather, Nyesom Wike, has collapsed, following the intervention in October 2023 by President Bola Tinubu, in the wake of the escalating political crisis in the crude oil and gas-rich state.

The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, during a media chat in Abuja on Tuesday, April 2, ruled out any reconciliation in the foreseeable future with his successor, Governor Fubara.

Fubara, on his part, broke his silence on Wednesday, April 3, as he promised to surprise his detractors if they dared him, referring to those stampeding him to implement all the items in the eight-point presidential proclamation.

But before the 2023 general election, the love between Fubara, the then Accountant-General of Rivers State, and Wike, then sitting governor, was, to say the least, deep and cordial. Among other considerations, Wike ruffled feathers within his camp, picked Fubara singlehandedly, and made him the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the build-up to the election.

Wike’s preference for Fubara, as believed in some quarters, was to ensure that his tracks for the eight years he governed the state were covered and for him to continue his hold on the state and keep his political structure intact.

Wike had his way and Fubara emerged the winner of the governorship election in the state and was sworn in accordingly on May 29, 2023. Barely five to six months into the new administration, things started turning awry between the successor and predecessor, who was appointed Minister of the Federal Capital Territory by President Tinubu.

When Fubara became Governor, Wike ensured that seven commissioners who served under him were reappointed by Fubara. Not only that, they indeed retained the same positions in the new cabinet. He was alleged to have supervised all subsequent appointments in the new administration and called the shots on other salient issues bothering governance in the state. At some point, the situation did not go down well with Fubara, seen then as a loyal political godson, until the treatment he was getting became a mouthful.

Before the crisis, anytime the FCT Minister would visit Rivers, Fubara would have been at the Port Harcourt International Airport to welcome him and lead him to his abode; with the two political leaders seen together at many state functions. Months down the line, however, their relationship became frosty to the extent that the two political leaders stopped seeing eyeball to eyeball, let alone sitting together at state functions.

A case in point was in late October 2023 during the annual summit of the Nigerian Bar Association Young Lawyers Forum in Port Harcourt, held at the Justice Mary Odili Judicial Institute, where the FCT Minister delivered a lecture. At that event, with the theme: ‘Breaking Barriers: Creating Future Leaders in Nigeria from the Present and Next Generation of Young Lawyers’, Governor Fubara, who was to present the keynote address, was represented by the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Zacchaeus Adangor, SAN.

Also in November 2023 during the unveiling of a book titled ‘Law and Society: ‘A Compendium of Speeches and Addresses’ written by the then outgoing Chairman of the Rivers State University Governing Council and Pro-Chancellor, Justice Iche Ndu, (retd) in Port Harcourt, Wike attended as the special guest of honour, while Fubara, who was the chief host and visitor to the University, was visibly absent. Sundry occasions point to the no love lost between ‘godfather and godson’ as it were.

Though these were a prelude to the main show, the would-be crisis, which some keen watchers of political events in the state predicted rightly, reached the rooftop when it was speculated in the camp of the FCT Minister that Fubara was hobnobbing with some known political foes of Wike, including the PDP presidential candidate in the 2023 general election, Atiku Abubakar and members of his then-campaign organisation in Rivers State who fell out of favour with the former Governor for pitching their tent with Atiku in the 2023 election.

To give vent to their claims, within the same period, Fubara visited Governors Douye Diri of Bayelsa State and Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, both notably known for not supporting Wike’s bid to be the PDP vice-presidential standard-bearer for the election.

A few weeks afterwards, the state was thrown into crisis with the attempt by 27 members of the Rivers State House of Assembly said to be loyal to the FCT Minister to commence the impeachment process against Fubara, which came after the bombing of the hallowed chamber of the state legislature. Wike had alleged that there was a plot to change the leadership of the Assembly, precisely to remove his kinsman and Speaker of the House, Honourable Martin Amaewhule, saying whoever wants to do that ‘will go first’, as he pointed out that he will not allow anyone to hijack the political structure which he had toiled over the years to build in the state.

