An unending political disagreement between Governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Seriake D.ickson of Bayelsa State is degenerating into a controversy that may soon engulf the entire Niger Delta region, according to this report from Bisi Olaniyi, South-south Bureau Chief, and Mike Odiegwu in Yenagoa.
Rivers State was created on May 27, 1967 by the then Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, while Bayelsa, the only homogenous Ijaw state, was carved out of the old Rivers State on October 1, 1996, by the then Head of State, the late Gen. Sani Abacha. The Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike, and his Bayelsa State counterpart, Seriake D.ickson, belong to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). They are both lawyers and graduates of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), now Rivers State University (RSU), Port Harcourt.
Ahead of the 2019 elections, especially during PDP’s convention at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, to choose the party’s presidential candidate, D.ickson supported a former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who eventually emerged as the standard bearer of PDP, while Wike backed the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, who lost in the race. While the sorting of votes was ongoing and it became obvious that Atiku was leading, Wike, an Ikwerre, who hails from Rumueprikom-Port Harcourt in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State, quickly stormed out of the expansive stadium with his supporters, with D.ickson, an indigene of Toru-Orua in Sagbama LGA of Bayelsa State, beaming with smiles and openly congratulating the presidential candidate.
Wike was so embarrassed over the roles played by the outgoing governor of Bayelsa State, considering the fact that he installed the National Chairman of PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, who hails from Andoni LGA of Rivers State and he (Wike) ensured that the party’s convention took place in Port Harcourt, to favour Tambuwal. But Atiku and D.ickson proved to be a smarter politician, who decided to restrategise, without making noise, even when the Rivers governor threatened to rock PDP’s boat if the convention was not held in Port Harcourt in early 2019. Not a few observers of the politics of the two states, and in fact the south-south in general, have expressed concerns that the face-off between the two is unpleasant for the opposition PDP.
On December 11 this year, at the Government House, Port Harcourt, during a solidarity visit by some Kalabari stakeholders, Wike accused the Amanyanabo of Kalabari Kingdom, 90 year-old King Theophilus Princewill, a former professor at the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), of allowing external forces to use him to cause disunity, disaffection and divisiveness in the Niger Delta region. The statement no doubt was a direct reference to an earlier event with which the governor was grossly displeased. Last April, the Bayelsa governor decided to visit King Princewill, a former Chairman of Rivers Council of Traditional Rulers and also an Ijaw leader, in his palace at Buguma-Kalabari, the headquarters of Asari-Toru LGA of Rivers State.
Referring to the visit and the controversy it generated back then, Wike said: “I want to publicly lay a complaint on the action of Amanyanabo of Kalabari. The next time it happens, I will act as a governor. The Amanyanabo of Abonnema-Kalabari (the headquarters of Akuku-Toru LGA of Rivers State, King Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel) did not do it. He called me on the phone when the Governor of Bayelsa, D.ickson, tried to create problems in Rivers State.” Wike also stated that the outgoing Bayelsa governor visited Rivers, without getting in touch with the relevant authorities, under the guise of coming to see Ijaw people.
“He (D.ickson) said he was coming to see Ijaw people in Rivers State and he would be hosted by the Amanyanabo of Kalabari and the Amanyanabo of Abonnema. The Amanyanabo of Abonnema called me and said how could that be? The Bayelsa State governor did not call me. The Amanyanabo of Kalabari did not call me. What he (King Princewill) did was to roll out the drums to receive the Bayelsa State governor,” he complained. Wike informed the Kalabari delegation that should the first-class monarch (King Princewill) take such “illegal” action in future, he would face sanctions. He said: “That day, I would have removed him, but I held myself. What they would do is to go to radio and abuse me, but I am accustomed to insults. I am trying to complain to you. You can see how people are trying to divide a state. A fellow governor would come from somewhere to create division.”
Rivers governor also stated that his Bayelsa counterpart professed love for Ijaw people in Rivers State, but he was allegedly busy working to take the state’s oil resources in Soku and Kula in Rivers State. He said: “If any of such things happen again, I will take the necessary action (against the Amanyanabo of Kalabari). I will not listen to any further excuse. That is why I am saying this publicly. Tell him to respect constituted authority. It is not good for anyone to come and divide Rivers State, because the state is one. It is unfortunate what my colleague did. I hand him over to God and pray for God to do his will.” Wike also hailed the peace initiative of the Amanyanabo of Abonnema, while urging other traditional rulers to emulate him. He said: “Work towards peace among your people. You cannot live where there is no peace. It is impossible to have governance without peace. So, you need peace in your domains.”
