Should one believe Rotimi Amaechi when he says that he is leaving the matter of who succeeds him as governor of Rivers State to Providence? His mind is probably not yet made up about who he can trust to stay loyal to him after being installed as the new governor, come 2015. This is the weightiest consideration for outgoing governors as they embark on the perilous terrain of godfatherism.
For now, Governor Rotimi Amaechi is having too much of a good time to want to be thinking of an exit strategy. Of course he knows that he will have to make those sober reflections in the fulness of time.
Amaechi’s got his hands full; as governor of Rivers State, as chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and as a major player on the road to 2015. Unless he can become at least the vice-president of the federal republic, the years after May 29, 2015 will be a huge come down like a withdrawal from mind altering drugs.
Even before his second term took off; certain influential characters in his first term administration were already being tipped as his likely successors. These included the secretary to the state government in the Amaechi first term administration who has since become the senator for Rivers South-East Senator Magnus Ngei Abe and Hon. Dakuku Peterside member of the House of Representatives representing Andoni-Opobo-Nkoro Federal Constituency who was the commissioner for works in Amaechi’s first term administration, presiding over a ministry budget in the region of N250 billion in three years. Due to the pervasive tendency for godfatherism in the politics of the Niger Delta and indeed the rest of the country, the Amaechi administration found itself cracking up into two major camps loyal to Abe and Dakuku respectively before Amaechi intervened, endorsing both men for Senate and the House of Representatives respectively. Amaechi has an uncanny ability for moments of clarity of thought even while leading the rush of those on a bender of sorts.
His decision to send his two most influential and ambitious aides to Abuja could be seen from two perspectives. He needed reliable hands in Abuja to consolidate his influence for whatever future plans he was nursing. More immediately, he did not want his second term hijacked by the ambitions of his empowered lieutenants. He only knew too well what the rivalry of gubernatorial aspirants including himself had done to the camp of Governor Peter Odili in the final months of his governorship. The redeployment of Senator Abe and Hon. Peterside to Abuja momentarily relegated their gubernatorial plots to the background but the camps and divisions were already deeply entrenched in the Amaechi administration.
Governor Amaechi has since deployed quite a few changes in the dynamics of his second term administration which could suggest the lessening influence of Abe and Peterside. For one, neither Abe nor Peterside can currently take any credit for the appointment of any member of the current Rivers State Executive Council. Abe could not get Amaechi to accept his nominee to succeed him as SSG. Nor could Peterside do the same at the state Ministry of Works. This would certainly imply a determination by Governor Amaechi not to be outmaneuvered even before he firms up his exit strategy. It is claimed that the current SSG , an Ogoni operates independently of his predecessor Abe who is also Ogoni and has never hidden his desire to be the political leader of the Ogonis. Indeed, it is alleged that Senator Abe is estranged from quite a few important Ogoni politicians, some of whom were once his acolytes. Still, as the most influential Ogoni politician in the Amaechi camp, Abe enjoys the loyalty of many Ogoni politicians in the PDP even as others allege that he has used his influence in the Amaechi administration to block their advance, accusing him of nepotism in the discharge of influence and largesse in Ogoniland.
Abe’s problems are not only in Ogoniland. He has very little following beyond the four local governments of Ogoniland partly because he has never gone out of his way to cultivate those relationships. His posture has been perceived by non-Ogonis as decidedly tribalistic even as a lot of the Ogoni mainstream do not quite stand with him. Indeed, it took the personal intervention of Governor Amaechi in the last senatorial election to guarantee victory for Abe.
Abe’s allegedly tribalistic antecedents contradict his desire to rule Rivers State. How does he plan to win the support of the other peoples of Rivers State who basically accuse him of not ‘carrying them along’. According to a recent cover story carried by the Notable Outcome, a Rivers State tabloid, ‘… while others talk of charity that begins at home, Senator Abe’s charity according to reports is yet to be seen either at home or abroad, and Rivers people are expecting a better deal from their next governor, not one that will come and tell them stories.’
