Of Wike and aborted ‘in-house coup’,
By Emmanuel Ado
On June 30, 1934, the historic day of the Night of Long Knives, Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer or Chancellor of Germany, was scared stiff that the notorious SA – the abbreviation for Sturmabteillung (German Assault Division) – which had helped him to power, had become too, too powerful, and a danger to his continued governance, didn’t think twice, before ordering the mass murder of the SA leadership. Ernst Rohm, the very highly ambitious leader of the SA, who was plotting to merge the regular army to the SA, under his leadership was summarily executed. The SA was at that point in time, about 2 million, which was 20 times the size of the regular army.
Fast-forward to 24th June, 2017, same month of June, some 83 years later, but this time in Nigeria, Nyesom Wike – Governor of oil-rich Rivers State, facing an internal rebellion, an in-house ‘coup’ by some of his commissioners – reenacted the Night of Long Knives. He swiftly crushed the in-house ‘coup’. This confirms his high political instincts and a deep understanding of the nature of politics.
Failure by Wike to have nibbled the in-house ‘coup’, would have precipitated the beginning of the end of his administration. The dissolution of the State Executive Council was a political master-stroke. When the Commissioner for Information and Communication, Austin Tam-George, resigned June on 23, 2017, little did he know that his action would lead to an earthquake that would also send his other colleagues home. The governor first announced with immediate effect the sack of Bathuel Harrison, the Commissioner for Works, and followed up with the sack of what was left of the cabinet.
Politics, which is taken from the Greek word politiká, that is, the process of making decisions applying to all members of each group. More narrowly, it refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance – an organised control over a human society or community. Wike didn’t battle his good friend, Rotimi Amaechi, Federal Minister of Transport, to a stand-still for the fun of it. It is beyond mere ambition, considering his political background. Former chairman of Obior-Akpor for eight years: Heading the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), being chief of staff to then governor Amaechi, his now estranged brother; a minister of state and, finally, governor. Not many people seem to be aware of his deep experience, so his deft political moves, consequently comes as a surprise to them. But Wike clearly understands that the rule of the political game is eternal vigilance. In effect, what Wike had to battle was weak loyalty. Were it a parliamentary system of government, Wike would have been removed through a vote of no confidence. At the reception for Evans Bipi, Majority Leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Wike said: “You must work with those who are loyal. Those who are not loyal will be shown the way out. Those who are loyal will come back. When you are going into another dispensation, you have to put things in order.” A confirmation that he was indeed battling divided loyalty.
Most Nigerians have wrong notion of politics. They think politics is dirty. They think saints run governments. The reality of politics is what the former opposition All Progressive Congress (APC), is now contending with: having successfully dislodged the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It has proved itself incapable of even the simplest of tasks – holding a none-elective convention. It can’t pay rent for its party headquarters, light and water have been caught off. Yet, many Nigerians continue to look forward to good leadership from the APC, which can’t take care of itself. Mao Tse Tung said: “Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed.”Politics is about survival. It is the romanticisation of politics that most times colour our reaction to events like that of Wike’s dissolution of his cabinet. And the antics of some Muhammadu Buhari’s aides in making sure Nigerians don’t forget who the President is.
”In the animal world, male lions mature around 26 months, but hardly ever get to mate until they are five years and have the size to take over a pride, and with it comes the breeding rights, not due to ‘scarcity’ of females.”
Of interest is the tendency of male lions to kill cubs, so as to bring the females back into heat. He lacks that patience to hang around until she comes on heat again, so he forces her by his cold and efficient murder of the cubs. A female lion knows that the arrival of a new king is doom for her cubs, as the new king naturally wants his offspring to succeed, to be the new generation. So it was a strategic mistake for the commissioners to have confronted the governor when they lacked the necessary insurance cover. They should have learnt from the lions, to bid their time before forcing issues, if there were.
Politics is about whose ideas that will prevail. Wike, like the lion, obviously wants to reshape Rivers State in his own image, which is why he contested. Donald Trump is so preoccupied and obsessed with repeal and replace of the Obamacare, in spite of the huge political capital it is costing him. The question is: Why? The answer is not far-fetched, Trump wants to leave his footprints on the sands of time, as the real and true conservative that corrected the problem that is Obamacare. How about the President of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan? Through a series of very fundamental amendments, Erdogan has transformed Turkey from a parliamentary democracy to American-style presidential democracy. He has cemented his hold on power, until sometime in 2029. And the latest kid on the block – Emmanuel Macron, the French President, promised, and is working on a “profound transformation” of France; a radical change in French labour laws, overhaul of the parliament that would see a reduction in the number of members. This is why people run for offices, and they must maintain control. Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair was ousted – once he showed signs of laxity – by Gordon Brown, his trusted ally, who turned out to be a jester.
Before the last week’s earthquake that he precipitated, Wike had removed Wachukwu, whom he had accused of living below expectation. “I have a covenant with the people of Rivers State to develop this state. And anybody who is going to work with me must work at my speed, and not at your own speed. Nobody should come and drag me back like the former commissioner. Wachukwu is intelligent, but he could not meet up with the pace of work at the ministry,” Wike declared while announcing the sack of the commissioner. Five months after, Wike suspended four commissioners, namely: Dr John Bazia, Chieftaincy Affairs; Mrs Tonye Briggs-Oniyide, Culture and Tourism; Dr Fred Kpakol, Finance and Mr Boma Iyaye, Sports. Also suspended was the Head of Service, Mr Rufus Godwin and Mr Anugbum Onuoha, Special Adviser on Lands. Though they were recalled, the signs were all over the place that the governor wasn’t going to abdicate responsibility, signs that the commissioners either refused to read, or read wrongly.
