As political activities approach feverish height over the 2023 elections, groups and individuals are positioning themselves and deploying various strategies to attract sympathy and support for their interests and political lining.
However, some of the claims put out in public space scant regard to veracity of facts and have at best promoted half-truths. The recent press conference said to have been held by Dr. Bennett Birabi, a former Federal Minister, former member of the House of Representative and Senator falls into that category. Postulations at the press conference undermined the issues of equity, fairness and justice.
We read with dismay excerpts of the press conference where the former federal lawmaker presented a skewed view of power-sharing figures in Rivers State since.
1991. There is no doubt that Senator Birabi’s desire was to attract sympathy for his Ogoni agenda; but in so doing, he misrepresented the facts in order to achieve his purpose without due regard to the cosmopolitan nature of Rivers State and its diversity that has been so far well-managed as a result of the age-long unwritten understanding that respects the existence of Upland and Riverine sections in the State.
Certainly, “fairness, equity, reason, conscience and political morality are essential and authentic bases for peace, growth and development of our state. It is, thus, plausible that Dr. Bennett Birabi brought up the issue of marginalization and requested the leaders of the two major political parties in the State to take these fundamentals into consideration and consider Ogoni candidates for the governorship seat in 2023.
But, Senator Birabi also understands that the Ogonis belong to the Upland which since 1999 has occupied the governorship seat exclusively.
The kernel of his clamour, therefore, is to perpetuate the existing situation whereby, for 24 years, the Upland would be at the helm of affairs of Rivers State by 2023.
1. Sir Dr Peter Odili – 1999-2007;
2. Sir. Celestine Omehia – 2007 (May – October);
3. Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi – 2007-2015;
4. Chief Barr. Nyesom Wike – 2015-2023.
Giving the Upland another tenure, through the Ogoni, will mean that the upland will have an unbroken 32years in the Governorship seat without any consideration for the Riverine. That would neither be fair nor promote justice.
Governor Nyesom Wike has stated that his party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, will support the emergence of a successor who can unify and defend the interests of Rivers State. There is no doubt that such efforts at unity and defense of Rivers’ interest will take into cognizance the long deprivation of the Riverine Ijaw bloc.
Former Governor and current Minister of Transportation as well as leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, is reportedly disposed to the APC again presenting a Governorship Candidate from the Riverine Ijaw bloc, in 2023; to give every part of the state a sense of belonging as the Upland has occupied the position since1999. Both leaders are, thus, apparently concerned about fairness to all parts of Rivers State and deserve commendation.
It would be appropriate, hence, to earnestly urge the Governor of Rivers State, and leader of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the State, His Excellency, Chief Barrister Nyesom Wike, to permit history to further write his name in gold letters, by also lending firm consideration to the emergence of a Governorship Candidate from the Riverine Ijaw sections of the State, under the PDP, in the 2023 governorship elections. This would be a valued addition to the robust developmental initiatives of his administration.
Indeed, Dr. Birabi’s question viz; “Who in his right mind has the moral ground to claim that Rivers State has been fair to all concerned?” requires an honest answer. The issue of equity and justice should not be treated as a simple matter affecting the Ogonis alone; therefore the solution should not be about just “ethnic bloc” but the age power-sharing understanding between the upland and Riverine.
Also, statistics on political positions and benefits at all levels should be clear, transparent and open for an honest appraisal. Power-sharing in a heterogeneous, multi-ethnic society takes into account the realities of political balance and other strategic interests.
In Rivers State, the founding fathers took cognizance of the Upland and Riverine arrangement as a natural political divide in the State. Though some political stakeholders have struggled to dispute the classification, it has remained evident and respected in the state’s political progression. The issue of Riverine and Upland is like Nigeria’s political distinction of “North and South” that cannot be wished away even with the structural creation of six geopolitical zones.
Consequently, even as we seek to de-emphasize our diversity, it should be noted that this political reality has sustained peace and unity in Rivers State. To ignore it is to perpetuate injustice, increase tension and agitation, and exacerbate distrust and acrimony in the state.
