Wike and politics of succession in Rivers PDP

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Fifteen aspirants have so far purchased their forms to vie for the ticket of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) ahead of next year’s governorship in Rivers State. But, indications are that three of them are top contenders for the plum job. Correspondent MIKE ODIEGWU reports

FOR the first time since he took over the reins of power about seven years ago, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike revealed his succession plan late last year. He promised that there would be no imposition, as his successor would emerge through the collective decision of Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) stakeholders.

The governor, however, gave an indication that he would not fold his arms and watch the entire process that would lead to the emergence of the party’s candidate. He listed the qualities that the individual must possess to merit his support and the flag of the party. He insisted that the person must be courageous, firm and ready to protect the interest of the state.

He said: “One mistake I will not make is to impose somebody. From my experience as a student of history, reality has shown that it is difficult for you to say Joseph is the man I can trust. It is only when you give somebody power and money that you will know whether that person is trustworthy or not. God will ensure that it is only someone who is courageous, firm, and ready to protect the interest of Rivers that will succeed me.

“Rivers is a state that so many people have an interest. It is a state where you have to put your feet on the ground. It is a state where you have to annoy a lot of Nigerians and a lot of Nigerians will hate you. But what is important is for you to know what is good for your people and stand for your people. Do not allow personal interest to sway you against the interest of your people.”

Following recent stakeholders’ meetings, Wike directed all aspirants interested in succeeding him to begin their consultations and then proceed to purchase their forms. In the spirit of the Electoral Act, the governor during one of the state’s cabinet meetings ordered all his appointees interested in the governorship seat and other elective positions to resign their appointments.

Before Wike gave his directive, three aspirants had purchased their forms to vie for the party’s ticket. They are the lawmaker that represents Bonny-Degema Federal Constituency at the National Assembly, Farah Dagogo; Senator Lee Maeba and former Deputy Governor Tele Ikuru.

But, following the governor’s instructions, the number of aspirants that indicated their interest by buying the form increased from three to 15. Who among them fits Wike’s description of his preferred candidate? Five of them are from Rivers West; four from Rivers Southeast, while six, the highest number of the aspirants, hail from the Rivers East.

Rivers West:

Persons with governorship aspirations from Rivers West senatorial district are David Briggs, Felix Obuah, Farah Dagogo, Dr. George Kelly and Dr. Tammy Danagogo.

Dr. Tammy Danagogo:

Dr Danagogo hails from Abonnema in Akuku-Toru Local Government Area. He is a lawyer by profession and one of Wike’s closest associates. He identifies with the governor and has been loyal in every respect. He commenced his political career as the Executive Chairman of Akuku Toru Local Government Area.

Since then, he has served as a Commissioner of Chieftaincy and Community Affairs, as well as that of Urban Development. Through the benevolence of Governor Wike, Danagogo was made Minister of Sports and Chairman of the National Sports Commission under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

In his first term as governor, Wike did not assign any portfolio to Danagogo; he was known all over the state and introduced in many fora as a friend of the governor. But, in his second tenure, Wike made him the Secretary to the State Governor (SSG), raising speculations that the governor wanted to expose him to the administrative engine room of the state for future responsibilities.

Danagogo was one of those that promptly resigned his appointment and bought his forms, in line with the governor’s directive.

Felix Amaechi Obuah:

A towering politician, Obuah, known fondly as ‘Let It Go Round’, is an indigene of Omoku in the Ogba-Egbema-Ndoni Local Government Area. Obuah, a former chairman of his council, once served as the national chairman of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Landlords Association (OMPALAN).

As Rivers State PDP chairman, he became famous in the political fever that gripped the state in 2015, following his resilience to work for the emergence of Wike as governor. He remained chairman till 2019 to ensure that Wike secured his second term in office. Obuah has also been in charge of the Rivers State Waste Management Agency, as its Sole Administrator since 2015.

Dr. Dakornama George Kelly:

Dr Kelly is from Buguma, in Kalabari. A Chartered Quantity Surveyor, he has been critically involved in most of the projects undertaken by the governor, especially in his second term. He has also been serving as the Special Adviser to the Governor on Special Projects since 2017; a portfolio that was upgraded to Special Adviser and Head of Bureau for Special Projects. His name has been mentioned in some quarters as one of the preferred aspirants being considered by Wike, perhaps because of his versatility in project conception and management. He is young, experienced and versatile.

Farah Dagogo:

The young, energetic and fearless Dagogo is a member of the House of Representatives for Degema-Bonny Federal Constituency. A former Niger Delta agitator, Dagogo has distinguished himself as a performing federal lawmaker, following his outspokenness in presenting and defending issues involving the Niger Delta region. He has sponsored many bills and motions at the National Assembly.

Before his elevation to the National Assembly, Dagogo served as a lawmaker in the Rivers State House of Assembly. He has attracted federal projects and sponsored other projects and programmes within his constituency. In the ongoing race to the governorship, the riverine politician is paddling his own canoe. He has been challenging the style of Wike and the state PDP leadership ahead of the primary.

