Despite accusations and denials, there is enough circumstantial evidence that the feud between President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Rotimi Amaechi is not unconnected to the 2015 presidential election
Last Tuesday, a statement signed by Reuben Abati, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan, reiterated the President’s claim that he is still undecided whether or not to seek re-election in 2015. But it seems that the more he denies it, the less Nigerians believe the claim. The pre-occupation of the President, his aides and loyalists with schemes designed to seize control of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, hardly lends credence to such claims. Just as Abati’s statement was making the round of media houses last week, one of such schemes unfolded at the PDP National Secretariat in Abuja, where the President’s loyalists gathered to complete what they regarded as an important milestone in ensuring that there is little or no opposition, at least within the party, to Jonathan’s second term ambition.
About 24 hours earlier, an Abuja High Court, presided over by Justice Ishaq Bello had literarily knocked Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, regarded by some loyalists of Jonathan as a potential rival in the contest for 2015 presidential ticket, off his perch. The court had sacked Amaechi’s men from the state executive committee of the party, led by Chief Godspower Ake.
A group, led by Felix Obuah and Walter Ibibia Opuene, had gone to court to ask for the removal of the Ake-led committee.
In the judgment, which caught many by surprise, Justice Bello had declared the parallel executive committee of the party, led by Obuah and loyal to Nyesom Wike, Minister of State for Education, as the validly elected one in the state. The judgment is also alleged to include a perpetual injunction barring the Ake-led committee from challenging the ruling.
Wike, a former chief of staff to Amaechi, is reportedly nursing the ambition to rule the state in 2015. Not sure of Amaechi’s support, the minister shifted his loyalty to President Jonathan, whom he assumes is a stronger prop for his ambition. Apart from his duel with Amaechi over the control of party structure, Wike, of recent, has become the rallying point of elements within the party who believe that Amaechi, who is also the Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, needs to be cut to size. These include Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, PDP National Chairman, and some members of his National Working Committee, NWC.
It was, therefore, not a surprise to many that the Tukur-led NWC, which itself is beholden to the President, wasted no time in arranging for the inauguration of Obuah and other members of his executive committee a day after the judgment.
Onwe Solomon Onwe, PDP acting National Secretary, said the party had been served the court order and the inauguration of Obuah was in line with the judgment he said was “declaratory”. Prominent at the swearing-in ceremony, carried out by Victor Kwom, the party’s National Legal Adviser, were Wike and members of NWC, led to the occasion by Tukur.
“It is a court matter and I have nothing to do with it. If people feel cheated, they should go to court and if the court decides, I have nothing to do with it. What they decide, we take over from there,” Tukur said when he was asked if the hurried inauguration of a court-imposed state executive committee was not a negation of efforts to reconcile aggrieved party members he had been championing since he came into office.
However, at a press conference also held in Abuja just as the swearing in ceremony was going on, members of Rivers State National Assembly caucus, picked several holes in the judgment, even as they vowed to challenge it in a higher court. Just stopping short of accusing Justice Bello of being induced to give the judgment, the National Assembly members, led by Honourable Asita said the ruling by the judge “leaves much to be imagined and casts doubts in our minds over the talk about reforms in the judiciary now ably championed by the respected Chief Justice of Nigeria and the National Judicial Council”. The lawmakers said Justice Bello should not have delved into the case, which they said was based on intra-party matters.
While faulting the judgment, the lawmakers said the “ruling by Justice Bello was in spite of the avowals of the National Secretariat of the party as to who, by all the records available to it, were the duly elected state executive committee members of the party in Rivers State and who they had inaugurated and accredited as bona fide delegates to the national convention of the party and dealt with on all party matters”. The lawmakers also raised eyebrows over the fact that the judge refused to take into consideration a report from Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, which monitored the elections as prescribed by the Electoral Act and was present when the Ake-led executive was declared winner at the 17 March 2012 state congress in Port Harcourt. The fact that a high court of Federal Capital Territory chose to assume jurisdiction on a matter involving a federal government agency, INEC, was also of concern to the National Assembly members. They also expressed their surprise that Justice Bello heard and determined the case by originating summons without calling for oral evidence to test the veracity of the witnesses.
