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Why always Wike?

By Achilleus Chud-Uchegbu

Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike (NEW) is always in the news. To some, for the wrong reason, to many others, for the good reason. Recently, he got himself entangled in one with the pilots of Caverton Helicopters. He had ordered their arrest and prosecution for violating Rivers State government regulations aimed at containing and managing the spread of coronavirus. As governor of Rivers State, Wike, like all other governors, has all the constitutional powers to administer the state in line with the dictates of the Constitution, which he also swore to protect. Aside from being governor, Wike, like governors of the other 35 states of the federation, is also the chief security officer of Rivers.

Therefore, the buck on matters of security of the state stops at his table. Anything of conflict with the Federal Government, in the discharge of those powers, can be resolved in court. So, was he wrong to have acted the way he did in the matter of the Caverton pilots?

Taking this question to the social media seemed like a mistake, but it was an eye-opener. The answer here was dependent on which political party one was sympathetic with. It was a ‘yes, Wike was right’, if one was sympathetic to PDP and a ‘no, Wike was wrong’, if one was sympathetic to APC. Unfortunately, that has become a signature of Nigeria’s political development. It is one where reason takes flight once issued bordering on party support arises. Many of those who said Wike was wrong wondered aloud why a governor would disobey the Federal Government.

They asked: “How can a state governor give a counter-order when the Federal Government had given an order?” But Wike did not contest powers of the Federal Government to regulate aviation in Nigeria.

The governor had through his Chief Press Secretary, Simeon Nwakaudu, explained that “they were not arrested for flying aircraft into Port Harcourt. They were arrested for refusing to cooperate with state health authorities by complying with regulations on testing of anyone coming into the state for essential duties.”

This explanation was ignored by many. It means the issue had nothing to do with aviation regulation or authorisation to operate an aircraft or to fly into any airport in Nigeria.

However, the issue rightly stirred by Wike hits at the core of the Federal Government’s management of efforts at containing the spread of the virus. It has been indecisive. Covid-19 is a global pandemic. It affects every state of Nigeria. None is insulated. For this reason, every state governor has taken necessary action to direct affairs and ensure the virus does not spread to their states. Even before the Federal Government announced the total lockdown of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun states, many of the states had closed their boundaries and blocked interstate movement. Some, including Rivers, also restricted intra-state movements. By taking those actions, many of the states also totally ignored the Federal Government’s directive that no state should be put on lockdown except Lagos, Abuja and Ogun.

Similarly, states had also taken action against persons who violated regulations to stem Covid-19 spread. In Lagos, a certain Funke Akindele-Bello and her husband, Abdulrasheed, were arrested, prosecuted and convicted for violating the regulation on social distancing. Also, some keep-fit buffs were rounded up in parts of Lagos for violating social distancing regulations. They were prosecuted and convicted to community labour. All those were great actions. The Lagos State government got the public applause for being proactive and dutiful.

In Ogun State, however, despite the lockdown imposed by the Federal Government, Governor Dapo Abiodun, through an April 4, 2020, ‘to-whom-it-may-concern’ letter signed by Secretary to the State Government, Tokunbo Talabi, granted exemption to trucks belonging to Dangote Group and allowed them to operate irrespective of the consignment they were transporting.

By the exemption, other businesses were discriminated against. Unlike Wike, Gov. Abiodun got applause. So, Nigerians effectively created two sets of rules for administering the states. One for governors elected under the PDP banner and another for those elected under the APC flag. Generally, that is how Nigeria has been governed since her politics dovetailed towards good and bad, good for any ruling party irrespective of its failings and bad for the opposition irrespective of the good actions and intentions.

Considered, Wike is Chief Security Office of Rivers State. Like I said earlier, the buck stops at his table. He will take the shots if the situation in Rivers goes out of control and Covid-19 ravages the state. At the moment, Rivers has had only two confirmed cases of coronavirus despite being Nigeria’s oil industry hub and one of three biggest commercial centres. The others are Lagos and Kano. The governor is, therefore, within his constitutional rights to put in place and enforce frameworks that will secure the state.
Thus far, his decision has worked effectively. He has also been able to keep Rivers people at home, unlike in Lagos where hunger has forced youths out of their homes to form robbery gangs and invade communities in search of food and money.

What Wike did here is simply being firm and decisive as to what he wants. Isn’t one of the attributes of leadership firmness? Isn’t another attribute of leadership decisiveness? Any leader who intends to stem a nasty societal behaviour must be firm and decisive. It is immaterial who the victims are. The most important thing here is to show leadership courage in enforcing decisions. That is one way leaders show that they believe in the decisions they took. Otherwise, the effort would come to nothing. Unfortunately, the same Nigerians who argue that Nigeria does not need lily-livered leaders scream at Wike for being decisive and boldly courageous.

It is understandable that Wike has never caught the fancy of those who believed he would never become governor of Rivers State prior to the 2015 governorship election. Now in his second and final term of office, he seems to have become to PDP the only stately voice that fears no repression. Where many PDP governors will duck, Wike will raise his head and when he talks he speaks conviction and logic. For instance, he was the only governor that has raised a voice to question the award of N10 billion to Lagos State to fight Covid-19. No other state got that.

He has questioned the decision and argued that almost all states of the country are faced with the same challenge. So, what entitled Lagos State to a preferential dash of N10 billion and not a penny to FCT administration, which is, thus far, second on the covid-19 statistical table in Nigeria? The ball is now in Federal Government’s court to explain to Nigerians why Lagos State got N10 billion to fight Covid-19. Is the pandemic restricted to Lagos State?

This question strikes at equity. Equity is about justice. Justice begets peace. However, if it must, then, what is good for the goose should equally be good for the gander. Anything outside this is discriminatory, which breeds inequality and agitations that may dovetail into disturbances and strife. Discriminatory policies have also been found to be at the root of many disturbances around the world. This is not to suggest that Wike will thread that path, but he raised a valid issue that should not be ignored.

Therefore, there is something of injustice in the preferential treatment given to Lagos. I will not be surprised if the Nigerian Governors Forum rises in demand that same amount is given to every state. After all, all the states are involved in giving palliatives to citizens to cushion impact of the lockdown, even when some of such palliatives are better not even given to beggars. If the Federal Government wants to support the states, financially, to fight Covid-19, it must support all the states. It does not have the luxury to pick which state to support and which to ignore.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Achilleus Chud-Uchegbu is a journalist and newspaper editor.

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