By Tunde Olusunle
Perhaps the most important news item out of Kaduna, Monday April 25, 2022, was the visit of Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers State and and his solidarity with victims of banditry and violence in the state. In the course of that stopover in the north western state, Wike announced the donation of N200 million, to assuage the pains and dislocations suffered by victims of serial assaults on the state, by criminals and insurgents. The donation was consistent with Wike's serial generosity, which has seen him support brother states across the country in times of need.
Wike, however, equally used the opportunity to engage with stakeholders of the Peoples' Democratic Party, (PDP), in the state. He interacted with delegates of his party to solicit their votes during the May 29, 2022, which should produce the flagbearer for his party. Since the declaration of his intention to contest the nation's top seat over a month ago, Wike has been on a restless tour of the country on the same mission. Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, one of the founding members of the PDP and first governor of Kaduna State this fourth republic, led party leaders and delegates of the party in the state, to receive Wike.
Makarfi who had served in the national parliament as Senator after his stint in Usman Katsina House, Government House, Kaduna, had also led the PDP as National Chairman, during what was perhaps its most trying times, to date. The party was engulfed in a fiesty, make or mar leadership crisis, with two dignitaries laying claims to its national chairmanship. Ali Modu Sherrif, a former governor of Borno State, and his erstwhile counterpart, Makarfi, were in the trenches on opposite sides of the contestation. The brouhaha subsisted for two long years, between 2015 and 2017. Those times were truly challenging for a party which having been in power for 16 years, suddenly found itself an outsider without leadership or succour.
The situation snowballed into a protracted legal conundrum with conflicting judgments and injunctions issuing forth from different court rooms, across the country. Makarfi recalled with nostalgia: "When the Court of Appeal judgement came out against us and we knew we were right, everybody started running away." Makarfi continued: "Wike called me and asked me: Are you ready for this fight?" I answered in the affirmative. Wike reassured me: "We are going to reclaim our party. What do you need? How do we go about it? And the rest is history." Makarfi was not done: "Many people contributed to the PDP in many ways. But there is no single individual who contributed as much as he (Wike) did for us, to have the PDP which has survived till today."
Left for the former chief executive of Kaduna State, he would gladly install Wike as president of the country if he had the powers. According to him: "If the presidency were an appointment and I have the powers to appoint people into the office, I will simply appoint you (Wike) and tell you to go home and rest." Pursuing his thesis further, Makarfi said: "We are in a democracy, we have a major convention ahead and the delegates know those that have been with them and will continue to be with them. The party people know their own people... You are not sitting back at home banking on the favours you have done the party. Day and night, you are working, you are moving around. That shows commitment, the real desire to continue to serve."
Those familiar with the trajectory of Wike over the years, acknowledge for a fact, his DNA for robust generosity. This, indeed, stands in sharp contrast with his fame as a "hard man." Listening to, or observing Wike from afar especially his trademark no-nonsense mien, his characteristic bluntness, his scarce, maybe scant loosening up in laughter, one is inclined to profile him a difficult person. On deep interrogation, however, it would seem that Wike has elected to sustain this public profile, as a defence mechanism of sorts. The reality is that Wike is holistically African at heart. He cares not only about self, but about others and their wellbeing. Within the African context, he doesn't just make enough broth for the consumption of his immediate family. He is conscious there could be wayfarers, worn and famished, who would knock on the door of his house, and can make do with a few morsels to placate their hunger.
Wike therefore, is a deeply conscientious giver. Not for him the razzle-dazzle and razzmatazz of public adulation for the blitzkrieg of it. Not at all. He shares with others to impact and imprint on their situations. Consistent with the old saying which exhorts that charity begins at home, Wike in May 2020, reached out to victims of the conflagration of March 2019, thrown up by the gubernatorial election which returned him to office, in Rivers State. Wike appropriately earned popularity with his people on the strength of his performance during his first term in office. The desperate opposition in the state, however, reportedly, visited mayhem on the hapless electorate, all in a bid to stall Wike's reelection.
Specific local government areas where violence erupted include: Akuku-Toru, Asari-Toru, Abonema, Degema, Bonny, Ahoada West, Andoni, Ikwerre, Emouha and Okrika. Lives were lost, limbs dismembered at the polls. State security personnel openly took sides with candidates of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, (APC), despite public rejection of the party at all levels. While monetary support could not equate the souls smothered by the incidents, Wike made available the sum of N450 million, to survivors of the mayhem and families of the deceased, respectively.
That was not the first time or only occasion, Wike demonstrated empathy and fellow-feeling. Earlier in January 2018 during his first term as governor, Wike provided N50 million for the upkeep and education of a precocious one-year old baby girl, Purity Anthony. Her parents were murdered by a notorious brigand, Don Waney, who plied his crimson trade across parts of the state. Wike indeed placed a ransom on the head of Waney, who has since been tracked by security personnel and duly decisioned.
About a year later, Wike reached out to the family of Dr. Ferry Gberegbe, who was also killed during the better-forgetten electoral fiasco of March 2019. He provided N200 million for the family. In November 2020, Wike assuaged the grief and despair of the wives of six families, whose breadwinners in military service, were allegedly killed by members of the outlawed Indigenous Peoples' Of Biafra, (IPOB). Wike was not interested about the state of origin or religion of the deceased servicemen. They lost their lives in the line of duty within the geographical space of Rivers State. He reckoned therefore, that they needed every support to get on with their lives. He availed the six bereaved families of the sum of N200 million.
