By the structure of the Nigerian federation, all states in the country are, theoretically, equal to each other. That is why they all have three senators each. In practice, however, some states such as Lagos, Kano and Rivers are more equal or senior in rank by virtue of the level of commercial activities and the revenue they control. Except those still stuck to the antiquated credo of objectivity in journalism, it would be a straight forward support for any other state of the federation in conflict with any of the mega states. That is what the principle of emancipatory empowerment demands: in reporting a fight between two unequal parties, the media goes with the weaker party or the underdog. ‘CNN Effect’ was celebrated for this reason – the idea that its narrative of complex emergencies were assumed to force the big powers to react quicker to such tragedies.
By this principle, a conflict involving Nyeson Wike, the governor of Rivers State and Samuel Ortom, his Benue State counterpart should normally attract sympathetic binoculars for Ortom. But, in this case, it is Wike who is the one using more tempting narratives against Ortom, thereby complicating the reporting. First of all, he wonders why Governor Ortom whom he claimed has not paid salaries for nine months would join a campaign to undo his control in Rivers State. That is a raw nerve. Secondly, he wanted a state of emergency to be declared in Benue State because law and order could not be guaranteed. By that, he was suggesting that the Benue State governor is not effective when it comes to being the chief security officer. Governor Wike followed up his warfare by expressing anxiety over the safety of contractors he said he had sent to Benue to sort out two major road projects in Benue State. By that, he meant to incite the people against the governor. It would seem that all is fair in war in the encounter.
Of course, Governor Ortom had replied the advocacy for declaration of a state of emergency in his domain. More people are killed in Rivers, he said. “In Rivers, there is no rule of law but here in Benue there is rule of law; that is why we have taken proactive steps to stop the Fulani herdsmen attacks on our people”, the Benue State governor said and, by implication, contrasting the status of security in both states and rating Benue better, courtesy of a series of actions he said his administration had taken since May 2015 when he assumed power. Ortom who is never known to fail to invoke God into state matters landed the theological cane on Wike as follows: “But as a leader with fear of God I will continue to pray for him, let God help him to succeed, I leave him with his conscience”
From the look of things, this is a war that would continue unless some peace makers intervene. While such peace makers are being awaited, a logical question to ask would seem to be where or how two governors became estranged as for one to go to the extent of calling for declaration of a state of emergency in his counterpart’s domain? Governors and democrats generally are usually sensitive to declaration of state of emergency in Nigeria. How did things come to this?
One theory that is common in explaining the clash is how Governor Ortom’s appearance in December 2016 as part of People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) team set on Wike triggered the conflict. Almost all accounts are united in saying that Wike took exception to Ortom’s appearance. It was right there he pointed at Ortom, wondering aloud how someone he said had not paid salaries for nine months could join forces against him. It appears that from that moment, war broke out but inside Wike’s heart yet. It took months for it to break out last week.
However, Wike served as minister along with Ortom under the Goodluck administration. Might the trouble have started from there? While Wike was Minister of State for Education initially and Honourable Minister later, Ortom was Minister of State for the Ministry of Trade and Investment. Like Wike, he too was added an additional portfolio of the Ministry of Aviation towards the tail end of the Jonathan administration. Could the clash between the two be traceable to a much earlier point such as this?
No one has an iron cast insight on this yet. It might, however, be the source of the conflict. It is rarely the case that two former ministerial colleagues, members of a same political party before today, would be so unkind to each other. The foundation for bitterness might have been laid in an earlier contact.
What’s the implication for the people of the two states? There is an apparent strategy at work. It is to de-legitimise Ortom in Benue, a process to which a combination of factors are already contributing to. So, Ortom might come out hard hit in a rough and tumble fight with Wike, a tested combatant from the axis of prolonged political militancy. Imagine the conflict reaching a point where Wike offers to pay two months out of the nine months of salary arrears in Benue? Won’t that put the Benue State governor in a rare strait?
Fortunately and unfortunately, the governors’ forum no longer exists that could have intervened. May they find a peace maker!