The Notable Outcome also suggested that Amaechi would probably endorse one of his proteges and not his peer to succeed him. This would mean that Magnus Abe, a friend of the governor who is probably older or about the same age as Amaechi would not ultimately appeal to the governor as the right choice for a successor. The newspaper then repeats well known allegations that Senator Abe was not consistent in his support for Amaechi while he was fighting for his mandate in court, claiming that Abe had smartly worked his way back after Amaechi’s court victory and that this, in view of Amaechi’s fear of betrayal poste 2015, might scupper Abe’s ploy to be endorsed by the outgoing governor.
Dakuku Peterside was said to have fallen afoul of the governor during the botched attempt to secure for Honorable Andrew Uchendu, the position of deputy leader in the House. The position was won by Hon Leo Ogor of Delta State allegedly nominated by Hon. Peterside against the expressed wishes of his mentor Governor Amaechi. It is alleged that Dakuku Peterside was subsequently subjected to a tongue-lashing reception at Government House, Port Harcourt after Andrew Uchendu had given Governor Amaechi a run-down of the bushwhacking he had endured at the hands of Peterside. How deeply Dakuku Peterside’s gubernatorial ambition would be affected by that incident, only time would tell but Peterside had used his influence in the Amaechi first term to garner government appointments for many of his stalwarts.
It is also believed that Peterside has an ally in the person of the governor’s wife Judith Amaechi, a fellow alumni. It is even claimed that it was Dakuku Paterside who first introduced Rotimi Amaechi to his future wife. Dakuku Peterside has probably enjoyed the longest association with Rotimi Amaechi, among the governorship hopefuls even living together with Rotimi Amaechi in Borikiri, Port Harcourt in the leaner days before Dr. Peter Odili’s political star rose and he brought Amaechi out of obscurity. Dakuku Peterside has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Amaechi’s governorship, projecting him from an encumbered special assistant on student affairs in the Odili administration to the most powerful commissioner in his first term administration during which the ministry of works received over two hundred billion naira in over three years and claimed to have built about a thousand kilometers of road. The momentous decline of many of those roads and the continuing failure of drainage in the state is an albatross around the neck of not only the governor but also the neck of Dakuku Peterside.
The recent Andoni-Opobo-Nkoro forum which Peterside organized in Port Harcourt was as expensive as it was revealing. The governor stayed away, though he was in town. His wife was in attendance and the governor was represented by the deputy governor who seized the opportunity to ask the crowd if they would not want the next governor to be from his LGA Andoni . Of course he also asked if the crowd would not want the next governor to be from Peterside’s LGA Opobo. He was among other things serving notice of his own ambitions as clearly as the convener of the forum was assiduously working towards his own. Magnus Abe, the senator representing the area did not honor the invitation but he sent a member of the House of Representatives representing Khana-Gokana to represent him perhaps to observe the principle that water must find its level.
Tele Ikuru is by his position a natural choice to succeed Governor Amaechi. Deputies look forward to such days but no deputy governor has survived his boss in Rivers history. Peter Odili was the only deputy governor of Rivers State who became a governor and that was almost seven years after the ousting of his former boss Rufus Ada George. Can Telenyem Ikuru break that jinx ? The path he walked as deputy to both Celestine Omehia and Rotimi Amaechi could be a problem despite the seamless partnership he has had with Governor Amaechi over the past four years. His blood relationship with Uche Secondus, the former PDP National Organizing Secretary which had largely been responsible for his meteoric rise in Rivers politics can no longer produce the same heartwarming result since Amaechi successfully sponsored Dr. Sam-Sam Jaja at the last PDP convention to block Secondus from ascending to the deputy national chairmanship of the PDP. Had Secondus been successful, it would no doubt have strengthened his hand in negotiating a higher office for his nephew. Amaechi seems to have acted in time to avert that possibility proving yet again that he has his eyes on the succession ball. With Secondus sidelined and Ikuru having shown a total lack of interest, over the years, in building up a political followership through empowering people, his political fortunes lie in the hands of his boss but for a force majeure.
