Opinion: The Rise of Nyesom Wike by Andy Briggs

An aggressive mien, a thug-minded determination and a deep pocket can go a long way in Rivers politics, if the rise of Nyesom Wike is anything to go by. A lot of people would agree with this description of Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike but that would be too simple a definition for a guy who became chairman of Obio-Akpor, reputedly the second richest council in Nigeria in less than three years after leaving law school, became the chairman of the association of all Nigerian council chairmen (ALGON) after winning a hard fought second tenure, stood all the way with Amaechi in his legal battle for the PDP governorship spot, became the most powerful chief of staff in the history of Rivers politics and then berthed in national politics as the formidable minister of state for Education.
In street jargon, those who know Rumuepirikom born and bred Nyesom Wike once referred to him as John Mbata’s boy. Apparently, Nyesom Wike joined John (later Senator) Mbata’s law practice when he graduated from law school. He was still a protégé of Mbata’s when he vied for Obio-Akpor’s council chairmanship. It is claimed that Rivers State University of Technology educated Nyesom Wike lost the primary, went to court and was adjudged the rightful winner. There are those who remember that the support of the then Rivers governor-elect Dr. Peter Odili and his wife was instrumental to Nyesom Wike’s breakthrough.
Less than an hour’s drive from Wike’s Rumuepirikom family home at Wimpey Junction, Port Harcourt, Dr. Odili’s closest protégé Rotimi Amaechi had also clocked a controversial court administered victory over his rival Uche Okuku for the Ikwerre LGA seat in the Rivers State House of Assembly. The visceral and strategy minded Odili was working on his plan to make Rotimi Amaechi the speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly in 1999.
Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike has always been a force of nature; a rugged operator, gruff and grouchy, tough and not given to diplomacy liker Magnus Abe who would become the APP Minority leader of the Rivers House of Assembly that 1999 and would gradually cement a pact with the ambitious speaker which led eventually to the emergence of Abe, eight years later under Amaechi’s governorship as secretary to the state government and Nyesom Wike’s rival for power and influence in the Amaechi first term kitchen cabinet. Indeed, it is alleged that they once came to blows during a meeting with Amaechi in Government House, Port Harcourt. It is alleged that the aggressive chief of staff had grabbed a bottle. It never came crashing on Abe’s more analytical and cunning skull.
As chairman of Obio-Akpor council in 2003, Wike had faced a bruising second term re-election battle. It is claimed now that he could not have returned for a second term without Rotimi Amaechi’s support. That was because Odili was comfortable at the time with letting Amaechi take charge of party matters in Ikwerre land. It seems conveniently forgotten that then as a speaker, Amaechi depended on Governor Odili for his political influence and Nyesom Wike also enjoyed a very close relationship with members of Governor Odili’s family. Amaechi and Wike both enjoyed political influence due to their intimacy with the Odili family.
Wike’s greatest achievement as council chairman was the outstanding council secretariat which he built in his second term. As chairman of ALGON he was also at the forefront of Governor Odili’s presidential campaign. He would part ways with the Odili family a few months later to become one of the major anchors of Amaechi’s gubernatorial court battleship. Even then it was not a well-kept secret that Nyesom Wike hoped to become the chief of staff when Amaechi became governor.
Nyesom Wike’s die-hard, aggressive nature and considerable wealth was suited to the exacting legal battle into which Amaechi plunged after President Obasanjo had stopped his emergence as the PDP gubernatorial candidate in Rivers State. Soon Amaechi was hiding away in Ghana and sorely needed determined men like Wike to mobilize his supporters and pay their transport expenses and hotel bills on the many trips from Port Harcourt to Abuja to follow the court hearings. It is also alleged that Wike paid a huge part of a financial settlement which took place before the Supreme Court victory. It is alleged that the amount involved was so huge that those who delivered it to its destination bought cars afterwards from the blocks they pried away from the consignment.
Nyesom Wike was sworn in as chief of staff as soon as Amaechi was sworn in as governor. Magnus Abe was also sworn in as secretary of the state government. These two men became like salt and pepper in the seasoning of Amaechi’s first term policy. They can take responsibility for most decisions taken by Amaechi in the early days of his governorship. While Abe’s influence was more subtle and no less diabolical at times, Wike was feared by most people; without a care about making friends outside those who were part of the struggle for Amaechi’s governorship victory, it was usual to find him unleashing snarls and aggression on many who crossed his path.
After settling down, Governor Amaechi gradually pulled away from the air of vindictiveness in which Wike thrived. Though Amaechi’s reconciliation efforts came from the head and not the heart, it provided him with the credibility he needed to move the state forward and eventually win a second term.
Wike’s last important assignment in the Amaechi camp was as the director-general of the Amaechi re-election campaign. He presided over an operation rife with ballot box-stuffing. It was unnecessary because Amaechi was easily the most popular candidate, anyway. Amidst the celebrations of victory, muffled signs were also emerging from Government House Port Harcourt that it might be only a matter of time before the ambitious seemingly people friendly trajectory in which Governor Amaechi was cruising would grate terminally against Nyesom Wike’s pit-bullish territorial aspirations.
