It is Thursday morning, two days before the governorship elections that will take place across Nigeria tomorrow, Saturday 18 March.
I am chatting to a friend – let’s call him Dear John – who belongs to the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers, my state of origin.
Dear John appears to already know the results of a poll that hasn’t yet happened and confidently assures me that Magnus Abe, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate I am supporting, doesn’t stand a chance.
“Magnus will come third. Beatrice Itubo [Labour Party, LP] will come second. Tonye Cole [All Progressives Congress, APC] will come last; and Sim Fubara [PDP] will win with a margin of about 328,000 votes.”
I’m bemused by the precision of this revelation and ask myself whether Dear John is an especially insightful analyst who possesses uncannily accurate prediction skills. Or whether the PDP, which has run Rivers State continuously since 1999, is up to its old tricks.
‘Famed for rigging elections in advance’
Rivers governors are famed for efficiently rigging elections in advance – with the active connivance of law enforcement personnel and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) staff – and for choosing vote-allocation formulae that reflect their preferences.
Nyesom Wike, the current chief executive of this oil-producing state that is the capital of the Niger Delta region, is a garrulous, flashy, belligerent, larger-than-life mover-and-shaker whose second and final tenure will end on 29 May.
Wike has attracted numerous corruption- and violence-related allegations during his eight years at the helm. He has made no secret of the fact that he is desperate to install a successor he hopes will shield him from his many enemies in a country where governors abruptly lose immunity from prosecution the minute they leave office.
Wike spectacularly fell out with – and aggressively undermined – Atiku Abubakar, the PDP’s presidential flagbearer during the run-up to the main 25 February election; and having publicly expressed fears that he would be jailed or killed if Atiku won, Wike threw his considerable weight behind the APC’s Bola Tinubu instead.
Given that Wike’s support is always generously cash-backed and that Tinubu was declared winner and isn’t known for ingratitude, Wike’s betrayal of his own party has probably bought him the Federal-level protection he craves. But he still feels exposed on the home front and needs tomorrow’s victor to be firmly on his side.
Wike’s accountant-general, longstanding loyalist and Anointed, Sim Fubara, certainly fits the bill. He has an uncombative personality. He has always followed instructions issued by his master to the letter. And Wike is throwing everything he’s got at his succession plan.
Whether Wike will be able to secure the crown for his protegee remains to be seen. He’s a wily strategist and political bruiser who rarely loses battles. But he has formidable opponents to contend with.
In the past, Wike could rely on most of the dignitaries in Rivers State. But most have been PDP members for a couple of decades and he deeply offended them by sabotaging their national leader, Atiku.
Wike’s decision to select – without consulting anyone – Fubara as his heir apparent has also cost him a lot of elite goodwill, not least because Fubara is very junior and very unaccomplished compared to some of Wike allies who also had governor ambitions.
For the above reasons, a major gang-up has been ongoing for several months. And it’s not a pretty fight or sight.
There have been multiple attacks on anti-Wike PDP stalwarts who are so determined to give Wike a bloody nose that they’re supporting Fubara’s LP, SDP and APC rivals.
Last month, Destiny Iganibo, a Wike follower, broke into a Port Harcourt compound owned by Tamunosisi Gogo Jaja, one of Wike’s adversaries. It is said that Iganibo was sent to assassinate Jaja and was caught by guards, carrying hand grenades. They shot him and left him to bleed to death. His slow, agonising demise and pleas were filmed; and the video went viral.
‘Such brutality is commonplace’
Meanwhile, Rotimi Amaechi, Wike’s predecessor and onetime mentor, who left the PDP for the APC in 2014 and has just finished a stint as Minister of Transport, is pushing hard for Tonye Cole, who has also suffered attacks he believes were sponsored by Wike.
It is because such brutality is commonplace in Rivers State – and I have personally witnessed quite a few terrifying incidents myself over the years – that people talk about “Rivers Of Blood” when elections in my state are being discussed.
Rivers State is a messy, complicated melting pot that contains three major ethnic groups: Ijaws, Ogonis and indigenes like Wike and Amaechi who have Igbo names.
My Ogoni tribe is the only group of Rivers natives that has never had a governor, deputy governor, speaker of the state house of assembly or chief judge.
These things matter in Nigeria. We are victims of ethnic exclusion. And I am rooting for Magnus Abe because he is a fellow Ogoni, as well as smart and an experienced public servant.
So let’s wait and see how tomorrow’s electoral drama will go.
Peter Obi, the LP’s presidential candidate, is immensely popular in Rivers State, so it’s very possible that his Rivers partner, Itubo, will beat Fubara. Ditto Cole and Abe who are highly respected.
There is no doubt that there will be plenty of scary hand-to-hand combat and murky skulduggery tomorrow. And while Wike’s camp will excel in this regard, it won’t be the only culprit by any means.
The bottom line is that despite Dear John’s declaration, uttered in the triumphant tones of one who is in cahoots with a powerful incumbent, the outcome is far from guaranteed, especially if INEC – to avoid the abuse it attracted after the presidential election – quickly uploads results at polling units as soon as they are available.
There will be millions of naira flying out of Wike’s coffers tomorrow.
But money isn’t always everything.
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