Exactly eight years ago, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, former governor of Rivers state, and Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, now governor of the state, were best of friends.
By “exactly eight years ago”, I truly mean October 26, 2007. Just one day earlier, the supreme court had declared Amaechi governor of the state, saying he was the rightful candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) having won the party’s primary, rather than Celestine Omehia, whom the party fielded.
At the time, Wike, as chairman of Obio-Akpor local government and national president of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), greatly supported Amaechi’s campaign. They were buddies. So happy were they that after Omehia was booted out of office, Amaechi appointed Wike his chief of staff – a position that governors traditionally allot to their most trusted ally.
Fast-forward eight years later and both men would not just see eye-to-eye. It was Amaechi who nominated Wike for ministerial appointment under the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan. But after Amaechi fell out with Jonathan and left PDP, Wike chose to side with not his old boss but his new one. Although both men have been at daggers drawn ever since, it is only in 2015 that the real battles have been fought; and so far, it is Amaechi who is having the upper hand.
2015 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, 1-0
As a minister in Jonathan’s cabinet and as a Rivers state governorship aspirant under the PDP ticket, Wike staunchly opposed the candidature of APC’s Muhammadu Buhari, whose campaign was spearheaded by Amaechi. With Buhari polling a total of 15,424,921 votes ahead of Jonathan’s 12,853,162, not only did Nigeria have a new, Amaechi secured his first victory over his former ally-turned-enemy.
MINISTERIAL NOMINATION, 2-0
Life is full of ironies. Or how does one explain that the chief antagonist of a ministerial nominee is the same one who once became a minister on the recommendation of the current nominee? Amaechi nominated Wike to be minister when he was governor, but Wike has been the most vociferous opponent of Amaechi’s ministerial nomination by President Muhammadu Buhari.
To Wike, Amaechi is too corrupt to be minister. Once, he branded his predecessor the most corrupt public office holder. “If Buhari is sincere in his fight against corruption, let him probe the Amaechi’s government and he will discover that there cannot be a government official that is more corrupt than Amaechi,” he said through Opunabo Inko-Tariah, his special adviser on media and publicity, shortly before the president released the first list of nominees.
Of course, Amaechi had unkind words of his own, once describing Wike as a man who would betray his mother for money. “Nyesom Wike loves and worships money; he can betray his mother for money – nothing more, nothing less,” he had said two days before the election that Wike ‘won’.
At some point, it did seem Amaechi would not even be screened by the senate, much less emerge a minister. Time after time, his screening was postponed following allegations of corruption to the tune of N70bn by Rivers state senators. Finally, on Thursday October 22, Amaechi was screened.
Although George Sekibo, a PDP senator from Rivers, has warned that it is a thing to be screened and another to be confirmed minister, Amaechi, based on the reception he enjoyed at the screening, can count on his confirmation later this week. In any case, to have been screened alone is itself one more victory over his tormentor-in-chief. Two nil.
RIVERS GOVERNORSHIP TUSSLE, 3-0
This is not closed yet, but it is quite some drama. Wike must have thought he had pulled one victory over Amaechi, whose candidate, Dakuku Peterside, he outwit by 1,029,102 votes to 124,896. In Nigerian politics, victory at the polls is hardly the real victory; almost every election loser goes to court, and the winner never really emerges until the legal options have been exhausted.
Now, after the first legal option, the election petition tribunal, it does seem Wike has a massive battle in his hands. The tribunal has nullified his victory at the polls, and ordered fresh elections within 90 days. Jubilant Amaechi knows he has secured his third straight victory over Wike.
But then, like it does happen in a game of football, even a three-nil deficit advantage can quickly be overturned. In doubt? Ask the Saudi ’89 Flying Eagles, who were losing four nil to the Soviet Union as at the 61st minute, only to score four goals in 23 minutes before going on to win 5-3 on penalties.
Perhaps Wike will recover in due course to show Amaechi that the servant can, at times, outshine the master. But, for now, it’s Amaechi 3 – 0 Wike.