Blame Tinubu for the impending political inferno in Rivers

*Tinubu, Fubara, Wike

Olu Fasan

The Most Rev. Matthew Kukah, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, is uncharacteristically complacent. Recently, he upbraided Nigerians for fretting about the Rivers State crisis, triggered by the festering conflict between the current governor Siminalayi Fubara and his immediate predecessor, Nyesom Wike. “We ordinary people cry more than the bereaved,” Rev. Kukah said, adding: “When politicians fight, don’t get carried away because they will fix their quarrel.”

Really? How many ordinary people must die before the politicians do so? How many properties must be destroyed before they fix their quarrel? The highly respected and cerebral bishop was trivialising a serious issue. Truth is, the stakes are high. It is about political survival, about who controls the political levers in Rivers State. And ahead of 2027, it will become a do-or-die affair, and could morph into a political inferno, a conflagration.

But if that happens, the blame won’t be unfathered. It would rest squarely with Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s self-serving president. I say self-serving because for Tinubu, the end always justifies the means, however damaging to the national interest the means might be. For him, personal interests and political goals are prized over public good and national harmony.

Lest we forget, the crisis in Rivers State owes its proximate cause to Tinubu’s decision to reward Wike for the disingenuous role he played in his controversial election last year, and to prop him up for a similar role in 2027. By making Wike the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, enabling him to grandstand as “Nigeria’s 37th governor”, Tinubu allows Wike to use Abuja as a political platform, with accompanying resources and patronage powers, not only to destroy his supposed party, PDP, but also to disrupt Rivers State ahead of 2027. Wike was heading for political irrelevance but for the ministerial lifeline. We will return to the Tinubu-Wike nexus, but, first, we must dwell more on Tinubu’s politics.

For truth be told, no one who loves Nigeria would be enamoured of Tinubu’s politics. The way he gained power and the way he’s now using power reek entirely of self-centredness. Tinubu epitomises the worst of Nigeria’s rotten politics: ruthless godfatherism, unbridled state capture and use of state resources to advance political ends, opportunistic religious politics and a ferocious sense of entitlement that produces power without transparency, accountability and responsiveness, but an arrogant and aloof approach to governance. But if Nigerian politics were defined by such self-interested calculations and personal rule, it would be eternally tarnished.

Take religious politics. Nigerians have moved on from the Muslim-Muslim ticket, but none should forget that, purely as a political calculation, Tinubu deliberately upended the long-cherished convention to treat Islam and Christianity equally. Nasir el-Rufai said Tinubu “had no option” but to go for a Muslim-Muslim ticket if he was to stand a chance of winning the election. Tinubu said he picked Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim, as his running mate because he was the best person for the job. Yet, Shettima has turned out as probably the most mediocre and lacklustre vice president in Nigerian history. Dr Ugoji Egbujo made this point brilliantly in a recent column titled: “Kashim Shettima and Ice Cream Duties” (Vanguard, May 4, 2024). So, for self-serving political calculations, Tinubu rode roughshod over religious equality in Nigeria.

Yet, now in power, Tinubu is still playing religious politics. The same Tinubu who is offering peanuts as a minimum wage for workers, the same Tinubu who won’t give grants to indigent students except to burden them with loans, recently shovelled N90 billion into subsidising Hajj. Why? Well, it’s a political bribe, with an eye on the Muslim votes in 2027. Workers and students are not his electoral bases, so he is targeting Muslims again. As I said before in this column, Tinubu would exploit his incumbency ruthlessly ahead of 2027, using state resources.

Which brings us back to the Rivers State crisis. At its heart is godfatherism. But who is Nigeria’s quintessential political godfather? Of course, it’s Tinubu. He left office as governor of Lagos State in 2007, yet, for nearly 20 years later, he handpicked his successors. He had so captured the state and its resources that no one else mattered. In 2018, I wrote a piece titled: “Tinubu’s feudalisation of Lagos State politics” (Vanguard, October 18, 2018). I said: “In Lagos State politics, Tinubu gives, and Tinubu takes away. He is the god of Lagos State politics, the lord of the Lagos Manor!”

Well, Wike is cut from the same cloth as Tinubu, politically. He, too, wants to be the god of Rivers State politics, the lord of the Rivers manor. He picked Fubara as his successor but wants him to be a governor-in-name-only, answerable to him in Abuja and doing his bidding. I did my national youth service in Rivers State, and I know that Rivers people are not as subservient, politically, as most Lagos people, who hero-worship Tinubu even if they sleep under the bridge or in motor parks. Rivers people will, as Fubara is doing, defend their dignity.

Wike says he is fighting for his “political structure”. But what political structure did he have before he became governor in 2015? Many people helped him politically. In one statement, former Senator Dino Melaye said: “Patience Jonathan (former first lady) spent her money and connections to make Wike the governor of Rivers State.” So, why does Wike want to control Rivers in perpetuity, even remotely from Abuja?

The Presidency said Tinubu would not take sides in the conflict. But he already did when he brokered a “peace deal” that humiliated Fubara, in addition to being unconstitutional. The deal asked Fubara to welcome back all the Wike loyalists who voluntarily resigned from his cabinet. The deal also said Fubara must recognise the 27 Wike allies who defected from PDP to APC in the state House of Assembly. Yet, the Constitution explicitly states that a legislator can only defect from his party if the party is split or merges with another. But PDP is not split. Recently, Wike attended a meeting of the PDP’s National Working Committee and was said to have influenced the decision not to remove the acting national chairman, Umar Damagum. So, how could Wike’s loyalists say the PDP is split to warrant their defections?

Of course, this is all about 2027. Tinubu is propping up Wike to do the yeoman’s job for him in 2027. But he must call him to order or take the blame if Rivers implodes!