The standoff between Gov Nyesom Wike of the Rivers State and the federal government over the management of Nigeria’s airspace has further exposed the timidity of the Buhari administration in dealing with some state governors. On Monday, April 6, Carverton Helicopters flew some expatriate oil workers into Port Harcourt for an important work in the oil industry. The flight was duly approved by the NCAA, the nation’s civil aviation regulatory authorities. On arrival in Port Harcourt, Gov. Wike ordered the pilots and passengers of the helicopter arrested by the police and charged to court.
The magistrate Court promptly remanded them in prison for violating the state government’s lockdown protocol. No federal administration has been so embarrassed and humiliated by a state governor in this country. Wike got the commissioner of police (federal police) to arrest the pilots and passengers who were on a national assignment and lock them up in the federal prison. The governor went further and got the air force commander at Port Harcourt airport to give him full cover. For a moment, Gov. Wike was the commander-in-chief, giving illegal instructions to the military and police in Port Harcourt.
I watched Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika on live TV yesterday bemoaning and lamenting this embarrassing situation. He explained that the oil workers went to Port Harcourt to handle a national assignment in the oil industry to save the country from the negative impacts of plunging oil crisis. The flight, he explained, was duly authorized by the NCAA. ‘They were on a national assignment, and Rivers State would have been a beneficiary also’, the minister explained with apparent agony and heaviness of heart. He wondered how the Police Commissioner and the air force officers could have ignored their superiors and commander-in-chief and taken illegal orders from the governor.
Immediately after the minister spoke, Wike made a broadcast to the people of Rivers State in which he said in part that ‘the highly insensitive and provocative actions of Caverton Helicopters took place in the midst of credible intelligence reports about plans by our enemies to traffic carriers of the dreaded coronavirus into the State’. So, in Wike’s mind, the federal government is the enemy of Rivers State? Jehovah Abasi Ibom! The governor further said in the broadcast: ‘Their morbid intention is to create panic by pushing up the infection rate and rubbish the robust measures we have since put in place to cut off the spread of the virus…’.
Wike is essentially accusing the federal government of sabotage! He believes that the federal government is out to cause mass pandemic in his state. No state governor has challenged the federal authorities in such a brazen and audacious manner since the secessionist adventures of Ojukwu in 1966 and 1967. I believe that Wike would not have tried this if Obasanjo were the President. A friend remarked rather cheekily: ‘I hope Wike will not even order the IG to arrest the minister’!
But what gives Gov. Wike the effrontery and boldness to confront the Buhari administration in this manner to a point of disgrace? In the first instance Governor Wike has never hidden his personal dislike for the President. It took him years since both were first elected in 2015 for the governor to acknowledge and warm up to President Buhari as the nation’s leader. He could not bear the defeat of Jonathan in 2015, and he had since barely concealed his bitterness against the incumbent. The disdain was so much that the governor had consistently stayed away from all meetings at the Villa in his first term. The contempt is further compounded by Wike’s enmity with his predecessor, Chibuike Amaechi, who is an important minister in the Buhari administration.
It is a clear case of my enemy’s boss is my archenemy. Another reason for the governor’s intrepid affront is because over the years the President has been assessed as too meek and mild to hurt a fly. In fact, even some APC members believe that the Buhari administration has been conducting itself as a junior partner in its relationships with the PDP states. For example, the implementation of some social investment programmes like the school feeding programme is driven by the governors to the detriment of APC members in PDP-controlled states. Handing over such an important agenda of the government to opposition politicians has clearly led to its fairlure in some PDP states like Akwa Ibom. To worsen the whole matter, the Vice President is in a hot romance with some PDP governors (he calls them ‘friendly governors’) to the utter embarrassment and consternation of APC members in those states.
The collusion of the military and police with some PDP governors in the last elections to put the president’s party to rout has also emboldened persons like Wike in their dealing with federal authorities. Politicians like Wike with so much cash under their control have come to understand the psychology of this President and his administration. In Abuja, every person can be easily swayed. It’s a matter of cash! Right from his early days in office, the President has come under constant barrage of criticisms, personal insults and Fake News from the opposition to the extent that the federal government has lost its mojo before the governors, the opposition governors. There’s the morbid fear that the President would be tagged draconian, dictator or undemocratic if the administration put these governors in their place. Out of such unbridled self restraint, the administration looks and acts meek, timid and diffident, while people like Gov. Wike have a field day. For now, my sympathies lie with Carverton Helicopters and their pilots and passengers.