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Governor Amaechi And Rivers State: Jonathan’s 2015 Dress Rehearsal By Chidi Oguamanam

July 19, 2013

Reading some of the reactions and outrage that have continued to trail recent and ongoing crises in Rivers State, one manages to find some positive spin. Nigerians, at least most of the commentators, recognize that the crises in Rivers State is not necessarily about Gov. Amaechi. It is, I surmise, like most others have done, about our political culture and its future.

Reading some of the reactions and outrage that have continued to trail recent and ongoing crises in Rivers State, one manages to find some positive spin. Nigerians, at least most of the commentators, recognize that the crises in Rivers State is not necessarily about Gov. Amaechi. It is, I surmise, like most others have done, about our political culture and its future.

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It is about the level of ignominy and impunity of the political class. It is about the nature and quality of leadership of the present political dispensation under President Jonathan. It is about abuse of power and further corruption of the democratic process; it is about the negative transformation of the shoeless Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and his Presidency that has now acquired a big ego shoe, which it is using to trample on anyone on its way. It is a Presidency that has more than enough reason but has failed to distinguish itself and chart a new course for Nigeria’s political experience and culture. It is about a Presidency that is its own worst enemy and a political class that has essentially reaped why it did not sow and, as such, now it constitutes the greatest danger to Nigeria’s ever wobbling democratic pretension.

Let us go to Egypt first and see if we can draw some parallels or lessons, not matter how far-fetched such a prospect may seem on the surface. Recently, the people of Egypt demanded and got an unconstitutional removal of their first ever democratically elected President, just on the anniversary of his first year in the office. They readily played into the hands of a waiting and ever willing military that has historically constituted itself into a part of Egypt’s political DNA. The sins of the deposed President Morsi were many. He and his party came to power as beneficiaries of a revolution for which they were at best peripheral actors. They savoured Egypt’s democratic rebirth, but lacked the courage to practise democracy. They imposed a constitution on the country, and adopted a winner-takes-all style of governance. They froze every viable space for democratic venting for the rest of the population. They proceeded to re-create Egypt in the image of their ideologically shallow Freedom and Justice Party (a.k.a the Muslim Brotherhood).  They believed that as winners of 51.7% majority, they did not need the rest of the country to govern. Worst of all, the Morsi-led Muslim Brotherhood constituted an evident danger to Egypt’s vulnerable economy as they lacked the vision to stem an imminent economic collapse. Majority of Egyptians, including some who voted for Morsi, ran out of patience. And the military capitalized on it. Now, the military seem to have returned to power from the back door and can only be kept in check through the vigilance of the people whose call they have just enthusiastically heeded within a mixture of institutional and altruistic national interest. The irony is that those who initiated the recent change in Egypt are equally culpable as the Muslim Brotherhood they toppled because both the Brotherhood and the rest of anti-Morsi folks have demonstrated their lack of respect for rule of law and the democratic process. Ideally, Morsi could have been allowed to complete his term or be impeached. The latter option was not possible. In the former scenario, following the completion of his term, the Egyptian people, even members of his Party, would expectedly have had sufficient reason to send him packing through the ballot box in the event he desired to renew his mandate. But that is “ideally”. In Egypt, the attempt to get two wrongs to result in a right is presently an unfolding drama.

In Nigeria, save for Obasanjo’s ill-fated third term suicide pill, and the shameful mismanagement of what would have been a smooth constitutional transition following the death of President Umaru Yar’ Adua,  nothing has re-enforced PDP’s abuse of the democratic process than Mr. Jonathan’s bid to contest the 2015 presidential election. This opinion is not for or against that desire of the President to stand for another term. It is about how he and his cohorts have gone about it so far. Because Jonathan wants to contest the 2015 election, nobody within the PDP in the South–South zone should be allowed to enjoy national visibility even when that happens to be outside the PDP framework. Amaechi must not lead the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF). Whatever political ambition and choices that Amaechi or anybody from the South-South zone may have or make must be stopped and crushed at all costs. PDP and all other actors in the national political space have through the madness and abuse of the so called zoning formula created a culture that raises political emperors whose territorial powers are sacrosanct. For this reason, the Speaker of House Representatives could not come from the South West because some folks, including those in opposition party, felt that a person of such national visibility would take the shine off them and constitute threats to their exclusive political territorial dominion. We have seen governors who resist and sabotage influential political appointments at the national level for qualified indigenes of their states because of fear of who would control the so called party structure. Even the PDP National Chairmen, historically, have been at loggerheads with their state governors, ministers from their home states, etc.  The same shenanigans play out even at the most rudimentary of the current political dispensation – the local government level, where Chairmen of Councils and Commissioners from same Council area operate in an atmosphere of perpetual mutual suspicion.

