By Paulinus Nsirim
We read the opinion piece with the above title, published in The Nation Newspapers of October 18, 2020, under the ‘Barometre’ section and despite some of the snide, tasteless oxymoronic innuendos colouring it, the article also drew a chuckle or two for all its worth.
For a publication like The Nation, already synonymous for its Governor Wike bashing proclivities, its noticeable departure from the usual acerbic drivel which often drips with uncensored licence, to a more tactful employment of euphemism in this particular Wike narrative, surely evokes a hearty chuckle.
Indeed the fear of Wike’s litigation, is the beginning of wisdom against publishing reckless, slanderous stories with irresponsible libertarian liberties.
Let it be placed on record that we are in agreement with the first paragraph of the article. Yes, Governor Nyesom Wike never backs down from a confrontation, especially when and where the defence of the interest of Rivers State is involved. He has said this at every given opportunity; he walks the talk when required to and he does it in his characteristic nature of a brave, courageous leader, who does not need to play to the gallery to get his message across.
Talking about messaging, a lot has been said about Rivers youths proceeding with the #EndSARS protest and defying a ban on protests by Governor Wike. To be sure, the Governor has already explained the circumstances that led to the statement and one point which Governor Wike stressed but which unfortunately, many have deliberately ignored is the fact that to date, the Rivers protests have been the most peaceful #EndSARS procession in the whole country. The reason for this is no doubt the messaging contained in the Press Statement.
Of course, Governor Wike has rightly justified the need to issue the Press Statement to ban the protests. He is the Governor of the State and his mandate is to protect and secure Rivers lives from security breaches, which are often identified by excellent intelligence. Those who live in Rivers State and followed the conversation on social media in the days leading to the protest would have been completely frightened by the open admissions of plans and plots to provoke something beyond a peaceful protest.
It is even surprising that a Newspaper like The Nation, with known Correspondents in Rivers state pretended to be unaware of this potential danger and then proceeded to publish a drivel like the subject article which insinuates that Governor Wike ‘took credit’ for the peacefulness of the protests. Apparently, the messaging in the last paragraph of the Press Statement banning the protest, was lost on the warped imagination of the authors of the article.
For the avoidance of doubt, the paragraph reads thus: “Law enforcement agencies are also directed to ensure that the ban is enforced and that violators are brought to book.”
The messaging was quite clear and deliberate. The subject of the protest has been cleverly given the responsibility to determine whether it will be peaceful or not. The directive was clear; obey and be damned, disobey and ultimately ensure a peaceful procession. The mandate was explicit. The messaging was perfect. Peace reigned to the disappointment of those who were shouting for war. The Rivers Governor proved once again that he is always steps ahead of his detractors.
Interestingly, the salient question which the authors of the article did not ask themselves is why a Governor, who had already banned protests, would now decide to come out and address the protesters? The real possibility that the people would turn against him and boo him and even throw missiles at him, to at least show how ‘unpopular’ his ban is to them, was very much in the air.
But contrary to their expectations, Governor Wike, the real fearless Maverick that he is, took the fairly lengthy, almost 10 minutes walk from Government House to meet the protesters. He was even hailed as he walked confidently towards them and not even a single song or placard of dissent was raised or heard.
A loud ovation greeted him when he mounted the podium. His voice was loud, strong and resonated unwaveringly like the Wike they have come to know and love and by the time he finished addressing them in a session which they even participated in, the essence and meaning of the protest had been redefined.
Their Governor has spoken and the message was delivered clearly and succinctly.The crowd was happy to see their Governor and dispersed peacefully. There was never a doubt that he would eventually come out to address them and he did not disappoint them. Governor Wike knows his people and his people know him. He is truly a man of the people.
One fundamental, yet hugely erroneous mindset which most of Governor Wike’s naysayers, especially Newspaper Columnists, have tried so painfully with concerted effort, even at the expense of rational thinking, to establish, is to personalize the vibrant, courageous and direct advocacy for Rivers State interest by painting a picture that he is promoting his own personal interests.
It is even more unfortunate that some Rivers people, who should be supporting his unflinching crusade to ensure that the State gets what it rightfully deserves, are the ones like the rats inside the house, who have joined the rats outside, to reveal Rivers secrets and demarket Rivers State in the national and global space.
For instance, in this very article, the author, just like the naysayers did when the N78.9 billion refund was announced with great media blitz, used the very deliberate and misleading phrase referring to Governor Wike thus: “…but he displayed a most audacious brand of flexibility when the presidency disbursed N148bn COVID-19 funds to five states, with Rivers State a beneficiary.”
