The struggle for the control of political party structures in states of the federation is as old as Nigeria’s democracy. It dates back to the late 1950s and early 1960s when our founding fathers like Owelle Nnamdi Azikiwe who founded the National Council of Nigerian Citizens had to at some point part company with some members of the party.
The late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, also slugged it out with Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola for the soul of the Action Group. This battle was so fierce that it laid the foundation for the demise of the First Republic.
The Second Republic was not different, as the battle for the control of the defunct Peoples Redemption Party between the late Malam Aminu Kano and late Abubakar Rimi polarised the party.
These squabbles took a fresh dimension with the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999. At this time, Nigeria’s capital had been moved from Lagos to Abuja. Abuja became the centre of power, with various interests seeking to lay hold of it.
The Obasanjo years were particularly notorious for such conflicts. Perhaps the more than passing interest Obasanjo had in the affairs of the Peoples Democratic Party at national and state levels gave birth to what is today commonly referred to as ‘Abuja politicians’.
Politicians who were close to the President and the national headquarters of the ruling PDP enjoy a sort of edge over their counterparts in the states.
A decision could be taken at the state level and upturned in Abuja the next minute.
The long drawn war of attrition between the then Governor Chris Ngige and the Ubah brothers (Chris and Andy) is a classical example of the power Abuja politicians wield over their state counterparts.
Ngige, now a senator representing Anambra State, tasted firsthand what it felt like to cross the path of state politicians who enjoy federal backing.
The Ubas, using the closeness Andy Ubah who was then the Personal Assistant to President Obasanjo enjoyed with his boss, ensured that Ngige did not enjoy any respite for allegedly breaching an agreement over the sharing of the spoils of electoral victory.
Ngige had at various times declared that, “They wanted to nominate key commissioners like Finance, Works and so on. They also wanted to appoint who was going to be my PA, and advisers and so many other things.
“Worse of all, they wanted me to sign off N3bn annually. I could not do that and stood my ground.”
In the end, the Ubas triumphed after three years as the appeal court threw Ngige out.
Chief Joshua Dariye, who was governor of Plateau State from 1999 – 2007, also fell victim of the ‘Abuja conspiracy’ when then Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, an indigene of the state and political rival got the better of the governor.
He teamed up with Obasanjo to not only ensure the declaration of a state of emergency in his home state, but also compelled members of the Plateau State House of Assembly to impeach Dariye when they fell apart over state affairs.
A similar battle was re-enacted between Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, as governor of Enugu State from 1999 – 2007, and then Senate President, Chief Ken Nnamani. Although theirs was not as bad as some others, it was sufficiently lethal that there were reported cases of clashes between supporters of the two.
In fact, it got to a point that some members of the state house of assembly were coming from sittings from Abuja. They would fly into Enugu on a chartered flight from Abuja, sit under tight security and return to the nation’s capital after some hours.
Former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, also fought a tough battle with Dr. Tim Menakaya, while the latter served as health minister under Obasanjo.
Erstwhile governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, also had a tough battle with Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe, during the latter’s tenure as works minister under Obasanjo.
It was the same experience for Mr. Ayo Fayose during his time as governor of Ekiti State.
Others who suffered a similar fate include Chief James Ibori (Delta); Prof. Oserhiemen Osunbor(Edo); Chief Achike Udenwa and Chief Ikedi Ohakim (Imo); and Chief Orji Kalu (Abia).
In recent times, the face-off between the Adamawa State governor, Murtala Nyako and PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, who is also from the state, has done a lot of damage to the party’s cohesion in the state. Ditto in Taraba state where the three senators from the state, Abubakar Tutari, Hajiya Aisha Alhassan and Emmanuel Bwacha, had cause to disagree with their ailing state governor on the administration of the state.
However, none of these battles has taken the dimension which Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, and Abuja-based politicians are currently enmeshed in.