While welcoming governors elected on the platform of the PDP in his office in Abuja, Wike commented for the first time on the feud between the State Assembly and the Governor, saying he would not allow anyone to intimidate him. He added, “They have talked about the crisis in Rivers State. Let me tell anybody who cares that nobody can intimidate me. It does not matter whether you go and bring thugs, or you say you are Ijaw. If I want to do something I will do it. Impeachment is not a military coup, it is provided for under the Constitution.”

The intervention of President Tinubu ushered in what some political pundits describe as a ‘first aid peace’ in the state because, according to them, the eight-point resolution put before the feuding parties mainly favoured his appointee, the FCT Minister, leaving the incumbent governor between a rock and hard place, though Wike on many occasions disagreed that he was favoured as he declared Fubara as the greatest beneficiary of the President’s intervention, with the resolution leading to the withdrawal of the impeachment process against the governor by the state House of Assembly.

Fubara too, on his return from the Abuja treaty, started implementing the agreements, including the re-appointment of the nine pro-Wike commissioners who resigned their positions in the heat of the crisis and payment of the withheld entitlements of the lawmakers, who had, in the spirit of the agreement, withdrawn the impeachment proceedings.

The issue of re-presentation of the 2024 Appropriation Bill, which was hurriedly passed by four lawmakers led by the factional speaker, Edison Ehie and Governor Fubara signing it into law 24 hours after presentation, has yet unresolved as it is now a subject of litigation, following suits filed by some Rivers elders, one led by the pioneer spokesman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, High Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe and the Rivers State Civil Society Organisation, led by its Chairman, Eneefa Georgewill.

The pro-Wike lawmakers have continued to make life difficult for Governor Fubara by vetoing him, amending and enacting laws without his assent, notably the Rivers State Local Government Law and the State Advertisement and Signage Law, which whittle down the powers of the Governor if implemented. The recent threat by the 27 lawmakers to resume impeachment proceedings against the Governor lends credence to the deepening crisis between the two parties.

Before Wike’s recent outburst where he ruled out the possibility of any reconciliation with Fubara, he had previously expressed disappointment at the conduct of his successor, saying he did not like ingrates and that ‘money’ and ‘power’ will always reveal the true nature of a person.

And, during his recent media chat, Wike took a swipe at Fubara and some PDP leaders in the state, including former Minister of Transport, Dr Abiye Sekibo; Celestine Omehia, Senator Lee Maeba and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Austin Okpara.

The FCT Minister, however, insisted that his camp had fulfilled its part of the presidential proclamation majorly by withdrawing the impeachment process, but that Fubara had yet to strictly adhere, with regards to the issue of representation of the budget before a properly-constituted House of Assembly for approval. The House Speaker, Honourable Amaewhule, had cited at a recent press briefing that the Governor has continued to act outside the law and that Rivers is the only state in the country ‘operating without a budget’.

A Port Harcourt-based public affairs analyst, Dr Kennedy Wakama, puts it succinctly that the statement by the FCT Minister signaled the collapse of the peace brokered by the President between Wike and Fubara, noting that it was a tale of two leaders trying to build their political dynasty.

Fubara, who had maintained silence even in the face of the fresh impeachment threat, finally drew the line. While commenting on the peace pact during a meeting with members of the National Union of Local Government Employees at the Government House, Port Harcourt, on April 3, Fubara made a veiled reference and warned his traducers thus, ‘If you dare me I will surprise you’.

The governor explained that he had been inundated with several comments in the media about the implementation of the peace initiative and had chosen to be silent out of maturity and wisdom.

The governor said: “Let me say it here for record purposes: What is happening here in our dear state is somebody who has respect for an elder. Mr President invited all the parties to Abuja and came out with a resolution that we should go and implement. That resolution, I am implementing. It is not a constitutional implementation. It is a political solution to a problem. And I am doing it because of the respect I have for Mr President. But, let me say it here, if that action that I have accepted to take is seen as a weakness, I will surprise them. I want this message to go to them.”

