DENNIS NAKU examines the recent gale of resignation by prominent politicians from Rivers State as well as defection from the All Progressives Congress and other parties to the Peoples Democratic Party ahead of the 2023 general elections
There is no gainsaying the fact that the failure of the former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to secure the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress has affected the fortunes of the party in Rivers State in more ways than one.
Presently, the force associated with the party in the crude oil and gas rich state has waned. Three weeks after he lost the party’s ticket to former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, the former minister returned to Port Harcourt on September 14, 2022, and was received by thousands of supporters, who joined him from the Port Harcourt International Airport to the APC secretariat in the capital city amid pomp and pageantry.
While speaking to newsmen, Amaechi called for unity among party members in the state. Fully aware of the initial resistance that greeted the choice of Mr Tonye Cole, whom he anointed to be the candidate of the party for the 2023 governorship election in the state, he called for unity among party members.
“Anytime you have a transition, you are bound to have disagreements. I am talking about internal rancour among us. In one, two or three weeks, we will be able to resolve what the issues are. The issues are not about the governorship candidate. I need to sit with them and say, can we move forward,” he stated.
From then on, the APC chieftains continued to troop to see Amaechi at his residence for one favour or the other as the case may be. At one point, the former minister was said to have reminded them that he was no longer in office and asked them to go to Cole, who is the party’s governorship candidate. He also urged them to rally round Cole to ensure that the party recaptured the Government House, Port Harcourt, in the next election.
Some top APC faithful felt peeved and disrespected by Amaechi’s actions. Some might have read between the lines that the minister, true to his words, might not have much to offer them as he was no longer in office and might be unable to wield his usual influence around the corridors of power at the centre. The outcome was a myriad of resignation and gale of defection.
The resignation of Amaechi’s ally and businessman, Tonye Princewill, from the party was shocking, as was the resignation of his ex-Commissioner for Information and Communications and former acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Ibim Semenitari. Few days afterwards, Amaechi’s Commissioner for Energy and Natural Resources, Dr Dawari George, also left the party and is currently the governorship candidate of the Action Alliance.
So far, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the state has held two mega rallies at the Isaac Adaka Boro Park in Port Harcourt to receive major defectors from the APC. On September 31, 2021, a total of 21 politicians dropped the broom and took refuge under the umbrella.
Among the heavy weights who defected were three former members of the House of Representatives, including the erudite and soft-spoken spokesman for the party, Chief Ogbonna Nwuke, as well as Emma Deeyah and Daimi Akpanah.
On Saturday, September 10, 2022, at an event tagged, ‘11th hour homecoming reception for defectors from various political parties’, it was another shocker when a former Board of Trustees member of the APC, Dr Sam Jaja, was received into the PDP fold by Governor Nyesom Wike. Also received officially into the PDP was a former spokesman for the party in the state, Chris Finebone, whose defection many said was shocking as he was the biggest critic of the governor and his administration.
Two commissioners under Amaechi as governor, George Tolofari (transport) and Fred Igwe (sports), defected to the PDP. Other big names, who cross-carpeted to the ruling party in the state, were a former Chairman of the Khana Local Government Area, Gregory Nwidam, and a former Commissioner for Local Government Affairs, Samuel Eyiba, among hundreds of others.
Speaking at the rally, the state PDP Chairman and former Nigeria’s Ambassador to South Korea, Desmond Akawor, told Wike that it was a symbolic defection, saying there were about 5,000 defectors who could not all be brought on the stage.
“Your Excellency, what you are seeing today is just a symbolic defection because we can’t bring the thousands to this stage. We will keep receiving more defectors from the various local government areas through our local government chairmen,” Akawor said.
A school of opinion had it that if Amaechi had succeeded in becoming the presidential candidate, the story with the broom carriers would have been different. Recall that the APC also received into its fold some PDP members.
On August 23, 2022, the Director-General of the Wike Solidarity Movement, Prince Sudor Nwiyor, dumped the PDP for the APC.
Amaechi’s ally and former Director-General, Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Dr Dakuku Peterside, at a rally held in Opobo, headquarters of the Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area of the state, on Wednesday, August 31, 2022, said he received hundreds of PDP members who defected to the APC. Peterside, the governorship candidate of the party in 2015 said in a statement by his media office that the rally was organised by a non-governmental organisation, the Rivers Progressives Front.
Two former commissioners in the Wike administration, Dr Reason Onya (urban development) and Dr John Bazia, also defected from the PDP to the APC after they were sacked from the cabinet in 2021.
Reacting to the latest gale of defection to the PDP, the state APC spokesman, Darlington Nwauju, in a statement described the cross-carpeting as a rumour and state-sponsored. Nwauju boasted that the APC had received 300 PDP members from only two wards in the Ikwerre Local Government Area alone in what he termed “grass-rooted defection.”
He said, “Let’s even assume that some of those who participated in that amateur home video in the guise of defection actually revalidated their membership of our great party and are not part of those I would refer to as hermaphroditic APC members, we have no reason to lose sleep because just yesterday (Tuesday) in two wards alone of the Ikwerre LGA, we harvested over 300 active members of the PDP, including persons who were serving appointees of the PDP in the Ikwerre local government until yesterday.
“In 2023, it will be one man, one vote. What magic can most of the people I saw in the PDP list of defectors perform? Will they help the PDP to hack into the BVAS next year? So, I do not think we can compare a state-sponsored drama targeted at psychological warfare to an altruistic, opinionated and grass-rooted defection from a derailed ruling party to our great party, the APC in Rivers State.”