From the day the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, hit at the governor on his (Amaechi) position on the East-West Road, the political situation in the state has remained charged.
The recent ruling by an Abuja High Court which removed the Godspower Ake-led executive of the State Peoples Democratic Party appears to have worsened the situation.
The Ake-led executive, which was removed to pave way for the Felix Obuah-led executive, enjoyed the support of the state governor.
The new executive which was sworn in by the PDP at the national level has since assumed office with a promise to unite the party at the state level.
Members of the party, who left the party for one reason or the other, are getting set to rejoin the PDP fold. But Amaechi has made it clear that he would not recognise the new executive of the party.
Apart from the pressure that followed the sacking of the Ake-led executive, the governor had to also deal with the controversy surrounding the purchase of an aircraft belonging to the state.
The plane was recently grounded by the Federal Government. To put additional political pressure on the state is the no love lost relationship between the governor and the Minister of State for Education, Chief Nyesom Wike.
While this was on, 27 out of the 32 members of the state house of assembly took a decision to suspend the Chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, Mr. Timothy Nsirim, the vice chairman and 17 councilors of the area. A caretaker committee led by Mr. Chikodi Dike was sworn in within two days to oversee the affairs of the council.
The action of the lawmakers did not go down well with the Obuah-led executive as they pronounced the suspension of the 27 lawmakers. Worse still, the sealing of the council secretariat by security agents for over a week before a court ordered them to vacate the place caused confusion and anxiety within the state government and the people of Obio/Akpor.
Surprisingly, less than 24 hours after police vacated the council, a part of the secretariat was attacked by suspected hoodlums. Though police confirmed the incident, no arrest was made after the bombing of the council’s generator house. Since then, it has protests for and against the lawmakers’ suspension from the party.
As political events continue to unfold in the state, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mr. Otelemaba Amachree, and the Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt, Mr. Tony Okocha, raised the alarm that policemen and officials of the State Security Service attached to their offices had been withdrawn by the State Police Command. Amachree specifically accused the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Mbu Joseph Mbu, of withdrawing police orderly and escorts attached to him.
Amachree’s claim is coming on the heels of a letter he sent to President Goodluck Jonathan, informing him of an alleged plot by some undisclosed persons to unleash mayhem in the state.
The Speaker in a statement issued in Port Harcourt recalled that he earlier raised the alarm over plans to withdraw security operatives from Amaechi and other top officials of government in order to make them vulnerable to attacks by hoodlums.
He cited the recent murder of Mr. Eric Ezenekwe, an aide to the former state PDP chairman, as an example of the alleged elimination plot.
“Sequel to my letter to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR, Commander-in-Chief, Nigerian Armed Forces of plans by some persons to unleash mayhem in the state, the Commissioner of Police, Rivers State, Mbu Joseph Mbu, has unceremoniously withdrawn the police orderly and escort attached to me.
“Recall that I had earlier expressed my fears about plans to withdraw security operatives from the governor and top officials of the Rivers State Government, including me, making us vulnerable to attack by hoodlums. Now, my fears are made worse by the recent murder of an aide to Chief G. U. Ake, Mr. Eric Ezenekwe, at his home town in Erema, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State,” the Speaker’s letter read.
He, however, insisted on his earlier call for the redeployment of the state commissioner of police.
But Mbu, while reacting to the claim by top government officials, said it was wrong for them (government functionaries) to arrogate a huge number of policemen to themselves. Mbu explained that the Speaker already had 15 personnel from the Special Protection Unit of the Nigeria Police and had gone ahead to acquire nine more from the Mobile Police. Mbu added that the nine personnel withdrawn from the Speaker were among those trained for anti-terrorism, adding that the Speaker was not entitled to 24 security personnel.
Political calculations ahead of 2015 have been identified as the main reason in the scramble for the control of party structures at the state and federal levels. A panacea to this ugly state of affairs is respect for each other and the need for politicians at all levels to play by the rules.