By Gladys Nweke
Chief Allwell Onyesoh, an All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain, in this personal account of the crisis that continues to place Rivers APC leadership at the mercy of the courts, says it has got to a point where no one could be blamed for switching political allegiance to more organised alternative platforms in the state.
Chief Onyesoh was a two terms commissioner of education and also commissioner of sports under Dr Peter Odili’s administration.
He was a chairman, Rivers State Schools Board, under Rt Hon Chibuzor Rotimi Amaechi led administration
Chief Onyesoh was awarded as the best grassroots politician in the South- South and also the best youth friendly politician in Nigeria and a philanthropist to the call.
How did leaders get so deep into this state of disarray in Rivers APC?
It all started with the exit of Celestine Omehia as governor and his successor, Rotimi Amaechi, feeling badly treated and victimised, in his very first speech at the EXCO Chambers, declared, ‘This government is not an offshoot of any government, no godfather.’ After appointing Secretary to Government and Press Secretary, he also said, I am going to hit power for power. I don’t have godfather. What he was saying in essence was that nobody will control him. That played out.
He had flown in from Ghana, took oath of office, made his first appointments and started without consultations. I was to go to Senate but deprived for supporting him. The other camp gave it to George Sekibo. We carried on believing that if we got governorship, things will be better. Making all the sacrifices, we contributed money to go to court. Amaechi assumed office and nobody could control him.
How much did you, his associates, do to caution him?
In such a situation, there are those who benefit. Some of them are now big men dispensing largesse to those who called themselves ‘under the mango tree’. Amaechi went on for over six months without commissioners. When people say Governor Wike did not appoint commissioners, I ask, is it the first time in Rivers that it is happening? When eventually he appointed the commissioners, he sacked them without telling anybody. We raised eyebrows and pointed out that this was an anomaly, so, it’s not like people didn’t question him.
But there was still one PDP structure in Rivers. Why isn’t APC so today?
When it was time for party congresses, Amaechi removed Uche Secondus who he inherited as state PDP chairman. He brought Chief G.U. Ake. He was consolidating and not listening to us. So, some of us left him. In 2008, I left Nigeria to study law abroad. We made up later and I came back for the campaigns in 2011. Having ‘sanitized’ the party the way he wanted, Amaechi made to ‘sanitise’ Government House. You will go to Senate, he told Magnus Abe. He redeployed Wike out of Government House as Chief of Staff and made him Campaign DG. He was still not comfortable with that. During the local government elections, nominations flew everywhere. A certain name was brought for Obio Akpor LGA chairman, Wike’s own LGA, and Wike wouldn’t take that. There was open confrontation and it was ripe for Wike to be thrown out as the conflict was building.
Even Dakuku Peterside was becoming powerful. As Works Commissioner, he could do so many things. The governor pushed him to Abuja as Reps member. In his second tenure, he replaced all these people. Time came for ministerial nominations. Tonye Cole and a certain lady were the governor’s original nominees. Everybody started murmuring where was Tonye when we were fighting? What about the Campaign DG (Wike) that did everything? Wike was number three on the nominees’ list. Wike ended up getting one slot and Amah Pepple brought in to fill the second Rivers ministerial slot. Amaechi didn’t like that. That was the beginning of the animosity against then President Jonathan.
Thoughts on who should have got Rivers APC governorship ticket prior to 2015?
Magnus Abe was the standout card. We needed a man much mature, competent and had the support base to confront Wike. Wike is from Ikwerre with four LGAs, Abe, Ogoni, with four LGAs too. Then-governor (Amaechi) brought Dakuku from Opobo, the smallest LGA, if I am not mistaken. He brought running-mate from another small ethnic group – Engenni – who wasn’t even politically experienced.
People say Peter Odili and Gabriel Toby were from small ethnic groups, but the circumstances were different. Odili and Toby were adopted by a collegiate of respected Rivers men across all major ethnic blocs.
How difficult was it for Rivers APC not to have been ‘once beaten, twice in 2019 elections?
Rivers APC became leaderless in practical terms. They are saying ‘leader, leader’ a leader you cannot see in Abuja and he shouts at you? People wanted to be led but, where is the leader now? You delight in sharing offices, but never share yours. You must be speaker, governor, minister, two tenures each, for what? I insisted I will run for Senate. Next thing, he started changing leaders of caucuses. The battle line was drawn. In the end, courts said we should not contest and that’s why we are here.
How long will Rivers APC wallow in self-destruction?
Some stories are longer than others; but there’s always an end to every story. People are saying end, end but has the emperor shown any remorse? When they wanted to appoint second term ministers, we decided to fight, but they say let’s forget, unite. But as soon as he was announced, his first speech was to announce congresses for Rivers APC. Let him come and do congress. APC national leadership too has not exercised true reconciliation. Two persons are fighting; you want to reconcile them, you bring those to reconcile from one side of the divide? What manner of reconciliation?
Why didn’t the leaders bother about the fate of your supporters, many of whom should enjoy numerous opportunities if the party was united and controls Rivers government?
That is the reason we have massive support. They know the only way is when we get in there and we can’t get in if we don’t do what we are doing now, insisting that we get it right. How has the system in place, at the centre now, benefitted them? Obviously, it wasn’t meant to benefit them. We have the most lucrative offices. One of them is Director, Operations of NPA. People supply water to ships, clean NPA; do all kinds of things in wharfs. All those you can use to employ massively. What of NIMASA, what of railway? Sam Sam Jaja heads the board of a higher institution, are there no contracts there? You want to win election? Opobo, a tiny place, Dakuku is from there. Sam Sam Jaja is from there and a place as large as Etche and Omuma with over 200,000 voters, not one recognition. How do you take care of only a few and expect the majority to vote for you?
With prolonged uncertainty in Rivers APC, don’t you envisage some bigwigs jumping ship to PDP?
The Wike I see doesn’t need anybody to be successful now. He took all senatorial, Reps, entire Rivers State Assembly and council chairmen seats. But then I wouldn’t blame anyone leaving our party. People shift ground. President Buhari was of ANPP. He became CPC and now President as APC and very honest and upright. So, if anybody, tired of this kuru-kere dance wants to take his politics elsewhere, I see no wrong. All the wrangling has weakened the party and we are not even conscious of rebuilding to be strong.
Meanwhile, PDP is in government, consolidating; APC national leadership is doing nothing about it, even as the national chairman is enmeshed in his own bigger problem in his state because God is paying him back. When they are doing press conferences against him and passing vote of no confidence, we supported him massively, linking with other states. We went to Benin, gave him solidarity. We have done our own, but you can’t kill him.
What is the way forward for Abe and allies?
It is to be law abiding, achieving the needful without shedding anybody’s blood. If you are a good player, people will come for you. If we, too, after so much and nothing is happening, decide to move, that won’t make us bad people. If we can no longer organise ourselves and the powers-that-be are not helping matters, we will look at those who are organised if we must continue to play the game. There will be realignment of forces.