Who Is The Authentic ‘Landlord’ In Rivers

Rivers State has become synonymous with rebel politics and with recent happenings, it is living up to that reputation. But despite the rebellions, the state has not tethered off the rails. ANAYO ONUKWUGHA writes on who and what is holding the state together

Peter Odili, Rotimi Amaechi, Nyesom Wike, Siminalayi Fubara

Since 1999, Rivers State has succeeded in projecting itself onto national politics, particularly during presidential elections where its wealth and politicians play either a stabilizing or destabilizing role. That was the case in 2007 when Peter Odili sought the PDP ticket, in 2015 when Rotimi Amaechi helped topple PDP’s 16-year rule and again in 2023 when Nyesom Wike backed a rival party.

Rivers State was created in 1967 by the regime of former military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (Retired). It was governed by several military governors that were appointed by successive military regimes in the country, as well as two civilian governors that were elected by the people of the state, late Senator Melford Okilo and Chief Rufus Ada-George.

In 1996, the regime of late General Sani Abacha created more states and Bayelsa State was curved out of old Rivers State.

On May 29, 1999, a medical doctor and founder of Pamo Clinics, Port Harcourt, Dr. Peter Odili was sworn in as the first civilian governor of the new Rivers State. He won his election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a political party that has remained in charge of government in the state till date.

At the twilight of Odili’s eight-year tenure in 2007, having won his second term in 2003 and with heavy opposition, especially from the riverine axis of the state, forces that seemed beyond him worked against his preferred successor, then Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi.

Amaechi, an indigene of Ubima community in Ikwerre local government area of the state, had beaten at least seven other governorship aspirants on the PDP platform to emerge as it’s governorship candidate.

But, Nigeria’s then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, during the PDP South-South zonal rally in Port Harcourt, declared Amaechi’s case as ‘k-leg’ and refused to give him the party flag as was given to five other governorship candidates of the party from the Niger Delta zone.

The embattled governorship candidate approached the court to seek redress over the removal of his name as the party’s governorship candidate in the state.

Apparently, in order to ensure that there was no vacuum in the governance of the state, Odili ensured the emergence of Amaechi’s nephew, Sir Celestine Omehia as his replacement.
Omehia, a legal practitioner won the election and was sworn-in on May 29, 2007, but was however sacked by the Supreme Court on October 25, 2007, which ordered that Amaechi be sworn-in immediately as governor.

The developments, apparently led to friction in the father and son relationship between Odili and the governor, who many analysts believe, may have thought that the former governor betrayed him.
But, speaking on the ugly relationship between the duo, former Chief Press Secretary to Odili, Dr. Emma Okah, said Amaechi failed to recognize the fact that the medical doctor-turned politician wanted him to be governor but all his (Odili’s) efforts were thwarted by Obasanjo.

Okah said: “What caused the bad blood between Dr. Peter Odili and Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi was the failure of Amaechi to appreciate that Odili did everything to make him governor but Obasanjo refused citing his infamous ‘K-leg’ comment. Despite what other party leaders said at that time, he refused appreciate the reality.

“So, he became governor and every effort made by people to strike a reconciliation, failed. The ball was in his court; he had the knife, he had the yam. So that was it.”

Mr. Blessing Wikina, who also served as Deputy Chief Press to Odili, insisted that the ‘k-leg’ that was declared by Obasanjo was not what led to the face-off between Odili and Amaechi.

Wikina said: “The K-leg issue had nothing to do with parting of ways between Odili and Amaechi. If you remember, after the K-leg was declared by the then president, Obasanjo, it was Odili who even provided passage for Amaechi to go to Ghana.

“When Amaechi came back after he was sworn in as governor, repeatedly told the story about how he asked Odili whether they had removed his name as candidate? Odili said yes, ‘you can challenge it if you want to.’ So, it was not the K-leg that led to the partying of ways.

“Odili and Amaechi are politicians and politicians will always have their points of agreement and disagreement. Amaechi insisted on pursuing his case to reclaim his mandate.
In 2015, former Minister of State for Education and current Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike, emerged as governor of Rivers State, but not without Odili’s contribution. In the way that Amaechi had been mentored by Odili, Nyesom Wike was at one time a loyalist of Amaechi and even served as his Chief of Staff.

But they found themselves on opposite sides of the political spectrum with Amaechi working against his old party at both the state and national levels. It was widely believed that Amaechi bankrolled the presidential campaign of Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress. Wike on the other hand was challenging Amaechi’s preferred candidate for governor and throwing his weight behind the reelection of then president, Goodluck Jonathan.

Amaechi and Wike however fell apart long before the 2015 election. In a 2014 interview while serving as minister in Jonathan’s Wike had accused Amaechi of plotting to cut his wings because he was getting too strong. He also said Amaechi had plunged himself into a fight with then first lady, Patience Jonathan, which he didn’t want to be part of.
Speaking on Odili’s support to Wike emergence, Dr Emma Okah, who was also commissioner for Housing under the immediate-past administration in the state, said the former governor’s (Odili) support to Wike was full-heartedsince 2015 when he emerged as governor.

He said: “Odili threw his weight behind Wike from beginning to the end. Remember that it was very unpopular at that time to have a governor come from Ikwerre ethnic group.

“But, because of the support Wike gave to Jonathan, who was running for the presidency at that time, Odili didn’t have difficulty in supporting him. He supported him in wholeheartedly till the day he decided to impeach the governor of Rivers State for no justifiable reason.”
To Innocent Ajaelu, a former chairman of Oyigbo local government area of the state who was also the Social Democratic Party (SDP) House of Assembly candidate for Oyigbo Constituency, Odili was visible in the election that produced Wike as governor as well as the Supreme Court judgement that validated his election.

He said: “From the 2015 election to the Supreme Court judgement, everybody knows that Odili was part and parcel of it.

“At a point, Wike himself testified that without Odili and his family, he wouldn’t have been the governor of Rivers State. So, since 2015, Odili has been part of Wike’s success politically.”
On May 29, 2023, Siminalayi Fubara, former Accountant-General of Rivers State, became the governor of the state, succeeding Wike. He was handpicked by Wike but they fell almost immediately after the offical hnadover. Now it is Odili that is supposedly keeping office.
Wike has been very outspoken about being the one that bought the forms to contest the 2023 election for Fubara and all other elected officials under the PDP, only for the governor to turn into a political foe. He has also been critical of Odili’s support for Fubara.

Speaking on the relationship between the elder statesman and the current governor, Okah said Odili’s support has remained unshaken till date.
He said: “As a party elder, he was instrumental and threw his weight behind Fubara. When Fubara emerged as candidate of the PDP, of course, everybody had to sheathe their sword and dissolve their interest into make the candidate succeed in winning the election.

“He was one of the leaders who supported Fubara and Fubara emerged successful. That support remained till today.

“Clearly, what has shaken the relationship between Wike and Dr. Odili is the fact that Wike is angry that Dr. Odili did not withdraw support from Fubara, especially when he wanted to embark on his mission to impeach him. Of course, Dr. Odili would not have accepted such thing. So, he decided to support the governor instead of supporting Wike. That has remained so till now.”
On his part, Ajaelu said: “I want us to understand one thing; Odili is a statesman. Odili is the father of the political structure in Rivers State. Odili is the father of politics of Rivers State since 1999.

“He is not supporting anybody. There is no time he was supporting Wike or Sim. Odili believes in good governance. He is not taking sides. If today, you become the governor of Rivers State genuinely, Odili will give you a fatherly advice. He is not taking sides. He is only doing the work of a statesman to make sure there is peace in the state.”

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