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25 Jun 2017

IN RIVERS: 2019 governorship race divides Rotimi Amaechi, Abe

The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and one of his allies, Senator Magnus Abe, who represents Rivers South-East Senatorial District, are now at loggerheads over the 2019 governorship race in the state. Our Port Harcourt Bureau Chief, Bisi Olaniyi, writes that if urgent steps are not taken by the national leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the re-election of Governor Nyesom Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will be without a serious challenger.

THE main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State is currently a divided house. The cause of the division in Rivers APC is the face-off between the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and the representative of Rivers South-East Senatorial District, Senator Magnus Abe.

Abe, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), who is a returning senator, having been first elected into the Senate in 2011, was a governorship aspirant of the APC in 2015, but the ticket was won by a former member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, the current Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

Amaechi, a former Rivers State governor, had told Abe, he did not inform him (Amaechi) of his (Abe’s) governorship ambition early. He therefore urged him (Abe) to return to the Senate. This he did through last year’s December rerun.

In order to avoid the mistake of 2015, Abe, a former Secretary to the Rivers State Government (SSG) when Amaechi was governor, met early this year with the Transportation Minister and informed him of his 2019 governorship ambition, but Amaechi, allegedly told him that he would not support him, without giving any reason.

The senator an indigene of Bera-Ogoni in Gokana Local Government Area and the Transportation Minister, who hails from Ubima in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State, had been very close friends, especially from 1999.

In 1999, Abe and Amaechi were elected into the Rivers House of Assembly. The lawyer (Abe) emerged as the Minority Leader, then as a member of the now defunct All Peoples Party (APP), which later became All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), while Amaechi was elected as the Speaker of the House.

Amaechi was re-elected in 2003 and he continued as Speaker till 2007 while Abe could not return to the Rivers State House of Assembly, but he was appointed as Commissioner for Information by the then governor, Dr. Peter Odili.

Shortly after Amaechi became governor on October 26, 2007, after the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment, he made Abe the Secretary to the State Governor (SSG). He moved to the Senate in 2011.

For the 2019 governorship race, the transportation minister is, according to some sources, is pushing for the emergence of either the Chief Executive of Sahara Energy, Tonye Cole, or an oil magnate, Dumo Lulu-Briggs, who recently defected to the APC from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as the 2019 governorship candidate of the party for undisclosed reasons. However, NIMASA DG Dr. Dakuku Peterside, who ran last time, may still be interested in contesting. A former governorship candidate, Prince Tonye Princewill, who recently defected to the APC from the Labour Party (LP), is yet to publicly declare his governorship ambition.

On June 15 this year, the Transportation Minister moved to Port Harcourt from Abuja, and held meetings at two locations with APC stakeholders in Rivers State, as part of activities for his 52nd birthday celebration, which climaxed on June 17 with lecture and thanksgiving at an event centre on Ken Saro-Wiwa (formerly Stadium) Road in the Rivers State capital.

The first meeting on June 15, between 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., took place at the residence of a former Chairman of Rivers State Local Government Service Commission, Chief Nnamdi Wokekoro, at Rumukalagbor, opposite Waterlines Bus Stop, Aba Road, Port Harcourt, while the second meeting in the evening of the same June 15, held at the residence of the Chairman of Etche Local Government Council, Reginald Ukwuoma, a lawyer, at Tombia Extension, near Royal House of Grace Church, Government Reservation Area (GRA), Port Harcourt.

In attendance at the meetings were a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of APC, Dr. Sam Sam Jaja; Rivers State Chairman of APC, Chief Davies Ikanya; the party’s State Secretary, Emeka Bekee; ex-Chairman of Asari-Toru LG Council, Ojukaye Flag-Amachree; and other leaders of the party in Rivers State.

On June 16, Amaechi continued the meetings at the Port Harcourt residence of Wokekoro, a former Mayor (Chairman) of Port Harcourt City Local Government Council, with members of APC from Obio/Akpor, Etche, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni and Port Harcourt City LGAs, among others, where it was announced that some APC leaders described as core supporters of Abe, have been removed as leaders of the party in their local government areas.

