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LongRead: ‘Strongman’ Wike: A deep dive into his many intriguing battles for political survival

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Like or loathe him, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State is one man who can be described in these two words: controversial and bold.

He is one governor who has stood out from the crowd who pander and whimper to the whims and caprices of the powers that be at Aso Rock.

The strong man of Rivers State who has been given several sobriquets, like the ‘Lion of Rivers’, ‘The Fearless Tiger’ and the ‘Rivers Bulldozer’ but the moniker that has become consistent with his ever animated mien is that of ‘Total Chairman’ which he earned during his tenure as the Rivers State Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under Dr Peter Odili as governor.

Wike, who later became the Minister of State for Education eventually emerged the Governor of Rivers State in 2015 after defeating Dakuku Peterside, an ally of his former boss, and now Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.

Since then, he has continued to engage Amaechi in a running battle for the soul of the State and, more often than not, coming out tops in the political battles. Such has been his dexterity in the murky waters of politics that he has become a case study for many politicians in the country.

His unbridled tongue and uninhibited temperance has been seen by many as not the trade mark of a politician holding the position of a governor but for Wike, he lives, sleeps, wakes and breathes controversy and storms, and is never afraid of taking on anyone.

Frustrating Amaechi at the guber polls

Rotimi Amaechi

May, 2015

As has been noted, one man who has been at the receiving end of Nyesom Wike’s battle axe is former Rivers State Governor, and now Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.

The numerous political wars between Wike and Amaechi ostensibly kicked off when the once close allies fell out prior to the 2015 gubernatorial election in the State when Amaechi sought to have Peterside succeed him.

Amaechi did everything possible to impose Peterside on Rivers State but Wike, living true to his name, outmaneuvered his former boss and roundly defeated Peterside in the election.

Since then, the bad blood between him and Amaechi has continued to flow unabated, leading to several accusations and counter-accusations from both camps, with their supporters further exacerbating the conflicts.

Preventing DSS from arresting a Judge

DSS stops June 12 rally in Ibadan, arrests three

October, 2016

On October 8, 2016, Wike made the headlines by foiling an attempt by the Directorate of State Services (DSS) to arrest Justice Mohammed Liman, a Judge in the state.

Operatives of the DSS had reportedly stormed the Judge’s 35, Forces Avenue, Port Harcourt, residence with the intention of arresting Liman.
Before the attempted arrest of Liman, the DSS had, in sting operations in several parts of the country, raided the houses of Judges while searching for “evidence linking them to corruption.

Some Judges were later prosecuted by the secret police but Wike ensured that Liman was not arrested on the night that security operatives laid siege to his residence. Wike had accused the security agencies of not following due process in the discharge of their duties.

“Not under my watch will I allow this kind of impunity to take place. That is why we are here. I don’t know which Judge they were detailed to abduct. I didn’t bother myself to know which Judge. All I am interested in is that, at this level, it is not allowed.
“He is not a criminal and he is not an armed robber. If the person has committed an offence, invite him. It is only when he refuses to honour the invitation that you can adopt this commando style.

“The Commissioner of Police is here, the Director of DSS is here. Their operatives cocked their guns and threatened to shoot me. I have never seen that before. Again, this is to tell you what we are facing. We know that more will come. For us in this state, we shall continue to resist it.

“It doesn’t matter what it will cost. When you talk about liberty, sacrifices must be made. We are not trying to stop an arrest. All we are saying is that things must be done decently and in line with the rule of law.

“Rivers State is under siege. For you to see a governor out at this time of the day, something is wrong. A siege is an understatement. If this type of thing happens next time, the people will resist it to the last,” he had said.

Pursuing anti-cult wars

April, 2017

The war with Amaechi got even messier in 2017 when Wike accused the Minister of allegedly floating a cult group in the State with the sole aim of destabilizing security.

Wike, who made the allegation during the Commissioning of Kpopie-Bodo Road in Gokana Local Government Area, said he had discovered the cult group which was being trained in a creek in the State.

“Let me alert Nigerians. I am only informing Nigerians and security agencies of the crime against Rivers State by the past governor.

“We have successfully concluded the state amnesty programme for cultists in the state but the former governor has set up another cult group. I am shouting for the security agencies to hear us. Let heaven hear us. Let nobody allow his son to be used.

“No amount of cult recruitment can intimidate us. I am calling on the security agencies to call the former governor to order,” Wike had cried out.