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David Briggs:

Throughout Wike’s first tenure, High Chief David Briggs was the Chairman of Rivers State Senior Secondary Schools Board (RSSSB). Briggs, who hails from Abonnema in Akuku-Toru, was one of those who supported Wike’s emergence as governor in 2015.

Rivers Southeast:

In Rivers Southeast senatorial district, Ledogo Lee Maeba, Olaka Johnson Wogu, Isaac Kamalu and Siminialayi Fubara have all obtained forms to contest the primary.

Siminialayi Fubara:

His entrance into the race has led other aspirants to begin to reevaluate themselves. Fubara, a former Permanent Secretary, Government House, was appointed the Accountant-General of the state by Wike in 2020. There are speculations that Fubara, who hails from Opobo-Nkoro, a riverine part of the state, was drafted into the race by Wike and may be a crucial player in the governor’s succession plan.

Those ruminating over the development reason that Wike may want to constitutionally protect Fubara to thwart any planned persecution by his detractors at the expiration of his tenure. But others say such an argument does not hold water since there is a subsisting court order barring anti-graft agencies from trying any officials of the government.

Lee Maeba:

In 2003 at 37, Maeba, who hails from Khana, was already a senator. He was also reelected in 2007 and became chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources. He was a member of the Pan-African Parliament. Prior to his becoming a senator, Maeba, who is from the Ogoni ethnic nationality, was vice-chairman of the Rivers chapter. He has also been a loyal member of the party. Maeba, who recently denied being a member of the Rescue Nigeria Project, is a key ally of the governor.

Olaka Johnson Wogu:

Wogu held sway as a member of the House of Representatives for Eleme-Tai-Oyigbo Federal Constituency from 1999 to 2011. A grassroots politician from Eleme, Wogu is famous for defeating the incumbent Senator Magnus Abe of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015 to emerge as a senator. He, however, lost at the tribunal. He is also a businessman and one of the wealthiest politicians in the state.

Isaac Kamalu:

Kamalu, who hails from the Alode community in Eleme has a rich political background. He was a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly and Chief Whip from 2007 to 2011. Another associate of Wike, Kamalu was the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning during Wike’s first term and was appointed the Commissioner for Finance by the governor in 2019.

Rivers East:

Rivers East senatorial district so far has the highest number of aspirants. They are Dr. Abiye Sekibo, Austin Opara, Boma Iyaye, George Thompson Sekibo, Chief Morgan Tom West and Tele Ikuru.

Austin Adiele Opara:

Just like Wike, Opara, a former lecturer, is of the Ikwerre tribe. He was born and raised in Dioubu, Port Harcourt City. Opara represented the Port Harcourt II Federal Constituency at the National Assembly in 1999 and was reelected in 2003 where he served as the Deputy Speaker. He was also the Deputy Chairman of the National Assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution. He headed and co-chaired many committees of the House. Opara was appointed the Board Chairman of the Rivers State Microfinance Agency by Wike in 2015.

Telenyem Renner Ikuru:

Popularly called Tele Ikuru, he hails from the Andoni axis of the state. Ikuru served as the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources from 1999 to 2003. He was also the pioneer Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development. Ikuru was elected a deputy governor alongside Celestine Omehia in 2007 and was adopted as a deputy governor by a former Governor Chibuike Amaechi following the annulment of Omehia’s election.

Ikuru joined Amaechi in the APC but later returned to the PDP in 2015. He owes his political ascendancy to former National Chairman, Uche Secondus, who is believed to be pushing his aspiration. Therefore, with Secondus out of the way, Ikuru’s ambition seems to have hit a brick wall.

Dr. Abiye Precious Sekibo:

A medical doctor by training, Dr Abiye Sekibo once represented the Rivers State Government on the board of the West African Glass Industry Plc. He once served as a Special Assistant to the Governor of Rivers State and Secretary to Rivers State Government. In 2003, Sekibo, who hails from Okirika, in the riverine area was appointed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as the Minister of Transport.

George Thompson Sekibo:

George Thompson Sekibo is an incumbent senator. He hails from Ogu Town, Ogu-Bolo Local Government Area. He is one of the individuals with a rich political profile; he has benefitted immensely from the PDP.  He was a local government chairman on two occasions; Special Adviser to the Governor on Projects; a member of the House of Representatives and a senator in 2007. He was re-elected as a senator in 2011, 2015 and 2019. Born in 1957, Sekibo is the oldest among all the aspirants, a major factor that may affect his emergence as the governor.

Boma Iyaye:

An accountant and Sports enthusiast, Iyaye was a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly. Wike appointed him the Commissioner for Sports in 2015, a position he has held to date. In December 2021, Iyaye was installed as the Chief of Chiri War Canoe House of Loko Group of Houses in the Ogu Kingdom.

Undoubtedly, Wike and the PDP have an array of aspirants to pick from. There are indications that George Kelly, Tammy Danagogo and Simi Fubara are the top three contenders being seriously considered by the governor and his team for the PDP governorship ticket.

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