A former Rivers State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Worgu Boms, was removed as leader of APC in Port Harcourt City LGA and replaced with Wokekoro, with ex-Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt, Chief Tony Okocha, who hails from Obio/Akpor LGA, also replaced, while the same fate also befell a former Rivers Commissioner for Education and later Sports, Chief Allwell Onyesoh, of Etche LGA and Senator Wilson Ake of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA, among others. The legislator representing Ikwerre/Emohua Constituency in the House of Representatives, Elder Chidi Wihioka, was earlier removed as APC leader in Amaechi’s Ikwerre LGA.

All Abe’s loyalists who were removed by Amaechi refused to attend the meetings of June 15 and 16, but had some of their supporters in attendance and according to sources, they recorded, through their mobile phones, everything that was said by the speakers, especially Amaechi.

According to some of the people that recorded the speeches, while addressing the stakeholders in the residence of Wokekoro on June 15, the Transportation Minister allegedly stated that President Muhammadu Buhari and his wife, Hajia Aisha, could not force him to endorse Abe as the 2019 Rivers governorship candidate of the APC.

Amaechi, who was Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) for two terms, also declared that the senator (Abe) would not be Rivers State governor in 2019.

He said: “I have foreclosed Abe’s governorship ambition, as far as Rivers APC is concerned. If he likes, let him run to President Buhari that will not change anything. If he likes, let him go to the First Lady, Hajia Aisha Buhari, nothing will change.

“In my capacity as the leader of the APC in Rivers State, Abe cannot be the governorship candidate of the party in Rivers State in 2019. Abe has no character. I hear APC executives of about 15 LGAs (out of 23 LGAs) of Rivers State are already working for him (Abe). I will see how far they will go.

“I am the only one that can determine who gets the party’s governorship ticket in 2019. Suddenly, Abe has become something else in the party, because he won his senatorial election. Was I not Rivers State Governor for eight years? Was I not Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly for eight years?”

The Transportation Minister also allegedly threatened that he would suspend any APC leader/member that was confirmed to be supporting Abe’s candidature for the 2019 governorship race, insisting that he remained the leader of the main opposition party in Rivers State, while stressing that even if the 23 LGA chairmen of the APC in Rivers support the senator (Abe), it would not change anything.

Amaechi said: “As the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, I submitted his (Abe’s) name to former Governor Peter Odili for appointment as SSG, but Dr. Odili turned down my request. I still submitted his (Abe’s) name to the then Governor Odili for appointment as Finance Commissioner, but the name was rejected. Dr. Odili, during his second tenure, eventually made him (Abe) the Commissioner for Information.

“I appointed him (Abe) as SSG in my first term as governor, because I wanted to fulfil my promise to him. I recommended that he should move to the Senate in my second tenure.

“Because I now operate from Abuja, Abe has expanded his tentacles all over the place (Rivers State and other parts of Nigeria). Just imagine people, who are not even politicians, are now telling me that it is only Abe that can win the governorship seat for the APC in 2019.

“I am waiting to see how they will make him the governorship candidate of the APC in Rivers State in 2019. We have the National Working Committee (NWC). We also have the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party. No one will deny that I have made enormous sacrifices for the party to get to where it is today.”

While further speaking at Okwuoma’s residence in Port Harcourt in the evening of June 15, Amaechi could not hide his decision not to support the former Rivers SSG (Abe).

Amaechi said: “Abe is a treacherous politician, who is now fraternising full-time with my political enemies in Rivers and Lagos States, as well as Abuja politicians, who are always willing to flaunt their new-found political titles and connections.

“I know Abe is a Senator, but I also know that he is fraternising with my political enemies like the Senate President, Bukola Saraki. If Abe likes, let him come to Rivers State with the leadership of the National Assembly or that of the APC. I, Amaechi, will not support him for governor in 2019.”