Senator Birabi’s decision to overlook the lofty and strategic executive positions occupied by the Ogoni is misleading. We cannot ignore the many illustrious Ogoni sons and daughters such as Chief I. S. Kogbara (Minister of Industry during the Interim Government of Ernest Shonekan), Dr. Precious Ngelale (Minister and later Ambassador under President Olusegun Obasanjo), Dr. Magnus Kpakol (Special Adviser of cabinet rank to President Olusegun Obasanjo), Barrister Kenneth Kobani also served as Federal Minister in this dispensation. Senator Magnus Abe was Secretary to State Government, Dr. Gabriel Pidomson and Barrister Kenneth Kobani also served as Secretary to State Government and a plethora of other top quality positions such as the acting managing director of Niger Delta Development Commission held by Ms Joy Nunieh.
While not attempting to speak for the various governments, it is doubtful that “every government in Rivers State”had taken advantage of the Ogoni people to water the seed of disunity and misinformation to keep them in perpetual subjugation.
We should not ignore the numerous top executive and legislative positions held by prominent Ogoni men and women. The infrastructural gains from the Wike administration should also be appreciated. To say that the Governor is contemptuous of the Ogoni is also a misrepresentation of the man who was found worthy to be honoured by the same Ogonis as Mene Kwalenu (King that does good things), for defending Ogoni interest.
Governor Wike has shown through his good political relationship and partnership with prominent Ogonis that they are noble and patriotic citizens of the state and nation. He should not be stampeded or blackmailed into an unrealistic political stance that can jeopardize the political stability of Rivers State. His ascendency to the position of Rivers State Governor was made possible by various persons across Riverine and upland groups. It will be unfair to demand that he should pay back the assistance or support offered by one person to an ethnic bloc.
The reference to the tenure of Chief Rufus Ada George is disingenuous and not fair. Chief Rufus Ada George’s tenure as Governor was short-lived, less than two years, before General Sani Abacha ousted the interim government and dismantled all democratic structures in November 1993, after the June 12 fiasco.
It is worth noting that following the annulment of Chief Moshood Abiola’s election in 1993 and the return of democratic rule in 1999, the South West was considered for the presidential ticket by the two political parties at the time. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was elected president in 1999 in the spirit of fairness and justice. But, in the case of Rivers State, the Riverine candidate, Chief Rufus Ada George, whose tenure was truncated by the Abacha regime is being deemed, erroneously, as a full tenure in the upland and Riverine political equation.
Perhaps, it will be necessary to, for the records and for the purpose of emphasis, remind Senator Birabi and those who share his sentiments that since 1999, after the return of democracy, all governors in Rivers State have been from the Upland of which the Ogoni is a part. It will therefore be unfair for the Ogoni and their sympathizers to demand the governorship seat in 2023. They should give the Riverine a chance, since the Upland has held the office of Governor for almost twenty-four years.
More so, persons of Riverine Ijaw Extraction have served in the position of Deputy Governor, conscientiously, in the three successive administrations since 1999. Firstly, Sir Gabriel Toby under Sir Dr. Peter Odili, then Engr. Tele Ikuru, under Sir Celestine Omehia and Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi and presently, Dr. Mrs Ipalibo Harry Banigo.
We, therefore, appeal that the Riverine Ijaw sections should be supported by all Political Leaders and Stakeholders, the entire people of Rivers State, and indeed friends of the State, to occupy the position of governor after Governor Nyesom Wike’s tenure in 2023. This is the just, equitable, fair and reasonable thing to do, if we are to allow our conscience to rule our desires. Rivers state is made up of several ethnic bloc grouped by reason of language and culture into Upland and Riverine. It’s only natural and fitting for power to be shared amongst these groups for fairness and equity, to sustain the confidence of Rivers people that their state is an egalitarian and democratic society.
We should defend justice and fairness for the good of our dear state and uphold the arrangement laid down by the founding fathers where government is based on inclusiveness and leadership at the top level is alternated between the Riverine and Upland sections of the state in the spirit of oneness.
Let the next Governor of Rivers State in 2023 come from the Riverine Ijaw sections of the State. That is our earnest appeal to all.
In conclusion, we urge political gladiators in the State and all concerned to play by the rules; actions and utterances should be guided, to all intents and purposes, in order to foster fairness and promote our unity as a people.
God bless Rivers State!
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
High Chief Dateme Tom Suku (Onongi V) Hon. Ken Robinson
Chief Prince Oleh Victor
Prince Soala Tobins
Ms Deborah J. Ogolo