But in response, Amaechi had denied the allegation, describing it as a ploy by Wike to divert attention from his earlier allegations against him that he allegedly owned the sum of $43 million that was recovered at an Ikoyi apartment in Lagos State.

Amaechi said it was unfortunate that Wike had been unable to establish that he was the owner of the apartment where the money was found and yet, had come up with another allegation.

A statement by Amaechi’s media team had stated:

“The governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, continued to display unabated, his exclusive and uncommon strand of gubernatorial madness when he attempted to link his mentor, benefactor and predecessor Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, as a sponsor of cultists in Rivers State. And as usual, Wike did not provide any shred of evidence to prove his claims.

“We know that Wike craves attention and always wants to be seen in the media to be exposing and fighting Amaechi. However, we will burst his bubble this time and will not indulge him or dignify his crass stupidity.

“If he has any sense, Wike ought to know by now that no one takes him seriously anymore, especially whenever he makes those cooked-up vile, malicious allegations against the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. His new concocted story is not any different from the previous numerous false allegations he has made against Amaechi.

“Same pattern of telling blatant lies with no proof or intention to prove his claims. Sadly, this is the kind of irresponsible, reckless, disgraceful garrulous, scallywag conman that presides over the affairs of Rivers State.”

Being branded a betrayer

March, 2019

In March 2019, Amaechi himself accused Wike of betraying him and vowed to battle the governor to the last drop of his blood.

Amaechi, who made the accusation during President Buhari’s campaign rally in the State, explained that he had been betrayed by several people in the State but that that of Wike who was ‘his boy,’ hurt him the most.

While addressing the crowd of party faithful, Amaechi had said:

“Wike was my Chief of Staff. I made him Chairman of Council, I inaugurated him as a Minister but when he saw Goodluck, he betrayed me.

“I have been betrayed serially, including senators. After you finish helping them, after praying for them, they will go and betray you for a pot of porridge. That of Wike is the gravest of such betrayals and I will battle him till the end, even with my last drop of blood.”

Trading blames over insecurity

May, 2019

The year 2020 was another year replete with controversies, as the relationship between Wike and Amaechi continued to deteriorate as they kept engaging each other in several disputes.

The one that stood out was the accusations traded over insecurity in the state. Amaechi was the first to fire the salvo when he accused Wike of being behind the several cases of killings and abductions in the state.

While receiving some defectors from the PDP into the APC in May of that year, Amaechi said the curfew imposed in the state by Wike was a sign that his (Wike’s) administration had failed.

The Minister had blamed the level of insecurity in the State to alleged high level of unemployment, saying that he (Amaechi) led every operation to chase criminal elements out of the State.

Amaechi said the State was in danger, expressing regrets that Wike was busy acquiring the whole properties in the State without considering the safety and welfare of the people.

But in a swift reaction, Wike said it was hypocritical for Amaechi to attribute insecurity in the State to unemployment, citing States ruled by the APC who were battling with higher unemployment.

“Is unemployment fuelling insecurity in Kaduna, Plateau, Borno, Yobe, Ondo, Ebony, Imo, and Niger States governed by the All Progressives Congress (APC)?
“Is Amaechi trying to indict his boss, President Muhammad Buhari, who is the Commander in Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and who is constitutionally saddled with the responsibility to provide security for Nigerians?

“It is a well-known fact that Amaechi is the one who allegedly appoints every Commissioner of Police that has been posted to Rivers State since 2015. So, if there is any security failure, he is to blame.”

Resisting boot licking

June, 2019

Wike, had, in June 2019, said of his constant clash with the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration:
“I don’t stand up against the federal government; I stand up against injustice, I stand up against marginalisation. It has nothing to do with you as the Federal Government.
“If this government is not in place tomorrow and another government comes in and perpetuates injustice, I will stand up against them.”

Wike had also, at various times, attacked governors on the platform of his own party, the PDP, when he accused some of them of “crawling to Aso Rock at night to visit Buhari.”

“So many PDP governors go to see him (Buhari) in his house in the night. I have never gone and I will not go,” he had said while congratulating the President over his victory against the PDP presidential candidate in the 2019 election, Atiku Abubakar, at the election petition tribunal.

Wike said it was better to congratulate Buhari publicly than to secretly visit him at night, implying that his fellow PDP governors were living a double life.

