By ANAYO ONUKWUGHA (Port Harcourt) and HEMBADOON ORSAR (Makurdi)
Of recent, Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike and his Benue State counterpart, Samuel Ortom, have been at each others neck, following the former’s call for the declaration of state of emergency in the food basket of the nation. Wike’s call for the declaration of emergency rule in the North-Central state is not unconnected to the killing of about 52 people by suspected herdsmen in a market in Zaki Biam community.
Ironically, Wike and Ortom have known each other for years, having served as ministers in the immediate past administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan and were among former ministers who emerged governors of their respective states on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) respectively.
The relationship between the two governors, however, became strained after the December 8, 2016 mega campaign rally of the APC ahead of the December 10, 2016 legislative rerun election in Rivers State. The campaign rally, which was held at the Yakubu Gowon (former Liberation) Stadium, Elekahia, Port Harcourt, was attended by no fewer than 10 state governors, including Ortom as well as ministers, members of the National Assembly and other bigwigs of the APC.
Perhaps, Ortom’s insistence that the PDP was in a shambles and his call on eligible voters in Rivers State to vote for APC candidates during his solidarity speech at the rally did not go down well with Wike who dared the Benue State governor for ‘invading’ his territory to campaign against his government, even when he (Ortom) allegedly failed to pay salaries to civil servants. He urged him to fix the rot in his state first.
Speaking on a live television programme, the Rivers State governor said, “Is it that one that cannot pay his workers’ salaries for almost one year; the one that Fulani herdsmen have almost finished his people and he cannot do anything? Do you want to be like Benue?”
He accused Ortom of failing to contain the perennial Fulani herdsmen attacks on his people and other insurgents, who are killing people like flies.
In a quick response, the Benue State governor said he had no apology for his Rivers State counterpart, insisting that what he said at the mega campaign rally was the whole truth. Ortom, who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, described Wike’s ranting on television as misplaced aggression in the face of impending defeat of his party in the rerun polls.
He said, “Governor Samuel Ortom has no personal problem with Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and won’t be dragged into a media war. What the Benue State Governor said at the mega rally in Port Harcourt was the truth. All Nigerians know that PDP is in shambles at the moment and its several factions have left the people confused regarding who is a member of which faction of the party.
“I consider Wike’s rant last night on TV as misplaced aggression in the face of impending defeat of his party in the re-run polls. The present Benue State Government does not owe 10 months salaries. Despite the dwindling finances, Benue has a backlog of only four months and in the last seven months, workers of the state have been receiving uninterrupted wages every month.
“So, Governor Wike needs to crosscheck his facts. The problem of non-payment of salaries is a nationwide one, as 33 states can’t pay salaries now as and when due. We are aware that even some oil producing states, which receive 13 per cent revenue derivation are not left out of the situation”.
Immediately after the legislative rerun election, which saw the PDP winning majority of the seats in the National Assembly and the Rivers State House of Assembly, Wike alleged that governors of APC-controlled states spent a whooping sum of N4 billion to subvert the democratic rights of the people of the state during the election.
In a state-wide broadcast, the governor said the APC governors are from Bauchi, Benue, Kano and Plateau States, adding that the governors contributed N1 billion each to ensure that the party’s candidates succeeded in the December 10 rerun election.
He said, “Unfortunately, the brazen subversion of our democratic rights that took place on the 10th of December 2016, was carefully planned and orchestrated by some highly-placed and desperate politicians from the State in concert with the Governors of Bauchi, Benue, Kano and Plateau States, who reportedly bankrolled the plan with the sum of one billion naira each, at a time they cannot pay salaries of civil servants, let alone embark on development projects in their states”.
However, with the legislative rerun election in Rivers State conducted and those who won sworn in at the National Assembly and the Rivers State House of Assembly, keen watchers of the relationship between Wike and Ortom thought all war of words that trailed the election had been forgotten by the duo until the recent killings in Zaki Biam community, which prompted the Rivers State governor to call for an emergency rule in Benue State.
Two days after the incident, Wike blamed the attack on Ortom’s ineptitude, saying the declaration of a state of emergency in Benue had become necessary. He said, “The declaration of a state of emergency has become necessary because the governor, Samuel Ortom, has shown ineptitude and lack of capacity to handle the situation. You can’t have a governor watching helplessly as his people are being killed. What kind of governor is that? He has displayed sheer laziness and incapacity in the whole issue, and this is quite unfortunate.