In its own reaction, Rivers State government, through Ibim Semenitari, Commissioner for Information and Communication, described the judgment as a miscarriage of justice which will not be allowed to stand: “How can the court give leadership of the party to someone who did not even purchase a form for the position?” The commissioner queried, while affirming that over 2,000 delegates elected the Ake- led executive committee. “Clearly, there is oppression going on. As a member of PDP in the state who voted at the congress, I am very upset that anybody will say that my voice will not count. I think that if I feel this way, every other PDP member in the state will feel the same way because we cannot imagine that somebody will come and foist on us a man who neither took a form nor was present at the election”, she added.
However, while the commissioner said she disagreed with insinuations that the Presidency might have influenced the judgment, Rivers State National Assembly members did not hold back in blaming the ruling on “Oga and Madam at the top,” a euphemism for the President and his wife, Patience. The inclusion of the wife of the President, this magazine learnt, is based on the belief in Amaechi’s camp that Wike’s gubernatorial ambition and consequent bid to capture the structure of PDP enjoys a very strong backing of Mrs Jonathan, who is also from Rivers State. Mrs. Jonathan has her own axe to grind with Amaechi.
Many Nigerians will easily trace the beginning of deterioration between Amaechi and the Presidency back to the August 2010 two-day visit to Rivers State by Mrs. Jonathan. The visit ended on a very sour note at Okrika, her hometown, when Amaechi informed her of the intention of the state government to demolish some shanties in the waterside area of the town to create space for building of schools. Mrs. Jonathan grabbed the microphone from the governor, who was still speaking, and yelled: “Listen, you must listen to me”, to the embarrassment of Amaechi, but to the admiration of her kinsmen, who cheered her lustily. Mrs. Jonathan went on to lecture the governor on why he must not insist on carrying out demolition, arguing that land is very scarce in the area.
“I want you to get me clear. I am from here. I know the problems of my people. So I know what I am talking,” said Mrs. Jonathan. “But what I am telling you is that you always say you must demolish. That word ‘must’ you use is not good. It is by pleading. You appeal to the owners of the compound because they will not go into exile”, she said.
Amaechi responded by boycotting all other scheduled events, while the President’s wife also hurriedly returned to Abuja.
It was gathered that Mrs. Jonathan believed that the heavy media criticism she received over the incident was instigated by Amaechi. This magazine gathered that Mrs. Jonathan has continued to hold on to the incident.
It was learnt that it was the fear that the process might be manipulated against him by the Presidency that prompted Amaechi to opt out of the tenure elongation suit by some state governors just before the 2011 general elections. Though he assumed office in October 2007 and could have claimed that he had about five months to the end of his tenure at the time of the general elections, just like a couple of governors, including Timipre Slyva of Bayelsa State, successfully did to his regret. That was after obtaining the party’s ticket for a second term.
But it is Amaechi’s leadership of the Nigeria Governors Forum that has been the key source of the friction between him and the President’s supporters. They allege that Amaechi has not only failed to use his position to rally support for the various policies of the President among his colleagues, but has also been showing a lot of disrespect to Jonathan. An example of such disrespect, Jonathan’s aides argued, was the accusation by the governor that the President influenced the ceding of oil wells located in Soku, a boundary community between Rivers and Bayelsa State, to his home state by the National Boundary Commission, even when the issue was in court.
Amaechi had also accused the Presidency of influencing the payment of accumulated 13 per cent derivation fund, which was supposed to be kept in a special account until the legal resolution of controversies surrounding the ownership of the oil wells, to Bayelsa State. The Presidency was forced to issue a statement, absolving Jonathan of any involvement or partiality in the issue.
Amaechi was not convinced. “I have said it; they don’t like Rivers State. If they like Rivers State, they should show us evidence that they like Rivers State. Everything that comes to Rivers State they have taken away. I have said it to the President,” Amaechi said while making a veiled reference to the issue at a forum in the United States earlier this year.
As NGF Chairman, supporters of the President also argued, Amaechi has become a fulcrum of opposition to key policies and initiatives of the Federal Government. Examples given include the governor’s role as the anchor for the court action against the maintenance of Excess Crude Account, initial opposition to the establishment of Sovereign Wealth Fund and the call for greater transparency in payments for fuel subsidy.
