In 1973, writer and dermatologist, Professor Anezi Okoro published a novel for young adults titled “One Week, One Trouble.” It tells the story of Wilson Tagbo, a secondary school student, who from the first day he got enrolled until he got to senior secondary 3 grade, had one trouble or the other in what was clearly a process of becoming and self-discovery. “One Week, One Trouble” made it to the Nigerian school curriculum, and has further become a ready reference for the reckless manner in which Nigerian politicians are drawn to controversies like flees to nectar. Accordingly, we have had cause to use this phrase to describe the reign of impunity, ego and chaos that has now overtaken the oil-rich Niger Delta state of Rivers. If Wilson Tagbo got into trouble on a weekly basis, the situation in Rivers is worse. For the past three months, Rivers has been experiencing trouble on a daily basis, creating a situation that is best described as “One Day, One Trouble” in a two-hander plot featuring Nyesom Wike, former Governor of Rivers State, now Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, and his successor, the incumbent Governor of Rivers State, Siminalayi Fubara. The conflict and the drama are a classic stuff of godfather-godson relations in Nigerian politics.
As it was in the past, so it is now, and so shall it be in the future, except Nigeria de-monetizes its politics, emphasizes the integrity of the people’s vote and insists on transparency and accountability of processes, and institutions. More than 24 years after Nigeria’s return to civilian rule, the pervasive opinion is that democracy in Nigeria is putative. What usually happens is that a Godfather with too much money or influence, acquired through control of state resources which he can deploy at will, as in the case of incumbent Governors seeking to cover their backs, by installing a successor through whom they can continue to rule, even after leaving office as constitutionally mandated, or the Godfather may be a man of influence whose political weight is built on the widely acknowledged assumption that he has direct control of critical institutions of state and that his will could override the people’s wish. Godfathers in Nigerian politics are genetically delusionary. One after the other we have seen them exhibiting a Messianic complex until they are either reminded that they are human, all too human, or they succeed in removing the recalcitrant anointed godson. Between the two polarities is a lot of melodrama, the type we are now witnessing in Rivers State, and as we saw before in Enugu state between Jim Nwobodo and Chimaroke Nnamani, in Anambra State, Chris Uba vs. Chris Ngige, in Oyo Sate, Lamidi Adedibu vs. Rasheed Adewolu Ladoja, in Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje vs. Rabiu Kwankwaso, in Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole vs. Godwin Obaseki, in Delta, James Ibori vs. Ifeanyi Okowa, and in Lagos, Bola Tinubu vs. Akinwunmi Ambode.
The sociology of godfatherism in Nigerian politics is a complex power game, and it is not restricted to anointed Governors. Even lawmakers and local government chairmen owe their emergence in public positions to the dexterity of Godfathers. This may involve the anointed godson being asked to enter into a covenant to hand over a percentage of state resources to the Godfather and his wife every month – in Lagos, they call it “Baba ke e pe”. The exponent of Amala politics in Oyo state fell out with Rasheed Ladoja because having assumed office, the latter did not see why he should continue to hand over 15% of state resources to Adedibu on a monthly basis. Occultism is also involved. Chris Uba took Chris Ngige to the Okija shrine stripped to his under-wears, to pledge that he will always be loyal to the master. When Chris Ngige reneged and began to assert himself, Chris Uba released photos from the dreaded Okjja shrine. Chris Ngige did not deny but he said he went to the shrine with his Bible – his own talisman! This is the level of decay and rank opportunism in Nigerian politics. People would do anything to be in power without working for it, and that is why there are so many dumb persons in the top most corridors of power.