While reacting in Port Harcourt, Abe’s Spokesperson, Parry Benson, described the senator as a consistent politician with character who had never been treacherous.

Benson also maintained that Abe was an adherent to democratic principles, stating that anybody who tried to crucify the senator, as a result of his belief, was on his own.

Abe’s spokesperson urged APC leaders, especially in Rivers State, to adhere to the dictates of the constitution of the party, before taking decisions.

Benson said: “APC is a vehicle for the realisation of the Nigerian dream and not a weapon to mete injustice on its members.”

Rivers APC chairman, later realising that details of the meetings of June 15 and 16 in Port Harcourt with the Transportation Minister, with him (Ikanya) in attendance, had been made public, tried to do damage control, but it was too late.

Ikanya said: “Our attention has been drawn to all the hullabaloo, fake news and mostly distorted, inaccurate and misleading reports about a non-existent crisis, due to some purported changes in the leadership of the APC in Rivers State. This is not true, entirely false and misleading.

“All members of the APC leadership in Rivers State are intact. From our ward officers to state party executives, no one has been removed or suspended from office.

“We are aware that our leader, the leader of the party in Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, is making some changes in his personal political group, team or caucus in the state. It is his right and prerogative to make any leadership change within his own political team, group or caucus.

“Amaechi created the caucus, team or group, appointed its members and leaders and so can make any change he deems fit with his personal group, team or caucus, but we must emphasise that these changes by the Honourable Minister of Transportation within his personal political team, group or caucus have absolutely nothing to do with the party’s leadership structure and do not affect the party leadership structures at all levels in Rivers State.

“Contrary to the fake, wild speculations and deliberately misleading insinuations, no member of the party in the state is being stopped or prevented from having ambition or wanting to seek any elective office. We must reinstate that no APC member will be stopped or prevented from seeking any elective office. We know for a fact that as a consummate democrat, our leader, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has not and will not stop, prevent or even attempt to discourage any party member from seeking any political office, elective or otherwise.

“As a truly democratic party, APC in Rivers State will ensure a level-playing field for all its aspirants to any elective political office. In accordance with our party’s rules, regulations and constitution, we shall be fair to all aspirants and we will always ensure that the process leading to the emergence of our candidates for all elective political offices is free, fair and credible.”

Rivers APC chairman also stated that since it was just halfway into 2017 and campaigns for the various 2019 elections were yet to commence, he noted that it was the time to join hands, come together and work in harmony to build a stronger and better APC that would defeat the opponents at the polls in 2019.

Close sources to Amaechi confided to The Nation that most of the statements attributed to the minister in the reported caucus meetings were not true. According to the source, Amaechi has not come out to tell anybody he is not supporting Abe’s governorship quest. All that he said was what he had always maintained, which is that all the aspirants should keep their aspiration until December so that APC in the state will concentrate on building the party ahead the forthcoming governorship race. The source also said claims that some people recorded proceedings in the alleged caucus meetings cannot be true since no member is allowed to attend the meeting with his or her phones. According to him, anybody that claims to have such recording should be bold enough to present it in the open. The truth is that Amaechi never said those things they claim he said.

Way forward

The denial of APC state leadership and that of the immediate stakehol;ders notwithstanding, The Nation learnt that there is fear amongst APC members that the face-off may affect the fortunes of the party negatively. They therefore pleaded with the party top hierarchy to step in and resolve the problem before it will get out of hand. Already, some Ogoni stakeholders have reportedly alleged that the plan to stop Abe is a plot to stop Ogoni, which has never produced either a governor or deputy governor in the state since the state was created.

Given such reactions, it has become obvious that the members and leaders of the PDP and other opposition political parties will ultimately capitalise on the crack in Rivers APC to make some political gains.

Concerned members of the party are pleading that the earlier the crisis is resolved, the better, even as they urge APC’s national leaders to ensure that there is a level-playing field for all aspirants.

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Item Reviewed: IN RIVERS: 2019 governorship race divides Rotimi Amaechi, Abe Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Link Naija