Power, money, ri­valry, eth­nic­ity: a heady mix in Nige­ria’s Rivers


Dakuku Peterside and Nye­som Wike, the two main can­di­dates run­ning for gover­nor of Nige­ria’s Rivers state, signed a peace ac­cord this week in the lo­cal cap­i­tal Port Har­court.

That an agree­ment was needed in the first place is a mea­sure of the high stakes in Satur­day’s elec­tion in the oil-rich south­ern delta re­gion.

“We are all broth­ers. Let us be able to shake hands af­ter this elec­tion. Let us par­tic­i­pate in this elec­tion with­out bit­ter­ness,” State po­lice com­mis­sioner Hosea Karma, who bro­kered the deal, told the two men.

Fear and anx­i­ety have gripped Rivers af­ter an up­surge in vi­o­lent at­tacks in the run-up to the vote.

Peterside’s All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC), which con­trols the state, has claimed 55 of its sup­port­ers have been killed by thugs from Wike’s Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party (PDP), which has dom­i­nated na­tional pol­i­tics for the last 16 years un­til last month’s de­feat in the pres­i­den­tial polls.

Dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions on March 28, the APC com­plained of mass vote-rig­ging by the PDP. Thou­sands laid siege to the lo­cal of­fices of the elec­toral com­mis­sion and a cur­few was im­posed.

But po­lit­i­cal ri­valry is just one fac­tor fu­elling the ten­sions. As else­where in Nige­ria, there is also power, money and a back­drop of eth­nic iden­tity.

Strained Ties

Rivers is a key bat­tle­ground for both par­ties in the gu­ber­na­to­rial polls, which are tak­ing place in 29 out of Nige­ria’s 36 states to ce- ment lo­cal power for the next four years.

The PDP has won easy ma­jori­ties in Rivers since Nige­ria re­turned to civil­ian rule in 1999, giv­ing them ac­cess to huge rev­enues from the oil and gas sec­tor based in the state and off its shores.

Nearly 95 per­cent of state vot­ers in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion backed out­go­ing Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan of the PDP, who hails from next door Bayelsa state.

But this time the gov­er­nor­ship elec­tion may not be so clear cut, with per­sonal ties strained be­tween Gover­nor Ro­timi Amaechi, Jonathan and his wife, Pa­tience.

Amaechi was one of sev­eral PDP gov­er­nors who de­fected to the APC in 2013, go­ing on to be­come a harsh gov­ern­ment critic and head­ing the cam­paign for win­ning pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Muham­madu Buhari.

There was more bad blood when Rivers lost lu­cra­tive oil wells to Bayelsa.

Up­land vs. River­ine

Rivers has been gov­erned for the last 16 years by “up­land” politi­cians north of Port Har­court, in­clud­ing Amaechi, who is from the Ik­w­erre eth­nic group.

But he be­lieves that should now change as he steps down af­ter serv­ing the max­i­mum two fouryear terms.

“Gover­nor Amaechi be­lieves it is fair and proper that some­body from the river­ine area be gover­nor in 2015,” Rivers in­for­ma­tion com­mis­sioner Ibim Se­meni­tari told AFP.

“This has not gone down well with Jonathan, his wife and the PDP.”

The 49-year-old gover­nor sup­ports Peterside, who comes from Opobo, near the At­lantic coast southeast of Port Har­court.

Wike is said to have been per­son­ally cho­sen by Pa­tience Jonathan, whose home town is Okrika, just out­side the state cap­i­tal.

Vot­ers could be per­suaded to fol­low their gover­nor by elect­ing Peterside as his suc­ces­sor.

En­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Annkio Briggs — a Jonathan loy­al­ist from his Ijaw eth­nic group — agreed Amaechi was right.

“Come Satur­day, I will vote for Peterside. Since 1999, Rivers has been ruled by peo­ple from the up­land. It’s just fair that those of us from the other side should be given a chance,” she said.

‘A PDP state’

Driver Ge­orge Ani prefers to con­cen­trate on Amaechi’s record in power to de­ter­mine his vote, re­flect­ing a gover­nor’s per­sonal ap­peal in sway­ing vot­ers.

“Amaechi has done well in terms of job cre­ation, road con­struc­tion, good schools and hos­pi­tals. His per­for­mance is a plus for Peterside,” he added.

Buhari’s victory may also sway the votes to­wards the APC, he said, as “every­body wants to join a mov­ing train.”

The PDP, how­ever, thinks oth­er­wise.

“Noth­ing will stop us from win­ning on Satur­day be­cause Rivers is a PDP state,” said party spokesman Em­man Okah, coun­ter­ing APC claims of PDP vi­o­lence with the same ac­cu­sa­tion.

“They will fail as the peo­ple have de­cided to vote out the APC and their spon­sors.”

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