There is no election in Nigeria since 2015 that has attracted the attention and fears that the recently concluded Rivers rerun parliamentary elections attracted.
In many ways the election did not disappoint the expectation of most Nigerians who expected the election to be characterized with bloodshed as a result of the desperation of most political players in the State led by immediate past governor of the State, Rotimi Amaechi and his successor, Nyesom Wike.
More than just wanting to ensure the success of their political parties in that election, both men also knew that the outcome of that election would go a long way in shaping their individual political futures.
It was also a game of revenge for especially, the minister of transportation, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, who was literally ran out of town in the build up to the 2015 elections where his candidates and scanty loyalists were intimidated with all the resources the Federal Government of those days could muster, with Nyesom Wike who was at the time, a junior minister for education.
This reality made me come up with the words; “RIVERS OF REVENGE”, which in my thinking fully captured the major impetus behind the desperation and bloodshed that characterized that election.
How else do you describe a situation where about four sitting governors, a ruling Party’s NWC and other high-powered federal political heavy weights had to relocate to Rivers State just for rerun parliamentary elections in some constituencies of the State?
While there is no excusing the level of desperation exhibited by both political gladiators in the election, it may help to understand the background to this desperation.
Both Barrister Rotimi Amaechi and Barrister Nyesom Wike have a long history of political friendship and alliance that all the elections that will happen in their lifetime won’t erase no matter on which part of the divide they choose to be.
Both men are also notable rebels, who do not bulge in the pursuit of their political interests no matter whose ox is gored. Both men fell apart when the Minister of Transportation fell out with the then President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
This led to all manners of attacks against him, notwithstanding the fact that as a sitting governor he should enjoy immunity.
Wike as a junior Minister under President Goodluck Jonathan threw a lot of weight around and even had more security around him than the sitting governor, especially whenever he is in Rivers State.
Considering what Amaechi was made to pass through in the last two years of his administration, it is easy to understand why winning this rerun election for his Party could have been more important to him than even keeping his own position as a Minister.
For Wike, he understood what were at stake, he knew that it wasn’t really about these parliamentary seats, but his own seat was also at stake.
If the APC in Rivers State had succeeded in delivering victory to majority of its candidates for the State constituency seats, there may actually be no Chidi Lloyd to save Wike from an impeachment.
Governor Nyesom Wike had the option of relaxing at home complaining about the obvious plans of the ruling APC to bulldoze their way into victory in that election, but he chose the wiser option of working tirelessly to ensure that he matched whatever forces that will be unleashed against him and his Party, the PDP with commensurable force.
Some other governors or opposition politicians would have gone ruing and panting, but Wike took to work and more work.
He knew that any slacking on his side will cost him dearly, hence, he mobilized the people and inspired his fellow Party men to prepare for the worst.
In politics like in other life adventures, there is no alternative to adequate preparation. You must prepare and work very hard to win, or lose and be booted out.
Being in opposition and understanding that the stakes are very high, Wike and his PDP knew that they had no option but to run to the people.
There is no other way, the PDP would have survived the APC onslaught if they did not have majority of the people on their side.
It wasn’t really about matching violence for violence or force for force, but being able to mobilize a greater number of people than your opponent can mobilize.
If it was about money, security or federal connections, Wike knew he was no match to Amaechi, Peterside and other APC leaders in the State, hence, he had to run to the people.
No matter how bad our politics has gotten and how much impunity may reign in the system, politics is still a game of numbers.
Governor Nyesom Wike knew from the first day he was sworn in as governor what was at stake.
He knew that it isn’t going to be a smooth reign for him, as long as the APC is in charge of the government at the center and his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi wields as much influence as he does in Abuja.
He also understood that there is no other way he could get protection from the imminent onslaught against him and his political machinery except embracing the people.
That is exactly what he did and it paid off, especially during these elections.
It was not the armed militants or any other notable group that stalled the clear attempts made to manipulate that election, but the ordinary people who trooped into the streets and resisted any attempt to thwart their wish.
There is no bigger power in a democracy than winning the confidence of a greater majority of the people.
Another crucial lesson is the reality that the staffs of the Independent National Electoral Commission are human beings and can be made to do the right thing no matter on whose orders they were appointed.
If the people insist on having the right thing done, then, these officials will not have any option but to abide by the wish of the majority of the people.
For politicians who believe having the loyalty of some INEC top-shots is all they need to win elections, this Rivers election should teach them one or two lessons.
Like we say in Igbo; Oke anaghi ata azu onye mu anya, meaning that a rat does not eat the fish of someone who is awake.
No matter how much you pay the electoral officials and how determined they are to keep to the dirty bargain, they will most likely want to save their lives and return the entire money than to announce the wrong result and be lynched by an ever prepared mob.
Anyone and any Party can win an election in Nigeria no matter how desperate we think the ruling Party members are to remain in power.
The problem most of the times is that a good number of the contestants do not prepare well enough for the war that is election in Nigeria.
This is why a lot of our politicians are more in the newspapers, television stations, radio stations and in the social media than on the ground.
Recently, in Imo State a Senatorial candidate who claims he won the senatorial election was asked by a lawyer how many political wards there are in his senatorial district, and he couldn’t give that answer.
A politician who wants to win election is supposed to know his people in and out and know the whole configuration of his constituency.
If possible, he should know the villages and also have contact men among all the groups in the villages.
A politician who does not know the number of wards in his constituency will most likely not know the problems of the people he wants to represent.
Wike knew the people well, knew their problems, and knew how to talk to them. He understood their language and understood their moods.
He did not handle them as his subjects, but as his friends and siblings and they also saw him as such and were determined not to allow him be messed up.
These whole lines have actually being about the importance of taking the people into confidence as a leader.
With the people on your side as a politician, there is no amount of conspiracy against you that will succeed.
But when as a politician you think you have got all, the connections from the highest places and decide to take the people for granted, you will succeed for some time in the power game, but not all the time.
As 2019 approaches, politicians should learn from the Rivers experience and accord more respect to the people, for it is the people who wield the most power.
By Onwuasoanya FCC Jones