Though Amaechi stood with Wike during his EFCC travail over questionable bank accounts and withdrawals involving a total sum of about N5Billion, cracks had appeared in the walls of their pact. But the first figurative blow to the head or perhaps the heart sustained by Wike in the powershare was when Amaechi had dumped him for George Sekibo. Up till then it was considered a done deal that Abe would take the Rivers South-East senatorial seat from Lee Maeba, G. U Ake’s brother Wilson Ake would keep the Rivers West seat while Wike would take the Rivers East. Amaechi was pushing many of his most influential stalwarts away to Abuja in this deal. When the PDP senatorial primaries had neared, Wike was first disqualified from entering the race and then Amaechi reneged from his commitment to back him. Ostensibly, this was done to accommodate Patience Jonathan’s unyielding wish to back her parapo. It would seem then that after her public spat with Governor Amaechi in Okrika, he had bent over backwards to please her. Wike’s outrage and outburst would reach even the television. It is said that George Sekibo later thanked him for yielding. The seed of mistrust had been sown between the governor and his Man-Friday.
As Wike’s peer Abe with the determined help of Governor Amaechi overwhelmed his senatorial opposition in Rivers SouthEast, Wike tried to see a political future beyond George Sekibo. Amaechi had made it clear enough that he no longer wanted a chief of staff in Government House. A ministerial nomination would be the only way to remain in power.
There are two versions as to how Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike became minister. Both versions agree that when Jonathan, in keeping up with a practice begun by Obasanjo asked governors to nominate ministers; Amaechi first nominated his close friend Tonye Cole, son of Ambassador Dele Cole instead of his outgoing chief of staff. It is alleged that disturbed by this development, Wike had reached out to a retired chief justice who they (Wike and Amaechi) both owed, big time. The retired chief justice had then called Amaechi to know why he had not nominated Wike for minister; Wike who had fought so hard for him during his court battles over the governorship. It is alleged that Amaechi had explained that since he was of Ikwerre extraction, the need for ethnic balance compelled him to nominate a non-Ikwerre for minister, in this case a Kalabari man especially as Odein Ajumogobia who had lost his ministerial position was Kalabari. Two Ikwerre men could not hold the two highest positions in the state to the exclusion of other ethnic groups.
It is also alleged that President Jonathan had promised a second ministerial slot to Rivers State for returning him as president with the highest percentage of votes and Amaechi was allegedly planning to nominate Wike for this. It is claimed that though Amaechi made assurances to the retired chief justice, he was mad with Wike for taking a matter that should have been between them to the retired chief justice. According to the story and contrary to Amaechi’s expectation, President Jonathan then asked Ijaw elders led by Chief E.K Clark to nominate a second minister from Rivers State and they nominated the former head of service of the federation Amah Pepple. Faced with this twist in the plot and having a promise to fulfil to this retired chief justice, Amaechi decided to take the only option left to him, the unpleasant step of withdrawing Tonye Cole’s nomination. Jonathan agreed and Wike was soon confirmed a minister.
Another version insists however that Amaechi nominated Wike after the intervention of the all important retired chief justice but Wike had encountered difficulties in the clearance process, flown down to Government House Port Harcourt to get his governor to put in a word. It is alleged that the governor, after hearing him out had asked him to ask those to whom he had reported him (Amaechi) to clear him. Rebuffed, Wike had allegedly met Uche Secondus then the national organising secretary of the PDP. Secondus had allegedly taken Wike to Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas who then took them to Chief E.K Clarke. Clarke had thereafter prevailed on the president to allow Ijaw elders to nominate the second Rivers minister since the governor had nominated Cole. The president agreed, Clarke nominated Wike and the president asked the governor to withdraw the nomination of Cole.
It cannot be gainsaid that the relationship between the Rivers Governor and the Minister of State has worsened. About sixteen Rivers council chairmen were rusticated last year for attending a meeting called by Wike. Political appointees perceived to be close to Wike also lost their appointments. A good example would be Emeka Woke, a former council chairman booted out last December from his position as chairman of Rivers State Tourism Development Agency.
Amaechi stalwarts have also alleged that Wike since becoming minister has warmed himself into Patience Jonathan’s confidence where he is constantly eroding any sympathy that Amaechi might enjoy. They claim that Wike is now working to install Senator George Sekibo (Patient Jonathan’s kinsman) as the next governor of Rivers State.
If indeed Wike had initiated any campaign against Amaechi in the presidency, there can be no doubt that Amaechi himself has done far more damage to his relationship with the Jonathans than Wike could have accomplished. Amaechi and Wike braved great odds in 2007 and blighted Rivers State with a vindictive agenda that destroyed people, friendships, families and businesses but the exploding political war in Rivers as 2015 nears is not against the adversaries of 2007 and 2011. Amaechi and Wike are the fiercest enemies in Rivers politics today.
Wike is not yet Amaechi’s match in the politics of Rivers State. His politics has simply not ventured beyond Ikwerre land despite his determination to extract a pound of flesh from Governor Amaechi. The structures of the PDP in Rivers State are still firmly in Amaechi’s grasp. A complete reconciliation between Amaechi and Jonathan would obliterate Wike as a factor in 2015. A complete reconciliation between Amaechi and the president would guarantee Amaechi a safe landing after he hands over power in 2015 and allow Jonathan to keep Rivers State securely alongside Bayelsa at the core of his support base. A complete reconciliation could well be the only way for Amaechi to check the rise of Nyesom Wike as his nemesis. The prospect seems to be getting dimmer.

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