We do not yet know what pact, Satanic or Godly that Sim Fubara entered into with his Godfather. Was he also taken to a shrine? Did he sell his soul to become Governor? What agreements did he reach with Wike? What code of honour did they both agree to which is now causing trouble? What can be established is that Fubara is a political creation of Nyesom Wike, who made him Government House Accountant, Permanent Secretary, Government House, and later Accountant General of the State. As his eight-year tenure came to a close, Wike decided that Fubara who had always been in charge of the Rivers state’ accounts should be rewarded with the biggest diadem, the Governorship of the state. During the campaigns, not many people knew Fubara, other than that he was the man Wike wanted to make Governor. Wike was all over the place campaigning for him. And he put him in office as a PDP successor, despite his own defiant relationship with their party at the National level. When opposition parties challenged Fubara’s election at the tribunal, Wike again stepped in. He must have trusted Fubara so much. The big mistake he made though is that he is a poor student of history and human nature, now projecting himself as a victim of his own contradictions. His critics have had cause to remind him that it is Karma at work. Even one Eze Eze who would never have dared to talk back at Wike in his glorious season as Rivers Governor is now talking. Wike used to tell traditional rulers to shut up publicly, and they would literally shut up and say “Yes sir,” on top of it.
Relationships between Godfathers and their anointed candidates have not always been rosy. In the aforementioned cases, the Godsons always managed to get the Godfathers off their backs. Ladoja fought all the way to the Supreme Court and he was reinstated. Obaseki watered down Oshiomhole’s influence. Ganduje clamped down on the Kwankwasiyya Movement and drove Kwankwaso out of Kano. The latter’s attempt at a return is currently the cause of trouble in Kano State. The only Godfather that seems to have survived would be Bola Tinubu of Lagos. He is probably the most ruthless of all the Godfathers. He has been described as a man who knows how to identify and groom talents, but when the same persons try to assert themselves, he crushes them without batting an eyelid. Babatunde Raji Fashola as Governor and Tinubu’s successor had ideas of his own, and he was making tremendous impact and taking credit. He had to be reminded that he could not outshine the master. Somehow, he survived. Akinwunmi Ambode, a Fulbright scholar, first class brain, who succeeded Fashola was not so lucky. He was denied a second term because the Godfather got tired of him. Nigerian Godfathers are not looking for scholars and first-class brains. They want slaves and yes boys and girls. For example, when Umo Eno, the incumbent Governor of Akwa Ibom State became Governor, he, 59, knelt down before Udom Emmanuel, 57, to pledge his allegiance. In Kogi State, after the November 11 off-cycle Gubernatorial election in the state won by Ahmed Usman Ododo, Governor Yahaya Bello’s anointed candidate, he and his elected Deputy took their certificates of return to the Governor, knelt and bowed before him in a show of gratitude. Nobody knows what the relationship would be tomorrow in Kogi and Akwa Ibom states between the Godfathers and their “anointed successors”. The whole idea of anointment is a mockery of Nigeria’s democratic process. Where are the people?
The catalyst for the trouble in Rivers state is perhaps because Fubara showed his hands too early. Within six months of assuming office, hell had been let loose, and he had burnt the bridge that brought him to power. Is there a lesson here about the character of godsons in Nigerian politics? When they want power, they are every shade of humility. Ganduje was so humble and loyal, Kwankwaso could never have suspected him. In Fubara’s case, pro-Wike actors in the conflict allege that a certain unnamed woman is the one pushing Fubara to fight the Godfather and assert himself. Nigerian politics is the strangest theatre of the absurd, worse than what Martin Esslin who wrote a book on the subject taught us. Whatever that woman brings to Fubara’s table must be very strong indeed! However, Fubara’s supporters argue that there is trouble, not because Fubara, an ordinarily obedient person, wants to burn bridges, but because as they say in street parlance, Wike’s own is “too much”. He is accused of breathing down too hard on Fubara’s neck. It is alleged that all the appointees in the Rivers government are direct appointees of the Godfather with express instructions to spy on Fubara and checkmate him. Wike, it is further alleged even as former Governor still approves projects and expenditures. Fubara as Governor is not allowed to travel out of the state without Wike’s permission. His wife is also not allowed to attend functions. State vehicles bought with tax payers’ money are all controlled by Wike from Abuja. In the wake of the crisis, nine commissioners have since resigned from the cabinet, reportedly on Wike’s instructions, and just take a look at the portfolios: Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Works, Finance, Special Projects, Transport, Housing, Environment, Education, and Social Welfare and Rehabilitation. Who else is reporting directly to the Governor? The trouble reached a turning point over the weekend when Hon. Boma Goodhead, representing Asari Toru/Akuku Toru Federal Constituency publicly accused Wike of making away with state resources to the tune of about $300 million that came from Shell, and for fleecing the state of N9 billion monthly. Goodhead has called on the Department of State Services, the EFCC and the Police to do the needful and arrest Wike. She has also called on President Bola Tinubu to call Wike, his Minister to order.
