“As e dey pain them, e dey sweet us; as e dey sweet us, e dey pain them.” That was Governor Nyesom Wike and governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, leading a singsong at a party rally on Thursday in Eleme Local Government Area.
The picture of the political terrain in Rivers State has radically changed from what it was four years ago when the governorship contest was boiled hot between Governor Nyesom Wike of the PDP and Dakuku Peterside of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Wike now seems to be having a rollercoaster flying around the state from one local government to the other holding rallies and making campaign promises while his APC opponent, Tonye Cole is cold and sullen having to contend with several court orders and judgments that have kept his eligibility to stand the March 2, 2019 governorship election in jeopardy.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, published the list of candidates for the National Assembly, governorship and state assembly elections in Rivers State and the name of Cole along with those of all the other candidates of the APC in Rivers State were conspicuously missing.
The APC has been bogged down by a myriad of court cases that followed its controversial ward, local government and state congresses in May in which known supporters of one of its governorship aspirants, Magnus Abe, were denied opportunities to participate.
That development had immediately pitched Abe against his erstwhile political ally and leader, Rotimi Amaechi, who was the alter ego of the APC in Rivers State. Some of Abe’s supporters who were denied participation in the congresses went to court to nullify the congresses while others left the party to the PDP where they were well received and accommodated. One of them is Barry Mpigi, a member of the House of Representatives, who was handed the PDP senatorial ticket for Rivers East senatorial zone along with his supporters who also got nominations as house of assembly candidates.
By the time the national assembly, governorship and state assembly primaries were due, the APC had been split into two factions – one loyal to Amaechi and the other loyal to Abe. Both factions went ahead to organise parallel congresses and produce candidates. But the National Working Committee eventually recognised the Amaechi faction and left the Abe faction out in the cold. All that was to be shattered a few months ago when a high court in Port Harcourt nullified the outcomes of the primaries and congresses of the Amaechi faction of the APC. Only last month a federal high court also in Port Harcourt nullified both the Amaechi congresses and the Abe congresses leaving the APC without any candidate for the election. INEC followed the drama up by not listing APC candidates for the election in Rivers State.
Though the leadership of the APC had maintained a confident posture all this while, that braggadocio has begun to thin out as the elections draw closer. Even Senator Abe felt the pain a few days ago. He appealed to his supporters to vote candidates of the APC irrespective of which factions they belonged to. Only on Thursday the embattled national and state assembly candidates of the APC called on INEC to postpone the elections in Rivers State until when the Supreme Court issues a final judgement on the party’s primaries and other sundry matters pertaining to the party and the February and March elections.
Arguing that it was unjust for them to be excluded from the election, the candidates said, “The primary purpose of election is for the people to FREELY CHOOSE who would lead/represent them and denying duly nominated candidates of APC in Rivers State the opportunity to participate in the 2019 election under any guise is simply denying the good people of Rivers State their right to FREELY CHOOSE their leaders; an injustice that should and would not be allowed to stand.”
They accused Governor Wike of masterminding the crises and court orders against the party “to exclude the APC from participating in the 2019 elections for fear of his guaranteed loss at the election.”
The hazy atmosphere for APC has shut down electioneering in the party, while other parties are stepping up campaigns. On Wednesday, the governorship candidate of Accord party, Dumo Lulu-Briggs, kicked off his campaign with a world press conference, where he promised to transform the economy of Rivers after the California model. “We shall create millionaire and billionaires. Our government shall be known by the number of Rivers people that have been taken out of poverty,” Lulu-Briggs said.
Lulu-Briggs before joining Accord Party had sought nomination under APC. He left after what he described as manipulation of the primaries to favour Tonye Cole. “I have no godfather but God the Father,” he declared at the event.
If APC eventually fails to participate in this election, it would be the second time that the party had been excluded from elections in Rivers State. The party had in June boycotted the local government elections on the grounds that its members that were removed as council chairman and councillors in 2015 were still in court, which they added to the argument that the 2018 local government elections were already programmed for PDP candidates to win.
If the Supreme Court eventually denies APC the right to present candidates for the election, then the journey might just be an easy ride for the PDP except the APC gets into a last minute arrangement to support the candidates of any other the other smaller parties.
One good thing a one-sided election might do for Rivers State, according to some observers, is that it will reduce political tension and the destruction of lives and property that had often followed such tension. The phrase, “Rivers of Blood,” that had become a sobriquet identified with Rivers State might just not find space again in the analyses of the politics of the state, whose natural resources principally oil and gas constitute the mainstay of the Nigerian economy.