If it is dangerous, as many have found to their cost, to underestimate President Goodluck Jonathan, it would be even more dangerous to underrate his wife, Patience. And when the first lady digs her heels into any fight, you can be sure something must give. When the ‘enemy’ in her sights happens to be Rotimi Amaechi, chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and an equally dogged fighter, it is certain that the oil-rich creeks of Rivers state is heading for a fierce political fight.
The crux of the matter is simple: Dame Jonathan revels in power. She relishes being first lady and the influence the position gives her. While the president is making half-hearted attempts to hide his desire to remain in office beyond 2015, Patience has not had that kind of patience and seems to be in a permanent campaign mode. If anything, she never stopped campaigning even after her husband was declared the winner of the 2011 presidential polls.
At a recent event, Mrs. Jonathan said, “I am here to thank you and appreciate the role you and my people of Rivers state played in voting for my husband in the 2011 presidential election. Rivers people voted massively for my husband. I am your daughter and my husband is your son. I want you to support him when the time comes. I know you will not disappoint us. We on our part will never forget you”.
Patience goes straight to the point and has little time for finesse: For years, observers believed Timi Alaibe was the Bayelsa governor in waiting, or at worst, that Timipre Sylva would defy the odds and remain in office. The first lady thought differently, and today, her choice is governor of the state. She also went straight to the pinnacle by becoming permanent secretary without rising through the ranks of the civil service. For her, it seems that the end justifies the means.
On the other hand, Rotimi Amaechi is a methodical fighter, facing down former president Olusegun Obasanjo, former Rivers state governor, Peter Odili, and the PDP apparatchik all the way to the Supreme Court where he emerged victorious. And like every politician, Amaechi is an ambitious man. The problem is that the political space of Nigeria may not be wide enough for the ambitions of the first lady and the first governor, so one must make way for the other.
The clash has been long in coming: When the first lady tried to brow-beat Amaechi about the demolition of some waterfront settlements in Rivers state, he not only called her bluff, but went on to carry out his plans. That incident set the tone for the battle that is currently unfolding as the two are locked in a battle for supremacy and contending ambitions.
Though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says there is a restriction on politicking, Patience, in her usual style is busy mobilising support for Jonathan’s reelection. Sensing that her biggest threat may be the governor of her state, she has wasted no time in trying to undermine Amaechi. Her visit to Rivers state last week had all the hallmarks of a political campaign when she met with 135 chiefs from Kalabari Kingdom in Port Harcourt.
On one breath, she told them: “I am not here to fight the Governor of Rivers state because he is my brother. We should come together to develop the state. “We shouldn’t play politics with our home. Our home remains our home. We shouldn’t play politics with our elders.” But in another, she revealed her true intentions, when she told them, “The presidency is an opportunity that fell unto us on a platter of gold. We shouldn’t throw it away. We have had people that contested from this region but didn’t win”. She added, “We didn’t fight, we didn’t pay. God willed it to us so we shouldn’t use politics to fight one another or destroy our kingdom”.
The response of the delegation was telling. Their spokesman, Chief Dumo Oruobu, Anyawo XI of Bakana, said, “We can no longer remain silent under the present political atmosphere as our silence can be interpreted to mean consent or sitting on the fence. We hereby state that the question of choice does not arise. Our son should run for office in 2015. We assure him that we will do everything within our collective abilities to help him achieve that objective”.
Clearly, the first lady’s manoeuvres are geared towards pulling the rug from the feet of Amaechi who, as chairman of the NGF and wielding support of 19 state governors, has the capacity to damage Jonathan’s, and by implication, Dame’s second term ambition in favour of his rumoured desire of featuring as a running-mate to a governor from the North.
Everyone is free to pursue their legitimate ambitions, but there is grave danger to the polity when unelected, barely literate and grossly insensitive people begin to exercise inordinate influence in a country already sinking under the weight of corruption and mismanagement. And that, exactly, is the Okrika princess’s specialty.