Wike goofed at Sultan’s palace
NYESOM WIKE is one of the most outstanding politicians of the past two years or so. When his predecessor, former friend and boss, Chibuike Amaechi, as the Governor of Rivers State took the mandate the people gave him to the All Progressives Congress, APC, to fight former President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election bid, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, started looking for a strong candidate to retrieve the oil-rich state from the clutches of the APC. They looked around, and the only person whom the assignment fitted was Wike. Incidentally, in his Ikwerre dialect of Igbo it means “strong lad”. Nyesom is simply “Onyesom” (who is with me?) A name that answers that question is: “Chisom” (God is with me). True to their expectation, Wike proved his grassroots popularity and snatched victory back from the APC. Wike’s ability to retrieve power from the now ruling party at the centre symbolised the Niger Delta people’s resistance against the buccaneering efforts of “invaders” seeking to put Rivers State (the nation’s foremost oil-producer) into their political arsenal. Rivers State, like the rest of the South-South, had always flowed with the party at the centre, but the current political mindset in the Niger Delta is that of a struggle for self-determination and resource control.
The zone has now found its own feet and is in a position to decide when to be with the Federal Government and when to stand on their own in the political affairs of the nation. Right now, they want to stand on their own and, perhaps, help dictate the pace towards the emergence of a Federal Government that reckons with their core interests. Wike is seen as a central figure in this effort. In the past twenty months he has been in power as the Governor of Rivers State, Wike has come across as a strong, fearless and dependable leader able to contend competently with the ruling principalities and powers. When, some months ago, his sudden friendship with the Governor of Sokoto State, Hon. Waziri Tambuwal made it to the public space, many people speculated that it might be part of the touted impending political realignment. So, it was no surprise that Wike went to Sokoto to return Tambuwal’s visit on the happy occasion of his daughter’s wedding. And, as is normal with politicians, Wike paid a courtesy visit to the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III. He made a speech which I have reasons to pick bones with because I feel it was an opportunity for him to deliver a message to the foremost ruler of the Fulani ethnic group, king of Northern Nigeria and leader of the Nigerian Muslim community about things that need to be done to foster unity among Nigerians, which is being unsettled on several fronts mostly by elements from the North. Number one: Wike misrepresented the people of the Niger Delta at the Sultan’s palace by portraying the zone as the place from which the unity of Nigeria is being threatened. He said: “We cannot run away from this country. The unity of this country is very, very paramount. The unity of this country is non-negotiable…I am from the Niger Delta, Rivers State to be specific, so I cannot see us in a divided country. No way. We stand for the unity of this country.” Of course, the unity of Nigeria is very important to every Nigerian. We all stand for the unity of this country, but at what cost? Wike’s Rivers State, Niger Delta and South-South have made it clear, through every available forum (including armed militancy) that their own basis for Nigeria’s unity is “resource control”. Even as Wike spoke in Sokoto, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, was still calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to be serious about his offer of dialogue or else the nation risks a resumption of hostilities by Niger Delta militants. That call for dialogue is evidence that Nigeria’s unity is not just negotiable; but without acceptable renegotiation, the unity will remain elusive or might even expire permanently. Those who say Nigeria’s unity is “non-negotiable” are actually enemies of Nigeria’s unity. They know Nigeria is not united, and they are not interested in any negotiation because of fear that their unmerited and oppressive privileges might be tampered with. Why should a Niger Delta leader worth his salt join in the evil chorus that Nigeria’s unity is “non-negotiable”, unless he does know what he is saying? What is his interest in the status quo? I believe that a united Nigeria is the best thing that can happen to all Nigerians, Africans and the Black world at large. At the same time, I do not believe that Nigeria as it is today has any future. It is only a matter of time before we reach a breaking point. The only way to preserve the unity of Nigeria is through renegotiation and restructuring. Wike merely spoke a language meant to sound like music to the ears of his hosts, perhaps for a hoped-for future political gratification. Number two: Wike showered praises on Sultan Abubakar: “Let me first of all sincerely thank you, our father the Sultan, for what you are doing for this country. He has been working tirelessly to bring peace and to bring unity to the people. So for all of us this is what is meant by one Nigeria”. Ordinarily, this was a normal courtesy speech which was apt for the occasion. There is no doubt about it; the Sultan, more than any other person who ever sat on that exalted stool, has gone round the country and the world preaching peace and disavowing those who perpetrate evil in the name of Islam. I have met the Sultan several times, and he was always in the company of Christian leaders, chatting away in that amiable way of his, just like any other nice folk next door. Sultan Abubakar III is a pleasant and charming personality you can’t but love being around. But I have questions. I have asked these questions before and got no answers, so I ask again. The Sultan just celebrated his 10th anniversary on the throne of his forefathers. In spite of all his noble ambassadorial missions, his people (Fulani’s, especially the armed herdsmen, and some misguided Muslims) have caused Nigeria and Nigerians more pain during his reign than at any other time. I have not seen the verifiable impact that his efforts have made in fostering unity among Nigerians. We have seen the rise of Boko Haram, even though the Sultan has spoken out against their nihilist activities, saying they are not “true Muslims”. Those of us who are not Muslims are often confused as to who is what. All we want is peace and unity, but we are not getting them. During this period, more than ten under-aged Christian girls have been forcibly abducted by some Northern Muslims (in collaboration with emirs and Islamic clerics), forcibly converted to Islam and “married” off to Muslim husbands without the consents of their parents (and often against the wishes of their families!). The stories are out there on radio, television, newspapers and the Internet. The Sultan, whom I am convinced, has the power to get the captives released to their families, has not said a word nor lifted a finger. We did not hear him say anything about the spate of “blasphemy” killings in Niger, Kano, Abuja and other Northern states in the past year. And he has not stepped into the armed herdsmen killings in Southern Kaduna and all over the country by his tribesmen. Instead, he makes a lame excuse: “they are foreigners”. I judge people by the result of their words and actions not empty gestures. When next Wike goes to the North, he should table the concerns of his people. Let these provocations stop, and let Nigerians be allowed to have control over their lives. Let Nigerians be free. Then, the unity we all need will be ours.