Within a space of two days, May 25 and 26, 2022, two personalities through whom ex-minister, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, and his arch-rival, Governor Nyesom Wike, would their political and his arch-rival, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, have emerged.
Wike was first to pitch his man, Siminialayi Fubara, as flag-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2023 governorship election. Fubara was until his emergence as a candidate of the state ruling party the Accountant-General of the state and man very close to the governor. This event took place at the world-class Obi Wali Cultural Center on GU Ake Road on Airport Road.
The next day, Amaechi produced his own ninja in the person of Tonye Cole, architect and investor (CEO of Sahara-Energy), who won in the All Progressives Congress (APC) with 986 votes to beat his stubborn challenger, Ojukaiye Flag Amachree , who polled 190. Others polled far less.
Fubara, who also served under Amaechi, won with 721 votes while the two nearest to him polled 86 and 37.
Now, the battle seems set as Fubara, who has since been declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC) an allegation of withdrawing N117Bn over the counter, would lead the PDP to battle with Wike strongly behind him, while Cole, the business magnet, would lead the APC with Amaechi behind him.
How Fubara emerged
Nobody seemed to have heard about him in political circles before now. The only limelight seemed to be when the EFCC declared him wanted a few weeks earlier (May 1, 2022).
Before then, speculations were rife that Wike was considering an Ikwerre successor (Ikwerre back-to-back-to-back because). Soon, attention seemed to shift from an Ikwerre card to Kalabari when the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Tammy Danagogo, swam into view. Okrika’s Abiye Sekibo Ogoni’s Isaac Kamalu (commissioner of finance) also pushed up.
The matter was this way when the EFCC declared Fubara wanted and the next thing, Wike pointed at him as his choice, a decision that was said to create shock-waves within his political family and cabinet. Wike was quoted by his press team to say anybody who did not want it should come and challenge. None did.
Instead, the likes of Felix Obuah (long-standing ally in the fight against Amaechi), Sekibo and some others walked home. Nobody seems to know what a defeated man has in mind or would do when he rises.
At the Civic Centre, the votes went to Fubara from delegates that hardly knew him. Everybody knew that those votes were given to Wike as mark of loyalty.
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How Tonye Cole emerged
Amaechi had handed down Cole in 2018 as the APC flag-bearer just as he handed them Dakuku Peterside in 2014. As usual, this created cracks in the party. In 2018/19, Magnus Abe, who was Amaechi’s most trusted ally, kicked against the choice and accused Amaechi of imposition.
He took the party to court for not following due process and knocked the APC off the ballot in all positions. This gave PDP a free ride and full political control and monopoly over the entire oil state.
This time, the riverine aspirants came together to ensure that the position of governor came to them. They pledged to support whoever would emerge as a candidate from their section.
Two weeks after, 19 leaders of the Rivers APC met in Abuja and asked the aspirants to pick give one a chance.
According to insiders, when they could not settle for one person, they returned the task to the 19 cardinals who then announced Cole. This did not go down well with the likes of Amachree and Peterside who went ahead to buy nomination forms and joined the contest. Davies Sokonte later joined them along with two more others from the riverine.
The national officer and chairman of the Rivers State APC governorship primaries committee, Larry Odeh, who declared the result, described the processes as very transparent and appealed the losers to rally round the winner.
In his acceptance speech, Cole said they had agreed that those who did not win would rally round the winner. “If I had not won, I would have declared my readiness to work for whoever won.”
He pleaded with Abe who got one vote to return to the mainstream and help to win the main election.
Both the PDP and APC worked hard to avert any threat at their primaries. For the PDP, the entre Airport Road was blocked from all ends. Only authorized persons or delegates were allowed through. No sign of violence showed up. The venue (Obi Wali) was built by Amaechi as a world-class event centre.
The APC chose to take theirs to the Amasiemaka Olympics Standards Stadium which was also built by Amaechi. It is a far-flung and lonely area.
Heavy security was mounted with armoured vehicles at strategic points. The atmosphere remained serene and peaceful until counting of votes and it became clear who was losing.
Next, over 1000 boys who had amassed on the Airport Road within the area shouted in solidarity and allegedly surged forward.
According to eye-witnesses, the police warned them to stop, but they rather surged forward. Food sellers and other fled into the bushes.
The crowd of hoodlums moved ahead. The police released booming guns from the Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs). The guns shock the entire neighborhood. Fear descended on the stadium.
The hoodlums allegedly took to their heels and the vehicle pursued and allegedly caught the leader, tied him up and whisked him away.
The Abe threat
The Rivers State APC factional leader, Magnus Abe, had in the middle of the primaries withdrawn from going ahead with the exercise. He however told newsmen that he was going to be on the ballot paper in the governorship election in 2023.
Abe had just disassociated himself from the primaries holding at the Adokiye Amasiemeka Stadium, saying he pulled out because the exercise was a mere charade.
He said any election where you were excluded in the selection of delegates would not favor you.
He however made it clear that he would be on the ballot in 2023 and that it is the people of Rivers State that would decide who the next governor would be, not an individual.
He was referring to the notion that the leader of the party in the South-South, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, now presidential aspirant, had imposed a consensus aspirant as well as handpicked the delegates.
Abe said he had always made it clear that he would not support outcome of any primaries or consensus that did not include him.
He also said he has not left the APC but only withdrew from the primaries.
Observers were wondering how Abe was sure to be on the ballot without APC or even the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that had already picked their guber flag bearer.
Abe had disagreed with the choice of Tonye Cole by the Amaechi stream of the party in 2019, and went to court.
The battery of court suites led to the disqualification of the APC from the entire elections.
Abe also objected to the party convention of 2021 that sought to reconstitute the party, but lost in a new court case. This made the party executives led by Emeka Beke legitimate.
Abe, a one-time senator, also complained against the ward and local council delegates exercises that would produce those to choose a guber candidate.
Some members protested at the State Secretariat of the party last week but it did not stop the exercise.
Now, midway in the guber primaries today, May 26, 2022, he announced his withdrawal.
Later in the day, he explained that he did not withdraw but rather rejected the primaries.
He urged his followers to remain calm but be ready to vote for him in 2023.
Fraud: Allegation and counter-allegation
Wike had accused Cole of collecting $50m from the treasury of the state from proceeds of sale of power plants. He insisted that Cole should think of how to return the money rather than thinking of becoming governor of the state.
He said he would not allow Amaechi and his business partner (Cole) to just walk in and capture the assets of the state.
On the other hand, Fubara has been accused of cashing out N117Bn for Wike. The EFCC says he must come and account for it.
Wike is countering it, saying there is a subsisting court order stopping any agency of probing the state’s finances other than the Rivers State House of Assembly. This is the stalemate at the moment.
Many say that it was smart to put an aura of immunity on Fubara because cracking the Accountant-General would mean cracking the governor. This seems to be the same for Cole and Amaechi.
It is not clear if any of the candidates would be made to account for the sums levied on them or they would go ahead and win and wear immunity armour for eight years.