Rescuing ex-NDDC MD, Joy Nunieh, from police siege

DEVELOPING STORY... Police besiege home of ex-NDDC MD, Nunieh

June, 2020

On July 16, 2020, Nyesom Wike played the big ‘Voltron’ when he personally led a rescue team to save the then embattled former acting Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Joy Nunieh, from a siege laid to her house in Port Harcourt by policemen.

Nunieh, who was then facing investigations following a probe panel set up by the National Assembly to look into the finances of the agency, had reportedly called the governor to inform him that some security operatives had laid siege to her house, and in his characteristic manner, Wike was said to have rushed to the ex-NDDC boss’ house where he found out that the residence had been surrounded by armed security operatives.

Wike had arrived Nunieh’s residence off Herbert Marculay Street, Amada-Flat at about 10:30 in the morning.

In a video that later surfaced online, the convoy of the governor was seen at the entrance of Nunieh’s house with him giving instructions to the security agents to leave the surroundings.

A visibly angry Wike was heard questioning the policemen on who authorized the siege and when they claimed it was from the IGP, he beckoned on Nunieh to come out from her house.

The former NDDC boss was then seen joining the governor in his car to escape the police siege.

Speaking on the audacious rescue mission later, Wike said:

“We came out to protect our daughter and we will do so to every Rivers citizen. That is the oath of office I swore to. It doesn’t matter the political affiliation. We will not allow anybody to destroy Rivers State.

“What has happened today is a disgrace. Who knows what would have happened to her if they had gained access to her main room? I went there personally to see things for myself and rescued her.
“She is supposed to testify before the House of Representatives Committee and here we are having armed men wanting to abduct her.

“It is unfortunate and I cry for this country concerning the way things are going. They didn’t have a warrant of arrest but would storm somebody’s house; in fact, the state Commissioner of Police is not aware.
“So, tell me how something will happen in a state and the Commissioner of Police is not aware? They said it’s the Inspector-General Monitoring Unit. So, we have such a unit taking over the responsibility of crime fighting in a state and the Commissioner of Police is not aware? I can also assume too that the Inspector-General of Police is not aware. He should investigate it.

“If there is any allegation of crime against her, I will not back her, but you can’t kill her for no established crime. I don’t know who’s responsible, but whoever is behind it should not take Rivers State for granted because we will fight back.
“From what has happened now, I want to say that Rivers State is fully out. Anybody who is responsible for this attempted abduction of our daughter should know that enough is enough.
“They can’t treat her as a common criminal. I am sure that President Muhammadu Buhari is not aware of this. All the Niger Delta States should find out if any of their citizens have a hand in the unfortunate incident and call on such people to leave our daughter alone. She is no longer the Managing Director of NDDC.

“The way things are going now, it seems people want to destroy Rivers State and it is unacceptable. Using the police to carry out abduction of citizens should not be encouraged. A similar incident had happened in this state before when they wanted to use the same style to abduct a serving judge.”

Tackling Minister Akpabio

March, 2021

Former Akwa Ibom State Governor and now Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, has also been a recipient of Wike’s caustic attacks on different occasions.

One of such attacks was in March, 2021, when Akpabio accused governors in the Niger Delta of not being able to account for the 13 per cent derivation fund they have been receiving from the Federal Government.

While responding to Akpabio’s allegation, Wike in turn accused the Minister of sponsoring militants against governors in the region.

At the inauguration of the Trade Union Congress secretariat building in Port Harcourt, Wike said Akpabio was unfairly taking on the governors of the region “just because they did not attend the inauguration of NDDC headquarters building” earlier in the week.

“We knew when Akpabio was governor what he was doing. In fact, he saw himself as a god then. Now, he has the temerity to insult South-South governors. We will meet one day.

“If he did well, why did he fail the Senate election? If his people love him, why did he fail the Senate election? Ordinary Senate? And you will come and talk to us!

“You (Akpabio) went and started sponsoring so-called militants that we (governors) should render account of N55 billion. Where did we get the N55 billion? If we got N55 billion, then he (Akpabio) got N200 trillion. You cannot insult people.

“I have told him (Akpabio) to talk less. Now, he is taking on South-South governors, we will tell him that when he was governor, he was acting as a king. There was money as at that time. What was the exchange rate? N150 to a dollar… Today, we are almost having N500 to a dollar.

“Akpabio had money and he had the temerity to say ask South-South governors what they are doing with 13 percent of their money.

“I am not a sycophant. I am not an inconsistent person, I don’t give a damn. He cannot say he has been seeing me in his villa. So if he wants to talk, let him concentrate on his state, not to venture again and talk about Rivers State.

