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Rivers Fragments As Odili’s Forces Polarise

Rivers Drifts Toward Fragmentation As Odili’s Forces Polarise

By Akanimo Sampson,
Port Harcourt, Nigeria

THE gentleman agreement that was allegedly reached some time in 2003, between the Deputy Speaker of Nigeria's House of Representatives, Austin Opara, and the Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly, Rotimi Amaechi, on the 2007 governorship battle, does not seem to signal progress toward political integration of the Restoration Camp. The Restoration family is the political machine of Governor Peter Odili.

Signs that all was not well within the Odili camp came to the open last month end when Opara and the former Transport Minister, Abiye Sekibo, picked the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship forms. Before now, it was widely believed that the youthful Amaechi, was the heir apparent to the Brick House.

Since the political build-up to the controversial 2003 polls, Amaechi has been enjoying an unbroken string of successes, establishing structures in the state under his control. From the facts on the ground, the Rivers people are very apprehensive of Sekibo’s governorship, because of the alleged role he played in the rise of Ateke Tom, as a dreaded was lord. Sekibo was the Secretary of the State Government (SSG) from 1999-2003, the period of blood – letting in Rivers.

With his link to Ateke, Sekibo was not expected by the calculation of the pro-Amaechi elements, to enter the governorship race. His dramatic resignation as minister, on what insiders say was largely due to corruption in the dollar-spinning transport ministry, was also expected to put the final wedge on his governorship ambition, given the anti-corruption stance of President Ousegun Obasunjo’s administration.

Of the 23 local government areas in Rivers, the former transport minister could be said to be strong in Ogu-Bolo and Okrika council areas. But Amaechi, according to some well-placed PDP functionaries, is believed to be very strong in 12 council areas. This does not seem to go down well with the older political potentials in the leadership of the PDP in the state.

Already, guarded whispers have it that there are moves to alter the delegates list for the governorship primaries billed for Saturday, December 9, 2006 in the State. The State has a total of 319 electoral wards and 9000 delegates are expected at the governorship primaries.

In the mean time, the zero-hour entry of the Deputy Governor, Gabriel Toby, into the Brick House race, tends to suggest that the grand master of the Restoration Camp, Governor Odili, seems to be far from ameliorating the polarized power configuration pitting the political machine against itself.

As cracks appear in the Rivers PDP, the pro-Amaechi foot soldiers seem to have turned their major attention to mobilizing the populace against Toby, Opara, and Sekibo. The merging political conflict in Rivers is complex. The complex nature of the conflict appears to be bringing in all the major players in the state, signaling the likelihood of greater instability and attendant uncertainty.

With tension spreading throughout the state, political gladiators began definitely to chores sides in the major conflict, bringing into the open a latent rift between the upland and the riverine blocs. The growing divide between the front runners is supported by the leadership of the PDP in the state. Although Uche Secondus, the state chairman of the PDP is keeping sealed lips on this claim, it is widely rumoured at the Aba Road Secretariat of the party that he was not in favour of power shifting to the younger generation. The old brigade in the state are said to be afraid of being shut out of the public till. The old brigade are alleged to be keen on checkmating Amaechi so that they can achieve spheres of influence in Rivers. And the sop they seem to be throwing to the political wolves is Toby. Even at that, some of them are fearing that Toby may not be as very generous as Odili. There is already the talk of a Toby-Amaechi ticket as a way out of the current conflict.

And with Opara and Sekibo having abandoned neutrality and taken opposite sides, the Restoration family is broken and a key instrument for mediating the upland and riverine blocks that are jockeying for influence over Rivers’ future has been rendered functionless. Each gladiator of the emerging blocs has his own reasons for choosing sides.

However, the emerging power configuration appears to give Odili scant purchase for a political resolution to Rivers’ conflict, which is why he seems to be on the sideline or acting only covertly or through proxies.

For the first time since the PDP came into power in 1999, the party appears to be drifting toward fragmentation that would leave the state vulnerable. With tensions exacerbated among the major players, a severe imbalance of power between the upland and the riverine, as the emergence of contending blocs, the likelihood of increased instability grows.

The outcome of the party congresses and primaries so far, have placed the major players under greater duress. The way things stand, if the governorship primaries is not properly handled, Rivers could slipped back into the blood letting theatre of 2002-203. But, it will take a recalculation of interests by the Restoration Czars, PDP leadership, the governorship aspirants, and their consequent initiatives to prevent the return to Rivers of blood.


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