Rivers State governors and their ill-fated presidential aspirations
OpenLife Nigeria, in this opinion piece, examines the trend of the ill fated presidential ambitions of the three governors that have governed Riveres State since the rebirth of democratic practice in 1999
To allay the fears of marginalization, promote development and support the proper identification of the Riverine People as a distinct group in the former Eastern Region of Nigeria, Chief P.G Warmate, Chief Dappa Biriye, Chief Melford Okilo, His Royal Majesty, Francis Alagoa Mingi X of Nembe, Chief Godfrey Kio Jaja Amachree, Reverend E.T Dimiari, Chief Emanuel Aguma, Chief Thom Manuel, Chief Napoleon Graham Douglas and others embarked on a frenetic agitations for the creation of Rivers State.
This, among other reasons, led General Yakubu Gowon, ret’d, then Military Head of State, to announce the creation of twelve States in Nigeria including Rivers State on May 27, 1967 with Port Harcourt as the State capital.
Lieutenant Commodore Alfred Papapreye Diete Spiff, now the Amayanabo of Twon Brass, from Nembe, was appointed by the Federal Military Government as the First Military Governor of Rivers State.
It was however, not immediately possible for Spiff, to move to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State Capital due to the ravages of war in the Eastern Region. It was therefore a Government in exile run from No. 24 Queens Drive, Ikoyi, Lagos, the then Federal Capital of Nigeria.
So, prominent Rivers indigenes like Chief GKJ Amachree, (Kalabari), from Buguma contributed most of the resources needed, including his office, to co-ordinate the Rivers State Military Governor’s Office in Ikoyi, Lagos and Port Harcourt the State Capital.
While the Military Governor’s office was still in Lagos, Chief Dr. Melford Graham-Douglas (Kalabari), from Abonnema, was made the first Administrator by the Government. Mr. Ken Sarowiwa, (Ogoni) from Khana was appointed the Administrator for Bonny, and Captain Elechi Amadi an Ikwerre from Alu, was also appointed the Administrator for Port Harcourt, until September 1, 1968, when the Military Governor took up office in Port Harcourt, Capital of the Rivers State.
During OpenLife conversation with King Diete Spiff in Akwa Ibom State some years ago, he enthused, in elated spirit that he “Became a governor at the age of 24.”
Rivers State, often described as the Venice of Nigeria as well as the Garden City, is surrounded by rivers and seas, rich in human, mineral and natural resources, with people consisting of Ikwerre, Kalabari, Ibani, Nembe, Yenagoa, Okrika, Ahoada, Ogoni, Opobo, Nkuro and Bile.
Before the creation, the Chiefs in the Riverine Area were very civilized and powerful because of their early trade contacts with the Portuguese and other Europeans that first came to the area now called Nigeria in the 17th to 18th century.
Due to the lucrative trade with these Riverine Chiefs, the British Government in 1884 declared sovereignty over the Riverine Areas by establishing it as the Oil Rivers Protectorate which was confirmed in the Berlin Conference in 1885.
The Oil Rivers Protectorate was administered by the British Foreign Office.
Since then, it has been the goose that produces the golden egg, accounting for over 60 percent of Nigeria’s income.
Somehow, the wealth enjoyed by the whole country has sparked up agitations severally given that the people allege that it is yet to be beneficially applied to them in the State.
To assuage this agitations, military and civilian governments, in the past, have created intervention agencies as a demonstration of commitment to the development of Niger Delta including Rivers State.
For instance, in 1993, General Ibrahim Babangida, ret’d, established Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission, OMPADEC.
In like manner, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC was created by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in year 2000. Development of Rivers and other Niger Delta States has been the sole aim of these intervention agencies.
But in the estimation of analysts and indigent stakeholders, the zone is poor and Rivers State of their dream is yet to be achieved.
To them, developing Rivers State into the tourism paradise of Africa like the Maldives, Seychelles and Bali with Port Harcourt as its Gateway is their ultimate desires.
Perhaps, to achieve the goals and aspirations of the founding fathers, the agitations for a better and more developed Rivers has translated into presidential quests.
It began with governor Peter Odili who governed the State between 1999 and 2007.
A medical doctor by profession, Odili declared his aspiration just after his 2003 re election by forming South South Peoples Assembly, SSPP, an advocacy vehicle for the agitation of President of South South extraction in the 2007 elections. The Movement was heavily backed up by High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, using the instrumentality of DAAR Communications, operators of RayPower FM and African Independent Television, AIT.
Immediately he declared his intention to run for the 2007 presidency on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party, Odili commenced a whistle-stop campaign across the 36 states of Nigeria to hold consultations with party leaders and delegates.
He became very close to President Obasanjo, supporting federal government’s critical needs with huge sums of money–all to win the hearts of the controllers of powers at that time.
