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Lessons From The Rivers State Rerun Election By Moses E. Ochonu

March 23, 2016

INEC has declared the recent Rivers State rerun election inconclusive. How many inconclusive elections have we had under the new INEC chairman? How about all of them? I am not sure you can do your job so shoddily as many times as this rookie has and still get to keep said job, but he is new so I guess he deserves to make his mistakes and learn from them.


The conduct of the election aside, how did we get to a point where elections become wars of egos?

By the way, why did Rotimi Amaechi, a federal minister who was not running in the Rivers re-run election, relocate the perks, might, and intimidating aura of his office to his home state for an entire week for the election? Why the inflammatory, reckless statements designed to provoke, undermine, and challenge the authority of his successor? 

Why the personal abuse of Wike (“Wike can’t speak English”)? Why the thuggish behavior on the part of a federal minister (“I will flood Port Harcourt with soldiers”)? And why the bizarre boast about controlling the army, a boast so embarrassing the army had to issue a statement to refute it? What about the puerile demand for Wike’s resignation, among other comments unbecoming of a minister of the federal republic?

Quite frankly, Amaechi reflects terribly on PMB.

As for Nyesome Wike, well, Wike is Wike, a street politician given to gutter-sniping and uncouth outbursts. But he is governor and Amaechi should respect and accept that. Amaechi is already well compensated for helping to finance Buhari's campaign. Two of his political children have been appointed MDs of NIMASA and NDDC respectively, in addition to his own appointment as minister of transportation. In politics as in life, you cannot have it all.

It is political greed to insist on upending Wike by installing your stooges in the state assembly and as Rivers State's legislative contingent in the national assembly. It's a petty, narcissistic pursuit that is about personal ego and nothing more.

No wonder, even his former chief of staff, Tony Okocha, an APC candidate who lost to his PDP opponent, has railed against Amaechi's negative, counterproductive role in the election. He is right.

All politics is local, and if voters feel that someone is leveraging the power derived from an external source to force a particular political outcome locally, they often resist by voting in the other direction. 

Several examples from Nigeria’s recent electoral history substantiate this point. Today, no governor, objectively speaking, has done more than Rauf Aregbesola to ruin their state’s finances, a reality dramatized recently when the state announced that its March federal allocation came to a paltry 6 million Naira after numerous at-source deductions to repay loans, bailouts, bonds, and other recklessly acquired and largely wasted lines of credit. Nor did his poor financial stewardship start today. It was well known at least three years ago, when he was loading the state up with all manner of loans and obligations. 

I hear from reliable sources that prior to his reelection campaign, the state was already in dire financial straits and that his political godfather, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, had already written Osun off as a bad investment. Not only that; Aregbesola was, at the time of the election, owing workers in the state several months salary. He was spectacularly vulnerable. He was primed for defeat. 

When then did he beat his opponent, Iyiola Omisore, handily?

He triumphed simply by successfully making the election about a gang-up of Omisore and the PDP federal appointees from the state against a home-based APC underdog. He was the persecuted underdog in this political narrative, but he was the one holding the line for Osun people against the marauding might of the federal government. He curried sympathy by casting the election as a federal PDP plot to takeover his state, a plot led by people who had sold out, people who were not in tune with the political dynamics of Osun and the greater Southwest zone.

He was able to mobilize the people of Osun against this purported conspiracy to use federal might to engineer a particular electoral outcome. In the process, the election became less a referendum on his poor stewardship and more of a battle for the soul and sovereignty of Osun. The Osun people set aside their suffering under Aregbesola and reelected him to spite Omisore and the State’s PDP federal delegation and their purported sponsors in Abuja.

In Benue State, the recent victory of Senator David Mark in a rerun election offers another proof of this political phenomenon. The APC routed the PDP in the last general election, David Mark’s Zone C Benue South senatorial constituency being the only PDP holdout. 

After the appeals court nullified Mark’s victory and in the lead up to the ordered rerun, Mark’s opponent, Daniel Onjeh seemed to have the support of the federal government, the state’s APC delegation to the national assembly, and its representative on the federal cabinet. The APC governor and all state officials similarly supported Daniel Onjeh. They made an irritatingly public show of this gang-up and jinxed it for Onjeh. David Mark, who is now in his fifth term as senator, should have been easy picking for the younger, charismatic and well-funded Onjeh. 

The people of Benue South senatorial district were uncomfortable with Onjeh’s embrace of powerful “external” supporters. Onjeh seemed like a candidate propped up by forces external to the constituency. Pronouncements by some of Onjeh’s supporters from other zones of the state didn’t help matters. It seemed like a gang-up of external forces against David Mark, a forceful take-over with Onjeh as its face. This perception drew undeserved sympathy and support to the former senate president.

The savvy politician that he is, Mark stoked the perception that Onjeh was a carpetbagger, an instrument of external forces seeking to coopt the senatorial zone into the APC state and federal political family. He came up with a political message and slogan to encapsulate this portrayal of himself and his electoral fate as the bulwark against these external usurpers. He was the only thing standing between the people of the zone and their enemies who wanted to subvert their will and install a stooge, he and his supporters claimed. 

His campaign was called “operation homeland defense.” It worked for the wily senator. People voted for him not because they were enamored with him but because they saw a vote for him as their chance to resist the perceived forceful APC takeover.

When people decide to make a switch from one party to another, they want it to be on their own terms, driven by local dynamics and local forces. They usually do not want it imposed or engineered from the outside — whatever or wherever that outside is.

That is what seems to have happened to Amaechi and his candidates in Rivers State. 

Amaechi should have stayed away to do his job in Abuja as his protege Okocha said. By storming Rivers with an intimidating arsenal of federal personnel, he played right into the percolating local narrative of him being the instrument of a plot by the ruling APC to take control of Rivers State. Wike and his candidates cast themselves as victims of this plot. They became accidental beneficiaries of a perception stoked by the uncultured intrusions and conducts of Mr. Amaechi.  


The author can be reached at [email protected]