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Another aspect of the political brigandage, banditry and intolerance that has made Governor Amaechi Nigeria’s political metaphor is the recent election by Nigeria’s thirty-six governors (excluding one abstention) of the Chairman of their Forum. In an election as simple as that number of electorate, all of whom are putatively leaders in their own right and beneficiaries of our democratic process; one would have thought that the election would be as simple as the number of electorates. But that was not to be. Incontrovertible accounts confirmed that Amaechi obtained nineteen votes and defeated his hastily recruited opponent who got sixteen.  Shortly after, Amaechi’s clear victory was “overturned” by the opposing governors in their bid to please the Jonathan Presidency. The latter, out of desperation murdered the truth and associated with, and empowered those who lost the election. Yet some of those clowns have the warped conscience to talk about the injustice of June 12 at its recent anniversary. Only few things could evoke some disgust than watching members of the minority faction of the NGF talk from both sides of their mouth. The same political leaders will be ones to shout to high heavens if they were at the receiving end of a rigged election. They will call for the head of INEC’s Jega. Governor Peter Obi’s association with this camp, in his desire to please Jonathan, shows how quickly we forget. Gov. Obi was a victim of a corrupt electoral process which he fought courageously through the judicial process and rule of law. He is one person whose tenacity and moral conviction has enriched Nigeria’s troubled democratic experiment. But on the NGF crisis, Obi was on the wrong side of history. Even if he was happy to relinquish his position as Deputy Chair of the NGF, it is not clear why that should matter for Amaechi’s desire to go for a second term. It is easy to use self-righteous indignation to conflate the truth.    

Still on the NGF, even before the election, Jonathan and his PDP’s desperation engineered the creation of a rival group, the so-called PDP Governors Forum and rented a willing Chairman in order to checkmate the Amaechi-led NGF. The lesson of all these is that we still operate a political culture of intolerance; one that deploys all crude and undemocratic strategies, where the sanctity of the ballot box remains an illusion. If we transpose or magnify the NGF saga onto the larger polity in Nigeria, especially as it concerns the 2015 general elections those who would want to unseat an incumbent, at all levels, including Jonathan, must not fall for President Jonathan’s rhetoric on the sanctity of the electoral process or his ‘one-man-one-vote’ mantra. Even his ‘do-not-kill-in-my-name’ posturing or his ‘if-I-lose-I-go-home’ pontificating are not worthy of being taken to the bank.  In the present mindset that has been unveiled since the Amaechi, NGF and Rivers State’s crises, the fairness of an electoral process will be measured by whether it results in an outcome desired by the Imperial Presidency. I noted the desperation with which the President himself commented recently on the stalemated Oguta Constituency election to Imo State House of Assembly.  Personally, I seem to have been gullible, and indeed was inclined to give Jonathan the benefit of doubt until the NGF crisis. His recent hosting of anti-Amaechi delegation from Rivers State, who attended Aso Rock with basketful of apologies and the recent complicity of his wife’s associates in the Rivers State House of Assembly crisis (as evidenced in “My-Jesus Christ-on-Earth” confessions) leaves one with every reason to be apprehensive of the negative transformation of Jonathan’s presidency.

Amaechi as a metaphor is also captured in the Governor’s relationship with the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu. I am sure that many who have wondered over where Mr. Mbu got his courage for insubordination, in conduct and utterances, against a democratically elected Governor and the Chief Security Officer of Rivers State need not wonder too far for answer.   If Mr. Mbu was serving in Bayelsa State under Governor Dickson, the truth is that he would take proper notice of the fact that Dickson is oga at the top’s boy. Mr. Mbu’s open confrontation with Mr. Amaechi with so much disrespect and disdain is symptomatic of the political complicity; institutional decadence and deficit of professionalism that collectively afflict the Nigeria Police. No Commissioner of Police in his ‘right judgment’ would take an objective or neutral path in a state where the Governor is at loggerheads with the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Yes, after all, the Police are part of the Armed Forces, or any they not?  What is important is that the President must be appeased even at the expense of law and order; peace and security of the State the Commissioner is called to serve.  For as long as the body language of the President, his wife and their foot soldiers in Rivers State suggest disdain for the Governor; the police must join the fray on the side of who has the might, who plays the piper.  As an aside, I will not trust that the answer lies in State Police; because the Governors are certainly going to use the State Police to re-enact exact same scenario in their dealings with ‘recalcitrant’ Local Government Chairmen. The answer lies in cultivating an ethical political culture in which the first and primarily obligation and loyalty of all actors in the public sphere will be to the constitution. That sounds idealistic? Yes, only in Nigeria!  In case, you may also further excuse Mr. Mbu, his conduct reflects Nigeria’s military hang over. Recall that Police were peripheral beneficiaries of Nigeria’s military dictatorships. They were rewarded after each coup d’état with appointments as state military administrators. For Mbu, it must be hard to take an order for bloody civilian even if he is the Governor.               

