OPINION: Playing Dirty in Rivers State

OPINION: Playing Dirty in Rivers State

In 2011, Rivers State delivered one of the nation's most stunning victories to Goodluck Jonathan in that year's presidential election. The electorates apparently overdid themselves, casting more votes for Jonathan than there were registers voters. Even the president acknowledged the effort of the man who made that landslide over other presidential candidates possible -- Rivers State governor, Mr Rotimi Amaechi.

OPINION: Playing Dirty in Rivers State

Today, however, the two men appear to have become sworn enemies, politically.

What has wrought this dramatic turnaround?

There is no doubt that the relationship between Amaechi and the government of Rivers State on the one hand, and Jonathan and the Presidency on the other, is under a strain, given the crises it has spurned in the state. Last week, it claimed its first victim, Mr Eric Ezenekwe, an aide to the ousted chairman of the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Godspower Ake, an Amaechi ally. Mr Ezenekwe was gunned down by persons that the police are yet to identify.

It is part of the continuing power struggle between Amaechi and his political rivals who seem to have the president's backing.

Two weeks earlier, the national leadership of the PDP obtained an Abuja High Court order that sacked the Rivers State chapter; the party appointed new members to run the Rivers chapter, in another move to weaken the state government. In a counter move, the government obtained a court order reinstating the executive council of the state PDP, and restraining the national officers from interfering.

Last year, there were suggestions that Amaechi would be part of a presidential ticket, pairing with his Jigawa State counterpart, Alhaji Sule Lamido, in the 2015 presidential election, in which Jonathan is widely expected to run.

Posters announcing the Lamido/Amaechi presidential bid made occasional appearance in several cities in the country, including Abuja.

Last month, an aircraft used by the Rivers State governor was grounded for alleged infringement of aviation safety rules.

There are intense efforts by Amaechi's opponents to unseat him from the chairmanship of the Nigerian Governors' Forum (NGF); the Presidency and the party spearheaded attempts to weaken his position by launching a PDP Governors' Forum, and named Akwa Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio, as its pioneer chairman.

Election of a new chairman for the NGF is due this weekend; Amaech is eligible to stand again.

Last week, the police in Rivers said they would begin the gradual withdrawal of security details attached to some public office holders in the state, fuelling fears that the stage is being set for some kind of showdown.

The Chief of Staff of the Rivers State Government, Mr Tony Okocha, alleged that the government was aware of a hit list of Rivers State politicians loyal to the governor; he said they had been marked for assassination in order to create a climate of insecurity in the state.

What is happening in Rivers mirrors the events that led to the ouster of the Mr Timipre Sylva as the governor of the president's home state of Bayelsa; Mr Sylva was last week taken into custody by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on charges of alleged corruption when he was governor. Sylva was also opposed to some of Jonathan's policies.

The sense that that those who oppose the president, even on grounds that are absolutely permissible in a democracy are targeted for persecution, does not bode well.

Because the president who has been associated one way or another to these crises has not spoken to defend himself, has portrayed him as acquiescing to them. That is why some of his aides feel emboldened to trample on a court order and make inflammatory speeches of their own.

Jonathan needs to show leadership in such matters, and not try to foster the do-or-die politics that the nation is struggling to wean itself from.

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