As the people of Rivers State prepare for the 2023 governorship election, EMMANUEL MASHA examines the inability of the Ogoni people to produce a governor of the state since its creation in 1991
In Rivers State politics, there is a feeling of disappointment among the people of Ogoni extraction of the state over their inability to clinch the number one seat in government. It is not because there is a shortage of top Ogoni politicians, who can build political bridges outside their zone to get the support of other zones to actualize their political vision of producing the governor of the state. But the reality is that since Bayelsa State was carved out from the old Rivers State in 1991, no Ogoni politician has advanced politically beyond the deputy Speaker of the State House of Assembly.
Politically, what the Ogoni people yearn for most is the position of governorship. But it appears that the idea of Ogoni governorship is not an issue that gets serious consideration among Rivers political elite. An average Ogoni indigene feels that their area, which boasts of a huge voting population, has what it takes to produce the governor if they get the support of other areas. But after decades of being sidelined despite serious attempts to convince other parts of the state to work with them, some Ogoni people still feel that a time shall come when a politician from the area will clinch the governorship position of the state. The reality right now is that the future is laden with uncertainties.
Indeed, the level of political frustration has forced some Ogoni politicians and activists to claim that their area is the subject of a powerful political game being played among other key areas that make up the state that ultimately wants to maintain the existing political order. The extent of helplessness among some Ogoni people to change this situation has forced them to wonder if their forbearers committed any crime against Rivers people from the beginning to deserve their current plight. One Ogoni politician, who would rather not want his name in print, said: “It is not by coincidence that no Ogoni has even been elected as Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly or appointed as the Attorney General of the state not to talk of being elected as governor.” Historically, before the new Rivers State came on board in 1991, no Ogoni politician had governed the old Rivers.
This is a situation observers find disturbing, considering that there are Ogoni politicians that can mobilize supporters from the grassroots up to the topmost layer of politics to connect with other political leaders outside their region and work towards Ogoni governorship. Beginning in 1999, there has been a serious push among the Ogoni people to correct whatever appears to be working against them in their quest to produce the governor of Rivers State. While democracy is strictly a game of numbers, where the majority carry the day, some political experts have also argued that politics is also about equity, justice and fairness. Some of them have argued that in a multi-tribal state like Rivers, it is completely out of place for a section to be so detached from the seat of power.
Whatever hope that Ogoni people had for the 2023 governorship election was dashed at the recent governorship primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) that produced Siminialayi Fubara (from the Opobo Kingdom) and Tonye Cole (from the Abonnema Kingdom) as the governorship candidates respectively. Although the APC chose an Ogoni indigene, a former member of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Dr. Innocent Barrikor, as Cole’s running mate, Ogoni generally see the move as somewhat belittling. “So what is best for Ogoni at this stage is the deputy governor position in an election the APC is not certain of winning,” asked a former council boss, who declined to be mentioned. The current president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Fegalo Nsuke, however, feels that Ogoni should see recent political developments in the state as an opportunity to work harder and inwards to bridge the current political gap. Nsuke, who spoke in reaction to the outcome of the parties’ primaries, stressed that competence should count more rather than where the governor comes from.
“I think at this time it is useless flogging a dead horse, the primaries are over and what we need to face is 2027. But what is more important is that we need to learn from what has happened, put ourselves together and lobby other nationalities in Rivers State.
“On an issue like the governorship, I believe it should be about competence and not ethnic-based and in my view, it is the ethnic politics that has kept Nigeria down the way it is. So, it is important that Ogonis who feel they are competent and have credibility should get into the race and lobby others that, in my view, are the way to go,” he said. Shortly before the primaries, the convener of the Ogoni Democracy and Development Forum and a former president of MOSOP, Legborsi Pyagbara, had made a passionate appeal to both the PDP and the APC on the need to pick Ogoni aspirants as flag bearers. According to him, the Ogoni people are the most marginalized ethnic group in Rivers and deserved to produce Governor Nyesom Wike’s successor. Pyagbara lamented that since the state was created in 1967, no Ogoni had emerged as governor, military administrator, deputy governor, speaker of the state House of Assembly or Chief Judge of the state.
He added that the Kalabari and Ikwerre have got a fair share of leadership, while the Ogoni has remained marginalized. His words: “We are appealing that the leaders should demonstrate statesmanship, equity, fair play and sense of justice by ensuring that Rivers persons of Ogoni extraction emerges as governorship flag bearers on their various political parties, particularly the APC and the PDP.
“Justice is to a people, not a geographical zone. Power is also used to address issues of justice and inequality,” he stated, pointing out that “Ogoni people have suffered political marginalisation, economic strangulation and environmental degradation, which have reduced them to the lowest aspects of the society.” Also, shortly before the primaries, some Ogoni women threatened to boycott the governorship election if the major political parties didn’t field candidates from Ogoni extraction in 2023.
The women had marched peacefully across the streets of Bori in Khana Local Government Area, chiding the APC for zoning the governorship position to the riverine axis of the state. One of the leaders, Mrs. Nuka Isaac, said Ogoni women will not support the APC and any political party that didn’t pick an Ogoni candidate for the governorship contest.
“We are going to ensure that we mobilise every woman in Ogoni land not to vote for any political party that didn’t zone its governorship ticket to Ogoni land. We have been voting for other senatorial districts to become the governor of the state for a long this is the time others should support an Ogoni person for governor,” Mrs. Isaac said. However, the Ogoni will have to wait for another four years after 2023 to achieve their governorship dream. For a people that have waited for 22 straight years, excluding the eight years of governance from 1991 after the new Rivers State was created; waiting for another four years after the 2023 general elections is a harsh reality that has already started giving Ogoni people sleepless nights.
Before the APC and PDP picked their governorship candidates for the 2023 election, the President of the Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, His Royal Majesty, King G.N.A. Gininwa, had declared that Ogoni ethnic nationality is part of Rivers hence should be allowed to produce the next governor in 2023.
The monarch spoke when the former lawmaker, who represented Rivers South- East Senatorial District, Senator Magnus Abe, paid him a courtesy visit to thank him and the council for the chieftaincy title conferred on him. Giniwa appealed to Rivers people to change their mindset and give Ogoni the chance for governorship, saying that the ethnic nationality has qualified people to govern the state peacefully. His word: “I want to make an appeal that Rivers people should change their mind. We are part and parcel of this state.
Ogoni people should be considered for governor this time. We have those, who are qualified in our land to govern this state peacefully.” Gininwa, however, advised the Ogoni people not to destroy themselves because of politics, stating that the ethnic nationality wants to produce a governor, who must be the choice of the people.
The views expressed in this post does not necessarily reflect those of Ogoninews.com