Barely 24 hours after his call for emergency rule in Benue, Wike said he chose the path because Ortom was one of those who politicised insecurity in the country, “which has now degenerated to consume his state.”
In his reaction, Ortom asked Wike to seek a state of emergency in Rivers State first before talking about Benue State.
He said, “If Wike wants state of emergency, he should first ask for it in Rivers. Leaders should be careful what they say. I am not his rival. His statements are unfortunate, but I will not join issues with him. I leave Wike to his conscience.”
The Benue State governor posited that he never had any issues with Wike and recalled that the first time Wike took a swipe at him was when he was nominated by his party, the APC, to go for campaign in Rivers State.
Also, in a press statement, Ortom’s Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, who was Rivers State correspondent of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), noted that Wike needs medical attention and prayers for deliverance. He said the Rivers State governor ought to know the powers and limits of a state governor with regards to security matters, without any provocation whatsoever.
Apparently not satisfied with the response he got from his Benue State counterpart, Wike recently granted a media interview where he asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to probe Ortom over the use of Paris Club refund allocation”.
He said despite the amount of money disbursed to Benue State from the Paris Club refund allocation, the state government had not done much to cater to the needs of the people, hence the need for EFCC investigation.
The governor said, “The EFCC should look into the Paris Club refund allocation to Benue State because there is paucity of infrastructure in the state. The governor should be asked to account for the money and other allocations he has received in nearly two years in office. Benue people are suffering because they don’t have dividends of democracy”.
In a swift reaction, Ortom described Wike’s call on EFCC to probe the finances of Benue State as well as his claim of constructing two roads in the state as not only laughable but also diversionary.
The Benue State governor, in a statement by his media aide, Terver Akase, insisted that Wike was not constructing any road in Benue State and challenged him to publish evidence of the two roads he claims to be constructing in the state.
The leadership PDP and the APC, which are the political parties of the two opposing governors were not to be left out of the battle royale, as chairman of the PDP in Rivers State, Chief Felix Obuah, recently invited Ortom on a tour of projects embarked upon by the Wike-led administration in the state.
Obuah, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt by his media aide, Jerry Needam, noted that apart from the landmark peace and security in the State, which is largely a product of the various deliberate and committed efforts and successful amnesty programme of Wike, Port-Harcourt, the State capital, and its environs now wear a new look.
In a quick response, the leadership of the APC in Benue State, in a statement by its Acting Publicity Secretary, Berger Alfred Emberga, accused Wike and the PDP of being flutes for corruption.
Diverse reactions have continued to trail Wike’s call for state of emergency in Benue. While some are in supported of it, others have rejected it. Although some of the reactions are politically motivated, some people are of the opinion that the crisis situation in the state has not assumed a proportion that requires a consideration for a state of emergency.
A top government official who do not want his name printed said, following the spate of killings in Benue and going by the conditions for declaring a state of emergency, the state is due for it.
There is a tendency for some observers to argue that state of emergency had been declared in some States in the past, but what were their success stories and achievements? What can be pointed to as their tangible positive results that can be said were beneficial to the greater percentage of the population of the affected States, especially in ending conflict and providing enduring peace?
Some other keen observers argue that although there are criminal activities going on in Benue State today, the greatest challenge to security, law and order is the seemingly endless attacks on Benue communities by herdsmen. These herdsmen, armed to the teeth with sophisticated weapons, move about openly, freely and wreak havoc on communities at will without being challenged.
In the process, hundreds of lives have been lost, thousands of people have been displaced from their ancestral homes, while farm lands, crops, houses and other properties running into billions of naira have been destroyed.
The thinking in the state is that if a state of emergency is to be declared, then it should be on the incessant attacks and killing of hapless farmers by herdsmen.
A university don who does not want his name in print said, “The country’s criminal and penal codes both criminalise illegal possession of arms and ammunition. Therefore a state of emergency should be declared across Nigeria for the purposes of arresting, disarming, prosecuting and punishing the herdsmen and all others in possession of illegal arms, in accordance with the provisions of the law.
Security experts also aver that as it stands today, a state governor does not have the power to expressly direct any military or paramilitary agency in the state to take any action as their operational directives and guidelines are issued from their headquarters.
They argue that at best, a governor could request or appeal for action, but whether or not the response to his request is positive is a different ball game altogether.
But while the debate as to what is to be done last, it should also be taken into consideration that those who they promised to protect are innocently dying in their homes and displaced in their ancestral land as refugees.