However, the rift between Senator Magnus Abe and Amaechi, without any doubt, is also weakening the strength of the APC in the state, with both political leaders refusing to bend though preaching peace and unity at several forums. The disagreement between them festered into a no love lost situation and in the end, Abe moved with his loyalists and supporters to the Social Democratic Party, where he now holds the governorship ticket to contest the 2023 election in the state.
Not a few have opined that money is a major factor in the recent tsunami that hit the APC in the state, with many of its members running under the umbrella of the PDP for succour, solace and sanctuary. Many photos, which emerged recently, showed that before their official unveiling, some of the APC chieftains were seen posing for photographs at the palatial private residence of the state governor, which suggested that some notes might have exchanged hands though none of the new PDP members admitted to receiving any financial inducement.
But some are of the view that having lost power in the last seven years, many of the defectors are running out of money and need their pockets to trend, hence they are tired of playing opposition any further, more so, when viewed against the backdrop that they are not certain of the capacity of the APC and its candidates to make the desired impact in next year’s election in the state.
Meanwhile, the APC leadership in the state has tried to play down the groundswell of defection from its fold, but the continued silence of the leader of the party in the state, Amaechi, is indeed loud and disturbing. Sources said the former minister was pained that the people he had invested in would turn their back on him.
As if to give vent to Amaechi’s silence, the governor, while reacting to a recent comment made by the ex-minister, said, “We have taken all your people. Nobody is in your party again. Why not manage and stay quiet because of your poor leadership.”
But the future, as it is said, is pregnant. The calibre of candidates eyeing the Brick House in Port Harcourt next year shows that none of them is a pushover. Wike’s man and the PDP governorship candidate, Siminialayi Fubara, will be slugging it out with Amaechi’s man and former co-Chairman of Sahara Energies, Tonye Cole. They also have the candidate of the Accord Party and billionaire, High Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, and former senator and erstwhile Secretary to the Rivers State Government, Senator Magnus Abe, to contend with.
There is also the Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress in the state, Mrs Beatrice Itubo, who clinched the Labour Party governorship ticket, among others. As the campaigns start later this month, more outings are expected in the various parties as they sell their candidates for all positions.
But like Abe said at a recent event in Port Harcourt that 2023 would be a watershed in Nigeria, while the general elections will be a political tsunami in Rivers State. He said, “I have said several times that the 2023 elections will be a watershed event in the political history of this country. In Rivers State, the 2023 elections will be a political tsunami because it will break every known bounds and barriers.”
Speaking on the issue of defection, a rights activist and Chancellor, International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, Dr Omenazu Jackson, said the reason was based solely on lack of ideology.
Jackson stated, “What I will say here is that it is unfortunate that in Nigeria, those who we can describe as members of the political class play politics without ideology. When you are into politics without ideology, it is easy for you to jump from one political party to another because you have nothing at stake.
“But if you have an ideology, you will remain in your party and build it no matter how rough the sea may be. So, I am not surprised because the political class has shown that it operates on zero ideological frameworks, which is why the Nigerian political system does not grow because of zero ideological attachment to the parties involved. So, it is high time Nigerians began to consider that when you get into a political party, it is very important that you study the party’s ideological framework and know whether it fits you.
“Today, you can see that most people I consider dry conservatives are in the APC. Some of the liberals are in the PDP. And that is why you see the fracas going on within the parties, because their ideologies do not flow. So, until they begin to play politics of ideology, these defections will continue.”
Jackson also pointed at the issues of hunger and lack of job opportunities, saying, “You can equally understand that there is hunger in the land. Most of the industries in the state have vanished. That is why the highest employers and the highest people that can release largesse are those in government.
“So, most people are going over there to get their share. It is not good for the polity at all and it demoralises even the political class. I can bet you that when Wike is no longer there, most people that are running to him today will abandon him. Most people today who are running to him were with Rotimi Amaechi. That is why I continue to insist that politics without morality is an amplified criminality.”
A lawyer, Mr Higher King, attributed the gale of defection by politicians in the state to lack of ideology, saying the practice of a two-party system and the provision for independent candidacy was the way to go.
King said, “The incessant defection that we are seeing from politicians has come to stay in Nigeria for now. But it is very wrong and bad. It will not make our polity develop because it shows that the politicians don’t have ideologies; they don’t have vision and have no focus.
“They are birds of a feather. Once they see their mates, they run this way and that way. For me, I think they are irresponsible and they are not serious people. They are all the same. They are people who want to feather their nest and line their pockets for personal aggrandisement. We don’t have politicians in Nigeria. What we have are jobbers, people looking for jobs. Every four years, they look for the next job. Another four years, it is the same thing.
“Nigeria has got worse; check the dollar, the economy or security; things are getting worse by the day. There is no power. The power sector now is the most corrupt sector in Nigeria and in the world. People who will give you darkness and collect money by force, even when the law says don’t disconnect customers’ light, and that they need an order of court to do so. They will climb the pole and disconnect your light with police assistance.
“They will take the cables, transformers and poles you bought with your money. It is a terrible country. Nothing is improving and no politician in Nigeria has improved anything. Any one that comes to power, by the time he is going, if he met the dollar at a particular amount, by the time they are leaving, it is higher and so on. The way it is going, the dollar may get to N1,000. It is very bad; we don’t have politicians and we don’t have statesmen. We don’t have people who have Nigeria at heart. We don’t have people who want to better this country.”
On what can be done to stem the tide of defection, King said the two-party system and independent candidacy were the ways to go.