By Sufuyan Ojeifo
The Yoruba proverb-omo ina li a nran si ina-transliterated as – it is the child of fire that we send to fire – quite explicates the philosophy behind the 2014 appointment of Rotimi Amaechi, who was then Rivers state governor, as director general of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Organisation. His task was to coordinate the electioneering onslaught by the party’s candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, against the sitting president and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 presidential election, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Although, the assignment was writ-large delicate, Amaechi’s choice was, in the context of strategic politics, in apple-pie order. What it intended to achieve was to unsettle Jonathan’s re-election gambit from within the enclave of his south-south zone. It was a creative and precise strategy that required the commitment of a gutsy politician to accomplish. Amaechi’s acceptance of the job was audacious and emphatic of his resolve to act against the run of play in the huge battle by Jonathan and his south-south allies to retain the presidency in the zone.
To be sure, Jonathan’s presidency approximated the political patrimony of the south-south zone. It was a novel reality-largely a product of an act of God and an affirmation of the same in the 2011 presidential election via a nationwide consensus- that shattered the myth that it was impossible for the minority group to appropriate presidential power in Nigeria. That reality was, however, short-lived and the oppositional momentum that resulted in that terminal earthquake bore the coordinating and operational imprimatur of Amaechi.
The decision by Amaechi to serve as the arrowhead of the huge oppositional movement to deny Jonathan (read south-south zone) a second term in office did not receive the approbation of the geopolitical region. And that was understandable. Regardless, the Ikwerre-born politician was single-minded on the electioneering that eventually resulted in Jonathan’s 2015 historic electoral defeat. Amaechi remains one of the protagonists in the story of the making of the Buhari presidency.
As director general of the presidential campaign of the APC, a rainbow coalition against the Jonathan presidency, he was the power house of the crusade while Buhari was the face. Despite the seemingly perfect oppositional configuration that the APC typified, Amaechi’s role in the campaign was, without a doubt, precarious. He, however, did not care a hoot. He had crossed the Rubicon in his grudge fight with Jonathan.
The fight had worsened when, as chairman of the Governors’ Forum, he decided to spearhead the forum’s campaign for the sharing of $1 billion ECA fund saved up in the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) and the savings in the ECA to enable governors use their shares for infrastructure development and/or other issues of public importance in their respective states. The Governors’ Forum had gone to the Supreme Court in 2011 for judicial intercession on the matter, forcing the Federal Government to propose an out-of-court settlement.
For Amaechi, all gloves were off. On its part, the Jonathan government was ready to engage him bare-knuckles. One of the onslaughts resulted in the factionalisation of the Governors’ Forum. Attempt to stop the re-election of Amaechi fell through. The governors loyal to the presidency decided to nurture a factional leadership with Jonah Jang, then governor of Plateau state, as chairman. Amaechi continued to chair the forum of 19 governors that voted for him while Jang chaired the forum of 16 governors whose votes he got.
The incidents supra formed the bases of the bitterest political battle ever fought between a sitting president and a sitting governor from the south-south zone. The battle resulted in the defection of Amaechi on the wings of the new PDP to the APC. There were reports that the intrepid political navigator went for broke by heavily funding the opposition movement that swept off Jonathan from the presidency.
He made the risky moves despite that the PDP was well rooted in the south-south zone, especially in Rivers. He operated from a position of disadvantage. Indeed, while the battle was raging, the awesome federal government machine was backing Nyesom Wike, who was at the time Minister of State for Education, to take over the structure of the party in Rivers. That was the reason Amaechi could not lock in the governorship seat for his APC candidate, Dr. Dakuku Peterside.
The combined forces of Abuja and the Wike-led PDP in the state rumbled into victory in the governorship election which saw Wike emerge as governor. With Buhari appointing Amaechi as minister of transport, the machinery to wrest Rivers state from Wike and the PDP has since been revved. Instructively, through Amaechi’s resilience, the APC now has two senatorial seats, leaving the PDP with one.
Although the PDP’s candidate, Thompson Sekibo, won the Rivers East election (which incidentally is the senatorial zone of Patience Jonathan, Amaechi and Wike), in the general and the re-run elections, the APC had gone ahead to retrieve the mandate for its candidate, Andrew Uchendu, at the Appeal Court. The Appeal Court verdict was a strategic victory for the APC as it enlarged its frontiers of political control. It represents, in the main, the constriction of Wike’s political command over Rivers.
The 2019 general election would see Amaechi in action, trying to consolidate and make further incursion into Wike’s comfort zone while Wike would be fighting back to consolidate on Rivers west and reclaim Rivers East from the APC. Meanwhile, Amaechi is said to be ready with a counter action in case Senator Magnus Abe, who is presently the custodian of the Rivers Southeast senate mandate on the APC platform, decides to defect to the PDP.
The political horizon in Rivers is peripherally looking fluid, but Amaechi and the foes he is up in battle against understand the underlying dynamics and are ready to fight to the finish to regain or maintain their strangleholds on the political soul of the oil-producing state. Amaechi and Wike know each other too well. It would appear that they have equal capacity to cause collateral damage to each other’s political machines, depending on the available advantages at their disposal.
In 2015, Wike had the advantage of federal might which he deployed to stop Amaechi from enthroning Peterside as his successor. Interestingly, for the 2019 epical political battle, Amaechi has the advantage of federal might at his disposal to deploy against Wike. The only difference, this time round, is that Wike is taking a shot at re-election and not enthroning a successor. Therefore, for Wike, it is going to be a battle of his life. That is what will make it interesting even for Amaechi who has been strategically reappointed as director general of Buhari’s re-election campaign to coordinate the grand electoral plan that will ensure victory for the president as he did in 2015.
And, given that the expected victory for the president (with the presidential poll holding first by the tactical calculation of the APC), may precipitate a bandwagon effect, Amaechi is in a very good position to establish the direction and deployment of necessary goodwill and strategic forces that will coalesce in a grand tsunami that is expected to sweep off some opposition leaders occupying strategic positions in the states as well as federal political architectures, arrangements and constructions.
Although, in the unfolding scenario, Amaechi’s major concern is to prospect for Buhari’s re-election, yes, an encore, yet the possibilities of a repeat performance of the 2015 victory are great and likely to be pervasive, other things being equal; otherwise, the situation may be dicey. Nevertheless, Amaechi is certainly a rampart for effective prosecution of Buhari’s re-election battle.
Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, writes via email@example.com