Before the 2015 general election, many speculated that the seeming quarrel between then Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi and then minister Nyesom Wike was orchestrated in order to keep the governorship seat for Ikwerre people. Amaechi had decamped to the APC and supported a Kalabari man, Dakuku Peterside, for governor. Peterside, now DG of NIMASA, lost. Wike of the PDP became governor despite some legal tussle. By 2019, four Ikwerre men would have ruled Rivers State for 20 unbroken years.
The fight between Amaechi and Wike couldn’t have been arranged to favour the Ikwerre, even though they recently pledged to stop the squabble in the interest of Rivers people. Maybe they have declared a ceasefire, but one party is close to breaching the agreement. The incumbent governor has continued to judge his performance by comparing it with his predecessor’s. This was evident during the 12th All Nigeria Editors Conference (ANEC) hosted by the Rivers State government last week.
The evidence of Wike’s performance is limited to Port Harcourt, the state capital, and quite visible in the number of roads rehabilitated or, in the words of commissioners who assisted Wike in explaining things to the editors during a tour of projects, “reconstructed”. More than 40 roads – some measuring about 7km, 2km and 12km – have received a facelift in Port Harcourt alone. Some had been “abandoned” by Amaechi even though the contract sums had been paid for in full.
“This area was un-passable,” Eliot Henry told Eyeway during a visit to Ogbogoro Road. “Wike tried here.” Gambia, Azikiwe and Ojoto streets had ponds and lakes on them before the new government tackled them. Craters were everywhere, other residents testified.
The state government and the Nigerian Ports Authority were said to have signed a memorandum of understanding to rehabilitate a 1.2km road to the wharf around July 2015. When work commenced, the NPA reneged on the agreement because it was no longer “politically correct”, said Wike’s commissioner who pointed thinly veiled fingers at the ports’ supervising ministry. It did not matter that ministers got appointed in November and only a political novice would move against a project meant for his state.
Wike and his commissioners bemoaned the monorail project of the Amaechi administration, which had been abandoned. What remains of the project are rail tracks on huge pillars over less than 2km distance. Yet it gulped well over N40billion, the governor stated. Each pillar was said to have cost N25million. What is more worrying, the monorail project was considered “useless”: even if it’s completed, nobody would use it because it’s sited near a non-residential area. “Amaechi was warned in advance. He was told that it would be unnecessary. But he went ahead with the contract because the APC was to hold its convention,” said a commissioner.
There was no opportunity for Amaechi, now minister of transportation, to defend himself. When he was indicted by a state panel last year, however, he dismissed the report as a political witch-hunt. In recent times, he has criticised Wike for some political killings in the state. But Wike challenges everyone who fears for their security in Rivers State to name one incident of pipeline bombing or terrorism in the state, though he admits that “no state is crime-free”. He is perhaps right.
Port Harcourt residents applaud Wike mainly for the roads he has rehabilitated or “reconstructed”. Even on the night many editors landed in Port Harcourt for the 12th ANEC, they were welcomed by street lights that were non-existent pre- Wike. “You can’t take it away from Wike as long as it concerns road matters. He has done better than his predecessors,” said ICT engineer Emeka Umawan at Iguruta. “What you see in PH now are things done by Wike and Amaechi. [Peter] Odili did next to nothing to develop Rivers State.”
Six years ago in Port Harcourt, the Nigerian editors were taken round Port Harcourt by then governor Amaechi too. Then, he had good schools and buildings to show. There was a magnificent power plant he claimed as his own, but Wike’s commissioners told Eyeway it was built by Odili but was later sold by Amaechi.
In a popularity contest in the state capital at this time, Wike would defeat Odili and Amaechi hands down. He has spent just 14 months in office and at a time of great economic meltdown in the country, however. After a few more years he might be judged more harshly, especially if his development projects failed to reach other towns in Rivers State. Like most other governors, Wike has concentrated attention on the state capital alone. Senators and House of Representatives members from the state that ought to remind him of neglected areas are, unfortunately, lacking. Their elections were cancelled last year. A rerun in March was also inconclusive. Thus, Rivers State has been without representatives in the National Assembly for almost a third of the four-year tenure. Wike wants such injustice redressed. The excuses INEC gives for not conducting the polls are not acceptable, he said.
Rivers State has certainly witnessed improvements in security, agriculture, health, education and other areas. But its brightest-shining star is road rehabilitation in Port Harcourt. That’s the verdict of editors who hit the roads with Wike on August 6.