Fubara said he had since then commenced implementation of the agreement, solely because of his respect for President Tinubu, but cautioned that it appears that other political actors have taken his humility and compliance as a sign of weakness.

While urging the NULGE members and people of the state to continue to support his administration, show understanding over actions taken, and peacefully obey the rules, he threw another salvo: “When you are doing what is right, I will stand by you. Nobody, whether full or half, is going to intimidate you. Brace up, I say brace up, because the next step, it will be fire for fire in Rivers State. Everything will be implemented.”

In another show of strength, Fubara, the next day, while flagging off the Port Harcourt International Automobile Spare Parts Trading and Commercial Centre project in Iriebe in Obio/Akpo LGA, Rivers State, said, “You can see how restless they have been since I made just one statement, yesterday. We will continue to make them restless. They won’t know where we are coming from. We will also continue to hit them hard the way we hit them yesterday.”

Like a ding-dong affair, reactions have continued to greet the Governor’s outburst. The Chairman of the State APC Caretaker Committee, Chief Tony Okocha, a day after, accused Fubara of fanning the embers of war, adding that his comments were disrespectful to the President.

Commenting on the issue, a former Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications when Wike held sway as Governor, Dr Emma Okah, said the former governor should concentrate on his assignment in Abuja and allow his successor alone to work.

Okah stated, “You cannot constantly be coming here to be disturbing the peace of the state. This ordinarily you wouldn’t have taken as governor here. You would not have allowed the minister of anybody at all from outside to come and do what he is doing to the governor.

“The fact is, your tenure as governor has ended and another person has taken over. You cannot tell the person to keep enmity with people, especially when they don’t have direct problems. The best we can do as a state is to encourage the Governor to bring everybody on board.”

Dr Okah further said, “The former governor should appreciate the fact that he is no longer the governor of Rivers State. His interest should be how to support his successor to succeed. He cannot continue to act as if he does not want his successor to succeed. He is not helping the state, he is overheating the system and people are getting distracted.”

On the way forward, he said the current political crisis in the state would be over if the former governor placed the interest of the state above his interest.

“The former governor and the present governor should sit down and discuss and I’m sure in less than 30 minutes, they will be able to resolve their problems,” he said.

Some residents in the state and watchers of the unfolding events have opined that the breakdown of the peace pact is good for the state, saying the state of Rivers should not be under the control of an individual.

Already, insinuations are rife that Governor Fubara plans to use administrators to run the LGAs until such a time he considers fit to conduct the council election, especially going by the recent amendment of the Rivers State Local Government Law by the State House of Assembly, which makes provision for the extension of the tenure of the current council chairmen.

This had informed the alarm raised by the State APC caretaker committee chairman, Chief Tony Okocha, during a news briefing on April 3, where he alleged that the party had uncovered a plot by Governor Fubara to procure a court injunction to declare the State House of Assembly and the laws it enacted nay amended within the period of the crisis illegal, though Fubara’s Commissioner for Information and Communications, Joseph Johnson, described the allegation as outright falsehood.

Okocha stated, “I want to use this opportunity to inform Rivers people and Nigerians of the move by the Governor of Rivers State, Siminalayi Fubara, to procure interim court orders from judges that I may not name here, but I will put in my petition today at the National Judicial Council.

“He (Fubara) wants to procure an interim order stopping the implementation of the laws which he was vetoed over. He wants to procure an order to announce as illegal the Rivers State House of Assembly as constituted and as led by Rt. Hon. Martin Chike Amaewhule.”

While noting that the APC as a leading opposition party in the state will resist the move, he added, “These are the plans that are on and he is doing that so that he will now leverage on that order to go ahead to appoint caretaker committees in local government, against the warning of the man he says he respects, the President.”



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