The allegation against the governor is that his utterances, criticisms of Federal Government and the various causes he had taken up as NGF Chairman are intended to portray the President as an inept leader. This, they added, is to instigate governors against the President and with the ultimate intention of damaging his chance of contesting in the 2015 election.
This thinking among presidential aides was evident in the public spat between Amaechi and Elder Godsday Orubebe, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, over the state of East-West Road. Amaechi had criticised lack of progress on the road, which is being reconstructed by the Niger Delta Ministry during his visit to the scene of an accident that claimed many lives. While accusing the Ministry of incompetence, Amaechi told journalists that state governments in the region were ready to take over the reconstruction of the road.
Orubebe’s response was similarly infernal. “It is unfortunate that people from the South-South, even governors, particularly Governor Rotimi Amaechi, have no respect for the President of this country. I think this is the right time we should let him know and I have decided to speak because this is the time to speak”, Orubebe said. “Today, he sees himself as the governor of governors and he begins to feel that he is even bigger than the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But I want to let him know that God is still God. He must have respect for the Presidency. He must have respect for the President of this country.” The minister added that Amaechi should “use the resources of Rivers State to develop Rivers State and not to bribe Nigerians”, an allegation which this magazine gathered was a reference to the belief in the President’s camp that Amaechi has been spending money to get support of Nigerians for his ambition to contest against Jonathan in 2015.
Amaechi himself has repeatedly denied that he is nursing a presidential ambition, though on some occasions, he was also quick to add that he has all the constitutional requirements to contest for the position. There have been several media reports claiming that the governor is nursing the ambition of being a running-mate to Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State in the 2015 presidential election. The reports, always attributed to ‘sources’, usually indicate that the candidacy of Lamido and Amaechi has the support of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
There have been reports of appearance of posters and vehicles bearing the faces of Amaechi and Lamido in different parts of the country. Both governors have always denied being behind the circulation of the posters. Supporters of the President have also said the Rivers State governor is fuelling the ongoing crisis within the ruling PDP, with a view to hijacking the structure of the party in furtherance of his presidential ambition. According to them, Amaechi successfully planted the seed of the plot by galvanising other governors to insist on the election of his loyalists into two key offices of the NWC during the March 2012 convention of the party. The two are Dr. Sam Jaja, who was elected as the Deputy National Chairman, and former Osun State governor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who emerged as Secretary.
They particularly cited the way both men took advantage of the absence of Tukur to lead a faction of NWC to set aside the dissolution of Adamawa State executive committee of the party earlier carried out by the National Chairman some months ago. The governors, in a communiqué read by Amaechi, had given their blessings to the action of Jaja, even as they called for a meeting of the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the party. The President’s supporters have also linked Amaechi’s regular call for the convening of NEC, where decisions such as the sack of the party’s NWC, can be taken as part of his schemes to take over the party. The belief is that the governor is planning to rally his colleagues against Tukur, a Jonathan loyalist, at the planned NEC meeting.
This thinking was reflected in a letter to Amaechi last January by Chief Edwin Clark, widely viewed as the President’s ‘godfather’. Clark had alleged in the letter that members of the NGF “now behave like an opposition party to the Federal Government”. He also accused members of NGF of breaching the nation’s constitution with impunity. “I wish to dwell on some of the offending activities of the Governors Forum, which are driving the country to madness but, which, as members, you do not care about, provided you achieve your purpose and the Forum’s overbearing influence on the Peoples Democratic Party, the supremacy of which you have hijacked,” wrote Clark. Jaja, Oyinlola and other NWC members are believed to have been sacked from NWC as part of the schemes to remove the alleged grip of Amaechi on the party.
In the same vein, the Presidency has also tried to reduce the influence of the NGF and remove Amaechi as the head of the body, with the creation of PDP Governors Forum last February. The emergence of the forum was announced by Tukur during what many regarded as a routine meeting of stakeholders held at the Presidential Villa on the eve of the meeting of NGF in Abuja: “Let me present to you the newly elected Chairman of PDP Governors Forum, Governor Godswill Akpabio,” Tukur said. “The new Forum will not lead to a crack in the larger forum. We will work together to promote our interests,” said Akpabio.