Few months to the election, Odili stepped up finishing touches to the preparations for the primary, building alliances among the delegates even as spin doctors propped up candidates’ profile while analysts and strategists were busy conjuring up names and wondering if the next president would come from the North, South-east or South-south geo-political zones of the country.
But in the face of all these, Peter Odili remained unshaken in his conviction.
However, the powers that be favoured Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a northern candidate and then governor of Katsina State.
He lost the primary but was not fazed. He looked up and moved from being a frontrunner to a sure bet as Yar’Adua’s running mate, but eventually emerged with nothing at the end of the day.
He later explained how he was nominated as Yar’Adua’s running mate only to be dropped dramatically at the Convention venue in Abuja through a complex power game between then President Obasanjo and former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman Nuhu Ribadu.
Odili’s revelations are contained in his biography titled “Conscience and History: My Story.”
In the book, Odili narrated how Ribadu was deployed against him on what he considered spurious grounds, first to pave way for the emergence of Yar’Adua as PDP presidential candidate, and subsequently to knock him off the ticket as running mate after which Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was drafted in.
Odili said in the book:
“On 12th December, a spurious and anonymous petition was posted on the internet from a questionable ‘source’ alleging CORRUPT practices against the Rivers State Government under me. These allegations were contrived into a petition by the EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu’s hand, to President Obasanjo the same day.
“On the 13th of December 2006, Mr. President directed EFCC to investigate. On the 14th day of December, 2006, EFCC submitted a so-called ‘interim’ report to the then president who promptly minuted for my response on the same 14th December, 2006, but forwarded to me on 15/12/06, a day to the convention vide ref. PRES/44. I assembled what was left of my cabinet team, a few having been arrested and kept at the EFCC office in Lagos within these few days of urgent dramatic action.
“We submitted our response on the 15th day of December, 2006 by which time it had become clear what the whole exercise was about— ‘get Odili out of the race for the presidency at all cost’.”
“This became lucidly clear with the instant release of my staff who were being detained in Lagos by the EFCC as soon as I voluntarily and wisely withdrew from the contest. There was jubilation at the EFCC office immediately news of my withdrawal broke and all my staff were asked to go home immediately. This was on the 15th of December.
“Then came the ‘D’ Day- 16th December, 2006-the date of the convention. I was invited for morning prayers with the president at the presidential villa and after the prayers I had a brief chat with the then president in his private study at the residence. He acknowledged my letter of withdrawal from the race and informed me of his intention to make me running mate to Umaru Yar’Adua, who was favoured for the ticket.
“I was persuaded to go and accompany Umaru to the convention venue. I had been informed earlier in the day that the news of my pairing with Umaru was in the air and that ‘some people’ were already ganging up to oppose the proposed pairing.
“It was, however, noteworthy that when I got to the Katsina State Lodge to join Umaru to proceed to the Eagle Square I met him downstairs in the company of some party leaders-Chief James Ibori, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, Dr Bukola Saraki, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Malam Nuhu Ribadu and Nasir el-Rufai.
“Their conversation stopped when I walked in but I read nothing sinister to the gathering or reaction to my entry. Umaru quickly took me upstairs and thanked me for coming and assured me of his happiness at the prospect of our working together.
“He called his wife Turai into the room and introduced us. We later proceeded to the Eagle Square together and were joined by other colleagues in walking round the square”.
“In the course of the night, I was invited to the VIP Guest Room at Eagle Square and was privileged to sight the typed copy of Umaru’s prepared acceptance speech. It was clearly stated that he had nominated Dr. Peter Odili as his running mate for the presidential race.
“This was at about midnight or so. In the course of the next few hours, information started reaching me that there was a strong pressure to drop me from the ticket.
“At about 3.30am or so, I was again invited to the VIP Guest room at Eagle Square and informed that there was a strong challenge to my being the running mate based on ‘some fresh information’ just received from Nuhu Ribadu, that would need to be sorted out later in the day.
“By the close of convention at dawn only 2 State Delegate Stands were still full-Katsina and Rivers- all others were empty or had one or two people left. The result was announced—Umaru was the winner and he promptly read a handwritten acceptance speech that excluded my name. He announced that further consultations were being made on the matter of his running mate.”
“By 4pm on Sunday 17th December, 2006 Dr. Jonathan was announced as the running mate to Umaru Yar’Adua. “As I was driving out of the Villa, Jonathan was driving in… Moments later, he was named Yar’adua’s running mate.
“By Monday 18th December, I congratulated Umaru and Jonathan and urged all my supporters nationwide and Rivers people to support the ticket. Odili was out of the race and the ticket.”
In similar breadth, Rotimi Chubuike Amaechi who was Speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly between 1999 and 2007 succeeded Odili as the State governor.