Tonye Princewill is a colorful and interesting Amaechi ally who is not well grounded in the PDP. He made a name for himself as the young man who snatched control of the Action Congress from the legendary Sargent Awuse. There are those who say that even then he was running things for Rotimi Amaechi. Princewill used his position then as the AC guber candidate to entrench himself amongst Amaechi’s most favored allies even becoming the minority partner in the dubiously named coalition government of the Amaechi administration. This put him in a position to nominate the commissioner for Urban Development. Tonye Princewill’s political postures have been largely dictated by the desire to stay relevant in the Amaechi administration.
Amaechi had no further need of a coalition with the Action Congress as his re-election campaign neared. Tonye Princewil read the signs accurately, bailed out of the AC, formed Princewill Political Associates and took his place at the front of the second term bandwagon. Princewill is a resourceful politician and the privileged first son of the Amayanabo of Kalabari. He has two political masters; Rotimi Amaechi and Atiku Abubakar but he has not belonged to the mainstream of the PDP, nor worked his way up the party heirachy. He is not really regarded as a leader of the PDP in his Kalabari area. Indeed without his connections to the governor, he would probably not make a sizeable dent in his home constituency though his self serving presence on bill boards at strategic locations are hard to ignore.
It was assumed that George Sekibo would not be a second term senator after Amaechi became governor because he did not support Amaechi’s court battle to regain his mandate. Amaechi’s powerful first term chief of staff Nyesom Wike was interested in the position and it seemed a foregone conclusion that George Sekibo would have to pack up from Abuja and return to his hometown in OguBolo LGA. It would seem that those calculations did not consider the influence of the most powerful person from that senatorial zone Dame Patience Jonathan who had already proved that it would not be business as usual by snatching away the microphone from the governor of the state for daring to threaten her kinsmen and women with demolition, right in her presence. It is believed that the governor’s dizzying switch to endorse George Sekibo for a second term was influenced by Dame Jonathan’s wishes and his own political calculations to hold the senatorial seat as a contingency for 2015.
Sekibo’s surprise victory over Wike has since marked him out as a politician from the Okrika kingdom who enjoys the support of their foremost daughter, the formidable Dame Patience Ibifaka Jonathan. Speculations about his gubernatorial ambitions are therefore nothing to be brushed away. Senator Sekibo is a rugged fighter as shown in the days when he locked horns with the All Peoples Party local government council administration in OguBolo. It is also almost inconceivable now that the first family will not be interested in who becomes the next governor of Rivers State. George Sekibo could be a major governorship aspirant if indeed the first lady has any interest in furthering the ambitions of her kinsman. George Sekibo is believed to be tightfisted.
Speculations have persisted in Port Harcourt that the president might be interested in seeing his former minister become the next governor of Rivers State. This could make Odein Ajumogobia the first Kalabari governor of Rivers State. Despite the front line role that Kalabaris have played in the development of Rivers State, they are yet to produce a governor of Rivers State.
Henry Odein Ajumogobia belongs amongst the finest and highest achieving professionals from Rivers State. A senior advocate of Nigeria, his days as attorney-general of Rivers State from 2003 to 2007 were dignified by his brilliant legal mind, generous nature and gentlemanly conduct. As a minister for petroleum resources in the ill-fated Yaradua administration, he was media friendly, efficient and visionary. As a minister for foreign affairs after Jonathan succeeded Yaradua, Ajumogobia proved to be six feet of all that is required in a nation’s foreign policy czar. Ajumogobia is a friend but not a follower of the current governor and is unlikely to feature in Amaechi’s exit strategy. It remains to be seen whether talk of his governorship aspiration is a red herring.
There is the possibility that Amaechi might end up endorsing someone outside this list, perhaps from his current executive council or a close friend such as Tonye Cole, the son of Ambassador Dele Cole. There are also those who think that Amaechi might not be in a position to pick his successor as the politics of 2015 builds up and the state comes under the closer scrutiny of a president who may have been made uncomfortable by the schemes of the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum.