Governor Nyesom Wike never backs down from a confrontation. He says this at every given opportunity, walks the talk when required to, and knows how to put on a show while walking the talk. He has to be strong, he says, because Rivers State is the most hated state in the country and there can be none of the usual deference to the federal government. The maverick governor has been known to blow hot on the federal government at will and for different reasons, 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. One of the president’s spokesmen, Femi Adesina, amused by the governor’s softened demeanour to the presidency upon receipt of the plague funds, was quick to gloat about it.
Said a triumphant Adesina, “Rivers State got the highest figure of N78.9 billion, and I remember some people asking me why the President should give such money to a governor who would call him names the next day. But that was where Wike surprised everybody. Last Monday, he issued newspaper advertisements with the title, ‘Thank You Our Dear President.’ The Governor boldly appended his signature to the document. He thanked the President for approving the refund, noting: ‘Mr President has by this remarkable and heart-warming gesture shown not only your love for the Government and people of Rivers State, but also, demonstrated expressly that you are, indeed, a President for every State of the Federation and all Nigerians. I assure you that the Rivers State Government is willing and ever ready to cooperate and partner with the Federal Government to advance the developmental aspirations of Rivers State in particular, and our nation in general.’ “
But Wike was back to his old tricks last week. Late Monday night, the governor banned EndSARS protests in the state, inviting widespread rebuke and even calumny. On Tuesday, the people defied him and protested peacefully in large numbers. The protests being peaceful, Wike was soon noticed in the media taking credit for the peacefulness of the protests and vowing to defy presidential directives.
In a live interview, he said: “I was surprised when I heard that NEC (National Economic Council) directed states to set up judicial panels of enquiry. What judicial panel of enquiry are you talking about? Rivers State government set up a judicial panel of enquiry and most officers of SARS were indicted, we sent it to the police. Have they implemented it? No! Because it is Rivers; they were playing politics with it. Now you’re directing me to set up another one again. I don’t need to be directed; I know my job and I’ve done it two or three years ago. You refused to implement it simply because you believed that SARS was working for you. If you want to solve a problem, come out and solve it. Don’t do it as if you’re trying to solve a problem when you know sincerely, truly, you’re not solving any problem.”
He went further to justify his unconstitutional banning of protests as a strategic move to counter the intelligence he had privily received on threats of insecurity and that had he not done that, the protests in Rivers would have been violent. Classic Wike. It may not be easy to identify the truth or otherwise of the effervescent governor’s statements, especially as he had acted decisively in the past when operatives of Rivers State Task Force on Illegal Trading and Motor Parks became exuberant and were acting in a manner similar to the operatives of the reviled SARS. However, there had been extensive outcry long before that on the manner the Rivers State Taskforce on COVID-19 violated the human rights of people in Rivers State an outcry that the governor largely ignored.
There is no doubt that Governor Wike sees himself as the epitome of good and empathetic governance in Nigeria, despite how quickly and willingly he eats his words. By his reckoning, he will go down in history as one of the best governors the state has produced, and he will do everything he can to secure that legacy. Unfortunately, he has often been accused by Nigerians as being exactly what he thinks he is fighting an insincere politician. He has to introspect to determine whether he is actually just another one of the brood he regularly lambasts or whether he is actually the maverick he believes he is.