One of the crimes of former President Goodluck Jonathan was his weakness to fire Mrs Diezani Allison-Madueke, Minister of Petroleum Resources, who was fingered as the biggest problem of the administration. The APC was able to brand Jonathan as weak and incompetent, due to his failure to call her and some other ministers to order. Wike, as a minister, must have observed at very close range some of these events, which is why he is making it clear that the buck stops at his table. Wike must have also read about Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater in the 1964 United States elections. After Barry Goldwater lost the 1964 presidential elections to Lyndon Johnson, several political writers embarked on inquests as to why he lost, given public perception that Goldwater would have made a much better president than Johnson; just as Donald Trump is making Americans have a rethink about his suitability for the presidency. The conclusion was that “being right in the sense of being correct is not sufficient to win. You don’t win just because your heart is pure, even if you can prove logically that you are right.” They followed up with the logical question: What determines victory? The finding was the painful reality: “The real world doesn’t work that way.” And the findings became the Bible of the Conservatives. Johnson trounced Goldwater, winning by 41 million votes to Goldwater’s 27 million votes.
The commissioners who thought Wike – after what he went through and is still going through to be governor – would surrender “political power” to them, have poor political education. The grapevine has it that the root of the crises are claims they are not “making money.” This is understandable, given the scarcity of resources. But, spreading political patronage for coalitions will always be a problem. Part of the crisis facing the APC is the refusal of ‘Saint Buhari’ to spread appointments to his ‘un-saintly’ supporters. It will always be a problem, but it is the political brinkmanship that makes the difference.
Wike must have read The Logic of Political Survival, by Bruce Mesquita et al. In that seminal work, the authors argued: “A large winning coalition is detrimental to political survival, because coalition members will be less loyal to their leaders. They have less to lose if their leaders are replaced.” What will they lose if Wike is ousted? They will move on. Is this not true of the APC today? Not even its broken or is it cracked record, Prof Itse Sagay, believes that the war on corruption is not being fought, with any seriousness. So the APC today is at war with itself and with the larger society, because it has failed to satisfy any of its publics; unlike Wike who has aligned with the people. And they have so far repaid him bountifully by voting for him in the various reruns. If Amaechi had captured the Rivers State House of Assembly, Wike would have been history, and he understands this fact.
Bruce further argued that when winning coalitions are large, the cost of providing private benefits becomes un-affordably high, and that such a leader is better off going for “public good, to serve the larger public interest”, than narrow interests. Wike, must have learned from the experience of his boss, former President Jonathan, that “good guys” don’t succeed in politics. Yes, leaders’ political survival depends on their followers’ support, but the reality, as Jonathan found out too late, is that spreading prosperity and holding no political prisoners wasn’t enough to win and retain power. His nice guy image didn’t help him. According to Bruce et al, “Democratic governments appear to offer their citizens more peace and prosperity than autocracies do, but autocratic leaders stay in office roughly twice as long as leaders in democratic nations.” APC has done several ‘unthinkable things’ that the PDP never contemplated. And it is getting away with them. One exciting conclusion of The Logic of Political Survival is: “In many cases, good policies are detrimental to political survival, whereas bad policies often enhance political survival.” Is this what the APC is thinking? Spreading poverty, to retain power?
Ex-President Jonathan would never have perpetually detained Major-General Saraki Muktar, the National Security Adviser to late President Umaru Yar’Adua, as President Buhari has held Col Sambo Dasuki, his National Security Adviser, without the heaven falling. But Buhari has gotten away with several blue murders. The poster boy of the Buhari administration Babatunde Fashola – who, as Nigerians will say, “made so much noise” about the inability of the Goodluck administration to provide power – has been delivering darkness. The question is: If Fashola delivers darkness when due to the rainy season, the hydro- powers are expected to fire at full capacity; after the rains, what will happen? Worse still, Fashola hasn’t produced a road-map that will form any basis of hope that tomorrow will be better. Yet, the APC is not bothered about worsening economic conditions of Nigerians.
The battle for 2019 is already on. In Rivers State, Amaechi and Senator Magnus Abe, have kick-started the free-style wrestling that is bound to be a million-dollar thriller. But the indication is that Amaechi would have been through fighting Abe, before facing his nemesis, Wike. Or, will it be a no contest? The dissolution of the cabinet is partly a reaction to that emerging political scenario. Wike will be politically naive not have taken interest in that fight, nor close his eyes to the real fight, a repeat of the rumble in the jungle between him and Dakuku Peterside, the preferred candidate of Amaechi.
Wike is framing the appropriate arguments for 2019 – enthronement of a new Rivers State – a Rivers State of new possibilities. He seems to be telling Rivers people: ‘it is not about me, it is about you.’ Defeating Amaechi in 2015, was not a mean feat, but doing a double-home and away on him, which would settle the rivalry, will depend on him continuously delivering the goods to the people. It is obvious that Wike, clearly understands that this is what would guarantee him that victory. So, the governor must continue to tackle the provision of infrastructure and human development in his strides. But, the critical question is: Where is the money for these projects coming from, especially with the dwindling resources from Federation Allocation? The budget shows that it is from internally generated revenue (IGR). Figures indicate that the state has increased monthly revenue collection from about N3 billion to about N9 billion, which is what some states generate in a financial year. This is a testimony of Wike’s prudent management of resources.
Against the foregoing backdrop, political observers must not take their eyes off Rivers State. It is a state to watch.
- Emmanuel Ado writes from Kaduna. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org