Rumble in Wike’s Rivers, By Bolaji Adebiyi

Minister of Federal Capital Territory needs to apply political maturity in the prevailing crisis in his home state, writes Bolaji Adebiyi

There is a saying among the Yoruba that it is the kingmaker that the king first kills. What is the wisdom behind that? They say it is because it is the kingmaker that knows where all the bodies are buried hence the need to neutralise him before he spills the beans. Was that what played out in the early hours of Monday morning in Port-Harcourt, the capital city of Rivers State? Maybe.

The nation woke up to the news of an arson attack on the House of Assembly Complex of Rivers State. By noon, it became clear that a power struggle for the soul of the state had begun between Governor Siminalayi Fubara and his godfather, Nyesom Wike, his predecessor and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Events happened quickly. The Majority Leader, Edison Ehie, was said to have been removed by 23 of the 32 members of the house. Soon, the assembly issued a notice of removal to the governor. Hours later, the Speaker, Martins Amaehwule, was reportedly removed and replaced by Ehie.

Even as the bewildered public tried to comprehend the issues in contention, Siminalayi appeared on national television networks with a defiant speech that he was ready to resist an attempt to intimidate him, challenging his traducers to publish his wrongdoing. From faraway Abuja, Wike replied that he was not prepared to be shoved aside, stating clearly that he was battle-ready to retain his relevance in the state. President Bola Tinubu, himself a tested godfather of many political sons, intervened and advised both sides to relax and face the reality on the ground.

Save for snippets from Fubara and Wike as well as a statement by elders of the state who had intervened on both sides, the substantive issues remain vague. The governor hinted he was being intimated by his godfather and was ready to resist his bully. The godfather told the peacemakers who met him in Abuja on Tuesday that no one would be allowed to make him an unknown quantity in the state he had made all the current office holders. The elders think Fubara misunderstood a pure power struggle within the legislature and misconceived it as a move against him.

Obviously, the elders in blaming the governor for the crisis were being realistic. With 24 out of 32 members of the legislature and the Chief Judge of the state presumed to be in Wike’s corner, there is little or no room for Fubara to manoeuvre, hence their pacifist approach to the crisis.

What is clear from all these is that the unravelling crisis that threatens the state has nothing to do with public policy. None of the combatants has stated that they disagree on any governance policy or its implementation. The fight, therefore, is essentially over the spoils of office as an effective tool of attracting and retaining the loyalty required to maintain political relevance in the state.

This is unfortunate but within the context of real power politics, the fight is understandable even when it is unnecessary. If politics is a game of interests, then the control of power and the critical machinery of the state becomes necessary if those interests are to be achieved and protected. Ideally, those interests ought to be those of the people that the politicians are placed to serve. If the interests that are sought to be accomplished and protected are those of the people, it becomes laudable and efforts to seize control of the levers of power become legitimate.

Now, the principle is the same even when those interests are those of an individual or a group of individuals, for they could only be so protected while the promoters are in power, not before or after exiting power. This is why the power struggle in Port Harcourt is understandable. But it is unnecessary because there are no interests, whether public or individual, that could not be accommodated and managed if there is political maturity or enlightened self-interest that should dictate the need for consensus.

This is more so when it is realised that politics being the allocation of scarce resources is bound to generate conflicts, which have to be managed. So, political conflict is not a problem in itself but the failure of its management. It is the failure to realise this that breeds intractable conflicts in the polity.

It is against this background that Tinubu’s intervention in telling Wike to appreciate that Fubara is now the governor of the state while admonishing the governor to respect the contribution of his predecessor to his political ascendancy. The president spoke from his experience of managing three political godsons. It was not that there were no anxious moments in his 16-year post-governorship leadership of the politically sophisticated Lagos State. There were, but the template and the structures that he put in place to manage them helped him to manage the potential crises.

Tinubu put in place a 25-year development plan that became a policy plank that everyone in his political family could relate to commit to and aspire to implement. Once elected, you were bound to pursue its realisation. There also seems to be an established dichotomy between political management and governance, where the former was left in the hands of the political leadership, while the latter was handled by the governor who understood that the political leadership had supervisory powers. This worked for 12 years without any serious complications until Akinwunmi Ambode moved to disrupt the equilibrium in 2015, with an unsavoury consequence. 

It is doubtful if this template would have worked if Tinubu had been overbearing by failing to understand the limit of political leadership in matters of practical governance. Yet it is not true that there were no tense moments. The rebellion was averted at least twice by the political leadership bowing to the agitations of the followers who aligned with the godsons.

Wike, who now works with Tinubu, may do well to attend some lessons from his boss. The main one is that it is not every time that you insist on providing leadership. At times, you follow your followers even when you are convinced that you are right, and they are wrong. It is better you allow them to learn from their mistakes than risk rebellion. After all, you are only a leader when you have followers.

Adebiyi, the executive editor of Western Post, is a member of the Editorial Board of THISDAY Newspapers

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