In an interview, he denied that the PDP Governors’ Forum was designed to rally governors against Amaechi in the NGF election slated for the next day. It was gathered that Akpabio tried unsuccessfully to rally enough governors under the new forum to vote out Amaechi and install Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State as Chairman of the NGF at the meeting held next day.
Despite this initial failure, the PDP National Chairman was ecstatic when Akpabio visited him in his office the next day. The octogenarian party chairman told his visitors that with the emergence of PDP-GF, the anxiety he and President Jonathan were having as a result of activities of NGF will now become a thing of the past. “Now, I can see very well because I know the leadership of PDP Governors’ Forum are for us”, said Tukur. “I can tell President Goodluck Jonathan if he was sleeping few hours in the night because he does not know how the party is going, he can now go and have a siesta,” he added.
But contrary to that assertion, the Presidency has continued to fret over Amaechi. He was recently accused of planning to dump the PDP in order to realise his ambition. Another speculation is that the governor has distributed N2 billion each to governors in the South-East to get their support for his presidential ambition. Also, a national newspaper reported that the two helicopters bought by Rivers State government are to be used for the governor’s presidential campaign. The two helicopters have not been allowed to come into the country.
Amaechi has consistently denied the accusations. He personally denied that he is planning to dump PDP during a visit to Jonathan two weeks ago: “I am still in the PDP. I am a member of the PDP. PDP is the only national party in the country for now. Why will one want to leave a national party and go to another party?” He asked. The governor also said the Federal Government is aware that the helicopters bought by the state will be used for security: “The truth is that the Federal Government is aware. They gave us approval to buy an helicopter to fly around Rivers State for the purpose of security and we have done that. We bought and we paid. Up till now, they have not allowed the helicopter to come in. May be, they are afraid that it is for 2015.” The Rivers State Commissioner of Information further explained that the helicopters, with total cost of $29 million, were partly paid for by the Office of National Security Adviser, while the Federal Government granted duty waiver.
The Office of the National Security Adviser, last Thursday, summoned the commissioner to Abuja over what it described as release of classified information on the helicopters to the public.
At a recent event in Ekiti State, Governor Amaechi said the move to remove him by the Presidency was as a result of his stand on petrol subsidy payments and other issues. He also noted that President Jonathan no longer sees face to face with him as a result of his stand on the matter.
“Governors are not opposed to fuel subsidy, governors are just frustrated about the corruption in it. They balloon the figures. It is one reason they don’t want me as governors’ chairman,” he claimed.
He also alleged that the President has blacklisted him from some official functions of the Presidency over the issue. He added that some party chiefs have advised him to stop speaking on the actions and failings of the President as a way of ending the presumed witch-hunt against him, a suggestion he said he rejected.
Ahmed Gulak, Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, however, dismissed the claim while affirming that the governor’s actions are motivated by his personal agenda. Gulak said Amaechi is free to pursue any agenda he may have rather than throwing hurling frivolous allegations at the President.
This magazine gathered that the plot to remove Amaechi will continue at the next meeting of NGF scheduled for next month. Already, Akpabio has indicated that the Rivers State Governor may have overstayed in the office as the constitution of the forum allows only one tenure for the chairman: “What happened was that Amaechi attempted to reinstall himself for a second term and members resisted because the agreement was for only one tenure. Then, a constitution was suddenly produced, which members disputed as there was a provision stipulating one tenure for elected officials to give all sections of the country equal opportunity. Also, we were not having meetings which tended to suggest that the forum was interested in wresting power from the people in the Villa (Presidency).”
But Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State said Amaechi is eligible for a second term and will be re-elected by his colleagues in spite of the controversies. But the task of taking over the Rivers State PDP chapter may still take some time. This magazine gathered that members of the Obuah-led executive committee were still in Abuja as at the time of filing this report. It was gathered that the executive committees in all the local councils in the state have indicated that they will not recognise the Obuah-led executive committee. Some loyalists of the Presidency are also exploiting the feasibility of initiating impeachment proceedings against Amaechi, using the loyalists of Wike within the Rivers State House of Assembly as anchor. While the possibility of pulling the impeachment proceedings off may seem remote for now, many believe that the fight between the President and Amaechi may not end very soon.