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July 21, 2013 12:07 pm
A Nigerian state governor has accused President Goodluck Jonathan of turning the ruling party into a “one-man show” and of condoning “impunity and authoritarianism” in an effort to ensure re-election in 2015.
The comments by Rotimi Amaechi, who oversees a budget of $2.5bn in the oil-rich Rivers state, highlights the growing divisions in the ruling Peoples Democratic party over Mr Jonathan’s expected plans to run for another term.
Besides Mr Amaechi, prominent PDP politicians from the mostly Muslim north of Nigeria are also opposed to any re-election campaign, arguing it is time for a northern candidate. The cracks in the party, which has dominated the country’s patronage-soaked politics since a return to civilian rule in 1999, means the poll in two years could be tightly contested.
The main opposition groups in February formed a new alliance, the All Progressive Congress, which for the first time in years offers a credible challenge to the PDP.
Mr Amaechi and Mr Jonathan, who are both from the Niger delta region in the south, have been at loggerheads for months over the governor’s perceived lack of support for the president.
The acrimony spilled over in May, after Mr Amaechi ignored Mr Jonathan’s orders and stood for another term as head of the National Governors’ Forum, comprising the leaders of the country’s 36 states.
He won the support of 19, but the party’s leadership disputed the outcome and sought to install another candidate. Mr Amaechi was suspended by the party – at Mr Jonathan’s behest, he says – and Rivers state has since lurched into political chaos.
Legislators have since May been unable to sit due to security concerns, with gangs of youths marching on the National Assembly and the governor’s residence. An attempt to impeach the assembly speaker last week descended into violence as lawmakers traded blows.
Mr Amaechi alleges that the president and first lady Patience Jonathan, who is from Rivers state, are fuelling the crisis and have instructed the police and army to withdraw some of his personal security.
“There is this fear in the presidential villa that whoever chairs the governors’ forum will influence the presidential election,” Mr Amaechi said, in an interview in the state capital of Port Harcourt on Tuesday. “What has happened has been engineered to the point where the president and his wife are trying to remove me from office.”
Mr Amaechi, who is regarded as one of the country’s more effective governors, last week received support from Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the writer and activist, who blamed Nigeria’s first couple for the problems in Rivers state.
The presidency denies this.
The trouble in Port Harcourt has made headlines in Nigeria because of the state’s outsize importance to the country. One of the richest states, it is the hub of the country’s 2m barrels-a-day oil industry. It also has a history of political clashes as well as unrest involving militants from the crude-producing creeks. An amnesty deal in 2009 quelled the violence, with a handful of militant leaders rewarded with lucrative contracts in exchange for keeping the peace.
The president and his wife are trying to remove me from office
- Rotimi Amaechi
The sight of hundreds of youths – both against and for Mr Amaechi – arriving in buses to converge on the local parliament in Port Harcourt last week was seen by many as a bad omen ahead of the 2015 poll. “We are seeing an absence of law and order that can breed anarchy,” Mr Amaechi said. “It seems those at federal government level are not interested in democracy, but impunity and authoritarianism. The president needs to check this.”
The mild-mannered Mr Jonathan, who inherited the presidency in 2010 after the death of Umaru Yar’Adua and won the 2011 poll, has not formally declared his intention to run in 2015, though it is widely assumed he will.
Reuben Abati, spokesman for the presidency, said this was “speculation”, and denied that Mr Jonathan or Patience Jonathan were in any way involved in Mr Amaechi’s travails. “This is all local Rivers politics,” he said. “It’s convenient to drag the president into this, but it is not true. All these allegations are baseless.”
Mr Jonathan’s supporters insist he has performed well, with the economy growing steadily at more than 6 per cent, and liberalisation of the power sector under way. In the delta region, there is also a feeling that he is entitled to another term, given that he is the first president from an area that underpins the country’s economy.
It’s convenient to drag the president into this, but it is not true. All these allegations are baseless
- Presidency spokesman
But Mr Jonathan’s critics say the country is drifting dangerously, with an untamed insurgency in the north, corruption unchecked and oil production dropping due to theft and legislative uncertainty.
Mr Amaechi, who has been governor since 2007, has been widely tipped to run for vice-president in 2015, on a ticket with Sule Lamido, the Jigawa state governor and a former foreign minister. Since both men are from the ruling party, they would have to challenge Mr Jonathan for the PDP nomination.
Given the importance of patronage in Nigerian politics, that would require Mr Jonathan to build a huge war chest if he wants to win the party primary and the national election.
Mr Amaechi said he had not decided on his plans for 2015. He said that efforts by some in the PDP leadership to claim that he had lost the governors’ forum vote, despite him obtaining 19 votes to his challenger’s 16, was a concerning sign ahead of the vote. “If they can accept 16 over 19, people should be worried,” he said.
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