With the recent gale of defections from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and vice versa, in Rivers State, the scene seems set for the 2023 contest between the two major political parties in the state.
The defections, which attracted two former commissioners in the Governor Nyesom Wike-led administration, Dr. Reason Onya and Hon. Charles Nwaorgu, into the APC, also attracted three prominent members of the APC into the PDP fold.
The defectors into the PDP include former APC chairman in the state, Dr. Davies Ikanya; former APC factional chairman, Hon. Igo Aguma; and former minority leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon. Benibo Anabraba.
However, the leaders of the two political parties in the state, Wike and the minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, did not disappoint their supporters as they used the occasion of the defection to renew their long political rivalry.
The feisty political relationship between Wike and Amaechi, two hitherto allies and descendants of ex-governor Peter Odili political dynasty, has been on since the build up to 2015 general elections.
Series of attempts to find lasting solution to the fractious relationship, which heightened tensions during elections, had failed to yield any form of peace as both politicians continue in the political tussle driven by ego.
However, Amaechi drew first blood in this recent encounter, when he lambasted the Wike-led government for the high level of unemployment in the state.
Speaking at a reception for the PDP decampees at the APC secretariat in Port Harcourt, Amaechi said the rise of crime in parts of Rivers State is a direct consequence of the high level of unemployment in the state.
The minister stated that as governor, his administration established several agricultural programmes that created job opportunities for the youths, but regretted that the current administration in the state destroyed the programmes.
He said: “Rivers State is in danger, completely. A state where properties are collected and somebody is busy building everywhere and nobody is talking.
“When I was governor, God knows, I did my best. I did not build only roads, I built schools. I did not build only roads, I built electricity. I built farms. I created employment. Rivers State was not among the highest unemployed communities in Nigeria.
“The reason why crime is high in Rivers State is because of unemployment. That is the reason why we had the Songhai Farm. Today, the Songhai Farm is gone. That is why we had the Banana Farm that they stopped in Khana.
“That is why we had fish farms and that is why we were building a farm in Etche. We were doing all those things to create employment for the youths. That is why we hired 13,200 teachers and that is why we sent our children overseas to study,” he said.
Expectedly, Wike fired back at Amaechi, his immediate predecessor, alleging that he embezzled proceeds from sales of state government aircraft and power stations.
Speaking during the reception organised for APC defectors at Rumueme Civic Centre in Port Harcourt, the governor
also offered to resign from office if Amaechi can mention any federal project he has attracted to Rivers State as a minister since 2015.
He claimed that the Transportation minister has failed to account for the proceeds of the sale of a Dash 8 aircraft to the government of Cross River at the cost of $6million. Wike said the plane before it was sold was purchased by the Peter Odili-led administration in Rivers State.
Wike further said that the state government, through its intelligence, was able to trace a second aircraft purchased by the Peter Odili-led administration of the state to Germany where Amaechi allegedly diverted it to in 2012.
He further alleged financial malfeasance in his predecessor’s administration, claiming that $308 million paid by Sahara Energy to acquire the state independent power projects was diverted by the minister. He also claimed that the previous administration spent $39.9 Million of State funds on a non-existent Justice Karibi Whyte hospital in Port Harcourt.
At the event, a defector and former APC chairman in the state, Dr. Davies Ikanya, said he cannot with good conscience remain in a political party that was built on deception.
Ikanya said: “All the expectation that the APC will provide security, create employment opportunities and better life for Nigerians have turned out to be a mere mirage.”
He stated that it was regrettable that the party has been hijacked by persons who place their personal interest far above the party.
On his part, former factional chairman of APC, Hon. Igo Aguma, who accused Amaechi of brainwashing him and others to join the APC, called on the Attorney General of the Federation to immediately investigate finances of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) between 2016 and 2019.
The APC in Rivers State however punctured Wike’s claims on Amaechi, while criticising the governor and PDP for organising a political event on a day when the country was mourning the death of late Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Ibrahim Attahiru and 10 other officers in a plane crash in Kaduna.
APC spokesman, Hon. Ogbonna Nwuke, said the party is shocked that while the nation mourned the death of its officers, Wike and his colleagues in Rivers State took to the rostrum to show that politics is a more important reflection than appreciating the grief of heart broken Nigerians.
Reacting however to the allegations made against Amaechi, Nwuke noted that the tantrums thrown by Wike are not new.
“Governor Wike has continued to recycle these baseless lies, to the extent that reasonable and rational Rivers people are tired of listening to him.
“We ask Governor Wike to explain why he is finding it difficult to prosecute a man who is not covered by immunity at this time for his alleged crimes while in office as Governor? Why is Governor Wike unable to accept the findings of a panel of Inquiry that was set up by him which exonerated Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi before he was sworn in as Minister of Transportation?
“People who are guilty are not tried in the court of public opinion. They are tried in open courts that are duly constituted. Wike should lead the prosecution team to court if he is sure of his facts, or halt the penchant for peddling worthless, inaccurate and cheap accusations.
“We only have pity for Chief Davies Ikanya and Hon. Igo Aguma. While Aguma, an imposter, was never a chairman of the APC, Ikanya who claims to be the only elected chairman of the party is a mere laughable character.
“Governor Wike has once described Chief Ikanya as a person who is more interested in the colour of his skin. Our discovery of his inability to lead a robust party such as the APC; our discovery of the underhand game he was playing with the PDP all through his tenure; was responsible for a mass uprising against his leadership,” he said.
It is worthy to note that with the recent defections, PDP and APC seem to have returned to where they were before the 2015 election, where PDP had a serving minister as leader and APC had a serving governor as leader, with almost equal powers and resources.
However, as both parties approach the 2023 elections, it is the other way round with PDP having a sitting governor as leader and APC having a serving minister as leader.
Still, looking at the calibre of persons who defected on both sides and the influence they command in their respective local government areas and senatorial districts, the battle for 2023 would not be easy for any of the political parties, pundits aver.