By 2015 when he was about rounding off his two-term tenure as governor of the oil rich State, the bug of Abuja presidency eclipsed his world view.
With so much money in the kitty and as the chairman of the governors’ forum, he was of the belief that a little harmonization in the enclave of few northern colleagues would endear him to Nigerians as a suitable presidential material.
This belief heightened when, at that time, he was no longer welcomed in the Villa as a result of the hostilities that ensued between him and then first lady, Mrs. Patience Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
However, the aggregation of interest between Amaechi and the then newly formed All Progressives Congress, APC, halted that ambition and he tried his luck for running mate slot but that was for Tinubu and his boys.
Nonetheless, he was reputed to be the second highest donor of funds for the Buhari’s election in 2015.
Election over and victory secured, Amaechi pressed all the necessary bottoms for a lucrative position in the Buhari’s government, first as Secretary to the government of the federation. But when that failed, he lobbied for all grade A ministries until he was made Transport Minister.
What was made available to the public by his close associate, Tonye Princewill, was that
Amaechi sold Rivers’ asset to fund APC and Buhari.
Princewill, who was the governorship candidate of the Labour Party, LP, in the 2015 elections accused Amaechi of selling the state’s assets to an indigenous oil company, Sahara Energy, and using the fund that accrued from the sale to finance the activities of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Princewill pointed out how assets such as Olympia Hotel, Abonemma Wharf, Risonpalm and the power generating stations in the state were sold to Sahara Energy saying that the over $800 million realized from the sale of the assets was never lodged into the coffers of the state government.
“Money changed hands but the accounts they entered were not necessarily Rivers state government’s officially operated accounts,” he said.
He also alleged that there was no evidence of competitive tendering, independent valuation or a transparency in the entire process, arguing that the “Rivers people cannot be sure they got a good deal”.
“In one instance, approximately $400 million changed hands over an asset that could easily be worth twice that. Why the secrecy?” he said.
Mr. Princewill, who said he worked for the success of Mr. Amaechi during his election in 2007, also accused him of using threat and intimidation to force the sale of the assets to Sahara Energy after the company began to develop cold feet funding the politics of APC.
“Amaechi is one of the chief financiers of the APC election and a close ally of Buhari,” he disclosed.
He also accused the former Rivers governor of using some of the proceeds of the sale to launch international propaganda for the 2015 elections.
As the constitutionally approved two terms for Buhari draws to a close, Amaechi, once again, resurrected his presidential aspiration for the 2023 election.
He had used the instrumentality of his office to deploy infrastructural goodwill on the northern region with hope to garner their supports and approval of his presidential aspiration.
So determined was Amaechi that he became a chieftaincy title holder in Daura, the home town of President Buhari.
In a bid to show his fitness to Nigerians, Amaechi ran around the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, Rivers State, before declaring his interest to vie for presidency.
On his Twitter handle, Amaechi said that his 23 years of service have equipped him not only with great experience in governance and public service but also compassion for the ordinary citizens of the country.
“Today, I stand as an aspirant to the position of President because of that same passion for people; that same drive for results. More than ever before, I am burning with the zeal to make a decisive difference in the lives of all Nigerians,” Amaechi said. “No matter the darts and arrows that come my way, I will remain steadfast because the stakes are too high. We cannot afford to fail. We cannot afford to veer off-course,” he tweeted.
Amaechi pledged his heart, mind and soul to the task of building a Nigeria in which every child can go to school, every young person can find work or support to start a business, every citizen can travel safely around the country and sleep at night knowing that law and order prevails and every Nigerian feels included, heard, and respected.
“If you elect me as your President, I promise to play my part to the best of my ability. Every day I will rise and go to work for you. I will never forget the fact that I am there to serve you.”
Despite all the promises, backed up with dollar spending, he lost the APC presidential ticket to Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
About the same time, governor Nyesom Wike of same Rivers State was up beat for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential ticket.
He had moved round the country without being selfish with dollars to delegates with promise of more financial rewards if he got the ticket.
Reacting, former director general, Nigeria Maritime and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dakuku Peterside, accused Governor Wike of “lavishing N30 billion” state funds on delegates during the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primary.
Mr Peterside said Governor Wike donated “about N10 billion of public funds in unsolicited charity to states, and about N20 billion pursuing his ill-fated presidential bid.”
Wike, 59, came second in the primary, with 237 votes. Soon after his defeat at the primary election, Wike, like his predecessors in office, looked forward to being rewarded with a running mate slot to Atiku Abubakar who emerged the party’s candidate.
As it happened to Odili, that was not to be as the VP slot was denied Wike and given to Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta State governor. Since then, it has been battle royale.
Only God can tell how the 2023 elections will play out especially in Rivers State where all the past serving governors did their best to serve their respective political parties but lost out in the presidential primaries in similar pattern.