Expectedly, the statements re-ignited a fresh controversy as the son of the Amanyanabo of Kalabari Kingdom, Prince Tonye Princewill, who is a former governorship candidate and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), immediately fired back, asking Wike to always speak like a governor. Prince Princewill said: “I am here by the Kalabari King’s hospital bed in Port Harcourt, where he has been for almost a week. So, you can see why my priority is not responding to Wike. The King will be 90 in a few days. So, if a small boy (Wike) speaks, his superiors do not always have to answer him, especially if he is the garrulous kind. I have heard what he (Wike) said (at Government House in Port Harcourt on Wednesday) and I saw the video where he was fidgety, unsteady and accompanied by the slurred speech. I watched it well. I suspect he was drunk. It appears that he does not understand that everything is not politics. We should pray for him (Wike) and put him in God’s hands. I will be doing it daily. Rudeness is a weak man’s imitation of strength.”
The APC chieftain also stated that the Rivers governor’s second tenure would eventually be over, adding that at the appropriate time, Wike would feel his response. A former Niger Delta militant, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, equally cautioned Rivers governor, while asking him to always avoid recklessness and lawlessness. Dokubo-Asari, an indigene of Buguma-Kalabari, the headquarters of Asari-Toru LGA of Rivers State, declared that the first-class monarch should not be disrespected or humiliated. The former warlord, who is an ex-president of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) Worldwide and leader of Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF), expressed disappointment over Wike’s abuse of the eminent monarch.
Dokubo-Asari said: “It is sad that Rivers State will have such an uncontrollable person as Wike as governor. He has taken every opportunity to insult the people of Rivers State. Former President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Dame Patience, imposed Wike on us, while standing by him against his Ikwerre brother, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi (a former Rivers governor and now the Minister for Transportation). A lot of people lost their lives in 2015 in making sure that Wike became the governor of Rivers State. Even during the 2019 elections, in Abonnema, Buguma and other parts of Kalabariland, people stood against what they perceived as an APC intrusion into Rivers State. What has Wike paid us back with? Seriake D.ickson is almost completing his eight years of two tenures and he is going, while Wike is in the first year of his second term, which I hope he will complete.
“For some time, I stopped commenting on Rivers State, but Wike, a former Chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government Council of Rivers State, keeps insulting the peace-loving people of the state. Wike is a lawyer, but he has never practised. God elevated him from the lowest of the low and made him what he is today. So, he should appreciate the mercies of God, but he is being carried away by the comments of sycophants. We will not allow Rivers governor to desecrate the exalted and hallowed throne of the Amanyanabo of Kalabari Kingdom. How could he have threatened to sack King T.J.T. Princewill? Wike must bear in mind that paramount chiefs are not warrant chiefs. I am surprised that some Kalabari people sat in Government House, Port Harcourt, and they watched their father (monarch) being abused. The visit of D.ickson cannot divide Rivers State.”
The ex-General also disclosed that Bayelsa governor was a member of the highest Kalabari society, making him to have every right to come to Kalabariland, whenever the members were going to display. He said: “Shocked that Wike had the temerity to abuse the Amanyanabo of Kalabari Kingdom, Prof. T.J.T. Princewill. I have some areas of disagreement with Prof. T.J.T. Princewill, but when it comes to the throne, it is a no-go area. With Wike’s ‘Ntooor’ (what can Rivers people do) statement (during penultimate Saturday’s grand reception for him by Ogbakor Ikwerre Cultural Organisation Worldwide at the playground of Captain Elechi Amadi Polytechnic, Rumuola, Port Harcourt), he is putting Ikwerre people (in four of Rivers State’s 23 LGAs of Port Harcourt City, Obio/Akpor, Ikwerre and Emohua) at harm’s way.
“Power is transient. In Kogi State, Igala people were ruling, today an Ebira man has come. Ikwerre persons will not rule Rivers State forever. For every Pharaoh, there is a Moses. For every Goliath, there is a David.” The former President of IYC also assured Rivers people that Wike’s nightmare would surely come to an end, while urging eminent Ikwerre persons: Sir Celestine Omehia, a former Rivers governor: Chief Austin Opara, ex-Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives; and Sir O.C.J Okocha, SAN, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), to call Rivers governor to order or they should distance themselves from him. The ex-“General” also lauded the founder of Belemaoil Producing Limited, Jackrich Tein Jnr., an indigene of Kula-Kalabari in Akuku-Toru LGA of Rivers State, for volunteering to construct 87-kilometre road from Kula-Kalabari to Port Harcourt, wondering why Wike built expensive roundabouts in the Rivers State capital, but is now destroying them to simultaneously build three flyovers.