Another element of the metaphor in the Rivers States crisis is the recent display of shame by some (dis)honorable members of the Rivers State House of Assembly. Yes, PDP was right to remind us that Nigeria does not have a patent over shameful display of parliamentary indiscretion. It is a global phenomenon, PDP argues. I agree. But that is as far as I can concede.  But “the biggest party” in Africa failed to take the credit for taking the parliamentary dance of shame to the Guinness Book of Record level by engineering three maces in one House, with ‘two’ speakers and one governor. Not to mention a willingness to inject a cultic spin to the whole fracas and capping it with a willingness to sanction the upstaging of twenty seven members of the house by five. For those five, their only collective credentials are that they are loyal to Jonathan and their Jesus Christ-on-Earth. Now, we see a pattern developing, just like in the NGF. For the ruling Party, majority does not count if is not aligned with the Imperial Presidency. The simple lesson to be taken from the NGF and the “Rivers of Blood” House of Assembly is that our votes do not count. A desperate and Imperial Presidency can do whatever it takes to have its way.

Anyone who looks at the events in Rivers State and the NGF and the current political travails of Governor Amaechi as a dress rehearsal for 2015 has a sound and logical basis for such apprehension. The few instances where one-man-one-vote mantra appeared to have worked following the exit of Obasanjo and his doctrine of do-or-die elections seem to have given some Nigerians a false sense of confidence in the new electoral process. In those cases which include but are not necessarily limited to the re-election of Governors Peter Obi, Adams Oshiomole, and Olusegun Mimiko of Anambra, Edo and Ondo States respectively, it must be noted that Presidency and its interests were not at stake.  Moreover, those Governors were able to diplomatically endear themselves to Aso Rock and were at the time of their elections not in the bad books of the Imperial Presidency.

The forthcoming elections would be quite different. There is presently an attempt by strange bedfellows to put together an opposition coalition that has since made the PDP jittery. More importantly, Nigerians are now in a position to assess the Jonathan Presidency on its merit and demerit. They are able to take the stock of its handling of the Boko Haram crisis, the energy sector, youth unemployment, poverty alleviation, infrastructural improvement, national and citizen security, education, health, civic re-orientation and the fight against corruption, etc.  They are willing to render their verdict. Unlike the 2011 elections when Jonathan rode on both the goodwill and sympathy of his countrymen, following what he suffered in the hands of the Turai-led Yar’Adua’s cabal, this time around, the honey moon is over. Jonathan’s ability to win another mandate is up in the air.  In desperate times, we would see the real test of his one-man-one-vote.  So far, the Amaechi and Rivers State imbroglio have demystified Jonathan’s perceived meekness. We have seen his bared fangs. Unless we take urgent civic steps, we could possibly see that between the do-or-die doctrine of his mentor and Jonathan’s one-man-one-vote, the devil we know may be better than the angel we do not know.

And back to Egypt. The Amaechi, NGF and Rivers State crises reveal the Morsi in PDP. The party has strong disdain for growing a democratic culture in Nigeria. It has been nurturing politics of hate, bitterness and enmity against the opposition. It singles out any of its members that maintain cordial relationship with the opposition as if we should all be in a permanent state of warfare as part of our democratic contagion.  Aside from Amaechi, recently the Speaker of the House of Representatives was called out for commending an opposition party Governor. Any member of opposition who dares speak out against the injustice in Rivers State unwittingly provides the incentive for the PDP to accuse the Governor of wanting to defect to the opposition. Despite the ominous political horizon hanging over Nigeria, we must resolve all differences through the democratic process. The Egyptian approach may serve Egyptian needs even if temporarily. Despite the West’s tacit endorsement and tongue-in-cheek approach to the events in Egypt, Nigerians should not allow our politicians to pull the hands of the clock back and return us to the dark days of military rule. Our military should take note: Nigeria is not Egypt.

We are older than Egypt in the democratic experience. Yes. What we need to borrow from Egypt is the tenacity, the vigilance and the staying power to safeguard our votes (through every legitimate means possible, including social networking infrastructure that may be at our disposal) and make them count.  We have yet to vote out a presidential incumbent through the ballot box. That is not impossible. But it would be premature and presumptuous to suggest that such an outcome will necessarily be the will of Nigerians in 2015. Perhaps if the opposition does not provide a viable choice, Nigerians can also send a strong message to the incumbent party and clip its wings, bring it to its knees, radically reduce the number of its members in the upper chambers and the states under its control. That may yet be a possible outcome that could force those Morsi-headed anti-democratic elements in the (mis)ruling party to engage with the people respectfully outside of the present disdain and banditry that is running riot across the land. For 2015, all options must be on the table for Nigerians in regard to how we engage the opposition and the PDP.

Amaechi and Rivers State have provided us the much required awakening to not underrate President Jonathan and his PDP’s capacity to undermine our democratic process, no matter how less exciting. What we do with this ‘crude awakening’ is left for us all.   
Prof. Oguamanam wrote from Ottawa, Canada. Follow him on twitter: @Chidi_Oguamanam 

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