A year ago, on May 27, 2021, Nyesom Wike was special guest at the groundbreaking ceremony of the "Akwa Ibom State University Teaching Hospital," in Awa, Onna LGA, next door to Rivers State. Both states are brothers, and leading oil-producing entities. They have both been administered by the PDP since the return of democratic governance in 1999. Wike at the event, pledged the support of his government to the project, to the tune of N600 million. Four months before the Akwa Ibom event, Wike had visited Sokoto State. He was there to sympathise with the people of the state, and his colleague, Aminu Tambuwal about a tragic fire incident which razed thousands of shops, impacting several livelihoods.
Moved by the scale of devastation, Wike advanced the sum of N500 million, as support from the Government and People of Rivers State, towards the rebuilding of the market. Wike has also lent support, now and again, to Benue State. The North Central entity, has been serial victim of inconsiderate, vicious and presumptuous Fulani herdsmen, who think the entire acreage of Nigeria, their allotted grazing ground. Apart from Wike's initial support of N200 million in 2018 for displaced persons in the state, he has continued to stretch a hand of kinship, to the geopolity, every now and again.
Wike's large heart reminds of the Nigeria of old where Africa eternally looked up to us for support, leadership and inspiration. From the neighbouring countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Chad, Guinea, through Sudan, Somalia in Central Africa, eastwards to Kenya, Uganda, and thenceforth to South Africa to Zimbabwe and Namibia, Africa could barely breathe without Nigeria. Whether it was the battle for political emancipation, amelioration of socioeconomic dislocations, or the resolution of internal or external political turmoil, Nigeria was a constant, behind Africa. It was like the hump which is eternally stuck behind the hunchback, as the Yoruba proverb says.
Expectedly, Wike's actions have attracted criticisms and recriminations, especially from his domain, Rivers State. He has been criticised for not paying pensions and gratuities to retirees in Rivers State. Independent reports opine that this is not entirely Wike's fault, though. Indeed, his 2022 "May Day," address took due cognisance of this and urgent steps are being taken to address the anomalies, which pre-date Wike's dispensation. He has also been accused of abandoning the maintenance of government infrastructures, notably the State Secretariat, Point Block, the hub of state bureaucracy. Environmental management has also become an issue of public concern, given the level of filth and degradation in the erstwhile "Garden City" Port Harcourt, the showpiece of the state.
What Wike has done with regards to his famous fiscal liberalism, however, is to expose the thieves, pilferers and gluttons amongst our political elite. He has taken a subtle dig at governors who perennially encamp in Abuja to ambush allocations to their states from the automated transmission machine, (ATM), of the federal government. They subsequently abduct and domicile bureau de change operators in the bedrooms of their Abuja homes, to convert popular resources, into foreign currencies, for their personal consumption and onward transmission to foreign vaults. They spontaneously throw up their hands in dramatised despair, announcing their inability to meet statutory obligations because of diminishing resources. These fellows do not only devour our collective patrimony, they also gobble the plates, pots and pans with which they are served.
These fellows are in permanent liaison with project contractors for the inflation of the bills of quantities and the upfront receipt of mega percentage cuts from every contract which comes under their red ink. This does not preclude the mind-boggling portions of state funds they appropriate to themselves as "first line charge," in the name of spurious, even scurrilous "security votes." Many governors have been known to prioritize their loot, over and above the emoluments of poor workers, and the delivery of basic services. Wike has demonstrated that the resources may not suffice to fulfill government's ever broadening canvas of obligations. Properly managed and deployed, however, so much can be achieved and relevant developmental sectors impacted with the bit at hand.
Wike has unwittingly expanded the possibilities for increased collaboration between states in the country, the type experimented between Lagos and Kebbi states which berthed LAKE rice, a few years ago. While Lagos provided the resources, Kebbi provided the land for mass cultivation of rice in its infinite landmass. Wike will not be governor forever, but he has in a way opened up fronts for further conversations between his successors and various other states. Why wouldn't Rivers and Akwa Ibom for instance, collaborate on the actualisation of mutually beneficial causes, like information technology and industrial parks, as different from oil and gas per se? If former President Olusegun Obasanjo has luminous stretches of fruit farms in Benue State, why not a Rivers/Benue venture which incorporates cultivation, production and processing of various agricultural products?
At the launch of a book titled The Arc of the Possible authored by Waziri Adio last December, I met Muyiwa Adekeye, a journalist. He is a younger alumnus of my alma mater, the University of Ilorin, by the way. It's always a delight for me to meet fellow alumni, irrespective of their generation. Having graduated from the same institution four decades ago, it's an enriching experience sharing cross-generational perspectives with others. What intrigued me the most was that Adekeye, a Yoruba man, is media adviser to Nasir El Rufai, governor of Kaduna State. Just like the Ben Akabuezes and the Joe Igbokwes have featured in governments in Lagos State, the trend of some intercultural integration is gaining some traction afterall. We should hear of an Ikwerre man as local government chairman in Sokoto State, someday, with the unintended foundations laid by a Wike. This is the way Nigeria should be.
Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, author and scholar, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE).