Fubara and Politics 101 – By Kehinde Yusuf

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*Photo: Prof Kehinde Yusuf *

The Governor of Rivers State, Siminalayi Fubara, has just had his political baptism of fire. If he had ever studied any bit of politics in class, he started his professional attachment, to gain practical experience, in these past few months, and seems to be his own supervisor. 

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When a person is in this kind of unenviable situation, a Yoruba admonition is usually, “Alátiṣe ní í mọ àtiṣe ara rẹ̀.” (‘A person charts their own course.’). This is usually an invitation to deep introspection, sharpness of vision and attention to hidden details which are the hallmarks of Governor Fubara’s profession of accountancy. These are particularly critical when he has to contend with a lawyer, versed in pleadings, and a political veteran with a variegated range of long-standing loyalists. Fortunately, Fubara appears to be learning very fast.

On Sunday, 24 December, 2023, Fubara’s predecessor in office as Governor, with whom he had been having a running battle, Mr. Nyesom Wike, current Honourable Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, addressed the congregation of the King’s Assembly Church in Port Harcourt. Wike stated that many people who had an axe to grind with him saw the escalation of the feud as an opportunity “to take their pound of flesh”. He also counseled protesting youth as follows: “When politicians are fighting, if you don’t know the root cause of the matter, don’t kill yourself.  Because I was just laughing [at] those of you … carrying flags shouting … Assuming … another group now confronts you and anything happens, what will you tell your parents?”

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Furthermore, he observed that the hypocrisy of many of the people seeking to aggravate the crisis was shown in the fact that they called on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to intervene to restore peace to Rivers State, but, having intervened and restored some peace, the same people have been condemning the President for lacking the constitutional power to intervene. The President has therefore been driven into the dilemma of ‘Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.’ Wike then declared: “I, no matter what [the] circumstances, [if the] President invites me to a meeting and tells me to do something, within 24 hours I will carry it out”, in deference to the President, and for the sake of peace.

Wike also disclosed: “Some of you do not even know that Mr. President had invited us privately and said do this do this do this do this and you [Fubara] agreed before Mr. President and you didn’t do it and [the] President has now invited … the larger state.” 

This seemed to be insinuating intransigence on the part of Governor Fubara.  Wike’s handling of the feud is therefore consistent with what is recommended by the Yoruba proverb, “Ejọ́ là á kọ́, ẹnìkan kì í kọ́ ìjà.” (‘It’s better to learn how to state your case than to learn how to fight.’) In other words, learning how to state your case convincingly would more likely get you better reward than engaging in muscle-flexing.

The second day, Monday, 25 December, 2023, Governor Fubara had the opportunity to address the state and possibly respond to Wike’s indicting statements. In the broadcast, Fubara stated: “Let me also use this opportunity to express our profound gratitude to our dear President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, His Excellency, the President, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu GCFR, for wading into the near crisis situation that almost punctuated the prevailing peace in our dear State. Indeed, by this singular effort, our dear President has demonstrated that he loves Rivers State and cherishes nothing short of a reign of perfect peace in our State with his Presidential Peace Proclamation on the 18th of December, 2023.”

Governor Fubara as such declared: “As a principal participant in the entire saga, I have taken some time to study the terms therein and have come to the conclusion that the Peace Pact is not as bad as it might be portrayed by those genuinely opposed to it. It is, certainly, not a death sentence. It affords some way towards a lasting peace and stability in our dear State.” He then asserted: “Accordingly, I reaffirm my acceptance of the Presidential Peace Proclamation and my commitment to implementing both the spirit and letter of the declaration.” Specifically, he said: “Already, both parties have demonstrated some good faith in the implementation process with the withdrawal of the purported impeachment notice on their part, and the release of hitherto withheld allowances of the members of the State House of Assembly by the Government.”

In this speech, Governor Fubara spoke like a true politician, a leader and a statesman. Like a politician, Fubara was vague where he had to, explicit where he should be, and did not wear his heart on his sleeves. He said that “most stakeholders” condemned the Presidential peace plan and that, “a few others” commended it, but he did not indicate the statistical tool with which he arrived at this conclusion. He therefore gave himself semantic wiggle room. Like a leader, he indicated that he had privileged knowledge which the hoi polloi and sundry commentators on the Rivers State issue did not have; and he magisterially declared their position as inaccurate and untenable. Here, he implied that public opinion, however vociferous, could be incorrect. He therefore showed that as George Orwell put it in his famous novel, Nineteen Eighty Four, “Sanity is not statistical.”

Like a statesman, Governor Fubara stated: “[T]here is no price too much to pay for peace … and the worst peace is better than the best war. We will strive to make peace with all segments and interest groups without surrendering our freedom or jeopardising the interest and well-being of the good people of Rivers State.”

Commending this disposition, President Tinubu remarked as follows, on 26 December, 2023: “Your Excellency the Governor of Rivers, I read your statement. I say thank you very much for that statesmanship.”

From all of this, what are the political lessons to be learnt?

One, the interest of the Governor and the state, on one hand, and those of the Governor’s presumed supporters, on the other, may be diametrically opposite. While, as the Chief Security Officer of Rivers State, he believed that it was meritorious to implement the terms of the peace agreement, some who had other interests wanted him to repudiate the agreement, even if that would throw the state into deeper crisis. The hardliners seem to see Fubara as a mere tool for achieving their own particular purpose. In Yoruba language, such hardliners are referred to as “aríjẹnímàdàrú” (‘those who feed fat in chaos.’) A good politician would therefore not listen to what, in Yoruba, is called “ariwo ọjà” (‘market noise’), which is characteristically not clearly decipherable, which is distracting and for which none of the noisemakers can be easily held to account. At the end of the day, the buck stops at the Governor’s desk.

Two, a good politician knows that genuflections and affectations of love for an incumbent office holder are superficial and usually end as the tenure of the holder ends. This reality dawned on former Governor Nyesom Wike when, just about six months after leaving office and while already appointed Honourable Minister of the FCT, he attended a church service in Port Harcourt, but was not given due recognition. He noted in protest the second day, 11 November, 2023, at another church service: “When I was Governor here, you were all praising me heaven and earth … and prayed for me [saying], I did this; I did that; I did that. Fake! Fake! Fake!” Wike should have appreciated the discernment of the Yoruba proverb, “A kì í ké ‘Yàgò!’ fún ẹlẹ́sin àná.”  (‘People don’t shout “Clear off the road” for yesterday’s horse rider.’) This would not cease to be true when Governor Fubara leaves office.

As in play-fighting by goats, real politicians do not normally fight with their eyes closed, do not fight to finish and rarely hurt one another fundamentally while fighting. That may explain the tendency for Nigerian politicians to defect from a political party to another one, return to the first party shortly after and defect again to the second party or another one, before long. Real politicians do not throw the baby away with the bath water. This set of facts seemed to have eluded Governor Fubara when he ordered the demolition of the Rivers State House of Assembly chambers allegedly to prevent his impeachment. As our people say, “Orí bíbẹ́ kọ́ lòògùn iná orí.” (‘You don’t cut off a head in order to kill the lice in the hair.’)

When it happened on 13 December, 2023, the demolition (along with the stoppage of the allowances of the House of Assembly members) signaled that Fubara was a toughie who had real power as far as the current governance calculus of Rivers State was concerned. It is not certain however whether that action still attracts much admiration now and whether it would have a fanciful place in the history of political behaviour in Nigeria.

In Nigerian politics, the threat of impeachment is usually a powerful negotiation strategy. Those who usually hurt themselves in political fighting are thugs and related political supporters. A Yoruba proverb paints the fate of such people this way: “Ẹni tí wọ́n bá fi orí rẹ̀ fọ́ àgbọn kì í dúró jẹ níbẹ̀.” (‘The person whose head is used to break a coconut will not partake in the eating.’)

Four, political feuds between political associates are like elixirs. As an English proverb puts it, “The falling out of lovers is the renewal of love.” The Yoruba equivalent of this proverb is “Ò̩rẹ́ ò dùn bí ọ̀rẹ́ méjì ò bá tí ì jà.” (‘Friendship is not sweet until two friends have fought.’) On the inevitability of fighting by kin and very close friends and associates, another Yoruba proverb says: “Ahọ́n àtẹnu ń jà.” (‘As close as the tongue and the mouth are, they fight.’) Another proverb then counsels, “Tí a bá jàkan, tí a bá ní kò ní í tán mọ́; ọjọ́ wo ni a ó tó tún jà òmíràn?” (‘If we fight on one occasion and say we won’t allow reconciliation, when would we have the opportunity for another fight?’).

Cognisant of the political lessons listed above, and while not discounting the abridged Yoruba proverb which notes that “Ojú àpá kò lè jọ ojú ara” (‘A scar cannot be like the undamaged skin’), Governor Siminalayi Fubara should be genuinely amenable to and work actively towards significant reconciliation with his former mentor, the Honourable Minister of the FCT, Mr. Nyesom Wike, in the spirit of “continuity and consolidation”.

The new rapport would be beneficial to him, to the Minister and to the people of Rivers State.

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