Membership of the newly-appointed Rivers State All Progressives Congress (APC) Caretaker Committee appears to have been shared between loyalists of former Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, and supporters of the Minister of the FCT, Nyesom Wike.
Mr Amaechi is officially a member of the APC while Mr Wike is officially a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Mr Wike, who unsuccessfully bidded for his party’s presidential ticket last year, is believed to have some influence on the APC in the state by virtue of his position as a minister in the APC-led federal government.
The NWC of APC, on Wednesday, dissolved the crisis-ridden leadership of the party, and appointed a seven-member caretaker committee to run its affairs in the state for six months.
The committee members are Tony Okocha (Chairman), Eric Nwibani (Secretary), Chibuike Ikenga and Stephen Abolo.
Others are Silvester Vidin, Senibo Dan-Jumbo and Darling Amadi.
Mr Okocha is a known supporter of Mr Wike, even though they belong to different political parties.
His appointment as the committee chairman has, therefore, fuelled speculations that the ruling party is preparing grounds for the defection of the FCT minister to the APC.
Mr Okocha, a former Chief of Staff to Mr Amaechi, has been critical of his former boss lately.
Besides, the new caretaker committee chair, in the past couple of months, has been championing the campaign for the defection of Mr Wike from the PDP to the APC.
In an interview in July, Mr Okocha declared that his group had resolved to formally invite Mr Wike to join the APC and take over the structure of the party.
“The group had met after the election and we asked ourselves what the position was. In that meeting, it was not part of our agenda. We had a two-point agenda.
“One, was a briefing as to what has happened? The second one was, what is the way forward? In the cause of that meeting, a motion was moved from the floor saying that we should invite Governor Wike to come over to APC and take over the leadership of APC,” he said.
There are speculations that now that he has been given the structure of the APC in Rivers State with the mandate to midwife the birth of a new state executive, he would ensure the defection of Mr Wike to the party.
On the other hand, the appointment of Eric Nwibani, a loyalist of Mr Amaechi, as the secretary of the caretaker committee is seen by observers as some sort of a balance.
Mr Nwibani, a House of Representatives candidate in the last election, belongs to the Chibuike Amaechi (CRA) political bloc in the state.
Another loyalist of Mr Amaechi is Chibuike Ikenga, a former caretaker chairman of Ikwerre Local Government Area where the former transport minister hails from.
Crisis-ridden state executive
Since 2018, the Rivers State chapter of the APC has been enmeshed in crises.
That year, the Federal High Court nullified both the direct and indirect primaries conducted by two factions of the party in the state.
The factions conducted parallel primaries that produced two sets of candidates.
While the faction loyal to Mr Ameachi produced Tonye Cole as its governorship candidate, the other loyal to Magnus Abe, produced him (Abe) as its candidate.
The Supreme Court subsequently affirmed the nullification of all APC candidates in the state.
The development gave Mr Wike a smooth sail to be re-elected for second term as a PDP governor in 2019.
The APC almost went through the same experience again in 2022 in the build-up to the 2023 general elections.
The pro-Amaechi faction again produced Mr Cole as its candidate, prompting some aggrieved aspirants to approach the court.
It took the intervention of the Court of Appeal for the APC to be on the ballot in Rivers State.
However, immediately after the general elections, the party went into another crisis as some members of the state executive committee suspended Emeka Beke, the state party chairman, Iheanyichukwu Azubuike, legal adviser, and Darlington Nwauju, publicity secretary.
Omiete Eferebo, the deputy chairman of the APC, took over the running of the party. His supporters also got an order restraining Mr Beke from parading himself as chairman of the APC in Rivers State.
Political rivalry between Wike and Amaechi
Messrs Wike and Amaechi have been in continuous struggle for control of the political structure of the state for about a decade.
Mr Wike had served as chief of staff to Mr Ameachi while the latter was governor before he (Wike) moved to Abuja as Minister of State for Education.
But since 2014, when Amaechi left PDP for the APC in the twilight of his second and final tenure as governor, both have been in different political parties.
While Mr Wike remained in the PDP, Mr Amaechi, alongside some governors, defected to the newly formed APC. He would later become the director-general of the APC presidential campaigns.
However, the 2023 general elections changed the political arrangement in the state. Mr Amaechi, who lost the presidential primary election against then co-presidential aspirant, Bola Tinubu, in 2022, has since been largely withdrawn from the activities of the APC especially at the national level.
He also faced allegations of working against the party in the state.
On the other hand, Mr Wike led a group of aggrieved PDP governors named the G5 that openly opposed Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP.
For the very first time since the return of democracy, a party other than the PDP was declared winner of the presidential election in Rivers State. Mr Wike claimed credit for APC’s surprising victory in the state. Bola Tinubu, the APC candidate in the election, polled 231,591 votes in the state to emerge the winner.
However, PREMIUM TIMES’ review of the results uploaded on the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV) shows that Peter Obi of the Labour Party won the presidential election in Rivers, contrary to the declaration made by INEC.
In gratitude for Mr Wike’s contribution to the success of the APC in the state, President Tinubu appointed him FCT minister, prompting protests by some elements within the pro-Amaechi’s camp.
“The Rivers State Chapter of the APC has no representation at any level of governance in our country. There isn’t a single Rivers APC member appointed at any level of the federal, state or local government,” Mr Cole told the National Chairman of the APC, Abdullahi Ganduje, in September during a visit to the party’s national secretariat.
The protests over appointment was dismissed by Mr Okocha, who stated that all appointments should be routed to the state through Mr Wike.
“We have said whatever is due to us as our own slot in Rivers should be handed over to Wike because he knows who and who worked for Tinubu in Rivers,” he said.
The recent move by the ruling party is coming amid ongoing fight between Mr Wike and his political godson and successor, Governor Siminalayi Fubara of Rivers State.
The two politicians are currently locked in a battle over the political structure of the state. As a result, the timing of a rejig in the leadership of APC in the state is fueling the speculations of a possible defection of the FCT minister.