To set the records straight, the Presidency did not and has not ‘disbursed’ any funds to Rivers State. The Presidency only gave an approval for the funds, which in the first place is a refund of Rivers monies expended on federal roads in Rivers State. Again, the funds in question has nothing to do with COVID-19, another misleading information.
It was only at the end of September this year that President Muhammadu Buhari wrote to the National Assembly to seek permission to release the money. Governor Wike thanked the President for the approval, just as any grateful Governor would do, but Rivers State has not seen a kobo of that money till date.
Some other critical questions to ask the naysayers are: ‘Has Governor Wike ever advocated for anything from the Federal Government that is personal to him and not in the interest of Rivers State? Has there been any issue that Governor Wike highlighted that is not a national problem?
In 2017, Governor Wike held a world press conference where he was the first Governor in Nigeria to highlight the brutality and atrocities of SARS and call for the police unit to be reformed or disbanded. Some top Rivers people actually protested for SARS to remain. Today, those people have been shamed into silence by Nigerian youths and their silence is defeaning. Yet Governor Wike came out boldly, addressed the protesters loudly, without fear and redefined the context of the agitation. That is how you know a great leader of his people and not one who plays to the gallery.
Governor Wike also set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry too, which suggested far reaching recommendations. At that time, they accused him of playing politics, but today, the Federal Government has not only disbanded SARS, some officers have also been dismissed and will face prosecution. While other States will now be setting up their own Judicial Commissions of Inquiry, Rivers State has since concluded its own. This is the truth that the naysayers cannot live with so they write all manner of garbage to hide their shame, cowardice and ineptitude.
By the way, as the article rightly pointed out, “There is no doubt that Governor Wike sees himself as the epitome of good and empathetic governance in Nigeria”. This is arguably the most honest and correct statement in the entire write up and it is also important to inform the author that by the reckoning of Rivers people in particular and Nigerians in general, Governor Wike is already winning his coveted place in history and writing his name in gold.
And contrary to the puerile insinuation that the Rivers Governor “quickly and willingly eats his words,” one can say without equivocation that Governor Nyesom Wike is not only a man of his words, but he also walks the talk which he has demonstrated many times.
Recall for example that on September 13, 2017, Governor Nyesom Wike, while addressing a press conference in Port Harcourt, said the following: “Most of the kidnappings and armed robbery taking place in this State are done by men of SARS. They use exhibit vehicles to operate. As the Chief Security Officer of the State, you complain, but they choose to play politics with crime. They fight crime in some States, but they refuse to fight crime in Rivers State. We are done with the elections, but they are using SARS to create insecurity in the State. As I speak with you, they will deny.
“I have never seen a country where they politicise crime. It is very obvious that they want to give the impression that Rivers State is unsafe. They want to instil fear preparatory to declaring during the elections that there are so much killings. The authorities are deliberately trying to destroy a whole State and you want the people to be happy? I will no longer write (to the IGP). Now is the time to take my case to the public for the whole world to know what is happening.”
In October 2020, three years down the road from his first #EndSARS Press Conference, the Nigerian public has at last responded and Governor Wike, addressing the peaceful #EndSARS protesters in front of Government House, Port Harcourt, did not eat his words but repeated them for emphasis. He has always been a man of the people and a leader who stands by his words.
Yes, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike is also Maverick. He is sincere and independent minded when it comes to fighting for what is right and in the interest of Rivers State. Those who accuse him of being an insincere politician are the real enemies of the people who want to only promote their own selfish interests at the expense of the wishes and desires of the people.
It is ironic indeed that some Rivers folks, especially those fighting Governor Wike for asking the Federal Government to give Rivers State its due, have conveniently forgotten that once upon a time, not too long ago, another Rivers Governor started and sponsored a very selfish, anti-Rivers acrimonious war of attrition, hate and bitterness against the Federal Government.
At that time, those vilifying Governor Wike today for calling out the Federal Government over Rivers interests, were the very crusaders, foot soldiers, propaganda merchants and incorrigible cheerleaders of the acrimonious war by that Governor against the Federal Government.
Sadly, the result of that war and the deadly repercussions and collateral damage it has brought to the State and Nigeria, are what Nigerians and Rivers youths are protesting against across the whole of the country today.
As the saying goes: “The chickens have finally come home to roost.”
Nsirim is the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State