Dokubo-Asari added that if Wike refused to apologise, he would soon realise that Rivers people could not be kicked around. The Conscience of Ogoni People (COOP), formerly known as Ken Saro-Wiwa Associates, also cautioned Rivers governor against his threat to sack the Amanyanabo of Kalabari Kingdom, which it described as disturbing, inciting, provocative and crisis-igniting. COOP, through its National Coordinator, Chief Gani Topba, stated that the Kalabari king did not deserve the embarrassment and humiliation. The group said: “As a foremost Ogoni and Niger Delta rights advocacy organisation, we find it unacceptable that Your Excellency (Wike) will deliberately set out on a mission to cause division among the various tribes in Rivers State through your ill-advised utterances against the Kalabari leaders when they paid you a solidarity visit at Government House, Port Harcourt, and the security agencies, in particular, the Nigerian Army.
“Quite unacceptable is your asking Kalabari-Ijaw people to call King T.J.T. Princewill, Amachree XI, to order for an alleged breach of protocol by accepting the visit of an illustrious Ijaw son (D.ickson) to his kingdom. By your utterances, you attempted to reduce the office of the Amanyanabo of Kalabari to the status of a mere warrant chief that can be recognised or derecognised at your whims and caprices, without recourse to the customs and traditions of the people, who made him king. You also lambasted the President/Founder of BelemaOil Producing Limited, Engr. Jack-Rich Tein Jr., for donating a multi-billion naira engineering faculty block, students’ hostel block and for providing potable drinking water to Nigerian Army University, Biu, Borno State. We are still in shock as to why Your Excellency is opposed to the donation made for the advancement of security in Nigeria, as part of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which will help in training officers who will secure lives and properties of Nigerians.”
COOP also stated that it found it most shocking that Rivers governor could incite Niger Deltans against Tein Jr., an indigene of Kula-Kalabari in Akuku-Toru LGA of the state, by claiming that Belema oil company executed a multi-billion naira project in the northern part of Nigeria, with nothing to show in Niger Delta, while the indigenous oil firm had actually empowered many Niger Deltans, developing the region and constructing 87-kilometre road from Kula to Port Harcourt. It said: “Your attack on the security apparatuses in Nigeria, in particular officers and men of the Nigerian Army, as well as other security agencies, has reached unacceptable proportion. It is disappointing that Your Excellency as the chief security officer of the state, who should better appreciate the enormous sacrifices the security agencies are making daily to maintain peace and security in the country, most times at huge costs to their lives, opted to insult them.
“We urge you to take a few moments and reflect on the role the men of 6 Division, Nigerian Army played, in collaboration with sister security agencies, to successfully dislodge the criminal elements that held Ogoniland and the entire Rivers State under siege for the greater part of 2019, which ensured that the sacked communities returned to their various homes. We are worried that your ceaseless attacks on these patriotic and gallant officers, if left unchecked, will dangerously lower their morale and commitment towards putting their lives on the line for the security of persons and properties not only in Rivers State, but also in Nigeria. Our fear is grounded in the fact that ordinary Rivers people who do not move with escorts will be put at grave risk should the security agencies react to the uncomplimentary remarks about their professionalism and sacrifices, especially when it is obvious that there are no human rights issues arising from the conduct of their operations.
“You (Wike) have shown unrestrained hatred and disrespect for both the person and office of President Muhammadu Buhari. We urge you to reflect on the sacrifices the president is making to restore peace to the Niger Delta region. Your Excellency should tender an unreserved apology to President Buhari, the Amanyanabo of Kalabari Kingdom, for the humiliation caused him and the entire Kalabari people for desecration of the revered stool of their ancient kingdom.” The Ogoni group also urged Rivers governor to listen to the voice of reason and retrace his steps for the good of the state, declaring that if he refused to heed the honest and friendly advice, it would initiate an international campaign against him and his administration. The governors of Rivers and Bayelsa states should sheathe their swords and give peace a chance in the hitherto volatile Niger Delta region, which is rich in crude oil and gas, but with the indigenes still complaining of neglect and marginalisation, thereby suffering in the midst of plenty.