“If he does it again, he will regret meeting Rivers State. People should say what they practice. I will show a video where Akpabio said the President should come and learn from me what I am doing here. I will show a video soon.

“You will come here. You were begging South-South governors to come and talk on your behalf but now, you are fighting us. You can just say anything; abuse governors but don’t dare me.

“Do you know why Akpabio shamelessly defected to the APC? It was because he was afraid the government might unleash the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on him.

“That is why Nigeria cannot move forward. Everybody is running away, because when they send EFCC, you run to the other party, then they protect you. That is the party! That is the government that is fighting corruption! Akpabio is now moving around happy. He no longer takes his blood pressure medicine.”

Sustaining the ego war against Amaechi

Rivers killings a result of Wike’s voodoo electoral calculations —Amaechi

March, 2021

In March 2021, the squabble between Wike and Amaechi was resuscitated following a statement by latter that Wike was his former employee and as such, would not descend low to bandy words with him.

When asked in an interview his relationship with Wike following another spate of clashes, Amaechi had said:
“I don’t think I want to address the issue of the governor; I have made my point and I have moved on.

“He was my staff, I can’t bring myself low. I was a governor, I was also a Speaker, I’m a Minister. I was two-term Chairman of Governors’ forum. The same when I was a Speaker. Why should I be discussing him?”

But in an interview with BBC Pidgin on March 20, Wike, however, countered Amaechi, saying that he was the one who actually made the Minister a governor. Wike added that it was not possible for him to be an employee of Amaechi whom he made governor.

“Amaechi and I were in the same party, and in politics, everybody has his own ambition. He had his ambition to be governor, and at the time, I didn’t. So, we fought and supported him to be governor.

“Now he’s in APC, and you don’t expect me as a PDP person to support what he does. I was the one God used to make Amaechi governor. I will even give you a tape from what he said in the church, that after God, I’m next. But when he was talking the other day, saying I was his staff, his employee, I said no problem.

“We all sat to make you governor, and I was the one who championed it. How do you call someone who made you governor an employee? When he became governor, he asked me; how are we going to run this government”? And he offered me to be Commissioner of Finance, but I said no, let me be in the Chief of Staff office.

“That time I made him governor, I had power to choose. People know in this state. With his APC, did they even score 25 per cent here during the 2015 and 2019 elections?

“His staff stopped him from winning Rivers for his presidential candidate? Stopped him from winning the governorship election for his candidate? Not even a senatorial seat?

“Well, we have passed that. He said over his dead body will I be governor, now I am looking for that dead body. In 2015 when I won, they said PDP was in power, but I also won again in 2019 when APC was in power.”

The VAT battle

August, 2021

On August 19, 2021, Wike started what many Nigerians have come to equate with a silent revolution, and the much needed restructuring of some sorts when he signed into law, a bill passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly, which mandated that the collection of the Value Added Tax (VAT) should be the done by the States and not the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS).

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By signing the bill into law, Wike had acted on the outcome of a judgment by the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt which addressed the alleged illegality perpetrated by the FIRS by collecting VAT in the State and unevenly distributing them to other States the country.

In the judgment delivered by Justice Stephen Pam on August 9, 2021, it was held that the Rivers State Government, and not the Federal Government, is empowered to collect VAT and Personal Income Tax (PIT) in the state.

“The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has addressed the illegality perpetrated by the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) on behalf of the Federal Government in the collection of VAT in states”, Wike had said while assenting to the bill.

“In this state, we awarded contracts to companies and within the last month, we paid over N30 billion to the contractors and 7.5 per cent will now be deducted from that and to be given to FIRS.

“Now, look at 7.5 per cent of N30 billion of contracts we awarded to companies in Rivers State, you will be talking about almost N3 billion only from that source. Rivers State Government has never received more than N2 billion from VAT at the end of the month.

“So, I have contributed more through the award of contract and you are giving me less. What is the justification for it?” Wike had argued.

And with other States, especially in the Southern parts of the country seeming to follow Wike’s lead, and the FIRS trying every means to reverse the Rivers court judgment, including appealing to the National Assembly to fast track the inclusion of VAT collection in the Exclusive list, it clearly shows that Wike may, after all, be right and on the path of causing a revolution that could lead to a restructuring of the federation for proper implementation of fiscal federalism.

Wike, no doubt, will be remembered for daring the Nigerian state, no matter how crooked his approaches may have been.

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