The Wike-Fubara: “if you Wike me, I will Fubara you, dey your dey, nobody worry nobody” saga has polarized Rivers state along ethnic and political lines. Even if the dust settles, the effect will linger. Those who once argued that Fubara was Igbo have now all queued up behind him as a symbol of the Ijaw nation, with the Ijaw Youth Council, and the Ijaw National Congress threatening that any attempt to remove Fubara from office would amount to an assault on the Ijaw nation. Professor Benjamin Okaba has boasted publicly that Ijaws are not scared of Wike and if he tries anything against Fubara, there would be fire. Similarly, the Rivers Council of Leaders and Elders, and the leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief E. K. Clark have issued statements asking Tinubu to call Wike to order. Hon. Goodhead accuses Wike of having everybody in his pocket: the judiciary, the security agencies, INEC, the Chief of Staff and the President himself. Wike’s pocket must be very big indeed. I am surprised how he still manages to walk around, with that much heavyweight under his control. He says however that he is only protecting his political structures, and Fubara who never bought a form to become Governor must stop hobnobbing with his enemies in the state. Fubara says he is Governor and he wants to be respected.
And yet Wike was not always like this. I knew him as Minister of State for Education, and later substantive Minister in the Goodluck Jonathan administration. The Wike of those days cut the picture of a perfect gentleman. I used to visit him at home in his Asokoro residence, we lived in the same neighbourhood. He was a great, affable host. There was always something to eat and chew by the pool side or in his main living room. “Olorun sa maa je ki won fi eran dindin ati peppersoup gbe mi lo o!” The moment Wike became Governor in Rivers state, the reports about him in the public domain, the controversies that he generated and the Hitlerite manner in which he rode roughshod over the state can only be explained off as what too much money and power does to people. He also became powerful beyond Rivers. He took over the control of the PDP. The party having lost power at the centre in 2015, Wike was the only surviving Governor who took it upon himself to finance the party and kept it alive. Other PDP Governors couldn’t be bothered.
In 2022/3, Wike decided to call in his goodwill, only to be resisted by other stakeholders in the party. He promised that having not allowed a Southerner to be the party’s Presidential flagbearer, by which he meant himself, the PDP would lose the 2023 Presidential election. He divided the party, openly hobnobbed with the APC, and he had his way. He has been rewarded by President Tinubu for this with the portfolio of the Minister of the FCT. His own party has been very quiet about his brazen anti-party activities. He has dared the party to whip him into line if it can. In the present instance in Rivers, it is said that he is the main author of the trouble that has led to the reported plans to impeach Governor Fubara, the division of the state House of Assembly into two factions: Fubara group of 5, vs. the Wike group of 26, with the former arguing that with the latter defecting to the rival APC, they are automatically no longer members of the House. Today, there is a lawyer on every street corner of Port Harcourt interpreting Section 109 (1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution and quoting precedents from FEDECO vs. Goni to Abegunde vs. Ondo State House of Assembly. The judiciary has also been dragged in with reports of forum shopping, leaked judgments and ex parte orders. The State House of Assembly has since been demolished by the Fubara government. Perhaps the crisis will be resolved, in the long run, at the law courts if commonsense does not prevail.
Certainly not by President Tinubu. Badly-behaved politicians should stop calling on President Tinubu to come and help them solve problems that they have created in their states. He is President, not a Headmaster or Supervisor. He intervened in Ondo state twice, but the problem was resolved only when the rule of law was obeyed. Rivers people should leave him alone. Kano people should stop bothering him. Go and put your house in order. Do not turn Tinubu into a dictator and then, return later to complain that Nigeria is a federal system.
Reuben Abati, a former presidential spokesperson, writes from Lagos.