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Opinion: The Rivers Stadium Saga and the threat to Nigeria’s Federalism

By Uche Igwe – I have just passed through the Adokiye Amesiemaka stadium newly constructed by the Rivers State government in the new Port Harcourt City. It has been taken over by gun-toting and combat ready military men after the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate in the state, Chief Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike, led some thugs and forcefully broke into it. I am in shock that such a thing can happen in a democracy. I was informed that the PDP in the state had applied to use the stadium as venue for a rally for President Jonathan tomorrow and the state government declined. So what? I understand that the President is getting ready to come to Rivers state to make use of the stadium. If I were in his shoes I will look for another venue for the rally. A democratic President should not aid and abet (whether before or after the fact) or be a beneficiary of a lawless and unconstitutional act unless he wants to confirm to Nigeria that he ordered the reprehensible action of his former Minister.

Now, before I comment further, let me say clearly that the action of Chief Wike is a lawless and an irrational show of desperation and abuse of power, which must be condemned by all lovers of democracy and defenders of our true federalism. That this clearly illegal act got the implied and express endorsement of President Jonathan, exposes him as someone who wants to use his office as an instrument of oppression and violation of the law. The Office of the President deserves our respect but it must protect the true federalism over whom it presides. The relationship between the federal and state government in Nigeria is a constitutional issue and I am yet to see any place where it suggested or implied that the federal government has any right to break into a state government property without due approval and authorization of the State.

The Rivers State government had given reasons for its action citing the lack of due process and the ongoing construction work in the stadium. Even before anyone interrogates these reasons whether they are valid or not, one must say that it is within the rights and prerogative of the State Government to accept or reject any application to use its facility. However I join those who think that the state government would have released the stadium for the President’s use. The fear that the visiting PDP members will likely vandalize the property is an important issue that should not be ignored. These same characters have shown their hands in many acts of violence especially in Okirika and Omoku Khana recently. In fact if they go ahead and use the stadium, one will expect that it will be considerably defaced. A friend of mine suggested that the state government could have released the property on a condition that a cash backed bond will be provided by the PDP and the Presidency to compensate for any wear and tear the property may suffer during the event. That would have been a creative way to come to some sort of agreement. Yet another opined that this still does not justify the resort to violent and illegal self-help as we see now by the PDP and the presidency.

Chief Nyesom Wike does not cease to amaze Rivers people and all those living in the state. That someone of his stature, a one-time Minister of Education who should be a role model to our younger ones, and who wants to be a governor could violently take laws into his hands at will, speaks volumes as to what the State will turn into in the misfortune of his emergence. It seems that he has a camp of political thugs who he deploys whenever he deems fit. For me, no amount of provocation can justify the reckless invasion of the State stadium by the former Minister regardless of what he wants to achieve or who he wants to please. Many Rivers people have already condemned such an action. With the elections a few weeks away, no one can be in doubt the kind of election that the PDP in Rivers State led by Wike are preparing for.

On a related note, it is public knowledge that the same federal government who supported Wike to break into the Rivers state stadium had denied the Lagos state government access and use of the National stadium in Surulere a few months ago. That was during the convention for the Presidential Primaries of the All Progress Congress (APC) in Lagos. Although the APC had applied to use the stadium as venue for the accreditation of delegates of the convention, the federal government denied them access but rather surreptitiously fixed another program there. The Lagos state government could have broken into the venue but they did not. I am not suggesting here that the APC led state government in Rivers state is pursuing vendetta by their recent action. Just that I am surprised that the same federal government is now crying foul up to descending to the use of thugs and the military.

This whole show of shame could have been avoided. These are matters that could have been resolved amicably only if the entities involved trusted one another. The political rascality, cantankerous character, meaningless bravado, confrontational tactics and disposition to violence of Chief Nyesom Wike is well known to Rivers people and Nigerians. What they probably do not know is that President Goodluck Jonathan could allow himself to become a partner, promoter and the chief beneficiary of impunity at a time when he is campaigning for votes. What Nigerians must now grapple to come to terms with is a presidency that has does not give a damn about one of the fundamental principles of our constitution; that very principle that gives the minority States and, indeed, all other federating States of our federation, that mandatory but comforting sense of belonging and security. Sadly our President just trampled on our federalism.



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